Review of Nearer My Freedom, by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge

Nearer My Freedom

The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself

by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge

Zest Books, 2023. 216 pages.
Review written August 30, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

From the note at the back:

This book is a novel-length series of found-verse poems crafted from Olaudah Equiano’s original autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, published in March 1789.

What this means is that they took Olaudah Equiano’s written words and cut out passages — leaving behind a novel in verse.

The style for books written in 1789 was far more verbose than books written today, so the method they used renders a dense and difficult autobiography into a gripping and accessible verse novel.

Olaudah Equiano was born in Africa and kidnapped into slavery. He ended up working on British ships and eventually was able to purchase his own freedom. He continued to work on ships, but was still in danger of being enslaved again. He became an abolitionist and wrote the story of his life to further the cause.

The book begins in Africa. He and his sister were both captured at the same time. Then he traveled all over the world, both when he was enslaved and when he was free. He even went on an expedition into the Arctic hoping to find a passage to India that way. The ship was almost destroyed by ice, and they concluded the idea wouldn’t work out.

Here’s an example from when he was kidnapped:

One day when none of the grown people were nigh
two men and a woman got over our walls,
seized my dear sister and me.
No time to cry out, or make resistance.

They stopped our mouths,
and ran off with us into the woods.
They tied our hands and carried us
as far as they could, till night came.

The authors used his words, but pared it down into a modern verse novel. There are several sidebars explaining historical context. The result is a riveting and quick-reading account of what life was like as a British seafaring enslaved person in the eighteenth century.

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