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Winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize
A dazzling, original novel of slavery and freedom, from the author of the international bestseller Half-Blood Blues
When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington's life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington's head. Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.
From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy plains of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness of life. This inventive, electrifying novel asks, What is Freedom? And can a life salvaged from the ashes ever be made whole?