Blonde Roots

Blonde Roots

3.5 4
by Bernardine Evaristo

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The most provocative debut novel of the year, "a dizzying satire" (The New Yorker) that "boldly turns history on its head" (Elle).

What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? How would it inform

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The most provocative debut novel of the year, "a dizzying satire" (The New Yorker) that "boldly turns history on its head" (Elle).

What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? How would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still lingers today? We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, an Englishwoman enslaved and taken to the New World, movingly recounting experiences of tremendous hardship and the dreams of the people she has left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom.

A poignant and dramatic story grounded in provocative ideas, Blonde Roots is a genuinely original, profoundly imaginative novel.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
My only complaint about Bernardine Evaristo's alternate history of racial slavery is that it's 150 years late. Imagine the outrage this clever novel would have provoked alongside Harriet Beecher Stowe's incendiary story or Frederick Douglass's memoir!…Blonde Roots turns the whole world on its nappy head, and you'll be surprised how different it looks—and how similar…The whole story is a riotous, bitter course in the arbitrary nature of our cultural values. Don't be fooled; slavery might have ended 150 years ago, but you've still got time to be enlightened by this bracing novel.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

British novelist Evaristo delivers an astonishing, uncomfortable and beautiful alternative history that goes back several centuries to flip the slave trade, with "Aphrikans" enslaving the people of "Europa" and exporting many of them to "Amarika." The plot revolves around Doris, the daughter of a long line of proud cabbage farmers who live in serfdom. After she's kidnapped by slavers, she experiences the horror and inhumanity of slave transport, is sold and works her way back to freedom. The narrative cuts back and forth through time, contrasting the journey to freedom with the journey toward slavery. In a less skilled writer's hands, the premise easily could have worn itself out by the second chapter, but Evaristo's intellectually rigorous narrative constantly surprises, and, for all the barbarism on display, it's strikingly human. Evaristo's novel is a powerful, thoughtful reminder that diabolical behavior can take place in any culture, "safety" is an illusion and freedom is something easily taken for granted. This difficult and provocative book is a conversation sparker. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

What would the world be like if Africans had enslaved Europeans, instead of vice versa? Evaristo, the daughter of an English mother and a Nigerian father as well as the award-winning author of three previous novels (e.g., The Emperor's Babe), brings such a world to life in this speculative historical fiction. Told through the voice of Doris (renamed Omorenomwara), who was stolen as a child from her home in Britain and sold into slavery, the novel manages to inject some wry, dry humor into its heartbreaking narrative, thanks to its intelligent and sarcastic heroine. The horrors and indignities of slavery are explored in terrible detail, but Doris's unflagging spirit and thirst for freedom keep the story moving. The wide variety of characters, the examinations of image and identity, and Doris's own adventures may make this a popular selection for book groups. Highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.
—Alicia Korenman

Kirkus Reviews
A pleasingly subversive, well-crafted novel of slavery and deliverance that turns conventions-and the world-upside down. Evaristo (The Emperor's Babe, 2002) poses a provocative question: What if African slavers one day showed up on the Cabbage Coast and hauled off the inhabitants to work on plantations on some distant continent? That's how the heroine, an Englishwoman named Doris, came to be the chattel of Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I (referred to as Bwana), who "made his fortune in the import-export game, the notorious transatlantic slave run, before settling down to life in polite society as an absentee sugar baron, part-time husband, freelance father, retired decent human being and, it goes without saying, sacked soul." Bwana has his Simon Legree-esque moments, but then so do all the slaveowners. There are Uncle Toms and Mammies among the pale-complexioned transplants from what the Africans call the Gray Continent (because, obviously, the skies are so gray there), but Doris mostly minds her own business and pines for the fjords until she's swept up in rather elaborate events that take her on the runaway path to freedom-or so she hopes. Along the way she encounters long-lost relatives ("Mi cyant beleeve it. Me reelee cyant beleeve it," one exclaims upon seeing her). Evaristo, the English-born child of a Nigerian father, has obvious great fun toying with some of the saintly slave and dastardly master conventions of the slave-narrative genre, and if her story has some of the dire possibilities of P.D. James's near-futurist Children of Men, she favors ironic laughter to gloom-though there is gloom too ("I looked around and saw my future: haggard, hunchbacked women whose arms werestreaked with the darkened, congealed skin of old burns"). Watch for the smart plays on real-world geography and history; the where-are-they-now notes at the end of the book are not to be missed either. A light entertainment on the surface, but with hidden depths; nicely written. Agent: Kate Lee/ICM

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Blonde Roots 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dulcibelle More than 1 year ago
I didn't find this book "genuinely original and profoundly imaginative" as touted on the back cover. I've read other stories with a similar premise. Evaristo does however, make her point (or the point I think she was trying to make); that "absolute power corrupts absolutely", that there's no such thing as a "good master", and that slavery is wrong no matter which way it goes. A couple of things bothered me about the book. Evaristo depicts the white slave culture virtually identically to fictional depictions of black slave culture. Her slaves even speak a patois that sounds, when read aloud, very much like South Carolina Gullah (spoken by slave descendants on the offshore islands). I wonder whether white slaves would have developed the same patois or the same customs since they came from different roots. These concerns aside, I did enjoy the book. Evaristo draws wonderful characters and paces her story so you want to read just a bit more, and a bit more, until the book is finished.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Doris, an English serf, had heard the horror tales of "Aphrikans" coming to the Gray Continent "Europa" to abduct people so she knows to be cautious though she also wonders if those tales are exaggerated. The daughter of generations of cabbage farmers soon learns the truth when Aphrikans arrive at the coast. They abduct numerous natives including Doris and take them across the vast ocean in substandard conditions to "Amarika." where they are sold into slavery.

Former slave runner, Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I buys Doris to work on his sugar plantation. No longer dirtying his hands, Bwana as he expects his property to call him has become part of the elite of polite society. Doris tries her best to avoid slave politics and obey her Bwana though she prays for a future as a free person. When an opportunity arises for her to escape bondage for freedom, Doris decides to take a chance though if caught the punishment is extremely severe as the normally jovial Bwana will not tolerate runaway property.

This is an intriguing thought provoking premise that turns history upside down though the theme has been used frequently in literature and movies for instance the film White Man¿s Burden will hook fans from the onset. The profound story line compares the two lead characters to one another and though anecdotal leads to generalizing their traits as respective of their respective races. Can the seemingly dreary Doris survive outside of the protection of the Aphrikan¿s burden while the witty seemingly intelligent Bwana relishes his responsibility as the ¿burden¿ keeper?

Harriet Klausner