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The Book of Negroes

23 Feb 2007

Lawrence Hill is one of Canada’s most respected and dynamic contemporary authors. His novels and non-fiction works have been published with critical acclaim, capturing the interest of his readers.

His sixth book, The Book of Negroes, is a novel published by HarperCollins Canada in January 2007. Prior to this book, Hill has written books of various genres such as: Black Berry, Sweet Juice - A book about being black and white in Canada. The Deserters Tale - A story of an ordinary soldier who walked away from the war in Iraq. Some Great Thing - A story about a reporter covering a full-scale riot and police cover up who discovers his principles that have always eluded him. Any Known Blood - Follows an African American man on a journey to discover himself and those who came before him five generations before.

Hill, who is Biracial, fled the United States along with his parents in hopes of escaping the enduring racism of their native United States. Hill grew up in suburbs of Don Mills, Ontario in the sixties and was greatly influenced by his parents'' work in the human rights movement.

Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill has lived and worked across Canada. He speaks French and Spanish and has also resided in Baltimore, Spain and France. Hill’s love of Africa was ignited when he volunteered with Canadian Crossroads International. Canadian Crossroads international is an international development organization that brings individuals, organizations and communities in Canada and developing countries into partnerships to reduce poverty; fights AIDS and promote the rights of woman globally. Hill volunteered from the 1970’s to the 1980s and traveled to Niger, Cameroon and Mali, where he spent time living in the local villages and interacting with the natives. On March 22 nd 2007 at the Canadian Cross Roads Benefit, which took place at the Gladstone Hotel, Hill gave back by reading excerpts from his latest book The Book of Negroes. The Book of Negroes describes the story of a Malian woman, Aminata Diallo, who is sold into slavery in the late 1700’s and endures life on the plantation of the southern US before escaping to Nova Scotia, and ultimately finding her way back to Africa.

Along with his eloquent and passionate readings, Hill managed time for an interview with host of CBC’s Radio One Here and Now, Matt Galloway. During the interview Hill described how Canada was not always perceived as the “promise land”. He explains that the title of his book created some controversy, he quotes: “Some people are quite upset because I used the term Negroes in the title, but in essence, they haven’t given me a chance to explain that the title takes it manifest from a Military Leger. But as a whole, the reception is warm and for the most part people want to learn.” Hill went on to describe his work in Africa, when his work began, and the love for the African people: “I was 14 years old, a product of a biracial environment and I was thinking I would find my long lost Africans, and a lot of people such as myself with African descent think that way. You want to be welcomed as one of the Africans, but it didn’t quite work that way. I learned a lot about myself personally. The experience allowed me to sink into a quieter sense of self-confidence, which allowed me to not worry about being accepted, that I would be just fine being myself.”

Hill went on to describe the vast difference between the rich and poor and why this isn’t just work for the government: “ I saw an unbelievable wealth side by side with deprivation and poverty, which one is seeing increasingly over the last couple of years in North America. I was also stunned by how hard women work, I found that fascinating. It’s not just the government’s work; it’s all of our work. If you haven’t been to Africa it’s hard to understand the humanity and the joy of life and vibrancy of the people. We usually see the negative side of things that might prevent us from seeing the quality of life, the rhythm of life. See in a way life like that can be much better than the standard life you might live in Canada.”

The Montreal Gazzette says that The Book of Negroes is “Not just a good book but a great one worthy of every honor it is sure to receive”. The Globe and mail calls the novel a “masterpiece”, while the Hamilton Spectator raves: “The Book of Negroes is an evocative tome, and among the best in our fiction”.

Overall The Book of Negroes takes you to a place that explores the history of slavery in depth and describes the life of a slave girl into a woman from her capturing to her emancipation back to Africa. The Book of Negroes lets you see a human being behind the shackles and chains of a slave.

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