Someone Knows My Name
When it was published in Canada in 2007, The Book of Negroes—named for a historical document that listed every slave who sailed to Nova Scotia under British protection—became an instant, prizewinning hit. Published here as Someone Knows My Name, Ontario native Lawrence Hill's novel was also well received, if far more quietly. Two titles, one mesmerizing story: Aminata Diallo is abducted from her West African home at age 11, forced to walk in a "coffle," a line of slaves who are sold off one by one. Aminata is anything but meek, however, and her fearlessness is both a liability and an asset. When she speaks out, she is sometimes punished or raped, but that same strong personality wins her friends and protectors when she reaches South Carolina and Manhattan. That she is a skilled "baby catcher," having learned midwifery from her mother back home, also increases her usefulness and status. Make no mistake: This is a gritty, at times almost too detailed, tale—after page upon page describing abuse and cruelty, a reader might almost become inured to Aminata's suffering. Still, she is an admirable heroine, and Hill's depiction of her journey to freedom is a powerful tale of pride and perseverance. Whatever you want to call it.
— Sara Nelson