In 1830 Barbados, enslaved 11-year-old George Washington Black, known as Wash, has already seen many deaths; he knows “the nature of evil.” Raised by Big Kit on Faith Plantation, the two work in the sugarcane fields along with numerous slaves, surviving as best they can. But Big Kit’s fierce love and power can’t keep the boy safely by her side when the new owners, English brothers named Erasmus and Christopher Wilde, take over the plantation and Wash is forced to become Christopher’s manservant.
Terrified at losing Big Kit and all he has known, no matter how cruel, Wash is catapulted into a life he never could have imagined. Christopher shares his dream of launching his Cloud-cutter and teaches the boy rudimentary science and how to read and calculate measurements.
When Wash is unwittingly ensnared in a tragic event and a bounty is placed on his head, he becomes utterly dependent on Christopher for his survival.
In an epic journey spanning less than a decade, Big Kit’s prophecy about Wash—You will have great big life, child. Life of many rivers—is realized. Wash flees with Christopher and later travels without him to America, the Arctic, Nova Scotia, England, Holland, and Morocco. On his journeys, Wash discovers his gifts, searches for his identity, and tries to deal with his rootlessness and restlessness. Finally he has the possibility of leaving his mark in the world, even though he was “a boy born for obliteration, for toil and for death.”
In this surprise-filled novel for adults, author Esi Edugyan offers profound insights into the hearts of people, both enslaved and free, and portrays the vast reaches of the earth, contrasting immense beauty with stark harshness. Edugyan’s grasp of science, art, geography, and history make this lengthy novel a satisfying read. (Knopf)