Aminata Diallo was born in Bayo, an African village, in the mid-1700's. There she lived with her loving parents until she was 11 years old. Then her whole world shattered. She was taken away, forced to walk for days across the land, loaded onto a ship, and sold into slavery in America. In 1802, she is in London writing her life story at the request of Abolitionists who feel she can help their cause.
Lawrence Hill brings Aminata to life in Someone Knows My Name (known also as The Book of Negros), telling a story that is at once fascinating and shocking. Her journey captivated me from the start. When she's a child in Bayo, we see how she was brought up in the village, learning her mother's trade and her father's religion. It feels like we are right next to her as she is marched across Africa, experiencing atrocities that are hard to even imagine. And then when she is in America, Hill showed how she became acclimated to the environment, learning the languages and the cultural norms of the slaves and the slave owners.
What I loved about this story is that Hill showed us Aminata, her environments and her interactions with others; he didn't tell the story. He brought us into her world and let her show us things as she experienced them. Her thoughts and perspective seem more realistic than many of the other books I've read from the perspective of a slave. Someone Knows My Name is unique in that it's about slavery during the Revolutionary War, rather than the Civil War. And we are able to be with Aminata from the time she is taken from her village until she is an old woman who has made it out of America.
While it's obvious who the good guys and bad guys are in this situation, Hill doesn't demonize the slave owners and people who contribute to the slave trade. He shares their side of the story as well. I love the fact that one of Aminata's owners is actually a Jewish man who is struggling to fit into society himself. It's truly amazing how many different aspects of this time and situation Hill is able to cover in this novel.
I highly recommend Someone Knows My Name to anyone who enjoys literary fiction or historical fiction. It would make an amazing discussion for a book club as well. If you have it on your shelf, don't wait two years to read it as I did. Read it now!
My Rating: 5/5
Discussion questions for Someone Knows My Name
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This review was written based on a copy of Someone Knows My Name that I obtained through Paperback Swap.