Washington Black by Esi Edugyan is a story of a slave named George Washington “Wash” Black on a Caribbean plantation in the early 1800’s, a period of increasing enlightenment among individuals and the great inventions of the Industrial Revolution. The plantation is transferred to a despicable, white man named Arasmus Wilde, along with his eccentric, curious brother, Christopher “Titch” Wilde. Titch is accompanying his brother for the opportunity to test his invention, the ‘Cloud-Cutter’, an improved hot-air balloon, and he requires someone to help him finalize the plans of his machine, so he asks Wash to help him finish. As they finish building the machine, Wash is placed into a situation where he is blamed for the suicide of a close relative to the Wilde brothers, Phillip Wilde, so Wash, and Titch must escape with the newly built Cloud-Cutter to save Wash from a certain death. Wash travels across the world including the Canadian Arctic, Nova Scotia, and England to escape the bounty that is placed on his head. Throughout the book, Wash finds love with a woman named Tanna who is the first to truly accept Wash as a person and respects him as one and learns about the deeply distressing things that Titch has done, despite appearing like an enlightened, altruistic person.
What I found interesting about Washington Black is that it is a story about compassion and companionship as Titch learns to appreciate Wash as less of a slave and more as a human being as they get to know each other throughout their journey. It is also a story of betrayal as Titch leaves Wash when in the Arctic following an event with Titch’s father that left Titch frustrated with Wash for destroying his relationship with his family. Wash must learn how to deal with these mixed messages of acceptance as well as the lies and deceit he was told to be so he can finally be at peace as to why Titch left him. You grow to adore and respect certain characters while despising others because the character development in this book is excellent and those opinions of the characters can change throughout the story, which is what makes this book great. Essentially, Washington Black is a coming of age story of a former slave who must now learn how to learn how to live by himself in a society that do not look to keenly towards his race of people. I loved how the book was beautifully written with many paragraphs of descriptive imagery of the environment, like marine life such as the octopus with their vibrant colours and the way they interact with the world around them, and the various paintings of the environment that Wash paints that are covered in great detail.
If you are interested in the time period of great innovation and social changes of the Industrial Revolution, as well if you are interested how minorities were treated by society during this time period, then this is a must-read that will not disappoint. It is very easy to read and understand the messages found within the book, making it a better book for anyone who does not read as much or takes longer to read. I believed this is a very good book for young adults and older who are interested in the history of slavery.