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

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Someone Knows My Name

aka: The Book of Negroes

By Lawrence Hill

Someone Knows My Name
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2007,
    512 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2008,
    512 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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My hair has mostly fallen out now, and the remaining strands are grey, still curled, tight to my head, and I don’t fuss with them. The East India Company brings bright silk scarves to London, and I have willingly parted with a shilling here and there to buy them, always wearing one when I am brought out to adorn the abolitionist movement. Just above my right breast, the initials GO run together, in a tight, inch-wide circle. Alas, I am branded, and can do nothing to cleanse myself of the scar. I have carried this mark since the age of eleven, but only recently learned what the initials represent. At least they are hidden from public view. I am much happier about the lovely crescent moons sculpted into my cheeks. I have one fine, thin moon curving down each of my cheekbones, and have always loved the beauty marks, although the people of London do tend to stare.

I was tall for my age when I was kidnapped, but stopped growing after that and as a result stand at the unremarkable height of five feet, two inches. To tell the truth, I don’t quite hit that mark any longer. I keel to one side these days, and favour my right leg. My toenails are yellow and crusted and thick and most resistant to trimming. These days, my toes lift rather than settling flat on the ground. No matter, as I have shoes, and I am not asked or required to run, or even to walk considerable distances. By my bed, I like to keep my favourite objects. One is a blue glass pot of skin cream. Each night, I rub the cream over my ashen elbows and knees. After the life I have lived, the white gel seems like a magical indulgence. Rub me all the way in, it seems to say, and I will grant you and your wrinkles another day or two.

My hands are the only part of me that still do me proud and that hint at my former beauty. The hands are long and dark and smooth, despite everything, and the nails are nicely embedded, still round, still pink. I have wondrously beautiful hands. I like to put them on things. I like to feel the bark on trees, the hair on children’s heads, and before my time is up, I would like to place those hands on a good man’s body, if the occasion arises. But nothing—not a man’s body, or a sip of whisky, or a peppered goat stew from the old country—would give anything like the pleasure I would take from the sound of a baby breathing in my bed, a grandchild snoring against me. Sometimes, I wake in the morning with the splash of sunlight in my small room, and my one longing, other than to use the chamber pot and have a drink of tea with honey, is to lie back into the soft, bumpy bed with a child to hold. To listen to an infant’s voice rise and fall. To feel the magic of a little hand, not even fully aware of what it is doing, falling on my shoulder, my face.

These days, the men who want to end the slave trade are feeding me. They have given me sufficient clothes to ward off the London damp. I have a better bed than I’ve enjoyed since my earliest childhood, when my parents let me stuff as many soft grasses as I could gather under a woven mat. Not having to think about food, or shelter, or clothing is a rare thing indeed. What does a person do, when survival is not an issue? Well, there is the abolitionist cause, which takes time and fatigues me greatly. At times, I still panic when surrounded by big white men with a purpose. When they swell around me to ask questions, I remember the hot iron smoking above my breast.

Thankfully, the public visits are only so often and leave me time for reading, to which I am addicted like some are to drink or to tobacco. And they leave me time for writing. I have my life to tell, my own private ghost story, and what purpose would there be to this life I have lived, if I could not take this opportunity to relate it? My hand cramps after a while, and sometimes my back or neck aches when I have sat for too long at the table, but this writing business demands little. After the life I have lived, it goes down as easy as sausages and gravy.

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.

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