FICTION

Washington Black

Knopf. Sept. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780525521426. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525521433. F
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OrangeReviewStarMuch has been written recently about the vulnerability of the black body; think of the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Roxane Gay. Canadian author Edugyan probes this subject through a remarkable coming-of-age story. Enslaved on a sugar plantation in Barbados, young George Washington Black lives a life so circumscribed that he's not even allowed to end it. Rescued from back-breaking work in the fields by amateur scientist Christopher "Titch" Wilde, nephew of the estate owner, Washington Black is schooled in math, English, and astronomy, discovering a penchant for illustration. For the next decade, he will wonder why he was chosen. Why, after they flee the island and at each stop along their picaresque journey to Virginia and on to an Arctic outpost, does Titch try to detach from the weight of Wash's need? Though physically free, Wash is never comfortable in his own black skin, and though he achieves a modicum of happiness, he will always be shackled to his past until he can fully understand it.
VERDICT Edugyan, whose Half Blood Blues was a finalist for the Orange and Man Booker prizes and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, delivers a vibrant, poignant tale of a man's search for selfhood in a world where some see him as less than whole. [See Prepub Alert, 3/26/18.]

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