Someone Knows My Name

Someone Knows My Name

4.3 251
by Lawrence Hill

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Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. "Wonderfully written...populated by vivid characters and rendered in fascinating detail."—Nancy Kline, New York Times Book Review

Kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the


Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. "Wonderfully written...populated by vivid characters and rendered in fascinating detail."—Nancy Kline, New York Times Book Review

Kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the British, recording the names of blacks who have served the King and earned their freedom in Nova Scotia. But the hardship and prejudice of the new colony prompt her to follow her heart back to Africa, then on to London, where she bears witness to the injustices of slavery and its toll on her life and a whole people. It is a story that no listener, and no reader, will ever forget. Reading group guide included.

Editorial Reviews

Veronique de Turenne
The remarkable thing about Lawrence Hill's fourth novel, Someone Knows My Name, the life story of an African Muslim girl sold into slavery, isn't her physical survival. Sure, that's wrenchingly rendered and gives the story its heart. But it's the girl's emotional survival, her constant and ferocious fight for humanity that gives the book its considerable soul.

Aminata Diallo is 11 years old when a group of black men step out from the trees near her village in West Africa and kidnap her. Her parents fight to the death for their daughter, but in vain. The child is leashed by the neck to a group of captives and force-marched, naked, for three months across the continent. There, British slave ships ride at anchor on the Sierra Leone coast, waiting to ferry their human cargo to the Thirteen Colonies.

It's 1745, and the transatlantic slave trade is in full, unapologetic swing; Hill doesn't flinch from the details of his heroine's ordeal: Aminata is beaten, branded, and starved. She's ogled and inspected by white men. She's betrayed by her fellow Africans, villagers who collude with the slavers. As staggering as the details of her degradation, though, are the observations of her facile mind.

But our captors were also marked by what they lacked: light in their eyes. Never have I met a person doing terrible things who would meet my own eyes peacefully. To gaze into another person's face is to do two things: to recognize their humanity and to assert your own.
Aminata's humanity is never in question. A grueling voyage brings her, more dead than alive, to South Carolina. There, she's sold to Robinson Appleby, an indigo producer. On Appleby's plantation, Aminata learns the realities of slave life, of her powerless place in a world ruled by whites, and of a lifesaving refuge in the secret, underground culture created by her fellow slaves.

Here, soon after her initial adjustment to plantation life, Aminata sees a group of new captives fresh off the slaver's boat.

Five of them looked like they would not regret the closing fist of death. I felt my stomach churning, my throat tightening. I looked down to avoid meeting their eyes. I was fed and they were not. I had clothes and they had none. I could do nothing to change their prospects or even my own. That, I decided, was what it meant to be a slave: your past didn't matter; in the present you were invisible and you had no claim to the future.
But the author has plans for Aminata. First, he lets her learn to read. Then, he moves her to New York, in the company of her new owner, a Jewish man named Solomon Lindo. Lindo is not unkind, and in his service, Aminata develops new skills and furthers her education. Though he refers to her as a "servant," he is, in fact, her owner, and he eventually betrays her.

When the American Revolution breaks out, Aminata escapes. Hill, whose previous writings brought close scrutiny to the tapestry of African-Canadian life, then shifts into the true heart of his tale: the little-known story of the move by 1,200 freed slaves from Canada back to Africa in 1792.

In the course of preparing for this journey, which was funded by staunch British abolitionists, the government collected biographical information on thousands of slaves eager to make the voyage. It's an extraordinary document, known as "The Book of Negroes." Excerpts from it form the endpapers of this book, and Hill uses it as the fulcrum for the final third of Aminata's tale, revealing the breadth and scope of the tragedy of the African slave trade, as well as a great deal about the mind-set of its defenders.

The pro-slavery men claimed that slavery was a humane institution that rescued Africans from barbarity in their homelands. Africans would simply kill each other in tribal wars if they were not liberated in the Americas, where they enjoyed the civilizing influence of Christianity.
Chosen by abolitionists as a living symbol for their cause, the literate and well-spoken Aminata is placed in a position to refute these claims. But rather than let the white men write her life story for her, Aminata insists on putting quill to parchment on her own behalf, and Hill's novel takes the form of her memoir. We get plenty of scholarly details about life in the fledgling United States in the 18th century, of the slave trade and plantation life, of the indigo harvest and the crude and cruel conditions that produced America's prized blue cloth. Aminata's quick mind also rails against the lack of information about her homeland. The maps of the day show a spare outline of the continent, then cover the interior with illustrations of lions and naked natives.

It's ironic, then, that the book itself is without any map, neither a reproduction of those antique charts that conveyed so little, nor a modern map that, with a route of the epic journey forced on so many Africans, could have taught Hill's readers so much. If the novel sees future printings, adding maps would be a smart and necessary fix.

In the end, with the last page read and the book percolating in the mind, it's not the history and horror or the lore of Someone Knows My Name that linger. Rather, it's Aminata's spirit, summed up in a haunting warning.

Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, dear reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the color pink. Pink is taken as the color of innocence, the color of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep.
What could easily have been a screed is instead lovely and lyrical and, as a result, all the more powerful. Through Aminata, the helpless, faceless, and forgotten Africans lost to centuries of the slave trade have had restored to them not just an unflinching history, but a long-denied name as well. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles-based journalist, essayist and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers.

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Unrolling a map of the world, Aminata Diallo puts one finger on the coast of West Africa and another on London. The first is where she was born in 1745, the second is her location six decades later. Her story is what happened in between, and her remarkable voice is the heart and soul of Hill's magnificent novel. Brought before the British public by the abolitionists to reveal the realities of slavery, she has come, old and weary, to change the tide of history and bear witness to some of the world's most grievous wrongs.

Kidnapped and taken from her family as a child, Diallo is forced aboard a ship bound for South Carolina, where she arrives at age 12, weak and ill, the other slaves her only family. But soon she is sold again and begins an exodus that will lead to Canada, where she discovers the same relentless hardship and stinging prejudice. Her hunger for freedom drives her back across the Atlantic to England, and in 1792, Aminata undertakes yet another ocean crossing, bound for the place of her birth. (Spring 2008 Selection)
Delia Jarrett-Macauley
Lawrence Hill's historical intelligence was already manifest in his 1997 novel, Any Known Blood, in which he used racial and geographic borders to explore and transform a Canadian story. In his new novel, Someone Knows My Name, Hill has extended his range and refined his craft to produce a compelling narrative that moves from mid-18th-century West Africa to South Carolina, Manhattan, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and London…Hill's hugely impressive historical work is completely engrossing and deserves a wide, international readership.
—The Washington Post
Nancy Kline
…[a] wonderfully written fictional slave narrative…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

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, LJ7/07.]
—Edward St. John

School Library Journal

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

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Globe and Mail
“A masterpiece, daring and impressive in its geographic, historical and human reach.”
Delia Jarrett-Macauley - Washington Post
“Lawrence Hill's hugely impressive historical work is completely engrossing and deserves a wide, international readership.”
Jennifer Berman - Bookforum
“With grace and compassion, Hill populates true and harrowing experience with an authentic hero—just as good historical fiction requires.”
Kim Lundstrom - Real Change
“I found myself surprised on occasion to catch sight of Mr. Hill's name on the cover.... He had me believing that this tale came not from the imagination and research of a 21st-century male author, but from the experience of an 18th-century African woman.”
Charles Shea LeMone - Roanoke Times
“An inspirational novel of imaginative excellence and captivating power.... Every step of the way, Lawrence Hill offers readers a vivid portrayal of the emotional landscape that brings Aminata's tale to life. I highly recommend reading this poignant book.”
Eileen Charbonneau - Historical Novels Review
“Astonishing in scope, humanity and beauty, this is one of those very rare novels in which the deep joy of reading transcends its time and place. Like ?To Kill a Mockingbird?, ?Someone Knows My Name? lets readers experience a life, one footstep at a time, beside an unforgettable protagonist.”

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Lawrence Hill is the author of several novels including Someone Knows My Name, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was nominated in the United States for the Huston Wright Legacy Award. In 2015 Hill was appointed to the Order of Canada “for his contributions as an author and activist who tells the stories of Canada’s black community and of women and girls in Africa.” A graduate of the Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he lives in Ontario, Canada.

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Someone Knows My Name 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 247 reviews.
cadxo More than 1 year ago
I recently read this book as a part of a literature circle assignment in my English class. To be quite honest, when I first received the book, it did not look that interesting to me. However, I must say that I was definitely proven wrong. Everyone in my group enjoyed this read. This is one of, if not the best book that I have ever read. The reader has no choice but to sympathize with the novel's protagonist - Aminata Diallo. Hill's writing style makes the novel very easy to read and the pages quickly go by. If you want a very interesting read that will touch your heart, this is the book for you.
nancymitchell More than 1 year ago
The author really did his homework in order to write this beautiful, thoroughly interesting and sad story. This is Aminata Diallo's story but she is only one of so many who suffered in history and had to fight to live. This book tells the story of all aspects of African American history through her story, of the horrors of slavery, revolution, grief, rage, death, slave-trading, the BOOK OF NEGROES, where the names of African Americans who were given passage to Canada on British ships because of their service in the American Revolution. There's inhumanity through such evil treatment exposed, ugly exploitation, broken many wonderful quotes. "Beware of the clever man who makes wrong look right." That's a scary statement! This is a heart-wrenching journey that bares being publicized and taken to heart. This is magnificent!
Tam3038 More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down from the first page. Lawrence Hill's writing style in the voice of Aminata Diallo is fantastic. This book is intense, both sad AND heart-warming. I wanted to wrap my arms around Aminata and hug her and be her friend. I've never had an interest in historical novels, but this was fantastic. Mr. Hill did very thorough research of this time period and using the main character, all who read this can feel what it was like to have been a slave, ripped from your parents, always longing for home. I have recommended it to many. I am very surprised Oprah hasn't made this a book club pick. This is one of THE best books I've ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone that cares for their fellow man. It should be required reading for high school students. I could not find this book under the title of "The Book of Negroes," which is the book I have from my Canadian friend. Must be that in Canada, that is the title.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beware when you start this book--you'll forget to eat, sleep or anything else until the last page is finished. Mr. Hill has certainly done his homework (how a Canadian man can channel an 18th Century African woman is one of the miracles of this book). The characters fully inhabit the page (and threaten to walk right off it) and one's imagination.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had never heard of this writer, but will add him to my list of faves. My sisters and i started a book club because of this book. learning new things and reminding me of ways and times gone by a must read, page turner!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy Read that you don't want to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should be mandatory reading for Black History Month in every high school.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it, went to web site of author. Last section of book helped explain how he got this wonderful material.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was terrific from beginning to end. Though not always easy to read due to subject manner, it was handled with honesty and compassion. The story of a woman's life, her struggles to survive and surmount her circumstances and to teach/convey the realities of slavery were brought out through superb writing. The author offered a wonderful balance of factual research, compassion and understanding of this woman's trials and unimaginable journey. I highly recommend this book to anyone enjoys a good book.
eclecticreaderNC More than 1 year ago
This book was riveting. It was so well written and researched. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books with great character development.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a brilliant book! Couldnt put it down. The characters are real, you suffer along with them and also feel their soaring joys. Mr. Hill has done a fantastic job!
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If there was ever a book that I could not put down this was it!! This book is so powerful. The accounts are very vivid and gives the reader a view with a magnifying glass. I would not hesitate to recommend this good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exceptional read! When I wasn't sleeping all I wanted to do was read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. Had no idea how it would end, so it was suspence clear to tne end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. It really makes you think about the experience of being taken and forced into slavery. This is the story of a survivor. Everyone would enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read and is one that you will, want to read in one sitting. Well written and a great story.
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