Let me ask you a question, Savvy Readers: Have you ever fallen in love with a book after the first chapter? Usually it takes me a couple chapters to really get into the flow of the story and start to identify with the characters. Washington Black, this week’s 50 Book Pledge Featured Read, is the exception to that rule. I was hooked immediately, and I’m so excited to tell you all about it!
Escape is only the beginning
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan‘s newest Man Booker Prize-longlisted novel, tells the story of, well, Washington Black, an 11-year-old field slave on a sugar plantation – ironically named Faith – in Barbados. When the plantation’s owner passes away, the operation of the plantation is put in the hands of two English brothers, Erasmus (😒)* and the eccentric Christopher “Titch” Wilde.
*Okay, sorry, I know it’s early, but I need to pause here for a second, because I have something to confess: I honestly don’t think I’ve ever genuinely hated a character as much as I hated Erasmus Wilde, and that’s including Voldemort. Everything he does is just… despicable. He is evil incarnate, and I despise his fictional guts. Ugh. Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Hate party over. Back to the plot.
Much to Wash’s horror, Titch handpicks him to be his personal servant. Surprisingly, however, he grows to learn that Titch isn’t like The Evil One (the character formerly known as “Erasmus”) – he’s a naturalist, an explorer, an inventor, and an abolitionist, and he has chosen Wash to be his scientific assistant and illustrator. Soon, Wash is transported to the exciting, unexpected world of Titch’s science – a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where the night sea is set alight with jellyfish, and where Wash can embrace a life of dignity and meaning.
Unfortunately for Wash, the wondrous exploration of that life is short-lived. When a man is killed, a bounty is placed on Wash’s head and Titch must choose between family and his assistant’s life. Taking their flight from Barbados to the eastern coast of America, they encounter more than they bargained for: a voyage aboard a ship with a captain whose real purpose is unknown to them; a dark encounter with a scholar of the flesh; a glimpse into a quite unexpected portal to the Underground Railroad; and, finally, to a remote scientific outpost in the Arctic.
But when Titch disappears, Wash must learn to find his own way – and discover his true being – in a world that, time after heartbreaking time, refuses to acknowledge his existence.
I could go on for days about just how good Washington Black is, but here’s just one last point: There’s a character named Big Kit, and I don’t think I’ve ever come to love a character as quickly as I did with her. She’s the anti-Erasmus.
Read this book! I promise you will not be disappointed.