Book #99

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

Welcome to a world turned upside down. One minute, Doris, from England, is playing hide-and-seek with her sisters in the fields behind their cottage. The next, someone puts a bag over her head and she ends up in the hold of a slave-ship sailing to the New World.

Blonde Roots takes a satirical view of slavery by inverting race. Doris is a young, white, farmer’s daughter who is snatched by black slave traders whilst playing in the forest near her home. We then see her eventual fate, her attempts at escape, and her life in contrast to how it was before.

We see a lot of brutality, the kind we’ve come to expect from reading histories devoted to the slave trade, except here the brutalities are being committed on whites. Evaristo makes some gorgeous contrasting comparisons on the things the whites miss from home. Grey rainy skies, the taste of cabbage, wearing clothing which covers the entire body. The attractiveness of the women is reduced to zero as they are compared to the standards of the dominant race which are impossible to achieve - skin colour being only one of the factors. It sets the mind racing as Evaristo introduces small things that would become so large in the mind of a slave, none of which us whites could ever comprehend.

I’m disappointed to feel this, but there was something really lacking in this whole novel for me which I can’t quite put my finger on. I didn’t gel much with Doris, and found her lacklustre and dull. There was nothing engaging about her character, and although she states that had to become invisible and quiet in order to survive, I felt there should be more anger and bitterness there. She was enthused enough about escaping, yet she did this in such a mediocre and methodical way, almost emotionless. Her interactions with Little Miracle, as a new slave, were perfect, and riddled with thorniness; I’d have liked this to have continued for the rest of our time with her.

There were some real areas here which should have been explored more deeply, many of which cropped up towards the end where we felt rushed into a conclusion. Of particular note was a slave who had been taken as the mistress of her master, and how she was given many privileges others were not. I’d really have liked to have explored this lofty position, the emotions involved with it, alongside the possible dangers and drawbacks that could be drawn from it.

It’s a good book, but it barely reaches the ankles of Girl, Woman, Other. Many will pick this up expecting something just as wonderful, but it’s not to be. In Evaristo’s defence, this was written twelve years previous to its Booker prize winning sister, and was Evaristo’s first venture into prose.

A wonderful premise, and an entertaining read; one must remember not to let expectations carry us away.