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Washington Black

Narrated by: Dion Graham
Length: 12 hrs and 18 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (125 ratings)
Regular price: £19.99
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Summary

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black - an 11-year-old field slave - finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher 'Titch' Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.  

Titch's idealistic plans are soon shattered, and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.  

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.

©2018 Ideas of March Inc. (P)2018 Random House Audio

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Slave's-eye worldview, a novel idea.

This put me in mind of, of course Twelve Years a Slave, but also Mark Twain and other books of that era. I saw it longlisted for the Man Booker and liked the sound of it, getting a copy of the Audible version.

Washington Black is a child slave in Barbados when he is selected to work for one of the two owner brothers. It is to change his life when he discovers his master is a scientist in need of a research assistant. His education and work will lift him from the sugar fields to a life that takes in half the globe, as he looks on it all from the point of view of a slave, a youth.

This started brilliantly, I loved Washington's character and seeing his evolution from scared boy to educated and appreciated young man, albeit still a slave. The story takes many turns, and I did feel a little exasperated and felt it lost direction. I found myself losing concentration at times towards the end and having to backtrack.

The style mimics fairly well a novel of the period, though in a less formal way, making it easier for modern audiences to listen/read without feeling overwhelmed with old-fashioned stylistic flourishes and language.

There are some emotive parts, some shocks, twists, but I did prefer the first half to the second.

An unusual subject, quite refreshing. I may have preferred this on paper as I did find myself drifting listening to the Audible version, though the narrator was clear and made a good 'Wash'.

With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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I feel as though I have been on this journey alongside Washington himself!

Esi Edugyan must have a clear recollection of a previous life to be able to create the world of a slave growing up in the fields and then taken under the wing of a master before being abandoned ... it is such an evocative, emotional account - brought to life by the brilliant narration of Dion Graham - utterly consuming ... I’ve lived through every minute and just can’t recommend it highly enough!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A story of mental emancipation.

Having read Half Blood Blues, I was prepared for another extraordinary novel from a writer whose power to evoke the past seems effortless. I was drawn to this new book especially because I live in Barbados and the first part is set on a plantation there. But I also wanted to see what she would do with the theme of slavery, one which is so hard to do justice to without invoking stereotypes and easy guilt. In fact, the first section of the novel doesn't stint on horror, but the narrative doesn't lean on this. It quickly becomes a personal story, told entirely from the point of view of the protagonist, Washington, an enchanting child when we first meet him, disoriented by the inexplicable kindness of Titch, his master's brother, visiting from England, who takes him on as an assistant in his scientific experiments. It is, therefore, the story of an anomaly - a slave who is singled out and given the chance to develop his innate intelligence and talent, and ultimately to become a visionary scientist himself. This sounds romantic but it isn't: the role of science in the nineteenth century is shown to be one of liberation for many different kinds of people - from a disaffected younger brother, to an unconventional young woman, to Washington himself. innovations that we take for granted - like flight, or photography - were farfetched dreams in the 1830s, and the people who dreamed them viewed as eccentric or mad. Washington's relationship with Titch, the spine of the novel, goes through stages from hero-worship to betrayal to loss and anger, reaching, eventually, a plane of understanding and acceptance. It's the great achievement of this novel that ultimately it's about an individual's journey to self-knowledge and the understanding that he is not, as he thought, the centre of the universe, however urgent his own concerns might be. The relationship of Titch and Washington, strange and unconventional though it is, is thus revealed to be at heart a father-son relationship, one that all sons, and all fathers, must negotiate in their own way. The writing is always wonderful, and at times transcendent. A thrilling read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic

I loved this story - the characters, the writing, the narrator - everything about it was just perfect. And what an incredible narrator, I'll be looking out for more of his work.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Lazy narration in parts

The story was fascinating and generally well told. However the narrator didn’t distinguish much between characters and the Scottish accent seemed to travel the British Isles. Unfortunately this detracted from the magnetic story.

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Moving and exciting

This is a great book. A little let down by some of the narrator’s accents. But worthwhile reading

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Brilliant writing!

This was an astonishing story! The poetry of the language was extraordinary and I loved the way it dipped in and out of history in a rather surreal way. My only criticism would be the narration. Mr Graham had a wonderful voice but it was hard to distinguish accents. He sadly had no grasp of the differences between educated English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch. He tried but it was no good. I’m sorry!! This would normally have put me off the whole thing which is a testament to the greatness of the prose. I am sad it’s over...

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Brilliantly narrated.

Wonderfully narrated, this audio book draws the reader into the worlds of a field slave called George Washington Black as he recounts his terrifying history. Humanity and its evils are stripped bare as Edugyan examines our fascination with cruelty and the plight of those who find themselves helpless to resist. Through the grim narrative shine moments of love and hope, and the reader is left to consider how precious these moments become.

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Great story which fizzles or a bit towards the end

Well written and read, but couldn't help thinking that the end was a bit of a damp squib. That said, the majority of the story and characters are timeless and engaging. Well worth the bother, a fabulous story.

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Fantastic

What a stunning and poignant tale, spanning a great deal of time. The characters are rich and complicated. Beautifully written and wonderfully told.