Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Book Of Negroes Review

You’d be hard-pressed to find an event in history as pivotal and underreported as the American slave trade. Just so we’re clear, I mean the continental term America. Not just the national term. Yes, we know it happened. Yes we know it was horrible. But I think we need to know more, otherwise, and I know this sounds pretty cliche, history repeats itself.

Over the last month or so, we’ve examined The Book Of Negroes, a fictionalized first-person account of the slave trade, from the perspective of Aminata Diallo, a slave turned diplomat. The book delves into great detail about the lives and circumstances that the slaves experience. I really enjoyed it. It had one of the best protagonists I have seen in a long time. You find yourself rooting for Aminata and her companions the whole time, hoping that they make it through alive. The plot is interesting as well, though it may seem rushed in some parts and painfully slow in others, you are drawn into it nonetheless. There’s a lot there for history buffs like me to obsess over. To my own surprise, a lot of the characters who I thought were fictional, turned out to be based on real historical figures, so there’s that. All in all, it was an enjoyable book.

Where do I start? We’ve had an interesting year last year, with more reported cases of neo-nazism, sexual assault cases, diplomatic failure, and, well I guess this happened this year, the leader of the free world calling other countries S***holes. You have to admit, that we seem to be taking a few steps backward on the evolutionary scale. I think the root of the problem, is a general lack of empathy. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, a lack of knowledge with the past. That’s why, it is extremely important that more people read books like this, and gain more perspective of the world. It may have happened 3 centuries ago, but because of the reasons I mentioned above, the slave trade is still a relevant issue today. Oh, and let’s not forget that slavery is still a thing. It didn’t just disappear. 20.9 million people are still forced to do labor today.

I’d recommend this book to just about anyone that can read. People need to know about this issue, and we need to start teaching empathy and tolerance. This book does a great job of putting you in someone else's shoes and allowing you feel what they feel. It allows you to broaden your perspectives. Honestly, I think books like this are what society needs most rights now.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book. It was an awesome experience for me to watch Aminata grow as a character, and interact with the world around her. But this is usually my least favorite part of any book. After your done reading it, you feel as if there's a hole in your life. It’s been a blast blogging again. I hope to see you guys sooner rather than later. Don't stop reading at my expense though. Keep going. I should see you again soon. As always, have a great day, and don’t forget to be awesome.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Global Issues Art

Is slavery an issue that's still current today? I’m sure a lot of you are thinking it. The book is done, and a lot of thoughts are circulating through our minds. The biggest one that's going through mine, is the question of what relevance we can gain from something that happened three centuries ago. Believe it or not, 20.9 million people are still forced to do labor today. That’s 20.9 million mistakes that are being repeated. Not only that, but racism and prejudice are on the rise again. The story in this book needs to be told to more people.

In this art piece I have created, I incorporated Aminata's quote about her finished book. Every choice I made here is intentional. Of course, I’m no artist. It’s a simple piece really. But you know, there’s still some symbolism I’d like to guide you through.

Beside Aminata stand a line of silhouettes. While Aminata was able to tell her story, there are a lot of people that weren’t so lucky. People who were silenced and locked away. When Aminata writes her account, she isn’t just speaking for herself. She is also giving these slaves a voice. I’d say, that this is the main theme of the book. Giving people a voice. As Aminata recounts earlier when she’s working on the ledger, “...I loved my new work. I felt that I was giving something special to the Negroes seeking asylum in Nova Scotia and that they were giving something special to me. They were telling me that I was not alone.” (Hill 291).

Even if it is a work of fiction, Lawrence Hill wrote it to give people like Aminata a voice, and tell a story that had otherwise been lost to history.

The font was chosen to mimic Aminata’s handwriting, as this was her story, and when combined with her image, almost brought her voice to life. The parchment background was chosen for much the same reason, as that would have been the most similar to the materials used at the time. The words surround the characters, to show Aminata speaking with them as much as she is speaking for them. It also shows how Aminata uses words as her weapon of choice if that makes sense. She uses them to change the world, and make it a better place. She uses them to give others a voice. She uses them to preserve her name in history.

Yes, I used a picture of Aminata from the television series, The Book Of Negroes, but you know, the alternative would be me drawing, and I know none of you want to see that again. I'll be seeing you guys soon with my final review. Until then, stay tuned.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Empathy Exercise

Hey guys. I got something a little bit different planned for us today. Rather than just talking about the novel, we’re going to do a little mental exercise. First, let me get something out of the way. I’m sure some of you have thought something along the lines of “Why do you even have a schedule if you’re not going to follow it?

Yeah, I know I’ve been somewhat neglecting my blogging duties lately, and I’m sorry. Luckily though, winter break is almost over, and I’m going to have more schedule in my life. Seriously, I’m a wreck without more schedule. So, let’s begin with the blog.

Aminata is a very round dynamic character. You can’t help but root for her. She’s believable, ethical, and charming. Yet her circumstances seem unbelievable. We see some of the worst human atrocities in history being committed through the lens of this narrator. I talked about empathy and sympathy in an earlier post. We find it very easy to feel sympathy towards the character, but hard to find empathy. So today, we’re going to do an exercise that will hopefully make her experiences more believable, and make the readers of this book more empathetic.

Picture the following scenario. You’re walking home from work, or school, or an errand. It’s getting cold, so you decide to save time and cut through an alleyway. However, a group of men is waiting there. You decide to turn around but by then, a rag is pressed up against your mouth. The sweet smell of chloroform sends you spiraling into unconsciousness. You wake up inside a white van. More people sit with you. You try to find out what’s going on, but the rest of the prisoners are unconscious. The van drives out into a field, where you’re thrown out and forced to line up. The next sight you see is almost unbelievable. A flying saucer lands down, and from it steps a group of green men. They give the kidnappers money, then move the prisoners up into the spacecraft. The ship flies up to a much larger one.

The next few months aboard the mothership are a living hell. Diseases spread around, as waste isn’t properly disposed of. Weak prisoners are beaten and killed, to be flushed out the airlock. You barely manage to stay alive through the few months of traversing space. You finally reach the alien planet. Just for fun, let’s call it Tatooine. The surviving human prisoners are placed upon podiums, to be bought and sold to the green men. In case you haven’t noticed yet, yes I’m a bit of a nerd.

You're sold off to an alien master, who has you and a few others work on harvesting his crops. You work for him for around 10 years, until a civil war among the green men destroys the farm and kills your master. Amidst the chaos, you are able to slip away. You make your way through the alien woods for weeks, living off fauna and flora you learned was edible in your years working for the master. You make your way to a ruined spaceport, and find a ship that’s still intact. You are able to pilot it back to earth.

No matter who you tell, no one believes you. They take you for a crazed lunatic. And in the 11 years, you’ve been gone, society has advanced dramatically. You aren’t able to cope with the trauma and stress, and eventually, you take your own life.

As weird, and somewhat depressing as that exercise was, it paralleled Aminata’s experience quite well. She too was kidnapped and forced to work for a group she viewed as alien. Though she hasn’t taken her life, the years of labor have taken their toll on her. She's no longer very religious, and somewhat broken, especially after the death of Chekura. She’s a strong character though. Imagine people who go through much worse, and have weaker wills. They just can’t cope with the post-traumatic stress they obtain from their experiences and seek an end to it all. Hopefully, that exercise helped you empathize somewhat, by giving a more personal twist to Aminata’s story. If not, well, I hoped you enjoyed it at least. Thank you for reading this post. This time I promise to see you again in a few days. Have a great day and don’t forget to be awesome.

Friday, 29 December 2017

The Book Of Negroes Check In #3

Hey guys. I know what your thinking. “Where’s Lucas! Where did he go?! This post was due three days ago! What a terrible person!”

Yes, I’m a little late on this blog post. With the excitement (Or chaos, depending on how you want to look at it.) of the holidays, I’ve been kept quite busy, and the chapters that I should have had done by now took a little bit longer than expected. But rest assured, I have some really cool stuff to talk about with this fifth of the book, so sit tight.

We’ve met a whole new cast of characters and settings so far in the book, be the one character that really intrigues me so far is Solomon Lindo. Instead of being a generic bad guy like Robinson Appleby, there is a lot of depth to him. He tries to do the right thing. He, along with Aminata, live in a society that views him as inferior and subhuman. He spirals into depression after his wife and infant son died due to smallpox. During this time, Aminata finds it impossible to sympathize with him. I mean, if you’ve been forced to work on a plantation for most of your life, you would find it hard to feel bad for a man complaining about being restricted from a library. Despite the fact that he is a considerably more pleasant man than Appleby, he still acts as an antagonist, that Aminata needs to overcome to achieve her freedom.

We lose all sympathy for this man, when we figure out he was the broker in the transaction of Aminata’s son.

Another interesting thing that happens in this section, are the deaths of Fomba, Georgia, Dolly, and Mrs. Lindo. Their deaths are glossed over in a small paragraph faster than you can say ouch. Personally, I found that kind of frustrating. We spent a good chunk of the book connecting with these characters, and rather than giving their deaths any emotional weight, the book tells us what happens in a news-like paragraph:

I never got to see Georgia again after I was sold to the Lindos in Charles Town, and one day final sad news came through the fishnet: Georgia had died in her sleep one night of no known ailment. And my fellow villager Fomba had been killed by a night patroller. Fomba had been fishing in his skiff at night when the buckra called out for him to identify himself. Fomba had never recovered the ability to speak, and the patroller shot him in the head. Rather than learning to feel less disappointment, I found that one insult to my heart just seemed to make the next one worse.

In the fall of 1774, nearly thirteen years after I had come to live with the Lindos, a smallpox epidemic took the lives of Mrs. Lindo, Dolly, their sons, and some two hundred people in Charles Town. (Hill 214).

I mean come on. That's just not a satisfying way to kill off half of the supporting characters. Well, there really isn’t any satisfying way to kill off half of the supporting characters in a book, but this one is horrible.

One topic we are exploring in our classes at the moment is the idea of rights and fundamental freedoms. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that multiple equality rights are violated in this book. You see this with slavery, and somewhat in Solomon Lindo’s case. You can see the “injustice” of it all in this line. “ ‘I’m good enough to be their indigo inspector, but can I vote in their elections? The Anglicans won’t even let me on their library board.’ “ (Hill 210).

But an interesting event happens during the course of this book, that also fits into this category. You may have heard about the American Revolution? I could argue that the whole event took place because democratic rights and equality rights were being violated. The idea of modern democracy was born from the American constitution because they were tired of working for a leader who taxed them heavily and controlled their economy. They wanted more say in how their state was run and wanted the chance to be equal to each other. They also fought for basic fundamental freedoms. They wanted the chance to express themselves and do what they pleased. Of course, the experience of the slaves made the Americans problems look like a millennial's when they complain about all the “injustice” they’ve had to suffer. But no one stepped up to fight for them I see. Not for another century at least. Thanks, Abe!

All in all, I’d say the book has shown how much people have struggled to gain back their rights, and what lengths they will go to be free. It's been quite an interesting ride so far. Those were my thoughts on this section of the book. We will hopefully be talking again in the new year, so stay tuned, have a great week, and don’t forget to be awesome.

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Book Of Negroes Check In #2

"I WOULD HAVE BEEN ABOUT TWELVE when I arrived on Robinson Appleby's indigo plantation. I believe it was the month of January, 1757. The air was cold, and around my waist I had nothing but a bit of rough osnaburg cloth. It bit into my hip, leaving it red and raw, and the toes of my left foot were bleeding. Two of them felt broken. I could barely walk." (Hill 123)

Well, we are done approximately two-fifths of the book now, and a lot of plot has been covered. If you haven’t read chapters 1-8 yet, I highly recommend you do so before reading this blog post. There will be a lot of things discussed here.

So far in the book, Aminata has arrived in South Carolina and has started working on the Appleby Indigo Farm. She has met a whole new cast of characters, like Georgia and Mamed, who have acted like parent figures to her during her time on the farm. She talks about her experiences working with the indigo, as well as her developing relationships with some of the characters previously discussed.

The one relationship that I would really like to address in this post, is the one between her and her master Robinson Appleby. Throughout the book, the slaves are treated like objects. This is very apparent in the conversation between Aminata, Appleby, and the main slave trader of Charles Town, William King:

“No worries, she’ll fetch you a fine price. Appleby, my boy, you want to run a class plantation, then get to know your people. Slaves from the Gold Coast or Gambia are best. After that, try picking strong males from the Windward Coast. Mandingoes---there you go, your girl here might be a Mandingo---are gentle but useless when tired. And they tire too damn fast. Then you got your Whydahs, who are cheerful to the point of lusty. You want one or two of them around, but more and you’ve got too much dancing and frolicking. You can bet your life that a buck from the Congo will run straight to the Spanish, just as soon as he hears about Fort Musa. Don’t buy them from the Congo, and never buy a Callabar. They are the worst. The worst, I tell you, the very worst.” (Hill 172).

But Appleby really demonstrates this trait. He sexually and physically abuses Aminata on several occasions and treats her like, well, garbage. “African whore” is his one of his names for her. As you can see, this Appleby character is a real charmer (Sarcasm). But as bad as he sounds now, I really get to loathe him towards chapter 8. Spoiler alert to everyone that hasn’t made it there!

Okay, so you all remember Chekura, the kid that accompanied Aminata on her trip to the plantation? Well, as it turned out, he was sent to work on a plantation really close to Aminata’s. He comes to her plantation once in awhile to visit her, and during one of his visits, they get, well, busy. Due to biology, Aminata becomes pregnant. A bit young if you ask me, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, it doesn’t take long for Appleby to find out. After Aminata and Chekura get married (which they do), they are given gifts by their fellow slaves. Appleby decides to strike then, and takes Aminata, shaves her head in front of her friends, then burns her gifts, warning that if she does anything behind his back again, he’ll burn every single one of her possessions. As disgusting as this character is now, he gets worse, just bear with me.

The baby is born, Aminata names him Mamadu, after her father, and spends about 10 months nursing him. This paragraph should tell you what happens next quite well:

But when my son Mamadu was just ten months old, I woke up in the middle of the night to his bawling. I rolled over to bring him close, to relieve his cries and all the pressure of the milk within me. My hand brushed against the bed of woven grasses. The bed. The air. My own body. Nothing else. I opened my eyes. The crying was outside my little room now. Out there in the night. I jumped up, dizzy, confused and full like an unmilked cow, and there I saw Robinson Appleby put my baby into a man’s arms up on a carriage. I ran toward them. The driver whipped a horse, and the carriage pulled forward. The whip struck again and the carriage sped away. And my baby disappeared into the darkness as fast as a falling star. (Hill 183).

Appleby sold Mamadu like you would sell an old bike or toy on Kijiji. The casual way he did it sickened and angered me. He didn’t even put any real thought into it. But whatever the reader felt, was barely a fraction of what Aminata felt afterward. In fact, she refused to work, and Appleby got fed up enough to sell her to Solomon Lindo, a character introduced earlier, that seemed like a nice guy. So, I guess it’s a happy-ish ending? I’m sorry guys, optimism isn’t always appropriate.

These have been my thoughts on the second fifth of the book. Thank you for reading. We’ll talk again on Saturday or Sunday. As always, have a great day, and don’t forget to be awesome.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Book Of Negroes Check In #1

If any of you have been reading this novel along with me, I apologize in advance. My brain nearly turned off the day I made the schedule, so it tells you to stop reading in the middle of the chapter. I’ll get to work fixing this, but for now, just bear with me. If you’re halfway through a chapter, please just make sure to finish it. I don’t want to interrupt your flow.

Anyway, I finished the first few chapters of The Book Of Negroes last night, and a lot of thoughts are racing through my mind. First of all, this is not a kids book. If you tune into my blog, and you’re younger than 14, please get your guardian’s permission to read this novel. I talked about how I wanted the book to hold nothing back, and trust me, it did not.

The story talks about Aminata Diallo, a young girl who is kidnapped when her village is attacked by the mysterious toubabu (White men). She is then forced to march across Africa chained to her fellow captives, fighting the elements to reach a ship headed for America. She tells the story of her experiences on the walk and on the voyage across the Atlantic. She begins by talking about the murder of her parents and the destruction of her village. The fear is evident in her voice when she recounts after her father is killed:

My feet felt stuck to the ground, My thighs felt wooden. My stomach heaved up against my chest. I could hardly breath. Fa was the strongest man in Bayo. He could lift me with one arm, and send sparks flying like stars when he pounded red iron with his mallet. How could this be? I prayed that this was a dream, but the dream would not relent. (Hill 28).

I have to say, I haven’t seen a character this richly developed in a long time. Aminata has a personality that makes her believable as a character, and a human being. Also, being able to see one of the most horrible human atrocities through the lens of a child really sheds a different light on it. One of my favorite lines from the book so far has to be this:

It struck me as unbelievable that the toubabu would go to all this trouble to make us work in their land. Building the toubabu’s ship, fighting the angry waters, loading all these people and goods onto their ship---just to make us work for them? Surely they could gather their own mangoes and pound their own millet. Surely that would be easier than all this! (Hill 62).

The level of innocence and simplicity almost made me laugh. Perhaps if we just listened to our children sometimes, we wouldn’t have so many problems! I find it especially fascinating how she manages to keep herself sane. If I went through half of the things Aminata went through, I wouldn’t have the willpower to go on. Yet she keeps on going, determined to stay focused and tell the world about her circumstances. While I sympathize with this character deeply, I have trouble being able to empathize. I grew up in a vastly different world than Aminata. As someone who grew up in Canada his whole life, I can’t imagine myself in the shoes of someone who goes through the experiences that she goes through. This book shows me her perspective really well, however, and does a great job shedding light on one of our darker moments of history. So while it is hard for me to connect with the character, I am at least able to get a new perspective.

So far, my favorite part of the book has been watching the differences in worldview. On pages 3 and 4, Aminata has a conversation with a little girl from London, “She asked why I was so black. I asked her why she was so white. She said she was born that way. Same here I replied.” (Hill 3-4). These interactions give me a sense of hope. They show that even though we have our differences, we still are all human beings. I’ve also liked learning about Aminata’s culture. There seems to be almost no contact with the outside world in her village, and this causes an almost independent identity to form. All in all, I’ve found a lot of interesting things in this book. If you’ve been reading along, we’ll be starting again tomorrow. I’ll see about fixing the schedule, but if the pages end in the middle of a chapter, do yourself a favor and finish the said chapter. I’ve really enjoyed the book so far, and hope to continue reading it. Have a great day, and don’t forget to be awesome!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Book Of Negroes

Hey guys! Welcome back to my blog. It’s almost been a year since I last posted (My more seasoned readers know that), but I'm back with a huge announcement. I’m going to be starting a new novel study! From now until January 8 of the new year, we’ll be reading and discussing The Book Of Negroes. Nothing quite like a nice easy light-hearted read!

Alright, enough with the sarcasm. This novel study is part of a new project studying global issues. We’ll be dealing with topics like genocide, war, poverty, etc. So you guys are in for a real treat. This time, everyone in the project will be reading a different book. Unlike the Scorpion project, there won’t be too much collaboration (Which between you and me, is kind of alright).

There are a few reasons why I chose this book. The first reason is that I have heard good things about the author. Lawrence Hill has also written a book called the Illegals, which I have only heard good things about (I might check that one out after I’m done this book). Secondly, the book has won quite a few awards. I haven’t read an awarded book that has disappointed me as of yet, so when I am looking for a book, I look for an award. The synopsis of the book hooked me in as well. I’m a bit of a history buff, and I am really curious about the corner of history that the book addresses. The Slave Trade in America is something you don’t really hear about much, and I think it’s something that a lot of people should know about. Today, we’re seeing racism and prejudice all over the media. By not educating people about our darker moments, we are increasing the risk of having these periods repeated. I expect the book to really shed light on how horrible slavery was, and hold nothing back. That way, people will be able to see how dark the past was and prevent it from happening again.

Feel free to join me as I read through this. I have included a reading schedule above for you to follow along. If you've read it before, that's great, but please don't ruin it for others by spoiling it. Have a great day!