Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan, tells the story of a young boy, George Washington Black, born into slavery.
When Washington is first introduced, he is eleven and working on the Faith Plantation in Barbados. He lives with an old, rather disillusioned woman that takes care of him. His boss is brutally cruel and makes life miserable on all fronts for the black slaves on the Barbados plantation.
It all continues until the master’s elder brother, Titch, arrives to live on the plantation in Barbados.
Titch, uninterested in the family business, devotes himself to science and chooses young Wash to be his assistant. Though weird, Wash finds his new master’s study fascinating. Even more fascinating were the images that Wash found in his books.
Wash, through Titch, soon feels his first taste of the freedom in drawing (the freedom that comes with being allowed an outlet for expression- a quality that made Titch even more enamoured by him).
Titch goes on to expose young Washington Black to a kindness he had never experienced.
But when a conflict breaks out between Wash’s masters, he is caught in the currents. It is this strong wave that propels Washington Black towards an impossible dream- an escape from the tyrannic oppression of his old master.
Now bound to Titch, they journey together into the unknown- Titch with the unparalleled enthusiasm of a scientist and the growing Washington Black, with wonder. Like a passenger in the world, Wash observes his new world with the eye of an artist and the careful keen interest of a scientist. He marvels at the aesthetic beauty of it all, in the almost surreal depth of his experiences. Amidst an ocean of events, Wash wanders through the world with Titch.
Eventually, Washington Black finds his freedom and the courage to drift away from his kind master. He finds purpose along the way as he works to establish the histories that surround him. Where is he from, who is he, and where was he supposed to go from there?
Esi Edugyan draws our eyes to an important historic event. She pulls us into the mind of a character and shows us what it would have been like to be him in those moments and that is what all great books achieve.