Bernadine Evaristo, Anglo-Nigerian novelist, poet and activist, won the Booker award in 2019 for Girl, Woman Other; an eye-opening novel which explores the life experiences of Black British women in contemporary Britain. Evaristo is the first Black female author to top the fiction chart in the UK and campaigns for greater BAME recognition in UK publication.
Evaristo’s appearance on BBC Question Time in May 2020, which I made reference to in a previous article, explains the importance of challenging history and the current ways in which it is taught. Making my way through Evaristo’s impressive collection, her writing is characterised by daring literary experimentation, and challenges the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. Blonde Roots does exactly this. According to ELLE Magazine, Blonde Roots ‘boldly turns history on its head’. Published eleven years ago, it is still relevant today, and it should be next on your reading list.
Blonde Roots is a clever and imaginative inversion of the transatlantic slave trade. Thought-provoking yet satirical, Evaristo reverses history. The novel re-imagines the past, an alternative world where Africans enslaved Europeans, where ‘Whytes’ were enslaved by black people.
This reversal of history is laid before us through the narrative of Doris, a young English girl. She is playing hide and seek with her sisters in the English countryside when a sack is placed over her head. Stripped away from her family, she is put on a slave-ship to the New World. Evaristo provides us with detailed descriptions of Doris’ treacherous journey to the New World and the torturous experiences on arrival. As readers, we can only imagine a snippet of the pain Doris would have felt, yet admire her strength to strive towards freedom. This is a literary homage to the experiences of over ten million Africans from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.
This adaptation of historical events is brilliant and timeless. With references to Western popular culture, the modern reader is forced to relate to this young Englishwoman who was stripped from her life and her family, and enslaved in a foreign land.
Blonde Roots has been critically acclaimed as a ‘bold piece of counterfactual history’. Evaristo expertly uproots a tortuous and uncomfortable history, engaging us to question our own cultural attitudes and think about ingrained racism prevalent in modern society. What would society look like today if the transatlantic slave trade really had been reversed?