Saturday, January 10, 2009

REVIEW: Blonde Roots

Title: Blonde Roots
Author: Bernadine Evaristo
ISBN: 9781594488634/ Riverhead Books, 2009
Rating: D

First Line: So while my boss, Bwana, and his family are out clinking rum-and-Coke glasses and shaking their wobbly backsides at fancy parties down the road, I've been assigned duties in his office to sort through his ledgers.

Evaristo poses the question "What if Africans had enslaved Europeans?" Her imagined world is seen through the eyes of Doris, an English slave taken from her home as a young child and put to work on the plantation of her owner, Bwana, a leading figure in the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa.

I had high hopes for this book that were only partially realized. The very first thing that upset my applecart was the map in the front of the book. It shows "Aphrika" where Europe should be, with the Ambossan Channel separating it from the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa. Europe, or "Europa" is where Africa should be, with England wedged in just north of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. I am a proponent of Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief". I start out reading each book with the understanding that I'm going to believe anything the author tells me, and it normally takes something huge to knock me off that chair. Evaristo's map knocked me off the chair because I know how this planet works. If Aphrika is where Europe should be on this planet, it's not going to have African weather. If Europa is where Africa should be, it's going to have African weather, not European. That's just the way this planet works. My head had a very difficult time wrapping around that idea, so I started reading with one eyebrow raised.

Clothing styles, weapons, modes of transport, tools...are all mixed up in this world, so if you're a reader who likes to have some sort of idea of what century it is while you're reading, you're going to be confused. Evaristo's story idea is an excellent one, but it's based upon a world that millions of us are somewhat familiar with so muddling geography and time periods is unnecessarily confusing.

Several times I almost stopped reading Blonde Roots. Evaristo's place names--"Londolo" and "Do Va" are two examples--are probably meant to be clever and/or evocative. I found them annoying. The book's strongest parts were when Doris got away from the city and just lived her life. Then the story flowed and totally engaged my interest, but it wasn't enough to keep me afloat in the author's imagined world. I think I might have had a much different reaction if I hadn't read so much about this period of history, so any other reader's mileage could certainly vary!

Edit: Read Bethany's review on her blog, B&b ex libris.


  1. Sorry this didn't work for you. It sounds like a pretty good premise that just didn't work.

  2. That's how I felt about it (in my more charitable moments), Kathy. Afterwards I read some other reviews of this and wondered if we'd all read the same book, or if I'd taken an extra dose of stupid pills before I began reading!

  3. I agree with you fully! It was horridly confusing.I am really disappointed, feeling like she ruined this idea that could have been exceptional!

    Great review!


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