Cover of "Blonde Roots"

Cover of Blonde Roots

By Mandy Webster

Blonde Roots. Bernardine Evaristo. Riverhead Books, New York. 2009.

British author, Bernadine Evaristo’s satirical novel, Blonde Roots is the story of a world turned upside down. It’s a ‘what if’ story that explores the  idea of how different the world might be if it were Africa who had conquered the New World and built up a civilization on the backs of enslaved Europeans. As it turns out, things aren’t that different.

Book One of Blonde Roots is the story of Doris Scagglethorpe, a blonde hair, blue eyed English girl stolen from her family and home in Europa and whisked away into a life of slavery. As Doris makes her escape on an abandoned underground railroad, she relives the horrors of the day she was stolen away from her childhood to become the purchased playmate of a certain “Little Miracle.”

After Little Miracle’s untimely death, Doris is sold to her highly civilized new master, Bwana, aka Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I. Bwana identifies Doris’ (now known as Omorenowara) unusual (for a Caucasoid) intellect and gives her the privilege of working as his personal office girl.

Throughout Book One, Evaristo describes atrocities that make the reader cringe. I personally got a more clear picture of what a life of slavery was like than I have ever received from any other work in the past. The details of the slave ships carrying their ‘merchandise’ over the high seas is somehow both sparse and vivid.

Book Two is the story of Bwana, born Kaga of the Katamba hunter-gatherer clan, who left his family at a young age to pursue the romantic life of a slave trader. Bwana’s justifications for the slave trade sound eerily familiar as he expounds at length on the ‘scientific’ proof that ‘some are less human than others.’

Evaristo sprinkles small shards of hilarity throughout this piece, even adding a short passage explaining how the Afrikans, who thought they were finding a shorter passage to Japan, misnamed the islands they colonized in the New World the ‘West Japan Islands.’

This book put me in mind of the 1996 movie, A Time to Kill, staring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson. In the particular scene I am thinking of, McConaughey’s character, a lawyer representing Jackson’s character who stands trial for the murder of the rednecks who had gang raped his little girl and left her for dead, asks the jury to close their eyes and picture, step by step, what was done to the defendant’s daughter.

He says, “Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl.” He pauses before driving home his point, “Now imagine she’s white.”

Evaristo, who by the way was born of an English mother and Nigerian father, makes use of a similar tactic. She leaves the reader wondering if it is the author’s expert writing which makes the tales of savagery against the Europane slaves so vivid, or if it is the fact that these horrors are borne out against “whytes.”

Amanda L. Webster