The Book of Negroes: (U.S. Title: Someone Knows My Name)

Paperback | October 15, 2007

byLawrence Hill

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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 sex.

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This book tells the story of the life of Aminata Diallo, born in Bayo, West Africa, in 1745 who at the age of 11 is captured and sold into slavery. Detailing her struggles as a slave on a South Carolina plantation and her efforts to regain her freedom, the story is both harrowing and awe inspiring.

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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 “Boo...

LAWRENCE HILL is the author of several novels and works of non-fiction, including the nationally bestsellingThe Book of Negroes,Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in CanadaandSome Great Thing. 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....

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:512 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.28 inPublished:October 15, 2007Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1554681561

ISBN - 13:9781554681563

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Extra Content

From the Author

Interview with Lawrence HillExcerpted 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 woman's perspective. 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 finding? 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.

Read from the Book

Lawrence HillThe Book of NegroesExcerpt And now I am old{London, 1802}I seem to have trouble dying. By all rights, I should not have lived this long. But I still can smell trouble riding on any wind, just as surely as I could tell you whether it is a stew of chicken necks or pigs' feet bubbling in the iron pot on the fire. And my ears still work just as good as a hound dog's. People assume that just because you don't stand as straight as a sapling, you're deaf. Or that your mind is like pumpkin mush. The other day, when I was being led into a meeting with a bishop, one of the society ladies told another, "We must get this woman into Parliament soon. Who knows how much longer she'll be with us?" Half bent though I was, I dug my fingers into her ribs. She let out a shriek and spun around to face me. "Careful," I told her, "I may outlast you!"There must be a reason why I have lived in all these lands, survived all those water crossings, while others fell from bullets or shut their eyes and simply willed their lives to end. In the earliest days, when I was free and knew nothing other, I used to sneak outside our walled compound, climb straight up the acacia tree while balancing Father's Qur'an on my head, sit way out on a branch and wonder how I might one day unlock all the mysteries contained in the book. Feet swinging beneath me, I would put down the book – the only one I had ever seen in Bayo – and look out at the patchwork of mud walls and thatched coverings. People were always on the move. Women carrying water from the river, men working iron in the fires, boys returning triumphant from the forest with snared porcupines. It's a lot of work, extracting meat from a porcupine, but if they had no other pressing chores, they would do it anyway, removing the quills, skinning the animal, slicing out the innards, practising with their sharp knives on the pathetic little carcass. In those days, I felt free and happy, and the very idea of safety never intruded on my thoughts.I have escaped violent endings even as they have surrounded me. But I never had the privilege of holding onto my children, living with them, raising them the way my own parents raised me for ten or eleven years, until all of our lives were torn asunder. I never managed to keep my own children long, which explains why they are not here with me now, making my meals, adding straw to my bedding, bringing me a cape to hold off the cold, sitting with me by the fire with the knowledge that they emerged from my loins and that our shared moments had grown like corn stalks in damp soil. Others take care of me now. And that's a fine thing. But it's not the same as having one's own flesh and blood to cradle one toward the grave. I long to hold my own children, and their children if they exist, and I miss them the way I'd miss limbs from my own body.They have me exceedingly busy here in London. They say I am to meet King George. About me, I have a clutch of abolitionists – big-whiskered, wide-bellied, bald-headed men boycotting sugar but smelling of tobacco and burning candle after candle as they plot deep into the night. The abolitionists say they have brought me to England to help them change the course of history. Well. We shall see about that. But if I have lived this long, it must be for a reason. From The Book of Negroes. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence Hill. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

From Our Editors

Published as as Someone Knows My Name in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.