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110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Historical Fiction!!!
The actual Book of Negroes is an amazing historical document (a British military ledger) that contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 men, women, and children who served or were supported by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes is a brilliantly imagined novel based on the document of the same name and the events...
Published on May 22, 2007 by Pretty Brown Girl

versus
35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The extraordinary tale of Meena...but not without some concerns
"The Book of Negroes" is a work of historical fiction by Lawrence Hill. The soft cover edition is 470 pages in length. This novel won The Commonwealth Writer's Prize for 'Best Overall Book'.

Although the characters in this book are fictional, many events and items within the novel are real. e.g. there is a real 'Book of Negroes'...it's a ledger written in the...
Published on October 30, 2010 by R. Nicholson


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110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Historical Fiction!!!, May 22, 2007
By 
The actual Book of Negroes is an amazing historical document (a British military ledger) that contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 men, women, and children who served or were supported by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes is a brilliantly imagined novel based on the document of the same name and the events surrounding the relocation of thousands of Black Loyalists to various British colonies and eventually to Sierra Leone after the conflict. Similar in approach to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Hill's offering spans the lifetime of the fictional Aminata (Meena) Diallo, an African born woman who escaped to freedom.

At the beginning of the novel Meena is in London, an old woman who has lived a tumultuous life. At the urging of her abolitionist sponsors, she is asked to pen her story which would be used as evidence depicting the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave trade. Meena, an intelligent, educated woman, authors her autobiography via vivid flashbacks through time. She writes, "Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, dear reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary." She continues and details her life as a young child in an African village, her capture and Middle Passage crossing, enslavement while in America, relocation to Nova Scotia, return to Africa (Freetown, Sierra Leone), and partnering with abolitionists in England.

However to summarize the book in such a way is a huge understatement - it is steeped in historical facts that educate and enlighten the reader; I was pulled in immediately after reading the opening passages. Before her capture, African spirituality/religion, education (Meena's father taught her to read and write, her mother taught her midwifery), family structure, and culture are illustrated in her interactions with her parents and other villagers. After witnessing her parent's murder at the hands of African slavers, she is coffled and mournfully treks through the African interior for months before arriving exhausted at the coastal slave port. Meena transcribed the inhumanity of the trade, the stifling stench and horrid conditions aboard the slave ship, the rapes and attempted revolts that occurred during the crossing, and the shameful and dehumanizing experience on the auction block. She suffers hardships in America at an indigo producing plantation in South Carolina. She experiences the love and loss of a husband and children. Unwilling to work after the abrupt sale of her son, she is eventually sold to a new owner and escapes to freedom while in New York. Once there, she is employed by the British to record entrants into the infamous "book" and relocates to Nova Scotia. After a decade of struggling against the harsh elements, barren landscape and broken promises regarding land ownership; she and 1,200 other Africans relocate yet again to Africa to establish Freetown in partnership with London-based abolitionists.

The author notes in the Afterword where he has taken a few liberties with the timeline and some historical figures; however the vast majority of the book is factual; extracted from history books and inspired by diaries, memoirs, notes, etc. Hill expertly layers the social and political climates of the time against the protagonist's story. This novel is extremely well-written, perfectly paced, and highly recommended as a study aid for students or to anyone who enjoys the historical fiction genre.

Reviewed by Phyllis

APOOO BookClub

Nubian Circle Book Club
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We will cry out always always always just so you don't forget us.", November 10, 2007
Thanks to the storytelling skills of one who has the vision to imagine one female's journey through decades of slavery, revolution and abolitionist fervor, once more the silent rise from the depths to howl their grief, rage and spirit. Born a free Muslim in her village, Aminata Diallo leaves childhood behind, as well as the dead bodies of her father and mother, captured by slave-traders, chained to others on a months' long trek to the ship that will carry this valuable cargo across the ocean to the American colonies. Bereft, Aminata stands horrified as dead slaves are tossed overboard or leap from despair into the waiting sea.

Taught by her mother to "catch babies", the girl delivers two infants during the course of the voyage, but death strikes once again on a shipboard uprising, white men and Africans butchered in a melee of impromptu weapons and deadly "firesticks". The sights and smells of this ordeal remain imprinted on Aminata's soul, the past severed as she is thrust into a new, forbidding world. At an indigo plantation in South Carolina, Aminata learns more harsh lessons of slavery, the humiliation of belonging to someone far more powerful and unpredictable, introduced to cruelty, degradation, love and motherhood, stripped finally of all she holds dear. Brilliant and curious, "Meena" learns to hide her accomplishments behind the façade of obedience. Even in her darkest moments of despair, Meena holds fast to the truth- she was born free and belongs to no one.

In such a story, the telling of truth is burdened with outrage: man's inhumane treatment of those they would exploit, the onus of slavery through centuries, the capacity for evil in the pursuit of profit. In Meena, we witness the toll on one human life. Somehow this courageous woman endures, making her way from Africa to South Carolina, New York, Nova Scotia, back to Africa and London. She catches babies from one continent to another, learning the falsity of promises and the impossibility of another voice to tell ones story: "Beware the clever man who makes wrong look right." Educated, well-spoken and determined, Aminata gathers languages to tell her tale to all who may listen, to Africans and abolitionists alike, of the Diaspora from her homeland to many countries, everywhere speaking her truth.

What Barry Unsworth did for the Middle Passage in Sacred Hunger, Lawrence Hill does for the suffering of slaves, shackled first to one another, then to their owners, even abolition serving the interests of trade before humanity. Aminata Diallo's story is personal, yet speaks for many, the devastating journey of a young girl from a stolen childhood to old age, her spirit undaunted in spite of those who would own or use her. To be reminded of this nightmare is to be reminded of the collective inhumanity of those who rationalize deeds to serve the god of profit; more importantly, Aminata celebrates the extraordinary courage of the human spirit in the face of evil. Luan Gaines/ 2007.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calling out my name, August 31, 2007
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Hearing your own name spoken in public isn't usually something significant. Yet, on a slave trading ship that transported up to a thousand Africans to North America, this act of public acknowledgement was momentous. Calling out their full names to each other was equal to "affirming their humanity". In the early mornings from the bowels of the vessel the chanting voices represented not only an important ritual of recognition and respect, it was also a way of finding out who had made it through the night. The conditions on the slave ship were abysmal: the Africans were jammed together and shackled most of the time, lacking food and water and sanitation, leading to exhaustion, infections and starvation. Many lost their minds, many more died. When the captives arrived in North America they were traded and sold like cattle and their suffering continued.

The brutality of the West African slave trade in which millions of Africans perished is well documented. However, when a knowledgeable and perceptive novelist transforms these records and the many personal accounts of cruelty and tragedy on the one hand and survival, perseverance and hope on the other into one inclusive narrative around one memorable character, the realities of the many merge into one rich and lively, heart wrenching and joyful history-based novel of exceptional beauty and power.

First we meet Aminata Diallo, the heroine of The Book of Negroes, as a frail old woman, yet with a fiery spirit and resolve that she must have had all her life. Hill's novel lets her relate her story in her own voice, direct and uncomplicated, yet subtle and insightful. Written in the best African story-telling tradition, it addresses readers directly, absorbing us completely into characters, times and places of the struggle for survival and eventual freedom.

Nurtured by loving parents in rural Mali, Aminata, unusual for the time, was educated in reading and the Qur'an by her father and learned the skill of "catching babies" from her midwife mother. Hill's familiarity with places and cultures of different peoples in West Africa gives the depiction of village life and tradition vivacity and veracity. At age eleven, during a raid on the village, the young girl is seized by African slavers and forced to join many others on the long, hard road into slavery. The memory of her parents, killed during the attack, gives her strength and guidance throughout her ordeal. Her beauty and intelligence combined with her midwifery skills, help her to stay alive during the dangerous passage to North America and for the next decades, sold as property to different more or less abuse owners.

Aminata's portrayal of survival in the midst of so many who perish, of violence and misery, but also of friendships found and lost, as well as love and family, evokes a rainbow of emotions in the reader - from despair and sadness to delight and joy. Hill's talent placing himself into the mind of his heroine is admirable. Through her he has created a captivating panoramic life story with authentic characters. Not only is the heroine of the novel a wonderfully vibrant and endearing personality, she is surrounded by many, equally believable, individuals.

Aminata's life voyage takes her through many dramatic turns of fate to freedom and back into Africa. During the American War for Independence, she finds herself on the British side and is sent, as a freed slave, to Nova Scotia with the promise for a better life. She enters her name in the historic "Book of Negroes", a British military ledger that recorded the names and details of some 3,000 black Loyalists being allowed to leave the American territory for Shelburne Harbour. Hope, however, turns into gloom and despair. The first race riots in North America break out in Shelburne. Birchtown, the black settlement, is ransacked and many inhabitants are killed. Betrayed by some, but supported by others, Aminata survives and finally fulfils her dream of returning "home" as one of the "adventurers" of the Sierra Leone resettlement program, sponsored by British abolitionists. She has come full circle but not quite in the way she had dreamt. Asked by abolitionist politicians in London to tell her story as a genuine African voice to promote their cause, Aminata takes on a final new role.

Hill's novel brings many factual historical strands together, introducing a range of contemporary personalities accurately into the storyline. Together he transforms them into a stunning and wide reaching panorama of human suffering, endurance and victory. Rich in authentic detail yet fluid in its style and tone, He has brought memorable characters to life that illustrate the strengths of the human spirit. [Friederike Knabe]
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believable, July 21, 2010
By 
Before reading this book I had little interest in history. The character development was deep and I was soon drawn into the story and found the book difficult to put down. The book mainly depicts the life and struggle for survival of one young girl, her capture in Africa, transport by land and sea, in ways and areas not fit for animals, through love, loss, aging and eventual triumph. The story transported me back in time to view what it would be like to be a female slave, sold several times to different types of masters, some very cruel and some quite kind. The characters hunger for survival, education and freedom, things we sometimes take for granted nowadays, was enlightening and refreshing. I do not often read the same book twice, but this one I will. Apparently in the U.S. the book was not allowed to be published by the same title. Instead it was published under the title "Someone Knows My Name".
I also read "Any Known Blood" by the same author, it was also good, but not as good as "The Book of Negroes".
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calling out my name, March 7, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Hearing your own name spoken in public isn't usually something significant. Yet, on a slave trading ship that transported up to a thousand Africans to North America, this act of public acknowledgement was momentous. Calling out their full names to each other was equal to "affirming their humanity". In the early mornings from the bowels of the vessel the chanting voices represented not only an important ritual of recognition and respect, it was also a way of finding out who had made it through the night. The conditions on the slave ship were abysmal: the Africans were jammed together and shackled most of the time, lacking food and water and sanitation, leading to exhaustion, infections and starvation. Many lost their minds, many more died. When the captives arrived in North America they were traded and sold like cattle and their suffering continued.

The brutality of the West African slave trade in which millions of Africans perished is well documented. However, when a knowledgeable and perceptive novelist transforms these records and the many personal accounts of cruelty and tragedy on the one hand and survival, perseverance and hope on the other into one inclusive narrative around one memorable character, the realities of the many merge into one rich and lively, heart wrenching and joyful history-based novel of exceptional beauty and power.

First we meet Aminata Diallo, the heroine of The Book of Negroes, as a frail old woman, yet with a fiery spirit and resolve that she must have had all her life. Hill's novel lets her relate her story in her own voice, direct and uncomplicated, yet subtle and insightful. Written in the best African story-telling tradition, it addresses readers directly, absorbing us completely into characters, times and places of the struggle for survival and eventual freedom.

Nurtured by loving parents in rural Mali, Aminata, unusual for the time, was educated in reading and the Qur'an by her father and learned the skill of "catching babies" from her midwife mother. Hill's familiarity with places and cultures of different peoples in West Africa gives the depiction of village life and tradition vivacity and veracity. At age eleven, during a raid on the village, the young girl is seized by African slavers and forced to join many others on the long, hard road into slavery. The memory of her parents, killed during the attack, gives her strength and guidance throughout her ordeal. Her beauty and intelligence combined with her midwifery skills, help her to stay alive during the dangerous passage to North America and for the next decades, sold as property to different more or less abuse owners.

Aminata's portrayal of survival in the midst of so many who perish, of violence and misery, but also of friendships found and lost, as well as love and family, evokes a rainbow of emotions in the reader - from despair and sadness to delight and joy. Hill's talent placing himself into the mind of his heroine is admirable. Through her he has created a captivating panoramic life story with authentic characters. Not only is the heroine of the novel a wonderfully vibrant and endearing personality, she is surrounded by many, equally believable, individuals.

Aminata's life voyage takes her through many dramatic turns of fate to freedom and back into Africa. During the American War for Independence, she finds herself on the British side and is sent, as a freed slave, to Nova Scotia with the promise for a better life. She enters her name in the historic "Book of Negroes", a British military ledger that recorded the names and details of some 3,000 black Loyalists being allowed to leave the American territory for Shelburne Harbour. Hope, however, turns into gloom and despair. The first race riots in North America break out in Shelburne. Birchtown, the black settlement, is ransacked and many inhabitants are killed. Betrayed by some, but supported by others, Aminata survives and finally fulfils her dream of returning "home" as one of the "adventurers" of the Sierra Leone resettlement program, sponsored by British abolitionists. She has come full circle but not quite in the way she had dreamt. Asked by abolitionist politicians in London to tell her story as a genuine African voice to promote their cause, Aminata takes on a final new role.

Hill's novel brings many factual historical strands together, introducing a range of contemporary personalities accurately into the storyline. Together he transforms them into a stunning and wide reaching panorama of human suffering, endurance and victory. Rich in authentic detail yet fluid in its style and tone, He has brought memorable characters to life that illustrate the strengths of the human spirit. This book was published in the US under the title "Someone Knows My Name".[Friederike Knabe]
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35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The extraordinary tale of Meena...but not without some concerns, October 30, 2010
"The Book of Negroes" is a work of historical fiction by Lawrence Hill. The soft cover edition is 470 pages in length. This novel won The Commonwealth Writer's Prize for 'Best Overall Book'.

Although the characters in this book are fictional, many events and items within the novel are real. e.g. there is a real 'Book of Negroes'...it's a ledger written in the late 1700's documenting the list of Negroes who were leaving New York to come to Nova Scotia around the time of American independence from British rule.

*SPOILER*

The book follows the life of Aminata Diallo (or Meena, as she'll become known in the book). We initially meet her as an 11 year old African girl captured near here home in Bayo. She is shackled and taken to the west coast of African where she's put on a ship for America. Chronologically, the story details the horrors she confronted within the slave ship that took her across the Atlantic, then her life in the Carolinas, New York, Nova Scotia, Freetown in Sierra Leone and finally in London.

*END SPOILER*

IMPRESSIONS:

The book is beautifully written and the tale extraordinary...reminding me of Alex Haley's "Roots"; yet different, in that this book follows one person whereas Haley's book followed a lineage. In any event, the results were a novel that was truly hard to put down. Our heroine, Meena, is a capable and likable person...who, due to her seemingly endless dire circumstances, learns that if she wants to survive, she must watch, learn and adapt to her ever changes surroundings.

There is a lot of actions and descriptions within the confines of this work that could be or will be disturbing to some readers. Even though this is a fictional work, there are horrible things witnessed within these pages that very likely happened to these ill-used and mistreated souls. So be prepared for some unpleasant descriptions of actions and events.

CONCERNS:

And yet, for all that I enjoyed this book, I had a feeling that as I got deeper and deeper into the story, that many of the situations that Meena found herself in, had a sense of being contrived. Just when things seemed bleakest, something (or more likely, someone) would arrive to give her another beginning. Also, an event at the very end of the book, just seemed so improbable (given the circumstances that prevailed in the early 1800's) that it really took away some of the credibility of the all that had gone on before...making my ongoing 'contrived' concerns even more a reality.

Conclusion:
A work of historical fiction that is intriguing and is well told.The tale is spell binding, but some situations have an air of contrivance to them. 3 Stars.

Ray Nicholson
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving indictment of Canada's part in the history of slavery!, February 21, 2010
By 
Paul Weiss (Dundas, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
Many of us will remember being moved to tears by the power and depth of "Roots", Alex Haley's compelling novel on the slave trade that was published almost 40 years ago. Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes" gives contemporary readers the opportunity to savour a very similar novel and to experience the horror, shame and embarrassment of acknowledging that such abhorrent conduct towards black people is an indelible part of North America's past.

I was fascinated to discover that the "Book of Negroes" is a real historical document. It painstakingly lists the names and details of freed Loyalist slaves who chose to leave the United States to go to Canada, a difficult and frightening decision that, for them, must have seemed no less daunting than the Israelite's search for the Promised Land. To my shame as a Canadian, many of the blacks who were part of this migration discovered that their treatment in Nova Scotia was just as reactionary and oppressive as that which they had hoped to leave behind as freed slaves in the northern states of New England.

Constructing his novel around the fact of this amazing document, Lawrence Hill has presented "The Book of Negroes" as a fictionalized autobiography. Aminata Diallo, a precocious and brave young girl kidnapped from her village in West Africa, marched in chains to the Atlantic coast, squashed into the hold of a stifling, disease-ridden slaver and shipped to South Carolina where she was sold as a slave, tells her own story. We hear of the love and loss of her husband, her life as a slave under multiple owners, her migration to Nova Scotia from New York, her return to Freetown in Sierra Leone and, ultimately, her trip to England and the presentation of her fascinating but appalling story to the British people through the members of British Parliament seeking to abolish slavery.

The history that Lawrence Hill presents to us is at once spellbinding and repulsive. The incredible art and archival material that Hill has chosen to accompany the text in the illustrated edition starkly bring the story to life. We are reminded that, while "The Book of Negroes" is a novel, it is based in a reality, the horror of which is almost impossible to exaggerate. As a Canadian, I felt, frankly, that I had been soundly slapped for an entirely unwarranted sanctimonious attitude. Until I read "The Book of Negroes", I was blissfully unaware of the extent of Canada's involvement in the ugliness that was the treatment of ostensibly free black people when they moved to Canada.

February 2010 is Black History month. I urge every reader to take the time to participate in this worthy event by reading Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes". Perhaps, in time, bigotry and racism will come to be no more than a historical memory.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-wrenching, Capitvating, Memorable!, November 16, 2011
By 
Dolores Ayotte (Winnipeg, Manitoba) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Someone Knows My Name (Paperback)
My daughter read The Book of Negroes and shared this wonderful gem with me. At first blush, the length of the book was quite daunting. Lawrence Hill has written a masterpiece of almost five hundred pages. However, as soon as I started reading, I was drawn back to its pages over and over again.

Hill vividly relates the fictional story of eleven-year-old, Aminata Diallo, as penned by her in this novel at the turn of the nineteenth century. When she was a young girl, Aminata was abducted from her West African village and forced to become part of a string of slaves. It is not only her story that is of great interest, but also the stories of the Negro people and what they endured in their fight to free themselves from slavery. "The `Book of Negroes' is an historic British military ledger allowing 3000 Black Loyalists passage from Manhattan to Nova Scotia." Aminata eventually has the opportunity to register her name in this book and reclaim her status as a free African girl.

Hill manages to captivate his reading audience by taking this abducted young girl from West Africa all the way across the world to a plantation in the United States. As I turned the pages of this book, I also turned the pages of history when I joined Aminata in her harrowing journey. I was so inspired by the impressive courage and daring of this heroine. She is definitely a memorable champion as she demonstrates true grit in her fight to regain her freedom from slavery. Hill has managed to write an astounding and informative novel which I thoroughly enjoyed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT HISTORICAL FICTION, February 26, 2008
SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME

Can you imagine? Can you even begin to understand what it must have been like to be living your happy life, surrounded by loving family and friends, only to be kidnapped, travel half-way around the world and end up having no freedom by becoming the property of another human being? Imagine ---

This is the story of thousands and thousands of people who actually lived this nightmare. Being kidnapped from their native Africa and ending up in England or America being enslaved, branded, beaten, sometimes put to death.

Narrated wonderfully by Aminata, she tells us how she is kidnapped, shackled, and ends up in South Carolina. Her quest to get back home is never ending. Aminata tells of the horrors of being ripped from family, crossing the ocean on the horrible slave ships, and being sold to numerous men, some of them kind, some of them horribly inhuman. Aminata is one of the luckier slaves; she is intelligent and that fact is not lost on her owners. She is educated and uses her intelligence and education to help others and herself. This is one great read!!

What this woman endures and narrates is sadly true and part of history. The book flows and ebbs and the history mixed in with fiction works. This book should be required reading in schools.

Check this book out; you won't be disappointed.

Thank you!
Pam
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving indictment of Canada's part in the history of slavery!, March 7, 2010
By 
Paul Weiss (Dundas, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
Many of us will remember being moved to tears by the power and depth of "Roots", Alex Haley's compelling novel on the slave trade that was published almost 40 years ago. Lawrence Hill's "Someone Knows My Name" (published as "The Book of Negroes" in Canada) gives contemporary readers the opportunity to savour a very similar novel and to experience the horror, shame and embarrassment of acknowledging that such abhorrent conduct towards black people is an indelible part of North America's past.

I was fascinated to discover that the "Book of Negroes" is a real historical document. It painstakingly lists the names and details of freed Loyalist slaves who chose to leave the United States to go to Canada, a difficult and frightening decision that, for them, must have seemed no less daunting than the Israelite's search for the Promised Land. To my shame as a Canadian, many of the blacks who were part of this migration discovered that their treatment in Nova Scotia was just as reactionary and oppressive as that which they had hoped to leave behind as freed slaves in the northern states of New England.

Constructing his novel around the fact of this amazing document, Lawrence Hill has presented "The Book of Negroes" as a fictionalized autobiography. Aminata Diallo, a precocious and brave young girl kidnapped from her village in West Africa, marched in chains to the Atlantic coast, squashed into the hold of a stifling, disease-ridden slaver and shipped to South Carolina where she was sold as a slave, tells her own story. We hear of the love and loss of her husband, her life as a slave under multiple owners, her migration to Nova Scotia from New York, her return to Freetown in Sierra Leone and, ultimately, her trip to England and the presentation of her fascinating but appalling story to the British people through the members of British Parliament seeking to abolish slavery.

The history that Lawrence Hill presents to us is at once spellbinding and repulsive. The incredible art and archival material that Hill has chosen to accompany the text in the illustrated edition starkly bring the story to life. We are reminded that, while "The Book of Negroes" is a novel, it is based in a reality, the horror of which is almost impossible to exaggerate. As a Canadian, I felt, frankly, that I had been soundly slapped for an entirely unwarranted sanctimonious attitude. Until I read "The Book of Negroes", I was blissfully unaware of the extent of Canada's involvement in the ugliness that was the treatment of ostensibly free black people when they moved to Canada.

February 2010 is Black History month. I urge every reader to take the time to participate in this worthy event by reading Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes". Perhaps, in time, bigotry and racism will come to be no more than a historical memory.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
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