Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Someone Knows my Name - Lawrence Hill

Summary:  Abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom—and of the knowledge she needs to get home. Sold to an indigo trader who recognizes her intelligence, Aminata is torn from her husband and child and thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan, Aminata helps pen the Book of Negroes, a list of blacks rewarded for service to the king with safe passage to Nova Scotia. There Aminata finds a life of hardship and stinging prejudice. When the British abolitionists come looking for "adventurers" to create a new colony in Sierra Leone, Aminata assists in moving 1,200 Nova Scotians to Africa and aiding the abolitionist cause by revealing the realities of slavery to the British public. This captivating story of one woman's remarkable experience spans six decades and three continents and brings to life a crucial chapter in world history.  (summary and image from

My Review:  Aminata’s story is heart-wrenching and amazingly told.  It’s a difficult story to read, as she holds nothing back from what she has experienced.  Hill described the conditions of the slave ships in a way that made my stomach turn.  He details the abuses that were levied on those captured and sold into slavery, and uses Aminata to illustrate how difficult it was for Africans uprooted from their homes, sold across the ocean, and trying to survive in a completely new world. 

Hill focuses his story on the British Loyalists and the struggles and injustices they had to face.  What I found most interesting was the accounts he gave of Freetown and of Aminata’s work with the Abolitionists in England.  It’s a period in history that is unfamiliar to me (we didn’t cover it in World History), and it was a part of the book I felt deserved more attention than it received.

While this book is very well-written, and is single-handedly responsible for my falling behind in my housework (I've been promising my family fresh bread for a week… but who can bake bread when Aminata is witnessing a revolt aboard the slave ship?), there are parts I wish were fleshed out much more.  Years of character development are brushed over, “before I knew it, thirteen years had passed”, relationships develop and fall apart without any real explanation, and it detracted from the book.

Rating:  Three Stars.  Educationally, wow.  The writing is great, but its failings were just a little too much.

For the Sensitive Reader:  This is one to stay away from. While it was handled with the utmost delicacy, there are numerous instances of relations between either married or not yet married couples, instances of slavers or slave owners brutalizing women and Aminata, and some brutality.  It was very difficult to read.


ArchivedProfile said...

I have this book. And I've been wanting to read it but I haven't for the exact reason you noted in the last paragraph. I did some heavy reading last year and I just didn't want to go there again. Next month I will read "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. Maybe I'll follow with this one.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Great review...and understand where you are coming from...but I loved this, warts and all.

Unknown said...

This looks like an interesting read - I've found it difficult to find much 18th century historical fiction about slaves, much less books dealing with the Loyalists. It's a shame that it has such failings. I'll pick this up at some point when I'm out of my historical-fiction-is-depressing slump.


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