Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Book of Negroes - Canada Reads

I was going to take a break today after my blogging frenzy from the last two days. I had even left the museum for the day so I could run some errands. One of the things I learned early on in writing this blog is that sometimes topics just announce themselves and you need to react.

As I was driving to Bridgetown to collect the Annapolis Heritage Society newsletters from the printer, I was listening to the afternoon program on CBC radio from Halifax. I learned that the five books for this year's installment of Canada Reads had just been announced. I was thrilled to learn that The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill was chosen as one of this year's titles. This book is published as Someone Knows My Name in the USA and Australia.

At this point, I should take a step back. For non CBC listeners and people outside Canada, Canada Reads works as a cross between the TV show Survivor and a book club. Five books start, each with its own proponent, as the week goes along, books are voted out. At the end of the week, the book that everyone reads is chosen. Simple enough.

The Book of Negroes being nominated is one of those occasions where our local heritage activities and current events collide. As I have mentioned before, I really like those occasions. The novel traces the life of a young African girl named Aminata Diallo (Meena) who is captured by slave traders and sent to the American Colonies. In excruciating and exquisite detail, Hill describes the slave march across western Africa, the painful trip to America crammed in the hold of a ship, Aminata's sale in a Charleston slave market, her life as a slave producing indigo, and how she eventually finds freedom and redemption. This novel is truly all consuming and very moving.

The saga of Meena's life is a mirror to that of many of the Black Loyalists who arrived in Annapolis Royal at the end of the American Revolution. All of the Black Loyalists who arrived in this community would have been cataloged in the Book of Negroes which gives the novel its title. We even keep a transcript of this book in our Genealogy Centre so that descendants can find their family connections.

All of the Black Loyalists would have dealt with hardships in America as well as in Nova Scotia. While some of the events in the novel are compressed in time, Hill has done an excellent job of being historically accurate in his fiction. The Book of Negroes is an excellent book for someone looking to gain some perspective on Nova Scotia history or someone just looking for a good story. I know who I will be cheering for during Canada Reads.

All for now,
RGS

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