Cover image for Someone knows my name
Someone knows my name
Uniform Title:
Book of Negroes

1st American ed.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
Physical Description:
486 p. ; 25 cm.
General Note:
Originally published as: The book of Negroes.
"Enslaved on a South Carolina plantation, Aminata works in the indigo fields and as a midwife. When she is bought by an entrepreneur from Charleston, she is torn from friends and family. The chaos of the Revolutionary War allows her to escape. In British-held Manhattan, she helps pen the Book of Negroes, a list of blacks rewarded for wartime service to the King with safe passage to Nova Scotia. During her travels in Canada, Sierra Leone, and England, Aminata strives for her freedom and that of her people - even when it comes at a price"--Jacket.


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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.

Author Notes

Lawrence Hill was born in 1957 in Newmarket, Ontario. He earned a B.A. in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and later an M. A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Hill taught undergraduate fiction writing while completing his M.A. at Johns Hopkins, and since graduating has taught creative writing in numerous adult education programs. He has worked as a full-time newspaper reporter for The Globe and Mail and The Winnipeg Free Press. He has authored several books. Hill's nonfiction books include Trials and Triumphs: The Story of African-Canadians, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada , The Deserter's Tale: The Story of An Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq, and Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning. Hill's fictional works include Some Great Thing, Any Known Blood ,The Book of Negroes, and The Illegal. The Book of Negroes won several awards including the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Stunning, wrenching and inspiring, the fourth novel by Canadian novelist Hill (Any Known Blood) spans the life of Aminata Diallo, born in Bayo, West Africa, in 1745. The novel opens in 1802, as Aminata is wooed in London to the cause of British abolitionists, and begins reflecting on her life. Kidnapped at the age of 11 by British slavers, Aminata survives the Middle Passage and is reunited in South Carolina with Chekura, a boy from a village near hers. Her story gets entwined with his, and with those of her owners: nasty indigo producer Robinson Appleby and, later, Jewish duty inspector Solomon Lindo. During her long life of struggle, she does what she can to free herself and others from slavery, including learning to read and teaching others to, and befriending anyone who can help her, black or white. Hill handles the pacing and tension masterfully, particularly during the beginnings of the American revolution, when the British promise to free Blacks who fight for the British: Aminata's related, eventful travels to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone follow. 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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Hill's third novel, a Canadian best-seller, is a masterful example of historical storytelling, one both heartbreaking and hopeful. When slavers wrest 11-year-old Aminata Diallo from her West African village in 1745, she vows to remember everything. After enduring the harrowing Middle Passage, she becomes the property of a South Carolina indigo farmer whose overseer notes her intelligence and secretly teaches her to read. Whether keeping books for a Jewish businessman in Revolutionary-era Manhattan, documenting her fellow Black Loyalists before their transport to Nova Scotia (reflecting Hill's original title, The Book of Negroes), or joining the British colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aminata retains her self-respect. Throughout her life, she holds tightly to the idea of freedom for everyone forced into slavery, and to her love for the African husband from whom she's constantly separated. By the time Aminata journeys to London in 1802 as a symbol of the abolitionist movement, readers will have witnessed the dehumanizing slave trade from inside and out. An unforgettable epic, seen through the eyes of a sharply realized, indomitable heroine.--Johnson, Sarah Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

In this novel, a former slave tells her story. IN early 1960, four young black men drove up from the first Southern sit-ins to speak at the Northern university I was attending. So we would know more about what they had encountered, they turned their backs to the audience and lifted their shirts, revealing the scars made by the lighted cigarettes segregationists had put out on their skin at the Woolworth's lunch counter. At the time, I didn't understand the historical resonance of this gesture, which reproduced that of former slaves at 19th-century abolitionist meetings, baring their backs to show the gouges of the whip. In Lawrence Hill's wonderfully written fictional slave narrative, "Someone Knows My Name," the protagonist exhibits similar "proof on my flesh" of slavery's barbarity. But to do so, she must face her audience. The evidence Aminata Diallo has to offer is inscribed above her breast, the enslaved female body instantly sexualized. Captured at around the age of 12, she was marched to the African coast and branded, "a finger's length above my right nipple," before embarking on the monstrous Middle Passage. Years later, a free woman, she will play out an astonishing scene with a British slave trader who, chatting over a cup of tea, asks if slavery was really "so terrible" for her. After all, now she's the "picture of health ... with a roof over your head and abolitionists fending for you." She is struck speechless. "I'm sick and tired of abolitionists claiming that we brand our captives," the man adds. "It's nothing more than propaganda" Her reply is simply to undo the front of her dress. 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. The young Frederick Douglass's master knew this, admonishing his wife that if she taught Douglass how to read, "there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave." The power of language to undermine slavery is crucial to every aspect of Hill's novel, starting with its title, which echoes James Baldwin's "Nobody Knows My Name." To have a name is to have an identity, one reason slaves were renamed by their captors. But Aminata refuses to be called Mary, just as years later she refuses to cooperate with abolitionist ghostwriters: "I am Aminata Diallo, daughter of Mamadu Diallo and Sira Kulibali, born in the village of Bayo, three moons by foot from the Grain Coast in West Africa. I am a Bamana. And a Fula I am both. ... I suspect that I was born in 1745, or close to it. And I am writing this account All of it." Even when old and ill, she insists that "nobody but me" is "writing my life story." Indeed, what frames the novel is her act of writing, in Wilberforce's London, just before the abolition of the British slave trade. The first half of her story takes the shape of her contemporary Olaudah Equiano's classic slave narrative: childhood, capture, transport to America, education, escape, each stage populated by vivid characters and rendered in fascinating detail. Beyond the horrors of slavery, we learn how indigo was produced in South Carolina during the years leading up to the American Revolution; and in the second half of the novel, which recounts Aminata's life after slavery, we are told of the history of "Black Loyalists" who worked for the British during the Revolution and were evacuated from the former colonies after the war. Before their departure, the fictional Aminata is hired to record in the "Book of Negroes," an actual document (and the title of this novel when it was originally published in Canada), the names of emigrating blacks: "I liked ... recording how people obtained their freedom, how old they were and where they had been born. .... I loved the way people followed the movement of my hand as I wrote down their names and the Way they made me read them aloud once I was done." Over a hundred ships sail from New York to Europe or, as in Aminata's case, to the promise of Utopia in Nova Scotia But like most Utopias, Nova Scotia fails to measure up, and Aminata elects to join a group returning to Africa, nearly completing the circle of her rootlessness: "I knew now that I had come, some 36 years earlier, from a slave ship that had left Bance Island. I had found the island on a map. ... But until the coast with the lion-shaped mountain came into sight, I had doubted that I would truly return to the place of my departure. It had seemed too much to hope for." Yet in Sierra Leone, Aminata discovers she has irrevocably lost the paradise that preceded her bondage, and after very nearly being re-enslaved she settles in London. There another - happier - circle is completed, and she finds a place to call her own. ("Home" is the novel's final word.) During her waning years, she testifies against slavery and writes her autobiography, becoming what her people called a djeli, a storyteller entrusted with the village's ancestral tales. Free at last, she becomes a writer. Hill's narrator is a free black who emigrated to Canada after the American Revolution. Nancy Kline's most recent book is a translation, with Mary Ann Caws and Patricia Terry, of Paul Eluard's "Capital of Pain."

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-During the 18th century, Aminata Diallo is kidnapped from her village, survives the ocean voyage on a slave ship, is purchased by an indigo producer from South Carolina, and gets caught in the Revolutionary War. Later, she is traded to a Jewish duty inspector. She marries Chekura, a boy from a neighboring village, and gives birth to two children. Aminata's trials continue as she and her husband take part in Britain's promise of freedom for Loyalists by traveling to Nova Scotia, where she continues to long to return to Africa, but ends up in London instead. Throughout the story, her major assets are her ability to read and write and to serve as a midwife, which help in her quest for freedom. With mature themes (e.g., a rape scene on the ship, descriptive killings, and sexual situations), this book is suited for older teens. Hill clearly researched multiple people and sources to provide an accurate account of Aminata's heroic journey and brings to life crucial world history. Teens who enjoyed Sharon Draper's Copper Sun (S & S, 2006) will appreciate this page-turning novel.-Gregory Lum, Jesuit High School, Portland, OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Review

Around 1745, young Aminata Diallo is abducted from her West African home and sold into slavery in South Carolina. An observant and highly intelligent child, she quickly learns not only how to speak English but also how to read and write. On a trip to New York City with her master, Aminata escapes during chaotic anti-British demonstrations. She helps the embattled British compile The Book of Negroes, a list of thousands of black Loyalists, and these slaves are transported to Nova Scotia and granted their freedom. Later some of them are sent to Sierra Leone as part of an abolitionist social experiment, and Aminata finally realizes her long-held dream of returning home. By setting the book early in the Revolutionary period, Canadian novelist Hill (Any Known Blood) finds something new in the familiar slave narrative. Unfortunately, his didactic purpose gets the upper hand and overwhelms the story. 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/07.]-Edward St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.