Aminata Diallo, the protagonist of Lawrence Hill’s exceptional novel, The Book of Negroes, is eleven years old when she is captured in Africa and forced onto a slave ship bound for the American colonies. Sold to an owner shortly after arriving on American soil, she endures a litany of trials and tribulations and experiences many adventures on her quest to return home. Aminata, or “Meena” as she is known to those she encounters, travels from the Carolinas to New York to Nova Scotia during her stay in North America, and uses her skills in midwifery (or “baby-catching”), and literacy to survive.
The Book of Negroes offers an engaging story peppered with historical detail researched meticulously by Hill. Though he posits that he took many liberties, it is obvious that he researched the slave trade of the 18th century carefully, and the result is a rewarding, if fictional, account of slavery in pre-revolutionary America.
For this reader, it sparked an interest in the subject, which prompted the purchase of one of the most often consulted and quoted and beloved books about slavery, Alex Haley’s Roots. And although Aminata Diallo is fictional where Kunta Kinte was not, she is as richly realized in Hill’s book as any person who ever lived, breathed and struggled to overcome.