George Washington Black, or “Wash” for short, is born a slave in 1818 on Faith Plantation in Barbados. He believes a life of oppression and captivity is all he will ever know, until one day Christopher Wilde, brother of the plantation owner, arrives in Barbados and requests that Wash be his research assistant. First aiding Christopher in the construction of a flying machine, Wash’s talent as an artist and naturalist soon emerge. However, he and Christopher are quickly forced to flee to America, and they are launched into a journey of adventure and self-discovery stretching from Morocco to the Arctic.
Simultaneously a globetrotting tale of adventure in the early days of scientific discovery and a meditation on what freedom means for Wash in a world that seeks to strip him of his dignity and rights, Washington Black is full of both complex ideas and exciting, tension-filled action. This combination may not be to the liking of every reader, but Esi Edugyan’s writing works to keep the plot moving at a quick, compelling pace, while raising important questions about freedom and identity for the reader. With hints of steampunk-esque scientific adventures, readers of historical fiction will enjoy this multi-layered, intricate tale.
Reviewed By: Abby Lauerman