Washington Black

Washington Black : Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

4.02 (19,545 ratings by Goodreads)
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New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year 2018

'A masterpiece' Attica Locke

'High adventure fraught with cliffhanger twists mark this runaway-slave narrative, which leaps, sails, and soars ... broadens inventive possibilities for the antebellum novel' Kirkus starred review

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black - an eleven 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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 432 pages
  • 144 x 222 x 38mm | 575g
  • Serpent's Tail
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Main
  • 1846689597
  • 9781846689598
  • 12,589

Review quote

Washington Black is nothing short of a masterpiece. Esi Edugyan has a rare talent for turning over little known stones of history and giving her reader a new lens on the world, a new way of understanding subject matter we arrogantly think we know everything about. This book is an epic adventure and a heartfelt tale about love and morality and their many contradictions. I loved it. -- Attica Locke Washington Black is a gripping tale, made vivid by Esi Edugyan's gifts for language and character, and by the strength of her story... The reader feels honoured and moved to have kept Wash company on his journeying -- Erica Wagner * New Statesman * Strong, beautiful and beguiling. -- Arifa Akbar * Observer * At the core of this novel, with its searing, supple prose and superb characters, is a visceral depiction of the abomination of slavery. Yet, as importantly, it explores an unlikely friendship, the limits to understanding another's suffering, the violence lurking in humans and the glories of adventure in a world full of wonders. -- Elizabeth Buchan * Daily Mail * A story suggestive of Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley ... a strange, engaging tale -- Jeffrey Burke * Mail on Sunday * An extraordinary, picturesque tale... A richly entertaining read * BBC History * Washington Black is an intimate portrait of slavery at its most genocidal and of the limitations of kindness in an unjust system. The book's hero is a gifted scientist and artist fighting to live a fully human life in a world that insists on seeing him either as livestock or as an object of pity. Along the way, there are balloon rides through storms at sea, vignettes of frontier life in 19th century Canada, scenes of polar exploration, and the establishment of the world's first aquarium. Washington Black is a brilliantly absorbing picaresque; a book that combines the unflinching depiction of violence with a lyrical, hallucinatory beauty. -- Sandra Newman Washington Black is a profoundly humane story about false idols, the fickleness of fortune and whether a slave, once freed, can ever truly be free. * The Times * Wondrous ... gripping ... vivid and captivating * Economist * Edugyan displays as much ingenuity and resourcefulness as her main characters ... A thoughtful, boldly imagined book that broadens inventive possibilities for the antebellum novel * starred Kirkus review * Edugyan's magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts... Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan's novel is both searing and beautiful. * Publishers Weekly * The story is memorable not only in its voice but also in its evocation of the horrors of slavery; and it is brilliant, too, in its construction of character. Wash and Titch are so alive as to be unforgettable, as is the story of their tangled relationship. This important novel from the author of the superb Half-Blood Blues belongs in every library. * Booklist * 2018's answer to Dickens ... the joy of Edugyan's book lies in its ambition and humanity. It feels like a 19th century classic, but one that wants to explore the ill effects of those times and still find some sense of hope at the end of it all. -- Francesca Brown * Emerald Street * Magnificent and strikingly visual prose * Financial Times * The beauty here lies in Edugyan's language, which is precise, vivid, always concerned with word craft and captivating for it... Edugyan's fiction always stays strong, beautiful and beguiling * The Observer * Washington Black is a gripping adventure and an atmospheric portrayal of 1830s society at both the fringes of the world and the heart of the British Empire -- John Boyne * Daily Express * Excellent ... Edugyan can write beautifully ... In places, the novel is devastating, precisely because she is never gratuitous or sentimental ... In a story that is escapist, as well as poignant and political, Edugyan enjoys taking her readers where they are least expecting to go. * Irish Independent * a pacey yet thoughtful exploration of freedom, and our moral compulsion to act * Spectator * An enthralling meditation on the weight of freedom, wrapped in a rousing adventure story stretching to the ends of the earth... beautiful and affecting * Boston Globe * A powerful, twisting work of historical fiction ... Edugyan is a marvelous writer * Seattle Times * elegant and nuanced * Christian Science Monitor * As harrowing a portrayal of slavery as Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, but also a globe-trotting, page-turning adventure story. A historical epic with much to say about the present-day world * Guardian * A powerful story about slavery . . . The first section of the book, set on the plantation, is a scintillating tour de force . . . A novel worthy of its subject * Literary Review * Irresistible . . . Tightly paced . . . A gripping adventure and an atmospheric portrayal of 1830s society. * Daily Express * Magnificent . . . By placing a black slave at the heart and centre of this epic romp, by making Wash the explorer of lands, science and art, Edugyan reclaims long-lost terrain in this ambitious, headspinning work. * Financial Times * A lush, exhilarating travelogue reminiscent of Jules Verne . . . Edugyan, like her hero, can paint an indelible scene. * New Yorker * A gripping historical narrative exploring both the bounds of slavery and what it means to be truly free. * Vanity Fair * Exquisite -- Boris Kachka * New York magazine * Terrifically exciting . . . An engrossing hybrid of 19th-century adventure and contemporary subtlety, a rip-roaring tale of peril imbued with our most persistent strife . . . Discover what the rest of the world already knows: Edugyan is a magical writer * Washington Post * Riveting . . . [A] towering achievement . . . Edugyan is one of our sharpest and deepest writers of historical fiction. * Entertainment Weekly * Edugyan's genius here is that she's found an urgent, fresh way of writing the antebellum novel . . . A romping yarn, beautifully and evocatively written, the narrative spinning along at a glorious pace. -- Lucy Scholes * The National * Gripping . . . Astonishing . . . Washington Black's presence in these pages is fierce and unsettling. His urge to live all he can is matched by his eloquence. -- Colm Toibin * The New York Times * Perfectly executed . . . Soaring . . . More than a tale of human bondage, it's also an enthralling meditation on the weight of freedom, wrapped in a rousing adventure story stretching to the ends of the earth. * Boston Globe * Extraordinary . . . Edugyan is a marvelous writer. * Seattle Times * An astounding novel . . . It is impossible for the reader not to hang on to Wash's every word. * St. Louis Post-Dispatch * Excellent . . . Devastating . . . Unforgettable . . . In a story that is escapist, as well as poignant and political, Edugyan enjoys taking her readers where they are least expecting to go . . . Like the best historical fiction, it shines a light on the present as well as the past. * Irish Independent * A vibrant, poignant tale of a man's search for selfhood in a world where some see him as less than whole . . . Remarkable. * Library Journal starred review * Wonderful . . . Eloquent . . . Brilliant . . . Wash and Titch are so alive as to be unforgettable . . . This important novel from the author of the superb Half-Blood Blues belongs in every library * Booklist starred review * Edugyan's magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era's science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan's novel is both searing and beautiful. * Publishers Weekly starred review * A thrilling page-turner . . . also a lyrical contemplation of captivity and freedom, and the scars that stay with us for life. * Globe & Mail * A cinematic epic of slavery and freedom, it's also a tale of high adventure and scientific endeavor . . . Both engaging and deeply affecting. * Toronto Star * The story never stops feeling epic, thanks in part to its scope... its tragic tone leavened with touches of irony and farce, and the wealth of the Biblical, literary, and cultural allusions that illuminate every corner of her writing. The miracle is how masterfully she gets these elements to work together. * The Walrus * Washington Black's triumph is to make us think searchingly about slavery and racism, while entertaining us in the style of Jules Verne or Dickens... [An] epic, powerfully imaginerd continent-spanning tale * Times Literary Supplement * [A] masterful novel * The Economist * A full-pelt adventure story featuring hot-air balloon crashes, blizzards in the Arctic, scientific discovery, knife fights in dark alleys, bounty hunters and forbidden romance ... Washington Black is entertaining, gripping and actually readable * Sunday Times * A thoughtful, profound epic that feels destined to become a future classic ... It's a masterpiece which is full of surprises, and is that rare book that should appeal to every kind of reader. * Guardian * The Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan wove slavery and the science of fight into the boisterously imaginative caper of Washington Black * The Telegraph *
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About Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan's Washington Black has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018 and The Scotiabank Giller Prize 2018. Her previous novel, Half Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor-General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize, and the Orange Prize. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia
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Rating details

19,545 ratings
4.02 out of 5 stars
5 31% (6,017)
4 46% (8,992)
3 19% (3,754)
2 3% (669)
1 1% (113)
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