Book Review: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan


Oh how I loved WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan! I was in need of lovely, sensory language and an engaging tale – and perhaps, more so, I was in need of a journey with incredibly rich characters. As the book jacket copy hints, this is a bit of an adventure story and includes a handful of very colorful characters. In another writer’s hands, these individuals – and the story itself – might have come off as too fantastical, but with this author, I felt them to be wholly realized, not caricactures – even the ones we meet only for brief moments.

The writing… Swoon:

That night I dreamed, for the first time in months, of Big Kit. We were standing at the edge of the cane at sunset and there were tiny flecks of insects feeding in the darkening air. A haze of pale light was furred around Kit’s head, like a halo, and I could not make out her face…

Oh how I loved Washington, and Big Kit, and Titch – and the science! Oh the science and wonderment of the world within these pages… This book earned many literary accolades, including Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. So deserved. This is first-person fiction written well. It is, in fact, an older Washington looking back upon his young life and retelling it. That storytelling choice makes the language and the novel all the richer.

WASHINGTON BLACK is a story with its share of cruelty, but also a story of hope, regret, and of living one’s truth. At its heart, it is a story about family.

”Do you know what family is?” he said bitterly. “He turned and met my eye, studying me some moments. “You do not know what family is, because you have never had one. That is why you think it matters.”

Oh, so many times were my heart-strings tugged on account of young Wash’s unquenchable thirst for family. I cared about this character so very much. In fact, I am dying to talk to someone about the very last scene of the novel. It is, indeed, open-ended, and I can find nearly a half dozen interpretations for it (and yet no discussions from the author regarding her intent)! This is not a criticism; I tend to like open-ended endings. I just need to puzzle it out a bit more. I absolutely look forward to future work (and back work) by this talented young author.


(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan was published at GoodReads on Feb 25, 2018. It is reposted here with the permission of the reviewer.)



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