Read Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo Online


The most provocative debut novel of the year, "a dizzying satire" (The New Yorker) that "boldly turns history on its head" (Elle). 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 inThe most provocative debut novel of the year, "a dizzying satire" (The New Yorker) that "boldly turns history on its head" (Elle). 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....

Title : Blonde Roots
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781594488634
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Blonde Roots Reviews

  • Paul
    2019-06-06 18:03

    4.5 stars rounded upA clever satire on race and slavery. Evaristo, who is of Nigerian and British descent, generally writes poetry, but this is a novel about the slave trade. It is the slave trade in reverse; in Evaristo’s language the whytes are the slaves and the blaks are the masters and slave-owners. A number of reviewers have complained about time lines, geography and historical accuracy. My advice would be suspend that sort of judgement. This is a satire. It’s not fantasy, but nor has the historical timeline been smoothly switched, Evaristo does play with technological development and settings. Don’t try and work the geography either; just go along with the poetry of the language and the clever and sometimes funny (yes funny) switches. The story revolves around Doris, an English slave captured at the age of ten; we pick up her tale about twenty years later and the timeline loves backwards and forwards. At the start she is an educated slave with some privileges in a wealthy household in Londolo, the capital of Great Ambossa. She makes an escape again, is recaptured, severely beaten and sent to do manual work in a sugar cane plantation. Evaristo works hard to switch all the terms and culture. Whytes are called “wiggers” as a term of abuse. Doris hates the tropical heat and misses the cold, mists and rain of her homeland. She also misses the food, disliking Ambossan food and missing cabbage. Evaristo also switches some patois, usually to good effect. There are also plenty of references to be picked up;“Naturally, having a whyte skin was all the evidence the sheriffs needed to accost a young man and strip-search him”. There is a minstrel show where performers “whtye up”, they “whyte up and do Morris Dancing (yes really!); film adverts for “To Sir with Hate” and “Guess who’s not coming to dinner”. Some very neat satire focusses on brain size;“Over millennia, the capacious skull of the Negroid has been able to accommodate the growth of a very large brain within its structure. This has enabled a highly sophisticated intelligence to evolve.”And of the Europanes (whytes)“The narrowness of the skull denotes a brain that is a bit, as we laymen would say, squashed up”.There are a lot of what ifs and Evaristo weaves in the Maroons, some free working class whytes, slave rebellions, the horrific conditions on slave ships, the sexual exploitation, the selling of slaves and splitting children from families, beatings, poor living conditions: everything would expect. The reversing of geography can be quite inventive;“Slavers had just arrived or were getting ready to set sail for the various coasts of Europa: the Coal Coast, the Cabbage Coast, the Tin Coast, the Corn Coast, the Olive Coast, the Tulip Coast, the Wheat Coast, the Grape Coast, the Influenza Coast and the Cape of Bad Luck.”Evaristo by writing in this way critically engages with the slave narrative and shows its limiting and limited nature. She is disrupting history in order to show the ways the Atlantic slave trade is relevant in a contemporary context. There are also, inevitably because of the title, comparisons that can be made with Alex Haley’s Roots. There are also references to Conrad and Heart of Darkness which are very telling. It was worth ploughing through Conrad for this phrase; “What can I say, Dear Reader, but the horror, the horror…”And it’s very clever placement within the text. The novel is brilliantly counterfactual; the first person narration in the first and third parts adds to the effect. It is fascinating and asks questions that still need to be posed. Evaristo does not quite get all the nuances right, but that is quibbling; it’s a novel that is well worth reading.

  • Sara
    2019-05-26 15:03

    When I read this book’s description, I thought: Wow! What a genuinely interesting, creative, and fresh idea for a novel. And Elle Magazine, my barometer for books I’d probably enjoy, praised it. Yet I was disappointed. The story is slow paced. It alternates between two points of view, the heroine (a white slave girl) and our antagonist (a black slave trader). But for some reason the heroine is dull at best, and the slave trader is witty making for a disturbing debate of whom to root for. The author must be commended for creating an entirely new world. A world which is complete with made up words and places. Though the attempt is imaginative, the effect is irritating and confusing. I also couldn’t place a timeline for when these events take place…modern day or two hundred years ago? There are arguments for each both. Finally in order to turn slavery on its ear, the author throws every white and black stereotype I can think of at the reader. All of this treads to an abrupt and anticlimactic conclusion proclaiming a tried message; slavery is bad (well duh).

  • Elizabeth
    2019-06-10 17:37

    Critics would have you believe that Ms. Evaristo has written an "astonishing," "clever," and "beautiful" novel about an alternative history scenario to the slave trade.Every morning I'd repeat an uplifting mantra to myself while looking in the mirror. I may be fair and flaxen. I may have slim nostrils and slender lips. I may have oil-rich hair and a non-rotund bottom. I may blush easily, go rubicund in the sun and have covert yet mentally alert blue eyes. Yes, I may be whyte. But I am whyte and I am beautiful.Slaves are also referred to as wiggers. I just felt gross writing that. I get satire but this just felt uncomfortable & wrong.

  • Ron Charles
    2019-06-23 16:44

    My only complaint about Bernardine Evaristo's alternate history of racial slavery is that it's 150 years late. Imagine the outrage this clever novel would have provoked alongside Harriet Beecher Stowe's incendiary story or Frederick Douglass's memoir! But now, amid the warm glow of 21st-century liberalism, with our brilliant black president, what could we possibly learn from a new satire of slavery?Plenty.Blonde Roots turns the whole world on its nappy head, and you'll be surprised how different it looks -- and how similar. In the reverse-image past that Evaristo imagines, civilized Africans have built a vibrant culture and economy by capturing primitive Europeans and using them as slaves. This ingenious bit of "what-if" speculation provides the backdrop for a thrilling adventure about a "whyte" woman named Doris Scagglethorpe who works as a "house wigger" for Chief Kaga Konata Katamba. (She's branded with his initials: KKK.)The story dashes off the first page as Doris makes her escape during the annual celebration of Voodoomass. Recapture could mean death by torture for "the crimes of Ungratefulness and Dishonesty," but she's done waiting for freedom. "Deep down I knew that the slave traders were never going to give up their cash cow," Doris tells us. "It was, after all, one of the most lucrative international businesses ever, involving the large-scale transport of whytes, shipped in our millions from the continent of Europe to the West Japanese Islands, so called because when the 'great' explorer and adventurer Chinua Chikwuemeka was trying to find a new route to Asia, he mistook those islands for the legendary isles of Japan, and the name stuck."Historical anachronisms along with a weirdly distorted geography contribute to the novel's through-the-looking-glass atmosphere. As a rare literate slave, Doris enjoys a privileged position in her master's house, but she snatches a chance to ride Londolo's Underground Railroad -- the city's abandoned subway system -- out of the glamorous "Chocolate City" and into the seedy "Vanilla Suburbs." As we follow her perilous escape, Doris tells us how she was abducted from a poor English cabbage farm where she lived with her parents. She describes the gruesome Middle Passage, during which half her fellow captives expire or are murdered; the vicissitudes of the slave market, where traumatized family members are sold off in different directions; and the rape and humiliation that keep whyte people laboring on the sugar cane plantations. This is, in other words, a story whose basic elements we already know from Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Stowe, Alex Haley, Toni Morrison and others whom Evaristo alludes to throughout Blonde Roots, but even the most colorblind readers will be unsettled by seeing these horrors with the colors reversed.As always, the values of the dominant culture reflect its power structure; the black master's body and attitudes are the desired norm, even the ideal. "Privacy was a foreign concept to all Aphrikans," Doris says. "They said that the Europane need for solitude was further proof of our inferior culture." An expert explains that "over millennia, the capacious skull of the Negroid has been able to accommodate the growth of a very large brain within its structure. This has enabled a highly sophisticated intelligence to evolve." Are you listening, James Watson?Standards of attractiveness are similarly upended. Whyte people try to tan themselves into black beauties, and those who can afford it have surgery to flatten their noses. After giving Doris a proper name -- "Omorenomwara" -- her African owner expects her to look respectable, which means wearing her straight blonde hair in plaited hoops all over her head and going barefoot. And topless. As a "fully paid up member of the most loathed race in the history of the world," Doris admits that she has "image issues." Every morning she secretly repeats affirmations that some whyte Steve Biko must have preached: "I may be fair and flaxen. I may have slim nostrils and slender lips. I may have oil-rich hair and a non-rotund bottom. I may blush easily, go rubicund in the sun and have covert yet mentally alert blue eyes. Yes, I may be whyte. But I am whyte and I am beautiful!"The daughter of an English mother and a Nigerian father, Evaristo is a poet whose previous three novels were written in verse. This time, although she's writing in the colloquial speech of her narrator, she's still extremely attentive to the function of language, the power of words to shape reality. Blonde Roots is spiked with witty cultural references that detail the pervasiveness of racism. As she flees, Doris passes advertisements for "Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner" and "To Sir With Hate." She describes popular minstrel shows in which performers in whyte-face "sang out of tune in reedy voices, their upper lips stiff as they danced with idiotic, jerky movements . . . singing music hall songs about being lazy, lying, conniving, cowardly, ignorant, sexually repressed buffoons."Evaristo has even reversed the dialects, forcing us to struggle with the plantation whytes' thick patois the way we have to wade through the Nigger Jim's speech in Huck Finn: "Sundays him carve tings fe folk in de quarter an don't charge nuttin but just aks to join famlees fer dinner." Trying to cheer themselves, the slaves sing the old spirituals of their homeland: "Shud ole akwaintaince be forget/An neva bring to mind/Should ole akwaintance be forget/An ole lang zine."In the middle of Blonde Roots, Evaristo drops in a 50-page essay written by Doris's owner: a "modest & truthful" defense of "The True Nature of the Slave Trade." It's a masterful bit of satire, with a sarcastic nod to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Breathtaking in its self-pity, self-justification and self-satisfaction, this faux memoir is full of the scientific rationales, cultural insights and moral gymnastics that buttressed 19th-century slavery and remain handy for justifying 21st-century liberations of less civilized nations.In a moving final section that keeps the excitement pounding till the last page, Doris describes the devastating effects of racism on whyte families: fathers turning violent and oversexed; young men devolving into thugs and ignoring the noble models of their ancestors; women working to death, raising children they know they'll soon lose. The whole story is a riotous, bitter course in the arbitrary nature of our cultural values. Don't be fooled; slavery might have ended 150 years ago, but you've still got time to be enlightened by this bracing novel.

  • Travis
    2019-06-21 19:01

    Doris Scagglethorpe, the daughter of a cabbage farmer, was ten years old when she's captured by slavers. Now twenty years later, she's trying to escape.[return][return]This is an interesting premise. Blacks (or blaks, as they are inexplicably called in the book (more on that later)) are the dominant race and whites (whytes) are the ones enslaved. It's not an alternate history, nor is it a fantasy set in another world. I'm not really sure what it is, or what it wants to be, and that was the problem for me.[return][return]To start with, from the very first page it seems like the author has just gone through and done a search and replace, like the blaks celebrating Voodoomas as their main holiday, or whytes being derogatively referred to as wiggers. Neither of these make sense! Wigger can only exist as a word if nigger exists, which of course it doesn't in this universe. And why would their celebration be Christmas with "voodoo" pasted on? (The suffix mas comes from mass!) The book is full of stuff like this and it made my head hurt at least once every page or so.[return][return]The other eye-twitchy, headache inducing thing was the world. It's sort of kind of our world, except geography is randomly different (and I don't mean place names, but actual continents and stuff are not the same shape). Stuff is randomly spelled oddly, like whytes and blaks. It makes no sense at all. There's also the technology and...culture, I guess. Like, it's historical mixed with modern. They have carriages and ships, but there's also the Tube under London (Londolo). They have plantations and yet the kids shop at Hot Topic-esque boutiques. The fashions of the Europeans are from hundreds of years ago, yet Doris says that her physique, stick skinny so her bones show, is the height of beauty. [return][return]I just...don't like it! It's all done like a joke and so haphazard. It reads like the kind of fanfic that people label crack because they just want to toss in whatever they think is funny without a care for whether it makes sense to the story. I don't like that sort of fanfic, and I don't like it any better in this book. It just makes my brain go crazy and I can't enjoy the story because I'm getting irked by all the ridiculous inconsistencies every other page.[return][return]As for the story offered nothing new except the idea of the white/black switch, which I didn't find to be done well. If you've read any accounts of slavery, you won't find anything new or different here. It was a real disappointment.

  • Elaine
    2019-05-30 13:49

    A little bit of cleverness goes a long way. Too much -- jumbled anachronism, twisted geography, transplanted London place names, and a literal Underground Railway (hah!) -- makes a supposedly thought provoking novel more like a spin through a clever blog.The central race flipping premise isn't thought out. It wobbles between crude stereotypes and simple re-hashing of other people's books about slavery. Reading it so soon after the Book of Night Women, an entirely passionate, serious, heartrending and hair raising book about Caribbean slavery, this too clever by half superficial retread especially grated.

  • Trin
    2019-06-01 17:57

    What if Africans had been the ones to enslave Europeans instead of the other way around? That’s the premise Evaristo uses to launch this harrowing alternate history, which in general does a fantastic job shedding fresh light not just on the horrors of slavery—which, even if we are all generally aware of them, it can never hurt to be reminded of in stark, brutal, specific detail: people did these things to other people—but also on slavery’s ongoing ripples and aftereffects, exposing the very white, Eurocentric way we may still consider the natural way to view the world.When Evaristo sticks to these aspects of her story, I think it works amazingly well; however, she makes some odd auxiliary choices. There’s a map at the beginning of the book that physically alters the way Earth’s continents are arranged, putting Europe where Africa is, and part of Africa where Europe is, but leaving the British Isles alone, so Londinium is one of the great seats of power of the African Empire, but it still has its Roman name—why? Europe is described as cold and grey, and Africa balmy, as if they were still located in their usual hemispheres—huh? And to confuse things further, at times Evaristo seems to be setting her story in the 18th or 19th centuries, when comparable events took place in our history, but there exist aspects of technology that are utterly modern—her protagonist escapes at one point on an Underground Railroad that is literally the London Underground. I found all of this incredibly confusing and needlessly distracting. Why complicate things so? To me it seems completely unnecessary—just off-putting.Anyway, if you can manage to handwave Evaristo’s seemingly bizarre world-building decisions—as I was eventually able to do—this is well-worth reading. And if you can explain to me the purpose behind said decisions, I would love to hear your theories!

  • Charlotte
    2019-06-18 12:36

    Blonde Roots is set in a parallel universe, where African, not European, cultures use shipping and weapons technology to create colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, and to kidnap millions of people and enslave them to work on sugar plantations. Residents of the Atlantic coastal fringes of Europa - the English, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, and Scandinavians - are particularly at risk of being stolen away from their families, regardless of rank or priviledge, and crammed into slave ships bound for the New World. The reader knows from the outset that this is not alternate history of our own universe, because the author has included a map showing Aphrika in the North, Europa in the South, and the Caribbean islands unchanged, but renamed the West Japanese Islands.The idea is interesting, and has been explored by other authors (such as Mallory Blackman, in whose Noughts and Crosses series it is taken for granted that the dominant culture is that of black people, and white people are treated as inferior). Unfortunately, in White Roots the execution of the idea is rather muddled and extremely illogical. For a start, why is there any need to have altered geography? The slave/sugar trade triangle could just have easily worked with geography unchanged, but Africa as the pivotal point of power. Linguistically, the novel is very puzzling; the slaves speak a kind of Patois, but the author seems to assume that in the White Roots universe there would be little difference from real life Caribbean Patois. We are repeatedly told that the slaves are from a mixture of European countries, and logically therefore the Patois would be an blend of Abrossan combined with elements of grammar and vocabulary from Germanic and Hispanic European languages, but there is no evidence of this at all, and we get a phonetic representation of what sounds to me like contemporary Jamaican patois. Even when two slaves discover that they are from the same country, they do not speak their native language together - even when this is English.Most puzzling of all is the question of when the novel is supposed to be set. Various pointers (not least the "what happened next" postscript) suggest the early twentieth century at the latest; the slave ships appear to be sailing boats, and there is no electricity, although there is a disused Londolo Underground. The turns of phrase used by high status Aphrikans echo 18th or early 19th century real life discourse on slavery, and the Europeans clearly operate a system of workers on land-owners' estates. Yet characters use skateboards; they "airpunch"; and the young male Whyte slaves call themselves names such as "Bad Bwoy" or "Totallee Kross." Evaristo appears to be trying to cram current issues of identity and social exclusion among black youth in modern day Britain or America into a analysis of 18th/19th century attitudes to race and colonialism, and it simply doesn't work.It's a pity, because there are sections of the novel which are much more thought-provoking, but these are lost in the overall lack of logic. Book Two, in which Chief Kaga Konata Katamba gives us his memoirs of his first trip to the Heart of Darkness which is the Cabbage Coast, and describes his first encounters with the backwards-seeming natives of England, is well done. It reminded me somewhat of Body Ritual Among the Nacirema in its ability to dismantle our own cultural assumptions with the eye of the outside, and I couldn't help feeling that had the novel as a whole been writted in this vein, it would have been much harder-hitting. Overall, however, if you want to read about the real horrors of slavery from the point of view of a slave woman, I'm afraid you are much better off grabbing a copy of Andrea Levy's The Long Song.

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2019-06-26 13:59

    Part alternate history and part biting satire, Evaristo's new novel plays fast and loose with geography, history, language, and culture as it restructures the world in a successful bid to reimagine the institution of slavery. Evaristo also includes several chapters narrated by Doris's master, who justifies the practice of slavery on pseudoscientific grounds and even congratulates himself on saving the brutal "whyte" heathens from lives of savagery. The world Evaristo creates is wholly foreign, yet bone-chillingly recognizable. The critics were surprised that there could be anything left to say on the subject, but Evaristo's scathing novel does just that by ripping away readers' comfort zones and turning stereotypes on their heads. Transcending labels and genres, Blonde Roots is an enthralling, eye-opening story.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  • Lina
    2019-06-21 13:38

    I couldn't read this anymore. I am sure that Bernadine Evaristo is a great writer with good intentions with this satire, I just could not handle reading this book. I mean, the overall story of Blonde Roots is slavery is bad no matter who does it. Well, duh. It's called history. We have seen in the past that slavery, regardless of who does it is horrible. That doesn't mean that the African Slave Trade has to be race-bent in order to show that. Especially when the results are not equal at all. I mean there is more to slavery, especially slavery in this country, than just standards of beauty. I don't think that this book captured the essence slavery through satire.

  • M
    2019-06-22 19:42

    What began as a cute and somewhat clever 'what if' tale of a reversal in the white folk enslaving the black quickly became a dragged out and horribly graphic story that took too long to end. It also had little more than its gimmick to promote itself.

  • Susan
    2019-06-25 14:53

    Blonde Roots has an epigraph by Nietzsche: "All things are subject to interpretation: whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." After reading the book, I'm still thinking about the implications of the epigraph. Bernardine Evaristo imagines a detailed alternate world where blaks have enslaved whytes and imposed their culture on the world, and in doing so she not only makes an anti-slavery message, but also a striking anti-imperialism message.The main problem with the book is that it's a little too concerned with the horrors of slavery and its ramifications, and because of that, sacrifices some plot and character development. Granted, it's completely arguable that two of the things slavery eliminates from victims' lives are the chance to develop steady relationships, and the opportunity to pursue passion. However, it seemed that all the elements were in place for Evaristo to make her slaves live fuller and more interesting lives rather than be placeholders for elements of the "what if Europeans were the slaves instead of slavers?" premise. And because there was so much promise in the book, I can't help but feel disappointed in spite of the book's having the intended effect of making me feel disgusted by slavery and uncomfortably aware of white privilege.The basic plot of the book is that Doris/Omorenomwara, the main character, is taken from her life of eating and growing cabbage in Europa, and becomes the personal assistant of the former captain of a slaver, Bwana, in urban Great Ambossa. After an escape plan goes awry, she is forced into field work, which allows her to meet slaves resigned to slavery, and other members of plantation society. And it's when you get to the plantation society that you begin to perceive weakness in the choice of telling the story of Doris and her escape. The plantation society is rather interesting (to the point of being a possible setting for a whole slew of plots for other books), and the Viking-descended Ye Memé could have carried the book on her own. Whereas Doris has lost much of her vitality since her brutal whipping, Ye Memé and her friends have compensated for their pain in life by doing everything even more spiritedly. Ye Memé talks a blue streak, dreams for her children's futures, and keeps her house perfectly in order. Her friend is an amazing cook raising Ye Memé's teenage son, who's falling in with the wrong crowd. The life of Bwana's whyte mistress and mother of his mulatto sons also could have been more interesting for a book than Doris's. In fact, almost anyone on the plantation could possibly have been a more magnetizing figure than Doris (except for the guy she starts to shack up with, who has about one moment of cool to his twenty of boring).There's really no reason why an unusually well-educated whyte slave like Doris could not have been a good main character, though. Doris actually has the glimmer of an incredibly interesting story, but Evaristo doesn't pursue it. The love of Doris's life, a city slave named Frank with whom she had three children, is sent to the fields after the owner's wife lusts after him and he rejects her. Frank then escapes and becomes a Harriet Tubman/Robin Hood figure. The time when Doris is planning an escape from the plantation would be a wonderful point to introduce Frank as an actual character (rather than a memory), and deal with all the changes that fifteen or so years of separate lives tinged by slavery could create. Sadly, what happens is nowhere near as expansive. Frank gets about a sentence. Doris, as a narrator, fails yet again to seize hold of the tantalizing story in her life.So what is left is a somewhat typical Slavery is Evil book with the twist being which continent is enslaving the other. The description of the slaver ship is absolutely horrifying, the punishment of runaway slaves is sickening, and the systematic putting down of Europan culture is unsettling. Most of the troubling images and ideas came directly from Evaristo's research, and Evaristo renders them so skillfully that I can't help but wish she had wanted more from her book. The publisher, Penguin, interpreted Blonde Roots to be a humorous satire, and seem to have marketed it as a fun read. The book has humor, but it often (justly) seems tinged with sadness for the suffering of millions of slaves. I'm guessing that the Penguin people were a lot more amused than I was by the willful anachronisms Evaristo uses. For me, a timeless world where people have stopped using the Londolo underground train but still transport slaves in slavers simply is confusing. As is the map at the beginning of the book. Seriously, what's going on with the Equator on the map? Why not just turn a normal map upside down and move Great Britain to the African coast? Not that this truly matters. The anachronism and alternate world map can't hide the fact that slavery as an institution is just not funny, regardless of how inane efforts to justify it are. But, of course, the humor of slavery is subject to interpretation too.

  • Therese
    2019-05-29 17:48

    I knew I was in for something very different when I chose to read this book, which is basically a switcheroo on the idea of African slavery. Basically in this book the Africans take the whites as slaves from Europe and America and bring them back to Africa. There are some parts that are a bit contrived or cheesy, but for the most part the author did a really good job of really putting the reader in a slave's place. Also, I hadn't expected to get the viewpoint of the slave owner, so that was interesting as well. I particularly liked the deliberate poking fun of how different each culture turned out because of their lot in life. The only thing that annoyed me about this book was the fact that it was hard to work out what time period they were in. The way they described England was very much medieval, but I kept wondering if that's because of how in the real life circumstances of slavery the whites would've looked at Africans as being medieval and backwards in their culture too. It's just that when they would describe how people lived and talked in Africa they seemed so much more modern referring to things that wouldn't have been invented for 100s of years if it was indeed medieval times. Overall I really did enjoy the book and would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes to read what-if scenarios. Very quick, easy read with only a few bits that were quite gritty and brutal.

  • Erin
    2019-06-25 19:49

    This book was so clever and enjoyable to read! I do think it's satire, no matter what any moms say. The one question I am left with and I wish the book explored -- why was the world's geography different? Did slavery arise from the way the world was laid out? I don't know enough to answer this question. Was hoping that it was touched on in the book but wasn't.The joy in this book are the tiny, obsessive details. African slavers freezing on the shores of England b/c they refuse to wear "european" clothes. Making fun of the body shapes of clothes. Justifying slavery b/c the feudal lords were just going to do it anyway -- then enslaving the feudal lords.Basic plot synopsis - What if instead of Europeans enslaving Africans, the opposite happened?

  • Diriye Osman
    2019-06-15 16:56

    A stunning, stunning novel. Beautifully written with a sense of precision and stylistic flair. I love this book.

  • S
    2019-06-11 18:04

    One of the poorest written books I've read in a while. For good writing and well thought out world building on this topic, read Steven Barnes's 'Lion's Blood' and 'Zulu Heart' instead.

  • Akylina
    2019-06-08 11:38

    I'm putting this away for now, since it feels like a chore even picking it up to continue where I left off last time. Perhaps I will give it another chance later.

  • Troy
    2019-06-12 17:01

    As a literary work, this book is fine. As in, in the pages I read, there are no glaring grammatical errors, sentence structure is intact, and the author has crafted characters and a universe that I find discomforting and, frankly, upsetting. That must mean that, while that was probably not the author's aim, that aroused those senses in me.While not meaning to, it is going to be impossible for a reader of today to NOT identifyt with the “whytes” in this fictional book moreso than the tales of actual slavery in these United States, for one central reason: they talk as we do now.Who are you going to feel more empathy towards, dear reader: an African slave getting whipped with rawhide, yelling “No massa, please, no mo!”with unique patois of the American South, or a newly captured European (as this book takes pains to identify) and their “No, please! Please stop, I beg of you!” There's no contest. The book makes salient points from its fictional soapbox, among them that man (and woman) of any color have it in them to be as cruel as the slave masters of the antebellum South. It is that point that seems to take those ancient forebears off the hook, a sort of “look! You black/Latin/whatever people could have done the same things!”Surely this book contains a number of, um, interesting projections as to just what an African-dominated world would look like: the horse-and-carriages have rims. Women are undesirable if their asses are too small. The modern-day standards of beauty - blonde hair, size 2 waists, even the square jaw - are denigrated and shunned. I cringed at some of the litany of the spoils of excess, as they are definitely different from those we wouldn't bat an eye at in the modern day. The cotillions, the sipping of mint juleps, the finding of ways to engage in more and more involved leisure activity, all have their African slavemaster equivalent, but I cannot help to feel as if these are presented not as an "answer" per se, but a grotesque critique on modern black culture.One thing that prevails, no matter fictional or not, is that things are clearly patriarchal. African slave-owners flaunt affairs just as openly as their white counterparts did. The same issues that brought about the very notions that birthed feminism, that women deserve rights, are glaringly apparent. I suppose it is a measure of comfort and would require too much of a suspension of disbelief to give women of any color any more agency.As I said, the fact that the author could pick a keen idea and do such a good job in writing characters and finding a world in which some very dark (no pun intended) truths about human nature is a credit to her craftsmanship. I just think that this is going to prompt the response from many readers that, for all intents and purposes, that these sympathetic characters deserve more sympathy (after all, they're from places like London, and Holland, and...) than the people who actually went through this brutality. I realize that this is out of the control of the author, but it bugged me enough to make me stop reading.

  • Ashley
    2019-06-15 13:42

    Evaristo turns history on its head by asking what would it have been like if Africans had enslaved Europeans, rather than the other way around? The story covers the transatlantic slave trade (in reverse), daily life on the plantations, punishment for slaves caught trying to escape, and whole host of other issues.The main character, Omorenomwara (formerly known as Doris), is intensely likable - she is feisty and smart, and you're rooting for a happy ending for her from page 1. Her story is heartbreaking and couched from the reverse position of an enslaved European. She originally hails from Europa but is currently toiling away in Aphrika. I love Evaristo's like-word usage in these way throughout the book - it lends a more fictional taste to the book, but she always reminds the reader (and not always in a gentle manner, mind you) that this was REAL; that this happened to REAL people. It really brought the whole issue of slavery to a whole other level of realness for me. History has a strange way of feeling disconnected from the present but through Evaristo's characters, it gives slavery a personal voice that is ultimately way more haunting and horrifying than any set of facts or figures could ever be. By using a fictional backdrop, it's painfully obvious how terribly deluded some of the more innocuous mindsets of the time were - one of the slave masters mentioned off-handedly how all the slaves looked alike to him with their pale skin and colored eyes. Or that the slaves were scientifically proven to have a smaller brain and less capability for emotion and reasoning; really, it was a FAVOR to the enslaved since they're so barbaric when left to their own devices. Some of the punishments meted out, while fictional, really opened my eyes to how cruel we can be to one another, especially when you reduce one class of people to less than human. Overall, I highly enjoyed this book - it really made the issue of slavery more relatable and real to me. I highly recommend.

  • Gracey
    2019-06-03 15:58

    I didn't understand the point of this book. Ordinarily, I don't worry about the point of a book; most of them are written simply because the author had an idea for a story and they wrote it down. And, that is probably the case here, but the author took something that is known, well-known, and twisted it for her own purposes and I don't know what those purposes are/were.This is a story about the slave trade. But, instead of Africans being captured and sold into slavery, Europeans were. The main African slave trader in the story gives the same reason for enslaving Europeans as was given for enslaving Africans in real life; less than human, no culture, doing them a favor, etc. In fact, in describing much of the European slave experience, the author borrowed from documented African slave experiences. But, why? What was the point?I mean, who is the audience for this type of book? Are there still people who can't understand the horrors of slavery because it happened to Africans and not them? Is it a sort of "torture porn" for those who'd like to read about Europeans being whipped and raped for once? I honestly don't know why this book was written - it's not clever, it's just pointless.Additionally, the author adds a bunch of anachronistic nonsense that makes the book even harder to read. There is a map at the front of the book that shows Aphrika as north of the equator and Europa to the south; essentially, the African and European continents are swapped for this story. Which is fine... except that the author still has Aphrika being hot, humid and jungle-filled. And equatorial Europa? Well, it's freezing. Also, she vacillates between being "historically" accurate with the two civilizations and just throwing in a bunch of modern stuff. The Europeans wear woolen stockings, hoop skirts and the like and the Aphrikans wear loincloths and draped fabric and headdresses, but there are also Barbee dolls, skateboards, and possibly malls. It's rather jarring and fairly irritating to have this sort of thing thrown into a book.

  • Sarah Kathleen
    2019-06-17 17:56

    I like this book. I think it's Important. It really changed the way that I look at western history, I'm pretty sure. It's an interesting story, one that maybe is a little cliched in some ways, although I'd hardly say it's common. But simply by reversing the races of the enslaved and the slavers, it reframes so much that even now people people believe. Only ten years ago, I was taught in high school that Europeans only began enslaving Africans because the Africans started it. If they weren't already capturing and trading slaves, Europeans never would have gotten into the game. Or something like that.I did take off some stars because, in some ways, the book didn't really make sense. Much of the story seems like it takes place in the mid-nineteenth century: people ride in carts and carriages, the narrator says that before she was a slave she wore long dresses with many petticoats. But then there's the point that others have made, that in the story the underground railroad is literally the London Underground. It seems strange that in a place people don't have cars, they have subway systems. I also didn't understand why the author changed the set-up of the world, putting Africa where Europe is, and Europe where Africa is. Not only does it not make sense that sunny Africa is in the north and dreary Europe is on the Equator, it just seems completely unnecessary.Despite that, I liked the book. I would recommend it to fans of alternate history novels, and also racists.

  • Kit
    2019-06-11 15:58

    Blonde Roots got great prepub publicity, and the premise was interesting - what if Africans had enslaved Europeans instead of the other way around? The strongest part of this book is the details of the lives of slaves, which are desperately powerful and compelling. There's no way not to be moved by a description of the Middle Passage or of life on a Carribbean plantation.But for the rest of the book, I'm not sure what the point is. It doesn't really work as satire; I cared too much about the characters' fates. It isn't the history-nerd alternate history produced by some sci-fi writers, where you get the feeling the author is running a detailed historical simulation in his or her brain, curious to find out everything that would logically follow if you changed one detail. Evaristo doesn't give enough detail and what details there are are confusing - the narrator is taken from what seems like 18th-century rural England to a 20th-century London complete with skateboarders and techno music. I don't want to think that the point of the book is that white people will only *really* believe that slavery was bad if they see it happening to other white people. I'm still intrigued by the premise, but I shouldn't be stuck wondering why the author wrote the book with that premise in the first place.

  • Stephanie
    2019-06-18 16:34

    Spoiler alert: It was an interesting book. I liked how someone took the history of the slave trade and turned it around so that we could see it from a different perspective. One thing that kept catching me was the fact that I couldn't place it in a time period. One minute it would sound like it's in the 1700-1800s, and the next minute it'd be talking about going to the disco, electronic music, gangs, men walking with "swagger" with their pants half-way down their butts, and books titled something-or-other "FOR DUMMIES" (doubt they had those titles in the 1800s). Also the language of the white slaves was interesting. It was supposed to sound like the dialect of Black-African-American English, but why would that be if the original slaves came from England/Europe, spoke English, but had to learn the African language and leave their English language behind? Didn't make sense to me. Other than those confusing attributes, it was a pretty good read. It would be interesting to pair with something that dealt with American slavery, likeUncle Tom's Cabin , but it might require a lot of explanation on some of the confusing details.

  • Carol
    2019-06-14 15:45

    3.5 *

  • Andrew
    2019-06-11 17:58

    This is a book that I heard of through the Simon Mayo Radio 5 Live book review show that is released as a podcast, and it sounded intriguing: a role reversal book set on an Earth where the Africans became the slave traders and the Europeans the slaves. The narrative jumps about all over the place – the first third of the book tells the story of Doris, a slave for a major slave trader, Chief Kaga Konata Katamba, and her escape attempt, whilst being interspersed with flashbacks that tell the story of her capture. The second part is the story of Chief Kaga Konata Katamba’s life, how he got into slaving, and ends roughly about the same time Doris is kidnapped. The final part is how the escape attempt by Doris fails, and how she ends up on a plantation. It is an awesome book. The characters are very rich, and the violence in the story is utterly brutal, whilst not being dwelled upon – a less is more approach which makes it seem all the more real. It is quite short, but brilliant.

  • Sunny
    2019-06-26 11:56

    Interesting book which pretty much reflects the opposite of what happens in Alex Haley’s classic Roots. Except this time the black race is the alpha race and Europe and Africa have switched round in Name. So Blacks now enslave whites from a land which resembles Africa in structure but is called Europe into a land which resembles Europe but is called Africa. Its an interesting book that imagines what London (Londo) would be like if it had a historic and intrinsic Afrian feel to it and a lot of the place names have been africanized. It focuses around a girl called Dorris who is caught and taken as a slave to an African run London but then she plans an escape. The story juxtaposes between passages of her describing to her fellow escapees how she got here against passages of her escape. If you have read Roots then you might find this interesting as there are a lot of references to it. “Behold the only thing greater than you” etc etc ..

  • April
    2019-06-18 13:00

    When one group of human beings "owns" another group, there is no happy ending. This book had the perfect ending, at least perfect in imperfection. No tidy conclusion (and the "happiness" is dubious at best), all tied up neatly to make everyone happy. Evaristo captures the essence of tragedy but I feel there's something missing (complexity of characters? I'm not sure) that made me unable to feel connected to the story or characters. Perhaps it's just because the events and society are so far out of my realm of experience; it could be a problem with the reader and not the author.

  • Allison
    2019-06-13 15:39

    This book was different than I expected; I also liked it more than I thought I would. As just about every review has mentioned, this book, told through the eyes of a 30-year-old woman Doris Scagglethorp, or "Omorenomwara" (Ms. Omo) which was her slave name, tells about how slavery would have been if the roles had been reversed - namely, if the "blaks" were the masters and the "whytes" the slaves.Although interesting, there were a few things that I questioned throughout the novel. Although some of them I made up answers for - such as why there was technology when it seemed to be set a few hundred years ago - some things I wasn't quite able to answer, such as why the continents were arranged in a different way (mostly, what occupied the northern hemisphere?).My favorite, and least favorite, part of the novel was probably Part Two, which was told through the eyes of the slave owner: Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I (or "KKK" for short...coincidence? I think not...). In it, he points out that he is a reasonable man and a moral man, and basically argues that slavery is okay. He described how he came into all of his wealth - how he became a slave trader - and of his first encounter on Europa with the natives...and how he perceived their curiosity and wariness as an attack, having his men kill several of them (though, he points out, he never actually fired a shot so he couldn't be considered a murderer, but instead still only was "possessed of the most benevolent intentions" (133). *snort* It's this kind of thing that makes me hate slavery so much because the slaves were seen as less than people. It was also stated through later parts of the novel that he wasn't aware that the slaves had real emotions or family ties. Really?I think it might have hit home more because I am white, and so imagining myself in the shoes of Doris/Ms. Omo wasn't that difficult: but it sucked. Okay, so I know slavery was bad, and I know a lot of people suffered horrible things - both physical and emotional - but at the same time, reading about it like that, in a first-person narrative (although it was fictional), really hit home. It didn't matter that the protagonist was white, she could have been black and it would have still had the same impact (mostly).To me, though, it made me think about the masters vs. slavers relationship, and the fact that it could have been either that was in charge, depending on who had the need first - I see it as a luck of the draw, really, because no matter who came out on top, it was only a matter of time before one race decided to try and control the other - after all, isn't that what happens all throughout history: the conquerer rules the conquered (though not necessarily to the same degree).Although there were a few things that I didn't particularly like about the book (for example, I didn't understand why the continents were changed around, nor could I get a good handle on the time when this story took place since there were inconsistencies though I think it took place later), one thing I was kinda disappointed about was the ending. Not that it was a bad ending - Doris got her freedom, along with the two boys - I wasn't particularly fond of the postscript. I think it was to metaphorically represent the fact that slaves lives were so short and almost meaningless to the owners, and living past a certain age was nigh impossible. Although it was complete, and I think all of the loose ends were tied up, it seemed like the climax was reached, then the story ended, and then finally the PS was given, which told the fate of all the major characters (though I also want to mention the fact that I didn't like how neatly Doris was able to reunite with her seemed way too coincidental, and although it was nice to have the loose ends tied up for the character and not just the reader, it was a little too much, I think).In the end, like I said in the beginning, I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't a hard read, and even though you know about slavery, and how bad it was, this book is a good little supplement. It kind of just makes you think, and even though it's more just general knowledge, it has an interesting twist that I think was/is engaging and interesting.

  • Jule
    2019-06-13 13:35

    A while ago, while reading The Help for a term paper, I complained to a friend how unfair this whole race thing was and how easily it could have been reversed, with the whites being the “lower class” and the black people the “upper class”. And now, a semester later - what is on the reading list for one of my seminars? "Blonde Roots", which deals with exactly this what-if scenario. What if it had been the Europeans who were enslaved by the Africans and sold to America to work there? Let me tell you one thing: This book is genious! The Plot: The reader follows the story of Doris, a girl from England, who gets captured by slave trader when she is ten. The reader officially meets her when she is in her thirties, but gets told about her life in flash backs. The plot of the “first book” is furthermore filled with Doris trying to escape her “blak” owner - she doesn’t succeed. The “second book” is written from the perspective of her owner, who explains why “whytes” are supposed to be slaves and why it is right to keep them as slaves. In the “third book”, we are back with Doris again, who got captured and now works a much harder job. She still tries to get out, though.The map on the first pages of the novel makes clear: this is totally not our world, but a place with “Amarika”, “Aphrika”, “Londolo” or “Do Va” (Dover). Also, the “misspelling” of the races - blak, whyte - shows that this is not set in any familiar place. There is no clear time frame - technology, culture and language from the 18th to 21st century are mixed. But a look below the surface reveals so many parallels and hidden sideswipes against the “real” slavery from our world and our history.For example, Doris has two owners, both inscribe their initials into her shoulders: "P.I.G." and "K.K.K.". Instead of “nigger”, the slaves are called “wigger” - a portmanteau word out of “white” and “nigger”. There is also a chapter titeled “Heart of Greyness”, which refers to Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, only that Europe is called “grey”, because the sky is always grey there.This book may be a parody/satire, but so many things made me think “This is so true!”. Like Doris noticing “Naturally, having a whyte skin was all the evidence the sheriffs needed to accost a young man and strip-search him.” - sound familiar? Also, the fact that security guards were always white… well, the parallels not only to history, but to modern times are very touching. If you have not read "Blonde Roots" yet, do it now! It is seriously a very good, heart-warming and witty novel about a sad, but important subject. And the fact that the novel is satire makes it easier to realize certain things and to feel affected by slavery in a way white people usually don’t. So: please read the book. Seriously.

  • Mocha Girl
    2019-06-25 15:41

    In Blonde Roots, Benardine Evaristo's latest novel, an alternate universe exists in which Aphrikans (Africans/Blacks) are the dominant race and the slave trade imports Europans (Europeans/Whites). The author has redrawn the map of the world as we know it. A graphical depiction provided in the opening pages shows Londolo, a capital city of the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa, located directly below the equator and immediately off the coast of Aphrika. The puns and acerbic bites of satire are not solely reserved for the cities and kingdoms, the character's names, cultural references and comparisons in art, clothing fashions, language, religion, and courtship are all fair game for clever commentary. The novel opens in the anti-abolitionist offices of The Flame, a pro-slavery publication, printed by Omorenomwara's owner, Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I (note the irony of his initials: KKK). Omorenomwara, a trusted, literate, 30-something year-old slave, is editing the latest issue when given a note informing her that she has been selected to begin her journey back to the Motherland (Europa) via the Underground Railroad. It is then, via a series of flashbacks, that we learn that Omorenomwara is really Doris Scagglethorpe, who spent an idyllic cabbage-farming childhood in an Europan serfdom shared with her parents and three sisters. Innocence is lost when, at age 10 she is snatched by a Viking during a game of Hide-and-Seek and sold to the blaks. While the races maybe reversed in the novel, the horrors, cruelty, and inhumanity of the trade is the same. Doris's recounting of the Middle Passage, enslavement, loss of identity and self-esteem, as a result of her servitude as a playmate to the plantation's spoiled "miracle baby," are aligned and echo actual experiences. Her botched escape, recapture, punishment, and relocation to a sugar cane plantation allows the reader to experience the harsher side of slave life and the ways by which slaves adapted to the back-breaking labor and coped with the inhumanity of it all via song, reverent prayer, inner-strength, and inter-family dependence. Doris's story has some contrived bitter-sweet moments, but I like that the author paved the way for some semblance of happiness for her character. The novel is complete in that it taps the common taboos by covering the gamut of superstitions (both races), nuances in tastes (spicy vs bland foods), perceptions on beauty, etc. While the author attempts to infuse comical anecdotes and witty retorts (some are quite good), the somber subject matter dampens the humor. The Slave Trade is a stain on the fabric of humanity and its waves are still reverberating some 400 years later. This book would be a great educational tool and potentially a great device to kick-start race-related discussions. Reviewed by Phyllis January 25, 2009