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Washington Black

Narrated by: Dion Graham
Length: 12 hrs and 18 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4.5 out of 5 stars (216 ratings)

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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
  • Performance
    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 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A fairly ordinary novel.

I was looking forward to reading Washington Black but found it a little boring, sadly, especially in the second half. A lot of mysteries are alluded to but never really resolved, and the characters felt a bit stiff and one-dimensional including Washington himself. I felt as if an opportunity was missed to describe their environs and their work in much more detail and the whole thing wraps up quite quickly in the end but Isn’t very elucidating. The narration is good overall but a bit flat perhaps, and some of the accents are pretty bizarre. All in all this wasn’t for me and not sure I’d recommend it.

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Profoundly moving

An epic story beautifully performed, deeply moving and constantly interesting . I’m off to buy her other books

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Good story

Good story, disappointing ending, but most irritating narration - spoke really fast had trouble understanding it!

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Elegant, sad, important

It’s always a pleasure to immerse yourself in a beautifully written story. I suspect it will stay with me for a few days

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

An adventure of self purpose

Beautifully narrated; at times early on I thought of abandoning this as I was struggling to understand where the story was going, but I'm glad I persevered. Wash is ultimately led on a trail of self discovery, to figure out who he is outside of the stereotype and status given to him at birth. The ending was a little underwhelming for me and I was left with questions, but this isn't always a bad thing.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Good but not great

A thoroughly enjoyable (except of course for the underlying injustices) listen. I very much enjoyed coming back to this book and liked the rambling story-line that was believable and original. The first half had me gripped but the second half, not so much, as I felt it tended to ramble on occasion.
The narration was okay though some of the voices lacked distinction, and the accents, at times, left a lot to be desired, but overall the narration was good.

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Excellent

Great story, very well narrated. Captivating from the very start.

It would be helpful to have a text copy alongside to understand some of the speech from the characters in the plantation. Also the Scottish accent isn’t the best!