Esi Edugyan Washington BlackMy book is about an 11- or 12-year-old field slave, Washington, on a Barbados plantation, who finds himself taken to live in the quarters of his master’s newly arrived brother, Christopher Wilde (or Titch). The prospect is terrifying. Every interaction with a white man has only begotten cruelty; he is convinced it is a death sentence. But Titch is a gentleman scientist, and most importantly, an abolitionist. It is through this reprieve from field life that Washington begins to see himself as a fully realised human being, one with his own gifts to offer the world. The novel has its origins in the case of the Tichborne Claimant. A decade ago, I read a story by Jorge Luis Borges in which he touches very lightly on the case. At the time, I’d believed he had made up every outlandish detail. How surprised I was, then, to walk though the National Portrait Gallery in London years later and see depictions of all the flesh-and-blood people involved. Something of a cause celebre in Victorian England, pitting the working class against the gentry, the Claimant case centred around Roger Tichborne, a 25-year-old aristocrat who was shipwrecked and presumed dead. His… Read full this story
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