Sunday, June 21, 2009


In June, we met and discussed Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes.  Let me start by saying that this was an excellent book—one of the best I've read in a while.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that this book was both powerful and poignant.  

This book encompasses many themes.  The idea of property is one.  We know that during the Slavery Era, slaves—and African Americans in general—were generally regarded as property and nothing more.  When we discussed the family who took Aminata's daughter, I suggested that they were able to do so with such ease because they hardly considered Aminata human, let alone a human with property rights.  To the family, Aminata's daughter was right for the taking.  Some other members felt that perhaps the family—which did show an affinity toward the little girl—took her because they knew they could provide the stability that Aminata could not.  I am not so convinced that altruism was the motivating factor.  I believe it was selfishness.

Another resonant theme throughout this novel is education.  Education is power.  Aminata knew that, and used that knowledge as a means for survival.  Aminata is extremely smart, and in so many instances it is her knowledge that saves her.  In the episode where Aminata overhears the men in the boat discussing their plans to betray her, she is able to understand what is being said, and has the knowledge and smarts not to let on that she can speak their language.  Without the knowledge of the language and the so-called street smarts enough to keep the knowledge secret, Aminata would have been sold right back into the life she was escaping.  This novel is hugely focused on knowledge and the power it lends.

Aminata is also exceptionally beautiful; did this help or hinder her?  As readers, we are in fear for Aminata all the time.  While her beauty seemed to work in her favour at times, it would appear that, in general, it worked against her by often attracting unwanted attention.

The idea of home is an overarching theme that occurs throughout Aminata's tale.  Stolen from her home at the age of 11, Aminata dreams of her return for the rest of her days.  She remembers home vividly, but perhaps also naively, as she expects that some day she will return that is unchanged—the home that exists in her memories.  The idea of home is often romanticized, and in Aminata's case the idea of home as she remembers it likely does not exist at all.

Identity is important in Hill's novel.  Aminata fights to keep her identity throughout the story. She continues to stay true to herself and her beliefs, even during the times in her life when she must act differently.  As she moves through life, I believe that survival becomes so much a part of Aminata's identity that anything said or done in the name of survival is characteristic of Aminata and who she believes she is.  We see the importance of identity in the episode in which the captives call out their names.  It is their way of stating: This is me!  We also see a frustration grow in Aminata when she searches map after map after map, only to be disappointed each time by the child-like drawings that represent Africa.  She constantly hopes to see her village, or something that she can identify with, and is frequently disappointed.  Aminata believes that much of her identity is associated with home, and is frustrated because her home is both misrepresented and misunderstood by the whites which seem to exude so much power, control, and influence over her life.

Overall, The Book of Negroes was an excellent historical representation.  Hill's ability to write the female voice is uncanny, and his research is impeccable.  Read this book!

Bear with me people! Lots to say this time around!

  • Congratulations Lynne on your 10 year pin at work.  Good Job!

  • Starbucks in Chapters (the old one that used to be our meeting place once upon a time) has remodeled and is MUCH MORE conducive to good chats and good times.  We have decided it is a suitable place to hold Third Tuesday meetings. It seems to meet everyone's requirements for location, we can get tasty lattes, and plus we can book-browse again.

  • Trisha has generously invited all of us to her house for the July meeting.  Quite obviously I am not going to post her address here, but you can email her if you need details.  If you need her email address, just email me.  We are going to meet at 7:00 instead of 7:30, just to give ourselves some extra time.  Everyone is bring a little something to snack on, and Trish will provide the beverages!

  • Lastly, we tried something new.  We each selected a book to make up our reading list for the next bit.  I figured this way everyone gets a pick, and then we have a pretty eclectic set of books to read.  Check out the What We're Going To Read list to see the books that we've selected! Oh yes, and while you're there, why not leave a comment? LOL

See everybody on July 21 at 7:00 at Trisha's house, when we will be discussing Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns!  See you there!

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