Excerpt from Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Someone Knows My Name

aka: The Book of Negroes

By Lawrence Hill

Someone Knows My Name
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Nov 2007,
    512 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2008,
    512 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

And now I am old
{LONDON, 1802}

I SEEM TO HAVE TROUBLE DYING. By all rights, I should not have lived this long. But I still can smell trouble riding on any wind, just as surely as I could tell you whether it is a stew of chicken necks or pigs’ feet bubbling in the iron pot on the fire. And my ears still work just as good as a hound dog’s. People assume that just because you don’t stand as straight as a sapling, you’re deaf. Or that your mind is like pumpkin mush. The other day, when I was being led into a meeting with a bishop, one of the society ladies told another, “We must get this woman into Parliament soon. Who knows how much longer she’ll be with us?” Half bent though I was, I dug my fingers into her ribs. She let out a shriek and spun around to face me. “Careful,” I told her, “I may outlast you!”

There must be a reason why I have lived in all these lands, survived all those water crossings, while others fell from bullets or shut their eyes and simply willed their lives to end. In the earliest days, when I was free and knew nothing other, I used to sneak outside our walled compound, climb straight up the acacia tree while balancing Father’s Qur’an on my head, sit way out on a branch and wonder how I might one day unlock all the mysteries contained in the book. Feet swinging beneath me, I would put down the book—the only one I had ever seen in Bayo—and look out at the patchwork of mud walls and thatched coverings. People were always on the move. Women carrying water from the river, men working iron in the fires, boys returning triumphant from the forest with snared porcupines. It’s a lot of work, extracting meat from a porcupine, but if they had no other pressing chores, they would do it anyway, removing the quills, skinning the animal, slicing out the innards, practising with their sharp knives on the pathetic little carcass. In those days, I felt free and happy, and the very idea of safety never intruded on my thoughts.

I have escaped violent endings even as they have surrounded me. But I never had the privilege of holding onto my children, living with them, raising them the way my own parents raised me for ten or eleven years, until all of our lives were torn asunder. I never managed to keep my own children long, which explains why they are not here with me now, making my meals, adding straw to my bedding, bringing me a cape to hold off the cold, sitting with me by the fire with the knowledge that they emerged from my loins and that our shared moments had grown like corn stalks in damp soil. Others take care of me now. And that’s a fine thing. But it’s not the same as having one’s own flesh and blood to cradle one toward the grave. I long to hold my own children, and their children if they exist, and I miss them the way I’d miss limbs from my own body.

They have me exceedingly busy here in London. They say I am to meet King George. About me, I have a clutch of abolitionists—big-whiskered, wide-bellied, bald-headed men boycotting sugar but smelling of tobacco and burning candle after candle as they plot deep into the night. The abolitionists say they have brought me to England to help them change the course of history. Well. We shall see about that. But if I have lived this long, it must be for a reason.

Fa means father in my language. Ba means river. It also means mother. In my early childhood, my ba was like a river, flowing on and on and on with me through the days, and keeping me safe at night. Most of my lifetime has come and gone, but I still think of them as my parents, older and wiser than I, and still hear their voices, sometimes deep-chested, at other moments floating like musical notes. I imagine their hands steering me from trouble, guiding me around cooking fires and leading me to the mat in the cool shade of our home. I can still picture my father with a sharp stick over hard earth, scratching out Arabic in flowing lines and speaking of the distant Timbuktu.

Reprinted from Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. Copyright (c) 2007 by Lawrence Hill. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  167The City:
    Dean Koontz
  2.  19The Arsonist:
    Sue Miller

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.