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October 9, 2008

Blonde Roots: the slave trade turned upside down

by quaesitor

Blonde Roots is a remarkable book. That should be reason enough to check it out – but of course, most will need more than that to go on. I spotted a Saturday supplement review of it and so picked it up – and couldn’t put it down.

It was one of those books that got under the skin and provoked a response – so i ended up reviewing it for Damaris, here on their CultureWatch site. But to give you a hint of why it stuck in my mind, here is an excerpt from the review:

How on earth do we help an ethnic majority to understand the realities of racism? What needs to be done to expose any lurking prejudice?

Bernardine Evaristo’s answer was to write a novel. Blonde Roots is the daring and shocking result. Her premise is simple. What if it had been Africans who enslaved Europeans for 400 years, and not the other way around? What would that have looked and, more importantly, felt like? As someone who is half-English, half-Nigerian, she is perhaps more well-suited to write this book than most.

The book depicts a universe that is both eerily alien and yet also unnervingly familiar. Geography and place names are familiar but in the wrong place or spelled differently; history is not so much revised as ransacked – and yet the way she does it leaves one in no doubt about the horrors of ‘real’ history.

But the reason I found this book so challenging in the end was not its utterly reasonable attacks on racism and slavery. No instead, it is the fact that Evaristo makes a pretty well crafted case for dismissing all truth claims on the grounds that they tend to be at root power claims. And that is a challenge that is not easy to dismiss.

To find out more, read on… Even better, read the book.

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