Spurred on by my enjoyment of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses YA series that switches the socio-political standing of black and white people, I was intrigued by the concept of Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo.
Evaristo turns our knowledge of the British Empire and colonial history on its head as black Ambossans invade the lands of England and Europa to enslave the white indigenous people. Initially narrated by Doris - now renamed Omorenomwara - the horrors of being captured, ripped from her family and homeland, surviving the barbarous conditions of the slave ship and life as a house servant are told with a quiet strength from the character and vivid descriptions that at times had my toes curling in empathetic disgust. Bringing history to fiction Evaristo details the inspecting of slaves in the market place as though they were cattle; the obtrusive, often violent and extremely degrading body searches before being sold.
Doris' story tops and tales the book and is sandwiched between a second narrator - an Ambossan slave owner. I think because I was so intrigued with the slave's perspective I didn't really enjoy this part although in order to make sense of the relationship between the two it is necessary. And with all history there are two sides. If I add a little couch psychiatry to this as well, maybe as an African-Caribbean woman when looking back at real history my affinity lies with the slave story so even when the colour roles are reversed, this journey still holds my interest. Or maybe because she is a woman - who knows.
Regardless of narrator the imagery is vivid and the pace is maintained with unseen twists and turns throughout. There are tongue-in-cheek references to modern life such as young children hankering after the popular dolls that portray a black woman's physique rather than the blue-eyed blonde haired rag dolls (sound familiar) or the 'whyte' slaves who desperately tried to mimic Ambossan women by changing their own natural straight hair to add afro weaves that could often be found falling off in the street! Any black woman who has had weaves or braid extensions back in the day will know all about that!!
Honestly I couldn't put this book down because it's so intriguing to consider how life might have been different if slavery hadn't happened. I was raised to appreciate how my social ranking can be affected by the role that history played in western history - well I wouldn't have been born in Britain for starters. But there is always an aspect that bothers me with these diametric novels - would the behaviour of black people (had they been the colonialist slave owners) have mirrored the behaviour of the Europeans? Would they have taken slaves in the same way, abused them and created a world with so much hatred and division? This is not to say that one set of peoples are more humane than another purely due to the colour of their skin but it does fill me misery to think that were the roles reversed the same thing would have happened.
Well it didn't, we aren't, history is what it is and so we move on.
Blonde Roots is a page turner and keeps the reader on edge, engaged and rooting ('scuse that!) for Doris who does not allow the tragedies in her life to break her spirit.
I bought this and read it and wanted to review it. That's all.
I am adding this to my beige books page but must note this is definitely an YA/ Adult book.