Huh? “What is The Book of Negroes?” you say. “I’m sure I’d have remembered a book with that title!” Therein lies the story. Lawrence Hill, a Canadian author, published The Book of Negroes in 2007. This historical novel quickly garnered critical acclaim and popular recognition, winning awards and being selected by the CBC-radio for its “Read Canada” event. The book tells the story of Aminata, a young girl stolen from Africa in the 1700’s and enslaved in South Carolina. She escapes and heads to Manhattan and aids the British during the American Revolution, serving as the scribe for the Book of Negroes, the registry of those freed slaves the British promise to award land for their assistance in fighting the colonists during the Revolution. Every day of her life she worked to better herself, a truly compelling character.
The Book of Negroes is an actual historical document and becomes a pivotal part of the story. It is the connotation of the title that is so off-putting. We just don’t say that. So when the book was released in the US in 2008 the title was changed to Someone Knows My Name. The book has been brought to television with CBC (Canada) and BET (US) as the primary producers. It has already premiered in Canada and will be shown on BET February 16 to 18. This is BET’s first miniseries ever. http://www.bet.com/shows/the-book-of-negroes.html
Lawrence Hill has created a wonderful and well-written story in this, his first novel. This success has traversed borders, raising the controversial question, “What’s in a name?” When the book was published in the Netherlands in 2011 there were threats to burn the book over its title. Hill responded that the controversy is part of the message to be learned from the story.
I am excited at the prospect of watching the miniseries. My past experience with CBC productions has been quite positive. There’s still time to enter Aminata’s world on your own terms before you watch the show. My copy has traveled through many hands since I first read it and discussed it with a book group. Someone Knows My Name/The Book of Negroes is a good example of historical fiction that expands your understanding of history through the life story of its characters.