From Our Editors
Published as as Someone Knows My Name in the USA,
Australia and New Zealand.
From the Publisher
Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa
and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle-a string of
slaves- Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South
Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving
the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in
the historic "Book of Negroes." This book, an actual document,
provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist
slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in
Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in
an oppression all of its own.
Aminata''s eventual return to Sierra Leone-passing ships
carrying thousands of slaves bound for America-is an engrossing
account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw
1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.
Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of
history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as
only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that
transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation
in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to
the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces
one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction,
one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her
About the Author
Lawrence Hill is the author of the novels Any Known
Blood and Some Great Thing, and the non-fiction work
Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in
Canada. He also co-authored, with Joshua Key, The
Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away
from the War in Iraq. He lives in Burlington, Ontario.
From the Author
Interview with Lawrence Hill
Excerpted from the forthcoming P.S. material in the Perennial
edition of his bestselling novel, The Book of Negroes,
Lawrence Hill was kind enough to answer a few questions about his
inspiration for the book and what it was like to write from a
HarperPerennial: When did you first come across the ledger
called the Book of Negroes, and did you know immediately that you
would write about it?
Lawrence Hill: I first heard about the Book of Negroes in 1980
when I read The Black Loyalists, a scholarly book by Canadian
historian James Walker. Even before I wrote my first novel, Some
Great Thing, which was published in 1992, I knew that one day I
would write the fictional story of a woman who had to have her name
entered into the Book of Negroes. It wasn't until I began to
research and write the novel in 2002, however, that I examined
reproductions of the actual ledger. The research and writing took
about five years.
HarperPerennial: How did you know when you'd researched
"enough"? Did you ever feel overwhelmed by the weight of the
history you were trying to capture in the novel?
Lawrence Hill: Completely. I had to assimilate and then play with
the history in so many locations-Mali, the South Carolina sea
islands, Charleston, Manhattan, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and
London. It felt as though I was writing several novels in one.
Research is captivating, but it also serves itself up as the
quintessential avoidance strategy. "How did your work go on the
novel today?" "Fine, I spent eight hours in the University of
Toronto library." Eventually, you have to put down all the books
and start mining your own soul for the story that waits within. The
novel was more far-reaching in its first drafts. I chose to pare it
back, whittling out hundreds of pages as I strove to make the story
more manageable and engaging for the reader.
HarperPerennial: What was your most surprising
Lawrence Hill: The first discovery I made remains the most
striking. In 1792, twelve hundred Black Loyalists set out in a
flotilla of fifteen ships to sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to
Freetown, Sierra Leone. A number of the adults on board were not
just travelling to Africa-it turns out that they had been born on
that continent, so they were literally travelling back to Africa.
This back-to-Africa exodus took place more than a century before
the famed Jamaican Marcus Garvey urged blacks in the Diaspora to
return to the motherland. It took place decades before former
American slaves founded Liberia. The first massive back-to-Africa
exodus in world history set off from the shores of Halifax, but to
date, few Canadians know it.
HarperPerennial: Do you find that Canadians are surprised,
or even unwilling to accept, that our history involves poor
treatment of the Black Loyalists?
Lawrence Hill: Canadians have had little exposure to aspects of
the black experience that-unlike, say, the Underground
Railroad-reflect badly on our country and history. Although they
saved the Black Loyalists in New York, the British betrayed them in
Nova Scotia. In the early and mid-1780s in communities such as
Shelburne and Birchtown, Nova Scotia, blacks faced outright
segregation, were forced to work for wages inferior to those earned
by whites for the same work, were kept (in many instances) in
slavery or as indentured servants, were largely denied the farming
land that they had been promised in exchange for serving the
British during the Revolutionary War, and were attacked physically
during Canada's first anti-black race riot. It is a disgraceful
time in Canadian history, and-outside academic circles and certain
black communities-Canadians have largely avoided discussing the
matter. I didn't write The Book of Negroes to wag a finger or to
apportion blame. I wrote it because it is an astonishing and
revealing story that readers deserve to know. It forms but a small
piece of the history dramatized in The Book of Negroes. I carved
out this work of fiction to celebrate one woman's journey and to
chart her miraculous survival, both physical and emotional.
HarperPerennial: Why did you choose to make your central
character a woman? And do you find it a challenge to write scenes,
such as the birthing one, from her perspective?
Lawrence Hill: The Book of Negroes is a woman's story and it was
from the moment of conception. As a dramatist, I locate stories in
the lives of the people who have the most to lose. Her own role as
a mother is at risk in this story, yet Aminata has to do what she
must to survive, and carry on catching other women's babies. On one
hand, it was an immense challenge to write the life story of an
African woman in the 1700s. On the other hand, it was liberating
and riveting to create a character that I could never be. I have
always felt more comfortable writing about people who bear no
resemblance to me.
I find the texture of her life fascinating. In the novel, one
African who is stolen from her homeland becomes bitter to the point
of turning murderous. Another African is so traumatized by the
dislocation of slavery that he loses the ability to speak. Aminata
somehow manages to keep going and to do so with love in her heart.
This is what interests me most about her character. She can't stop
all the evil in the world, but she will not stoop to it.