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Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Book of Negroes - revising opinion

Never judge a book hastily because in doing so, one may write off a genuine masterpiece as just another book from a genre that has seen better works.

I did that with Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, when I wrote about it here in 2009, and then I even had a furious argument with my friend Joyce Wayne.

My contention was that Hill was merely following Alex Haley’s Roots, and while Hill’s Meena was a strong woman, her experiences were not too different from those of Haley’s Kunta.

I’d called Aminata the female version of Kunta.

But that was a hasty assessment because the more I have come to know of Canada, I’ve developed a better, keener understanding of the Canadian history, and especially of the blacks who escaped slavery from the United States to find a safe haven in Canada.

And while in Canada, blacks enjoyed a notional freedom because they weren’t slaves, there were constant undercurrents of racial tension that have persisted since the 18th century to the present day.

Hill’s novel is a masterpiece that poses the question of race from a Canadian perspective. I have no hesitation is saying I was wrong in the minimizing the significance of Hill’s novel. And now that the book has been turned into a television miniseries by CBC, I’ve turned into a fan.

The miniseries vividly brings to life the book’s characters and the main turning points. Aunjanue Ellis is an accomplished actor who brings to life Aminata’s character. She portrays the vulnerability, the defiance, the authoritativeness, the compassion, the anxiety, the grief, and the intellectual demeanour of the heroine of the book. 

In many ways, Ellis dignifies the tragedy of Meena’s life by a performance that is muted and yet high-powered.

Assuming that this blog has readers, I urge everyone who cursorily passes through these posts to watch the episodes of the miniseries here:  The Book of Negroes.

In case you're interested in reading the original post, here's the link: TBON

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