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Precarious PassagesThe Diasporic Imagination in Contemporary Black Anglophone Fiction$
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Tuire Valkeakari

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062471

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062471.001.0001

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Early Black Atlantic Crossings

Early Black Atlantic Crossings

Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes

(p.62) 2 Early Black Atlantic Crossings
Precarious Passages

Tuire Valkeakari

University Press of Florida

This chapter discusses Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, in which the diasporic ur-experience is expanded to cover post–Middle Passage migrations as well. Both a neo-slave narrative and a historical novel about Black Loyalist migrations, The Book of Negroes contributes to collective black diasporic memory by depicting the early African diaspora in the Western world from the perspective of an African-born woman, who is originally a freeborn Muslim. Hill’s fictional protagonist is a black diasporic subject who enters modernity on terms dictated by racializing white Others and must fashion her diasporic self out of various conflicting elements, which have to be reconciled within a single psyche. This chapter shows that “home,” in any imaginable sense, remains perpetually elusive for this racially and sexually subjugated female character once her diasporic predicament has been propelled into being. The hope embedded in The Book of Negroes lies, first, in the protagonist’s capacity to repeatedly assert her agency against the forces that oppress her and, second, in the connection (familiar to readers of antebellum slave narratives) between literacy, freedom, and the “autobiographical” abolitionist enterprise that Hill inscribes in the novel’s frame—an endeavor that metafictionally highlights the link between black diasporic memory and identity.

Keywords:   Black Loyalist, diasporic memory, identity, Muslim, woman, home, literacy, Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes, Neo-slave narrative

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