Lindsay Lewis

English/ ESL consultant: Word worker, writer, teacher, mentor and poet. Author of This Won’t Hurt a Bit! on writing clear content.

Esi Edugyan wins the Giller Prize- twice!

Posted by on Apr 3, 2019

Washington Black: A must read!

If you have not heard of Esi Edugyan, you are in for a grand surprise. I’m a voracious reader, but I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until 2 a.m. to read, and then finished the novel at 7 a.m-over 400 pages of pure bliss! Washington Black is a young slave, brutally abused and scarred on a plantation in Barbados, in 1830. The narrative sweeps the reader through stunning descriptions of life on a plantation, capturing the colonial atmosphere in breathtaking detail. Erasmus Wilde , the owner, is depicted as a cold and brutal man, captured to perfection  from Washington Black’s perspective:

  I could see the flesh on his face and hands, waxen and bloodless. His lips were pink, his eyes a very piercing blue. When the master              looked at me, I felt the scorch of his gaze, and lowered my eyes at once, shivering. The air was stagnant, redolent of sweat.

I also adore this description of Titch teaching Washington to read, and his trying to make sense of the shapes as well as Titch’s motives:

 I stared wretchedly at the page, its tiny black letters like the awful hothouse nurse’s stitches. I looked at the black blobs, I cast my                   mind back. Es-tu-a-ry.

          “How you have surprised me these last weeks, Washinton. Your mind. I had not expected it.”

            It did not then occur to me to question why he had chosen me if he did not belive me capable of learning. I heard only the praise,                  and I found the edge falling off my fear….


Her prose is sheer poetry, and the multiple narrators have versimilitude- not an easy task to accomplish given the era, yet the diction is also true to its time. The conversations are  mesmerizing in their unique perspectives , all sifted through the wondrous mind of Washington Black.

Aside from the technical genius, I can’t begin to describe the wild ride of the novel’s plot, full of inventions, rescues, abandonment, journeys to faraway lands and above all, Washington Black’s ability to survive such trials with dignity.

When I heard that Ms.Edugyan had won the Giller Prize twice,and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize I couldn’t believe it.  Now I understand why. She is the most amazing contemporary writer I’ve encountered, and resides in my home town, Victoria. I’ve ordered all of her novels and am using them in my lessons. The richness of her prose would be enough, but we can all learn from her sagacious insights. I can’t wait to read Half -Blood Blues! She must be a modest woman, as she said of her second Giller Prize win that it made the first award “Seem like less of a fluke.” Bless her!

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