Washington Black

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Washington Black is the third novel by Canadian author Esi Edugyan. The novel was published in 2018 by Knopf Publishers.[1] A bildungsroman,[2] the story follows the early life of George Washington "Wash" Black, chronicling his escape from slavery and his subsequent adventures. The novel was very well received by critics and is shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize.

Plot summary[edit]

Washington Black is written in the third person and focuses on the title character, who is eleven years old at the start of the novel. George Washington "Wash" Black was born into slavery on Faith Plantation in Barbados, owned by the cruel Erasmus Wilde. Wash is watched over by Big Kit, a spiritual woman who longs for her life before her enslavement. One day, Wilde's younger brother and self-described scientist, Titch, visits Faith to test his prototype hot air balloon, the Cloud Cutter. Titch notices that Wash is a talented artist and begins to train him as scientific illustrator.

Titch's cousin Philip comes to Faith to announce the death of the latter's father. Shortly after, Philip kills himself with Wash as the only witness. Wash and Titch escape via the Cloud Cutter, but their flight is brought down by a sudden storm, and the two crash into a merchant ship captained by twin brothers, Benedikt and Theo Kinast. The Kinast brothers agree to take them to Virginia to meet an abolitionist friend of Titch's, Edgar Farrow. Farrow reveals that Mister Wilde is not actually be dead, prompting Titch and Wash to set off to the Arctic in search of Titch's father. Meanwhile, notorious slave catcher Mr. Willard pursues Wash.

After a long journey to the Arctic, Titch's reunion with his father culminates with Titch walking off into a blizzard. Shortly after, Mister Wilde dies. Wash, not yet sixteen years old, makes his way to Nova Scotia, where he supports himself while evading Mr. Willard. He meets Tanna, a fellow aspiring illustrator and the daughter of renowned marine biologist G.M. Goff. Wash works with Goff and Tanna to collect and illustrate marine specimens, and has the novel idea of creating an aquarium. Tanna and Wash eventually fall in love and have sex after Wash is attacked by Mr. Willard.

Getting word that Titch may be alive, Wash follows Tanna and Geoff to London, where the three begin work on their aquarium. Wash and Tanna look for information into Wash's past life and discover that Big Kit is Wash's mother. They eventually track down Titch in Marrakesh, Morocco. In the deserts outside of Marrakesh, Wash finds Titch living alone with a young Moroccan boy. Wash confronts Titch about their time together and his abandonment of Wash. A desert storm comes down upon the camp and, having received no satisfactory answer from Titch, the book ends with Wash beginning to walk off into the swirling sand.


Washington Black received positive early reviews. Trade journals Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Library Journal all gave the book starred reviews.[1][3][4] The New York Times Book Review praised the novel for "complicat[ing] the historical narrative by focusing on one unique and self-led figure."[5]. The New Yorker praises both the novel's success as historical fiction and at taking on grand themes such as love and freedom, writing "That striving—the delicate, indomitable, and often doomed power of human love—haunts "Washington Black." It burns in the black sea of history like the jellyfish in the Nova Scotia bay, no more than a collection of wisps in the darkness, but a glory all the same, however much it stings."[6]

The novel has been shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Washington Black". Kirkus Reviews.
  2. ^ Sholes, Lucy (18 August 2018). "Washington Black is a slave story told with a fresh sense of urgency". The National.
  3. ^ "Booklist Review: Washington Black". Booklist.
  4. ^ "Washington Black". Library Journal.
  5. ^ Toibin, Colm (17 September 2018). "Escaping Slavery in a Hot Air Balloon". The New York Times Book Review.
  6. ^ Miller, Laura (24 September 2018). ""Washington Black" Reveals the Bonds of Both Cruelty and Compassion". The New Yorker.
  7. ^ "Canada's Esi Edugyan shortlisted for prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction". The Globe and Mail. September 20, 2018.