Canadian

Washington Black

Washingon Black is the latest novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize winning author Esi Edugyan.

Esi Edugyan

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black — an 11-year-old field slave — is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde — naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist — whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning — and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington's life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington's head.

Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence. (From HarperCollins Canada)

Washington Black won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and the 2018 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

From the Scotiabank Giller Prize jury: "How often history asks us to underestimate those trapped there. This remarkable novel imagines what happens when a Black man escape history's inevitable clasp — in his case, in a hot air balloon no less. Washington Black, the hero of Esi Edugyan's novel is born in the 1800s in Barbados with a quick mind, curious eye and a yearning for adventure. In Black's vivid and complex world — as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas — Edugyan has written a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives."

From the book

Faith Plantation, Barbados 1830

I might have been ten, eleven years old — I cannot say for certain — when my first master died.

No one grieved him; in the fields we hung our heads, keening, grieving for ourselves and the estate sale that must follow. He died very old. I saw him only at a distance: stooped, thin, asleep in a shaded chair on the lawn, a blanket at his lap. I think now he was like a specimen preserved in a bottle. He had outlived a mad king, outlived the slave trade itself, had seen the fall of the French Empire and the rise of the British and the dawn of the industrial age, and his usefulness, surely, had passed. On that last evening I remember crouching on my bare heels in the stony dirt of Faith Plantation and pressing a palm flat against Big Kit's calf, feeling the heat of her skin baking up out of it, the strength and power of her, while the red sunlight settled in the cane all around us. Together, silent, we watched as the overseers shouldered the coffin down from the Great House. They slid it rasping into the straw of the wagon and, dropping the rail into place with a bang, rode rattling away.

That was how it began: me and Big Kit, watching the dead go free.


From Washington Black by EsiEguyan ©2018. Published by HarperCollins.

Interviews

Esi Edugyan won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, a $100,000 literary award, for Washington Black. It's her second time winning the prize after she took it home in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues. 2:55
The author on how she relates to the 11-year-old protagonist, who escapes life as a field slave in the cane fields of Barbados. 1:16
Esi Edugyan tells The National’s Rosemary Barton how winning the Giller Prize will allow her to keep writing. 2:11
The celebrated Canadian writer talks to Michael about growing up black in Calgary, the legacy of slavery, and what it's like to win (or be nominated for) so many literary prizes. 27:34
Esi Edugyan talks about journeying into the past, her new novel Washington Black and what she wanted to say about one of history's greatest injustices. 16:21
Esi Edugyan's second novel, Half-Blood Blues, was a literary success by any standard. The novel about a mixed-race jazz musician in Nazi Germany won the 2011 Giller Prize and found a place on several other literary shortlists. The Calgary author has just published her third novel about a young slave in Barbados who travels the world. That novel, Washington Black, is also getting rave reviews. It has been shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the prestigious Man Booker International Prize. Esi Edugyan is back home this week, taking part in Wordfest in Calgary and she joined host Doug Dirks in studio. 8:24
Esi Eduygan talks to Shelagh Rogers about her new novel Washington Black. 11:29
The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards in Canada. Last night in Toronto, Victoria-based author Esi Edugyan was announced as the winner of the $100,000 prize for her novel Washington Black. Remarkably, this is not her first time taking the honour. Her 2011 novel Half-Blood Blues also won the prize, which makes Edugyan the third author to win the Giller Prize twice. She joins guest host Saroja Coelho to talk about her big win. 14:15
Esi Edugyan talks about journeying into the past, her new novel Washington Black and what she wanted to say about one of history's greatest injustices. 16:21

Other books by Esi Edugyan

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