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Books Editorial

washingtonblack.jpg Washington Black
 

Esi Edugyan, Serpent’s Tail

The Canadian author Esi Edugyan scored a big hit with her previous novel, ‘Half Blood Blues’, which told the story of black jazz players in the Second World War. It was shortlisted for the Booker and Orange prizes, and ‘Washington Black’, her latest, has also been Booker longlisted. It begins on a brutal cane plantation in Barbados, which is under the rule of two Englishmen: the vindictive Erasmus Wilde and his brother Christopher, a naturalist and inventor with an interest in the abolitionist movement. Christopher befriends Washington Black, an eleven-year-old slave working in the fields, and, following an unexpected death, the pair decide to flea the island (and do so in a manner sure to please steampunk fans). A price is put on Washington Black’s head, and there follows a global romp with Black pitching up everywhere from the ice-bound Arctic to the deserts of Morocco. It’s an entertaining, adventurous caper, but Edugyan also muses on the nature of friendship and power structures (and the relationship between the two), and she doesn’t shy away from particular horrors of slavery, either.