"BLONDE ROOTS" by Bernardine Evaristo, Riverhead Books, 269 pages, $24.95
Slavery is an integral part of world history. Millions of Africans were taken from their homes and forced to live and work in degrading situations, seen only as property of white slave owners.
That slavery happened is an undeniable fact, but what if the past were different? What if history was reversed and Europeans, rather than Africans, had been enslaved? Author Bernardine Evaristo asks such a question in her novel "Blonde Roots," boldly recasting history as she follows one woman's experiences with slavery.
Born in feudal England, Doris Scagglethorpe is one of four daughters being raised by a cabbage farmer who lives in serfdom. Life is not easy, but Doris was happy helping her family work the land, spending nights singing songs and selling goods at the local market.
That all changes one seemingly normal day. During a game of hide-and-seek with her sisters, Doris is snatched by slave traders. Before she has the chance to struggle or even scream Doris is slung over the shoulder of a kidnapper with a sack slammed over her head.
Rowed out to sea on a slaver's yawl, a bruised and terrified Doris finds herself among hundreds of other captives being transported to the continent of "Aphrika."
She soon learns that what she's already been through is nothing compared to the horrors of Middle Passage. There she is assigned a wooden shelf where she will spend nearly all of her trip lying prone, secured with leg irons bolted to the wood.
Upon her arrival at the port of New Ambossa, Doris is renamed Omorenomwara by her new owners. She becomes the companion and playmate of a spoiled only child named Little Miracle. Doris learns to read and write, living in relative comfort until the sudden death of her mistress.
A constant reminder of their late daughter, Little Miracle's parents sell Doris to Chief Kaga Konata Kamtamba I of the United Kingdom. With her education, Doris becomes a valued slave, working as personal assistant to her master.
But despite her elevated station, Doris dreams of freedom and the family she was stolen from 20 years before. Doris puts her life in the hands of those running the Underground Railroad, hoping that they can restore her to the life she once had.
Both hauntingly beautiful and heartbreakingly uncomfortable, "Blonde Roots" is a hard but rewarding read. Evaristo handles the horrifying treatment of bondage with respect, balancing the line between realism and exploitation with grace.
Written from Doris' point of view, "Blonde Roots" becomes personal, as if the reader is witnessing events firsthand. Evaristo expertly sets the scene making Doris' memories of home and her capture as vivid as the events she's experiencing at the moment.
As it develops, "Blonde Roots" becomes less about pigment and more about the characters. The reader becomes invested, rooting for a positive outcome that surpasses the color of skin. Here, humanity and perseverance are the main theme, proving that the need for freedom and attachment are universal.
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