It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! This month’s pick is Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, which was recently nominated for the Booker Prize.

Washington Black is a slave narrative unlike any I’ve read before. For one, most of my own reading about slavery has been focused on the United States, so Wash’s life in Barbados on a sugar plantation was a new perspective for me. One aspect that really hit me was Wash’s conversation with Kit about going to Dahomey when they die. Thinking of one day returning home gives Kit hope, but for Wash, who was born into slavery and has never known a free land, even the promise of an afterlife rings hollow. It emphasized to me just how much Wash had lost before he’d even begun his life. Even his home was tainted with pain and suffering.

I really appreciated that the story was explicitly not about a white savior. Titch may have saved Wash from the worst of field work, but he subjected him to danger in other ways. And as we see from their confrontation at the end of the book, Titch never truly saw Wash as a person equal to himself. Wash understandably latched onto Titch as a father figure, but I don’t think Titch ever saw Wash as a son. Rather, he was a tool to be used in Titch’s scientific quest. It was sad to me that Titch chose not to offer Wash a loving, supportive relationship when he so clearly wanted that from his own father.

Edugyan captures well how the horrors of slavery go on, even after the institution itself is abolished. Wash escapes the scene of the suicide with his life, but then he is on the run with a bounty on his head. Then slavery ends, and you think he’ll finally be safe, but then he finds he’s still being pursued by Erasmus Wilde’s crazed bounty hunter. Through it all, Wash wonders what fate befell Kit and the other slaves left on the plantation and suffers guilt that he managed to leave. Wash was constantly describing himself as anxious, nervous, terrified—rarely if ever was he able to let his guard down, even with people he should have been able to trust. Imagining living a life in constant tension like that wrenched my heart.

I’m not sure what to say about the ending. I can’t ignore the clear parallel between Wash walking out into the sandstorm and Titch walking out into the Arctic, but it’s hard to accept that that’s the end of Wash’s life. If we are supposed to assume that Wash walked into the desert to die, I suppose it’s an ending that rings true. I just wish it had gone another way. I’d be interested to hear other possible interpretations of the ending, if you read it a different way.

Comments are open below. I can’t wait to hear what you thought of this one!

Posted
AuthorTaryn

It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! Our pick this month is A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

This might just be my favorite book I’ve ever selected for the book club. I expected it to be good, as the author is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and this, her first novel, was chosen as the first book to be released by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint at Hogarth. Still, I was not prepared for how deeply I would feel for these characters and how personally the story would resonate with me. I am always searching for a reading experience like this--where the characters become fully real people, and through observing their lives, I come to understand something new about being human. That, to me, is the highest form of literature and it’s the reason I read.

I love books about complicated families, but I think A Place for Us is exceptional in the way it allows the reader to get to know each family member and see clearly their motivations. It’s so satisfying to me because in real life, you never get the bird’s eye view of your own family; you’re limited by your own perspective no matter how you to try understand where others are coming from. In a novel like this one, though, you truly see all sides to the situation. You recognize that each character makes mistakes, sometimes extremely damaging ones, but because you have the benefit of knowing their innermost thoughts, certain aspects of their nature, and  their prior experiences, they are comprehensible to you, even if they aren’t to the other characters. I had this same feeling while reading another favorite novel, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, which if you haven’t read you really must!

What touched me the most about this book was the spiritual reflection of the characters about the merciful nature of God. At the end of the book, Rafiq says, “Of all my mistakes the greatest, the most dangerous, was not emphasizing the mercy of God.” He knows by this point that his focus on avoiding sin and his anger when Amar fell short both contributed to Amar leaving the family. His perspective has changed in his advanced age; he is able to enjoy his grandchildren in a way he never could with his children when they were young. Seeing that transformation really got to me. And knowing that Amar hasn’t completely given up on the family, either, that he is calling and talking to his nephew on the phone? Wow. And then on the last page, when Rafiq tells his son he will wait at the gate for him...well, I cried a bunch. What is being a parent if not waiting at the gate, forever if need be, for your child?

I really loved A Place for Us and hope you enjoyed it too! Comments are open below. Can’t wait to hear what you thought of this one!

Posted
AuthorTaryn
2 CommentsPost a comment