From Publishers Weekly
Olaudah Equiano's (c. 1745–1797) much anthologized autobiography is one of the earliest by an English-speaking person of African descent. But was it wholly truthful in its self-portrayal? Carretta, a senior fellow at Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, provides a masterful, lively and scrupulously researched account that questions central parts of the ex-slave's narrative, but upholds his view of himself as a self-made man. Carretta points out "compelling but not absolutely conclusive" evidence that Equiano, despite his description of a childhood in Africa and the Middle Passage, was born in South Carolina. As a slave, he spent most of his early life at sea, serving various British naval officers. Quick-witted and intelligent, Equiano gained his superiors' confidence and eventually his freedom; his nautical knowledge served him well later, when he traveled as a missionary to Sierra Leone. He lived most of his free life in England, worked as an abolitionist and served as a missionary. As Carretta so eloquently observes, Equiano did invent himself as a writer with a singular vantage point on slavery and as a spokesman for Africa (which he did visit later in life), a continent that few Europeans knew about in the 18th century. Carretta's exemplary study offers not only the definitive biography of Equiano but also a first-rate social history of the late 18th century in America and in England. B&w illus., maps. (Oct. 24)
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*Starred Review* When a former slave, Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, wrote his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,
in 1789, he became a prominent voice of resistance to slavery by descendants of Africans. Equiano detailed horrendous conditions for slaves in the West Indies and the Americas, providing firsthand accounts of the perilous Middle Passage. Matching historical records against Equiano's accounts of his life and voyages throughout North America, the Mediterranean, Europe, and the North Pole, Carretta records the adventurous life of a man who counted himself equal to all others and who worked at various times as a seaman, entrepreneur, overseer, and antislavery advocate. His wide experience, Carretta shows, gave Equiano a distinctive perspective on slavery and the tenuous life of a free black man. Carretta's research also reveals that, despite claiming that he was captured in Africa and enslaved, Equiano, in fact, was born in South Carolina. But that revelation only adds to the complex portrait of a man who passionately gave himself to a cause and shrewdly realized that, by claiming to be African-born, he could better aid that cause. This is a thoroughly rich, engrossing, and well-researched portrait of an exceptional man and the cause he championed. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved