Summary and book reviews of Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

Someone Knows My Name

aka: The Book of Negroes

by Lawrence Hill

Someone Knows My Name
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2007, 512 pages
    Nov 2008, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Book Summary

Abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom—and of the knowledge she needs to get home. Sold to an indigo trader who recognizes her intelligence, Aminata is torn from her husband and child and thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan, Aminata helps pen the Book of Negroes, a list of blacks rewarded for service to the king with safe passage to Nova Scotia. There Aminata finds a life of hardship and stinging prejudice. When the British abolitionists come looking for "adventurers" to create a new colony in Sierra Leone, Aminata assists in moving 1,200 Nova Scotians to Africa and aiding the abolitionist cause by revealing the realities of slavery to the British public. This captivating story of one woman's remarkable experience spans six decades and three continents and brings to life a crucial chapter in world history.

BookBrowse note: Originally published in Canada as The Book of Negroes, published in the USA as Someone Knows My Name.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Lawrence Hill on Someone Knows My Name

Years before I began writing Someone Knows My Name, I came across two startling discoveries in a scholarly work. I read that thousands of African Americans fled slavery to serve the British, who promised to liberate them in return for service during the American Revolution. When the British lost the war, they sent those African Americans who could show that they had served the British for at least one year to Canada. Three thousand names were entered into a 150-page military ledger known as the "Book of Negroes," and, in the last half of 1783, the former slaves set sail to Nova Scotia.

Ten years later, many of these same former slaves were so disgruntled with the ...
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Turning the pages of Hill's book is effortless in one sense and very difficult in another. Protagonist Aminata Diallo's desire for freedom is unquenchable, her drive inspiring and superhuman. The losses she experiences, however, are just as potent as her will. Brief joys of love and family are suffocated by mourning time and time again. Some scenes approach the threshold of heartache plausible for one soul to bear, requiring Hill to find or create a new purpose for Aminata's fight for life and freedom to continue. Most often, her rare literacy and gift for languages is her saving grace, offering a welcome nod to the power of reading and writing to change a life – or the direction of an entire nation.   (Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).

Full Review Members Only (786 words).

Media Reviews

The Boston Globe - Julie Wittes Schlack

Aminata is an eloquent guide to 70 years of turbulent history spanning three continents. And while her uncanny proximity to the real slave traders, British officers, black freedom fighters, and English abolitionists strains credulity, this flaw (common to much historical fiction) pales next to the power of her story.

The New York Times - Nancy Kline

Wonderfully written ... In Someone Knows My Name, as in the slave narratives that inspired it, language is power. The slave owner marks the bodies of those he owns, but when the enslaved take possession of words, spoken and - especially - written, they move toward freedom.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

Hill makes Aminata such a terrific character, you believe she could have pulled it off. And through her curious eyes, a terrifying patch of history comes to vivid life. A-

Library Journal

Aminata is simply too noble to be believable, and other major characters are mainly symbolic. Nevertheless, Hill's fascinating source material makes this a good choice for book clubs and discussion groups.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In depicting a woman who survives history's most trying conditions through force of intelligence and personality, Hill's book is a harrowing, breathtaking tour de force.

The Globe and Mail

The Book of Negroes is a masterpiece, daring and impressive in its geographic, historical and human reach, convincing in its narrative art and detail, necessary for imagining the real beyond the traces left by history.

The Toronto Star - Donna Bailey Nurse

Of course fiction, especially historical fiction, contains all manner of facts. What makes The Book of Negroes extraordinary is Hill's ability to transcend the facts – to make something magical out of them. Despite the unpalatable subject matter, he compels our attention and manages to delight. His Aminata is a heroic figure, a little larger than life, residing within and outside of history. You can never forget this character. She embeds herself in your heart.

The Calgary Herald

Anna Karenina. Hagar Shipley. Aminata Diallo....the exclusive club that includes literature's most memorable characters now has a remarkable new member.

Literary Review of Canada

Somewhere around page 389 of Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, I realized I had become so completely engrossed in his masterful telling of the hard life and crueler times of Aminata Diallo that I had forgotten I was reading a novel. But I was. And it is a brilliant one...Aminata is an amazing literary creation.

Author Blurb Austin Clarke, author of The Polished Hoe
You feel you are turning the pages of history, the pages of truth.

Reader Reviews

Phyllis Rhodes

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. ...   Read More


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 ...   Read More


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.


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 ...   Read More

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Did you know?

  • Original copies of the Book of Negroes can be found in England at the Public Records Office, in the United States in the National Archives and in Canada in the Nova Scotia Archives. It has also been transcribed in full and made available on the Black Loyalists web site. The Book is a 150 page record containing just under 3,000 names and brief descriptions of those blacks who were to be transferred to a smattering of British-held ...

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