Lawrence Hill’s Someone Knows My Name, published by Norton in 2007, is his fourth novel.
The story focuses on Aminata Diallo, who was born in West Africa in 1745. In 1802, Aminata goes to London to help the cause of the British abolitionists.
In the first part of the story, Aminata’s childhood and capture is described. Readers learn about her slave life in South Carolina on an indigo farm. The novel also describes Aminata’s experiences leading up to the American Revolution. At age 11, she was captured by British slave holders. She survives the Middle Passage and reaches South Carolina, where she is reunited with a boy named Chekura who lived near her village in Africa. Her owner is Robinson Appleby, an indigo producer.
Aminata is taught to read and write, and she keeps these skills a secret for fear she will be beaten or worse. Aminata later becomes pregnant, and her child is sold into slavery. Aminata goes to New York with her new master, Solomon Lindo, a Jewish duty inspector. While in New York, Aminata uses her reading and writing skills to try to gain freedom. She dreams of returning to her village in Africa. Over the years, Aminata reunites with her husband and has another child who is also sold into slavery.
In the second half of the novel, readers learn about Aminata’s life after slavery. Aminata works for the British as a scribe recording the names of African Americans emigrating to Canada in the “Book of Negroes” (which is a historical document). In this role, Aminata learns the stories of how different black people sought and gained their freedom.
Aminata also emigrates to Canada, thus gaining her own freedom. When she arrives in Nova Scotia, Aminata discovers that she is unhappy there and feels lost. She joins a group that is planning to move back to Africa. She learns that the Sierra Leone Company is offering native Africans the opportunity to return to their home country as landholders. In Sierra Leone, however, she also feels similarly displaced because the company does not honor its promises. As the novel closes, she remains unable to find a place to call home.
Critics admire Hill’s development of a terrific character and the well-paced plot that brings the horrifying history of slavery to life. Hill celebrates the human spirit in the face of daunting odds.