First aired on Metro Morning (22/6/11)
A Canadian author is getting all sort of attention overseas, and it isn't good. Today (June 22), a Dutch group plans to burn The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, the 2009 Canada Reads winner and one of the best-selling books of all time in Canada.
Roy Groenberg, who refers to himself as the "Chairman, Foundation to Honour and Restore payments to Victims of Slavery in Suriname" wishes to burn the book because he finds the book's title offensive. The Dutch title, Het Negerboek, is directly translated from the Canadian title. (The book was renamed Someone Knows My Name in the United States.)
Groenberg emailed Hill to inform him that his book would be burned in public, and why, writing:
"We, descendants of enslaved in the former Dutch colony Suriname, want to let you know that we do not accept a book with the title The Book of Negroes. We struggle for a long time to let the word 'nigger' disappear from the Dutch language and now you set up your Book of Negroes! A real shame! That's why we make the decision to burn this book on the 22nd of June 2011. Maybe you do not know, but June is the month before the 1st of July, the day that we remember the abolition from the Dutch, who put our ancestors in slavery."
This response shocked Hill. "I was horrified. I couldn't believe it," he told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway in a recent interview. He chose the title for its historical relevance. "I certainly wasn't looking to be sensational or provocative," he said. "I called it The Book of Negroes to bring Canadian attention to a long-forgotten historical document and a long-forgotten historical migration." The title has been well received in Canada, but has pushed buttons abroad. However, until now no one has gone as far as Groenberg.
Hill is surprised by the uproar, but doesn't mind the controversy surrounding the title. What bothers him most in this situation is that Groenberg plans to burn the book. "I think there's no defence for burning a book," Hill said. "It's a hateful act designed to intimidate."
Will Groenberg go through with it? Or are his threats empty ones, designed to create controversy? We'll find out this afternoon.