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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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Phyllis Rhodes (03/01/09)

Outstanding Historical Fiction!!!
The actual Book of Negroes is an amazing historical document, a British military ledger that contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 men, women, and children who served or were supported by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Lawrence Hill's book (published as the The Book of Negroes in Canada and as Someone Knows My Name in the USA) is a brilliantly imagined novel based on the document of the same name and the events surrounding the relocation of thousands of Black Loyalists to various British colonies and eventually to Sierra Leone after the conflict. Similar in approach to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Hill's offering spans the lifetime of the fictional Aminata Meena Diallo, an African born woman who escaped to freedom.

At the beginning of the novel Meena is in London, an old woman who has lived a tumultuous life. At the urging of her abolitionist sponsors, she is asked to pen her story which would be used as evidence depicting the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave trade. Meena, an intelligent, educated woman, authors her autobiography via vivid flashbacks through time. She writes, "Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, dear reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary." She continues and details her life as a young child in an African village, her capture and Middle Passage crossing, enslavement while in America, relocation to Nova Scotia, return to Africa Freetown, Sierra Leone, and partnering with abolitionists in England.

However to summarize the book in such a way is a huge understatement - it is steeped in historical facts that educate and enlighten the reader; I was pulled in immediately after reading the opening passages. Before her capture, African Meena's father taught her to read and write, her mother taught her midwifery, family structure, and culture are illustrated in her interactions with her parents and other villagers. After witnessing her parent's murder at the hands of African slavers, she is mournfully treks through the African interior for months before arriving exhausted at the coastal slave port. Meena transcribed the inhumanity of the trade, the stifling stench and horrid conditions aboard the slave ship, the rapes and attempted revolts that occurred during the crossing, and the shameful and dehumanizing experience on the auction block. [edited to remove plot spoilers]

The author notes in the Afterword where he has taken a few liberties with the timeline and some historical figures; however the vast majority of the book is factual; extracted from history books and inspired by diaries, memoirs, notes, etc. Hill expertly layers the social and political climates of the time against the protagonist's story. This novel is extremely well-written, perfectly paced, and highly recommended as a study aid for students or to anyone who enjoys the historical fiction genre.
Mercedes (01/09/09)

Someone Knows My Name
A powerful historically accurate book that brings alive the life of one woman enduring the emotional and physical hardships of slavery - written so well and so lyrically that we feel and see all she does - we are there - it is a visceral experience to read this book and I could not put it down - a true look at and experience of the human experience as it endures the unthinkable and yet retains it's humanity. It raises fascinating questions and one can see that to go against the tide is never easy but the results are world changing. This book will appeal to book clubs and older school students - as slavery is still happening today in other guises. Outstanding and beautifully written - I could not believe it was written by a man - he got into the mind and soul of the extraordinary life of Aminata. Highly recommended; a must read.
lori (04/16/08)

Great Book
This book is a page turner. The story flows as though you are watching it playout. The main character steals your heart and makes you care about what happens to her. Even if your are not history buff, you will LOVE this book.
Kim (03/14/08)

Excellent historical fiction
When Memoirs of a Geisha was published several years ago, much was made of the fact that the author was male. Many found it difficult to believe that a man could write the story of a woman so authentically. I had that same experience reading Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill. Hill's narrator is an elderly black woman, telling the tale of her life, from her childhood in an African village to her slavery in American, and finally her struggle for freedom. The book truly feels like a memoir - more of an autobiography than a work of fiction. Some of the novel is brutal, as tales of slaves often are, but overall the book wasn't as gory as many novels in this genre. I was especially pleased that the author brought to light an important bit of black history with which I was unfamiliar. My only criticism would be that at times it felt a little emotionally detached, but that may add to its authentic feel, as pain does fade as one ages and this is a tale told from someone's old-age. I found this a very engaging and worthwhile book, definitely worth my time.
Kate (01/26/08)

Someone Knows My Name
Someone Knows My Name is a story that fills the reader with so many emotions,it is hard to identify what you are feeling while reading it. The story draws you in from page one and takes you on an amazing journey across many oceans and continents. I have never read a historical fiction novel that is so engaging, descriptive and even poetic at times. The story flowed beautifully and never lost its momentum. At 486 pages, that is a feat in itself. I definitely recommend it.
Kate (01/01/08)

Someone Knows My Name
Someone Knows My Name is a story that fills the reader with so many emotions,it is hard to identify what you are feeling while reading it. The story draws you in from page one and takes you on an amazing journey across many oceans and continents. I have never read a historical fiction novel that is so engaging, descriptive and even poetic at times. The story flowed beautifully and never lost its momentum. At 486 pages, that is a feat in itself. I definitely recommend it.
Ann (12/11/07)

A Life Journey
Lawrence Hill has crafted an incredible piece of historical fiction with the passion he obviously feels himself. He brings Aminata Diallo to life and from page one you are swept away with her as she tells her story, one you are not likely to forget.
Judy C. (12/05/07)

Someone Knows My Name
This book starts slowly but quickly you are drawn into a tale, sometimes intriguing, sometime terrifying, of one girl's experience being captured in Africa, transported to America, experiencing the best and worst of slavery, and her ultimate quest for freedom. For those of us who live in the states, the experience of Africans who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War is a little know story. This book brings it to light and forces the reader to confront a dark period of American history and marvel at how the homeland and ancestry can motivate one to survive during the darkest of times. A really good read!
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