Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published January 22nd 2009)
ISBN 0141031522 (ISBN13: 9780141031521)

Blurb: "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."

I was really intrigued when I read the blurb of this book, I thought it would be really interesting and moving but I was really disappointed by it. While it was thought-provoking and moving at times, it didn't capture my imagination in the same way that Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman did (an amazing book from what I remember, it has been quite a long time since I read it).

I thought it was clever that mid-way through the novel the narrative swapped to the opinion of Chief Kaga and it was horrifying to see how easily ideas could be twisted and people made to seem less than human simply because they are different from you. Additionally from a historical perspective it gave insight into what life as a slave may have been like from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries (although obviously some aspects would have changed and this is not a factual account).

However, I found it very confusing that the author did not leave the countries where they are in reality, she swapped Africa and Europe around and moved the Equator. This really threw me and made following the story more difficult. However, I did like the Africanised (if that's a word) London (or Londolo in the book) tube stations. However, the fact that it is meant to be set in the eighteenth century made it confusing when they had technology that seemed too modern in the book, whilst the European people were portrayed as living lives like that of the fourteenth century when the majority of the population were serfs. The story would have worked better if she had created fictional countries and made the time setting more cohesive. Although I do understand that she was trying to portray European people as less sophisticated.

While I did care about Doris' character, really wanting her to escape, and the stories of the characters were tragic and moving, there was just something missing in this book for me. It was good but unsatisfying, I can't really explain it. Also, the ending was disappointing and seemed to end quite quickly as well. This book was only a 5 out of 10 for me, it had the potential to be a lot better!

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