Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

Challenge 4: Prize Winner Book

Pick one of the major literary awards from the list below. Click on the link for the award you picked. You will find a brief description of the award and links to past winners. Pick one of the past winners, read the book and write about it.

From the list I chose The Commonwealth Writer's Prize and selected the 2008 winner , Canadian author Lawrence Hill - The Book of Negroes. This book is also published as  Someone Knows My Name which was the title of the book I read.

The novel begins in London in 1802. Aminata Diallo is an old woman who has been brought to England by the Abolitionists who wish to use her life experiences as evidence in their fight against the slave trade. Aminata insists on writing her own story.

Born in 1745 , she was the daughter of Muslim parents living in the village of Bayo in West Africa. Her father teaches her to read and write from the Qu'ran and she accompanies her mother and learns the art of midwifery - catching babies. These skills were to stand her in good stead in the years to come for at the age of 11 Aminata is captured by slave traders, witnesses the death of her parents ,and begins the long , brutal journey into slavery.

We are the travelling peoples she will say and her life journey will be one of constant movement. Surviving the appalling sea voyage on the slave ship she is sold to a plantation owner.........then later sold again to a Jewish businessman in Charles Town. Eventually she escapes to freedom in New York where she is working for the British at the time of the War of Independence and as they finally withdraw she joins other freed slaves being sent to Nova Scotia with the promise of land and a better life. Promises that would never eventuate and a decade later Aminata takes the opportunity offered by the Abolitionists and becomes part of the Sierra Leone Resettlement programme. Returning to Africa takes her one step closer to fulfilling her lifelong dream of one day going home to Bayo. Her final voyage takes her across the sea again to London where she will become a djeli, a storyteller .

Aminata is a survivor........a woman with a strong inner spirit and enormous courage. She suffers a lifetime of degradation , poverty and the heartache of losing everything she loves but always she fights on. She never stops educating herself or reaching out to help others improve their lives. Wherever she goes she delivers babies and teaches others to read and write.

The Book of Negroes is an actual historical document recording the names of black people emigrating from New York. In the story Aminata is the one recording the names:
" .......I loved the way people followed the movement of my hand as I wrote down their names and the way they made me read them aloud when I was done. It excited me to imagine that fifty years later, someone might find an ancestor in the Book of Negroes and say "That was my grandmother".
To have a name is to have an identity...........without the skills to read or write that identity is easily lost as the slave owners were well aware. Literacy is a strong theme throughout the book.

Lawrence Hill writes in a beautifully simple and direct way which makes for easy reading yet the book has enormous depth and pulls the reader in on an emotional level. I found it powerful and engrossing reading and it has my highest recommendation.



  1. Beautiful review!! Thanks for the thoroughness! I'm keen to read this one!

  2. Thank you Aths - glad you liked the review and I do hope you will read and enjoy this book as much as I did.

  3. Great review.
    It sounds like a great book, and she sounds like such a strong woman

  4. This book is fantastic-I read it before Christmas and still need to write a review.

  5. Sounds amazingly powerful. Great review.

  6. Wow ... what a beautifully written review! This sounds like an amazing book.

  7. Thanks all - it is a book well worth reading.