Blonde Roots

By Bernardine Evaristo
Publisher:Riverhead Hardcover, (1/22/2009)

Average Rating:
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3.67 out of 5 (9 Clubie's ratings)

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A provocative novel that upends the history of the transatlantic slave trade, reversing and reexamining notions of savagery and civilization, as it follows a young woman’s journey to freedom.

Award-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo’s novel Blonde Roots asks: What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? And how would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still lingers—and sometimes festers—today?

We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, an Englishwoman who is kidnapped one day while playing hide-and-seek with her sisters in the fields near their home. She is subsequently enslaved and taken to the New World, as well as to the imperial center of Great Ambossa. She movingly recounts experiences of tremendous hardship and dreams of the people she’s left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom.

A poignant and dramatic story grounded in provocative ideas, Blonde Roots is a genuinely original, profoundly imaginative novel.
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Unscribbler's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/29/2010

What a great twist of history. Love how well thought out the book was! Easy & fun read that makes you think.

Very Unleashable

CarolK's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/25/2010

The alternate take on slavery was somewhat interesting but I did not find the characters or the narrative very compelling. It was an easy book to read and went very quickly.

Mildly Unleashable

Alice_Wonder's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/15/2010

Reading for March book club selection

Very Unleashable

Ceci's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/11/2010

A great title (Alex Haley with a twist), a quality story (plot is not sacrificed for the sake of conveying a message), and plenty to discuss with your fellow readers. And, wow, do I wish I had Evaristo’s gift with language and narrative! In one horrifying scene, with just a handful of sentences, she vividly describes how Doris’s kidnapper wrenches her from innocently playing tag with her sisters into her life as a “stolen one.” As Doris puts it, “It was as fast and shocking as that.” It is a challenge to take the subject of slavery, a subject that we have all been taught about since grade school, and try to break through our accumulated feelings and beliefs on the topic. This book approaches that challenge by re-imagining the victims of slavery as white Europeans. It’s more than just a simple role reversal, though. Evaristo also seems to shake up time – some scenes and references are clearly historical, but others are clearly contemporary. This was very disorienting, which is actually the perfect state of mind to take in this new world order. Were these contemporary references also a reminder that many of the irrational beliefs and cruel practices have not been left behind in history?

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Steph's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/6/2010

I found this to be a very gratifying read.  It's been an embarrasingly LONG time since I've read something outside of the New Yorker or short story realm (I suppose emails and the news on the elevator in my office building don't count either), but this was a good re-introduction.  The topic was thought-provoking. I found the use of sections a good way to present the contrasting perspectives of the blak owner and whyte slave. The images in my head were definitely twisted at times, which only lent to the fulfillment I got from Blonde Roots' challenging of convention. There was so much to this relatively small book.  Lessons in courage, the dreadfulness of slavery, dignity in the face of adversity all in the context of a flipped historical vantage. 

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Reese's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/4/2010

What if a part of history was the opposite of how we know it to be? In this case, slavery, something so controversial and woven deep in to the fabric of our history. What if it was the Africans who had enslaved the Europeans? That is the challenging endeavor that Bernardine Evaristo took on when she did just that in writing this book. I thought she delivered it well overall as far as the obvious morality - that anytime you treat someone as less than fully human you will always find hatred, cruelty and oppression. Who “owns” who doesn’t change that. But to read it from a whole different vantage point was interesting and thought provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed the main character, Doris, who was a whyte, stolen and sold, at a childhood age. The story is about her journey of captivity and search for freedom. I also liked that the horrors of the slave trade, the graphic journey across the Atlantic and the travesties that were imposed on the whyte slaves were explored and descriptive as it was just a reminder of the disturbing nature of it all. Evaristo also added in humor and satire. One result of that though was the question for the reader of what time frame did this take place as there were historical and contemporary references. It did not take away from the enjoyment for me though. Evaristo wrote a flowing book on a tough topic with an imaginative premise. In all that, there is much to discuss.

Very Unleashable

Book Junky's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/1/2010

What a fascinating and VERY well written book. Bernardine creates a world so well thought out and put together it just flows. She makes it look effortless to turn the tables on history and give us a glimpse into what an alternate history could be - when it had to be anything but effortless. From the cover design of the book to subtle and not so subtle language changes throughout the book, this book is just so well thought out. It is filled with great moments that just really make you think & makes for a great discussion. I was surprised that such a heavy subject could be written in such an easy read.  Seriously, I was surprised at how fast it moved along. Great book for book clubs. 


Nick's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:3/1/2010

I do give points to author Bernadine Evaristo for undertaking a very ambitious, controversial subject. The concept of analternate history where Africans enslaved Europeans is rife with opportunity for discussion and debate. With such lofty goals, I was disappointed to find that Blonde Roots falls short. The book follows the journey of a slave named Doris (renamed Omorenomwara by her slave masters) who was snatched from Europe as a child toendure a horrifying journey to Africa. At heart it is a powerful, potentially moving story with a well-crafted central character, but it is weighed down by somewhat sloppy execution. Blonde Roots felt to me like the first draft of a very good book. The world Evaristo creates lacks the discipline and focus needed to make the novellive up to its real potential. For example, I am very unclear about what time period this book takes place. The narrative describes sailing ships and muskets and also mentions things like Barbie dolls and modern-style retail chain storesand restaurants. I’m not sure whether this story takes place in 1790 or 1990. At times, the novel succeeds in providing a fascinating perspective through cultural role reversal. Experiencing Doris’s dehumanization in being kidnapped and thrust into a demeaning role in acompletely alien culture resonates strongly. Still, even an alternate history story needs to anchor its readers to reality. While some pieces clearly were well-researched, other bits of the author’s interpretation of African culture seem to fall into the realm of fantasy and stereotype. Things the masters’ celebration of “Voodoomas” took me out of the story. Rather than creating a made-up holiday based on European tradition, a quick Google search would have unearthed a wealth of real African holidays and cultural celebrations that could have used as a true-life historical anchor. Also, things like rebellious African teenagers wearing theirpants low and using slang stereotypical of 1990s hip hop fashion and culture were a bit cringe-worthy. Ina nutshell, Blonde Roots is a quick read with strong concepts that serves as a good springboard for discussion. With a little more research and discipline, I think this book could have been a masterwork.

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Sam's thoughts on "Blonde Roots"
updated on:2/28/2010

Through its controversial plot line and completely intriguing characters, Blonde Roots forces its readers to look at the world of slavery at a 180° angle. Imagine that it all happened differently. What if Africans had enslaved Anglo Saxons instead of the other way around? What kind of longstanding cultural impact would reverberate today? In Bernadine Evaristo’s novel, she fleshes out a world corrupt from the other side. Her fictional tale is heart wrenching, not just because of Doris’s (Omerenomwara) personal struggles and eventual redemption, but also because Blonde Roots reminds us that no culture, race, or gender should ever be subjected to a slavery system. Unleash this book immediately – you won’t regret it!


"Blonde Roots"
By Bernardine Evaristo

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.67 out of 5 (9 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
Reader's Guide from BookBundlz

QUESTION 1: Nietzsche - Power and History

Before the book starts, there is a quote from Nietzsche. It says, "All things are subject to interpretation: whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." How do you feel that rings true in the book and in history?

QUESTION 2: Serfs vs. Slaves

In Europa, Doris was a serf. How does that experience compare to her existence as a slave?

QUESTION 3: What is in a Name?

Once enslaved, Doris is no longer to be called Doris. Instead she is Omorenomwara. How important is a name? How does that change Doris' identity? If you have changed your name (perhaps taken your husband's last name upon getting married) how did you feel about the name change transition?

QUESTION 4: Small Rebellions

As one of Bwana's cooks, Omo's roommate, Yomisi, retaliates against her "master" by essentially poisoning the family with rotten food, fungi, broken glass and other ways to make the family sick. How do "small acts" of rebellion like this make a difference to someone being forced to live as a slave, or under the authority of someone else? Have you ever done small acts of rebellion towards someone who had authority over you? Perhaps an employer or parent?

QUESTION 5: Cultural Beauty

Omo was considered beautiful in Europa, but was "ugly as sin" by Ambossan standards. How does culture play a part in how beautiful we see ourselves? What aspects does your culture find beautiful that other cultures might not?

QUESTION 6: Now You are Just Whyte

As Doris is being imprisoned, she summizes that the human race was now divided between blak and whyte. That her personality and her abilities no longer were important, her color was now determining her fate. p. 76 To what degree does that hold true for the rest of the story?

QUESTION 7: Doubting God

p.84 Doris starts to doubt God on the slave ship. How do trying times test our faith in God or question whether there is a God? What ways have you found to help you maintain your faith when it has been tested?

QUESTION 8: Justification for Enslavement

Bwana gives a thoroughly thought out explanation of why we should not feel bad about enslaving the whytes, as they are primitive, speak in Mumble-Jumble, have smaller heads, etc. and are clearly not of the same kind as the blaks. How do these arguments parallel those used to enslave Africans in the U.S.'s history? 

QUESTION 9: Crazy Thinking of the Whytes

p. 143 Bwana learns about this crazy system the Europa use to order time -days, months, years. Having an outside look into a system that we use, did it change your mind about the intellect of our predecessors and their reasoning behind creating such a system? What other crazy illogical systems do we use today?

QUESTION 10: That's What I Think?

Left alone one day, Omo starts to write on her slate horrible things about Little Miracle. p. 104 "If my sentiments were shocking, I shocked even myself. Up to that point if you'd asked me what I thought of my boss, I would have declared total devotion. There was never any doubt about what I was supposed to feel and I couldn't distinguish otherwise."  How common is it to think we feel one way, but have moments of realization that we don't? Was it just that Omo had never really had a chance to think about what she really felt before?

QUESTION 11: Knowing or Not Knowing Freedom

There were slaves born on the island, and those that had been captured and brought to the island. How did knowing or not knowing of a different way to live change how they felt about their circumstances and how they dealt with them?

QUESTION 12: I Think One Way and Act Another

Bamwoze seems conflicted by the system of slavery and seeing the whytes as less than himself. Yet he participates in the life style none the less. Actually, many of the people in the society seems to just go along with the conditions for fear of violence (for the slaves) & ex-communication (for the slave owners). How do so many people go a long with conditions they aren't personally in alignment with? How does cultural behavior maintain itself when people don't agree with the thoughts behind it? How has this played out in other areas of history? 

QUESTION 13: Doing What You Have To Do

King Shaka is referred to as an "Uncle Tom" - someone who will do anything to stay in good standing with "the blak man" including betray his own people. Sharon relents and becomes Bwana's mistress. Even though he is the man responsible for the death of her entire family. Both work the system and gain a much easier life because of this. Is this a betrayal of their people, or survival instincts? How important is the individual's survival over the internal struggle for what is right and wrong? 

QUESTION 14: Working the System

Bwana too "worked the system" and gained a rich life by bringing over slaves. An act that he viewed as charity towards the slave and was completely acceptable in his culture. How does his behavior and choices differ from say Sharon's? or Bamwoze's? How are such "systems" created in the first place?

QUESTION 15: Whyte Slaves

As you read the book, were you able to keep in your mind that Doris/Omo was whyte? Or at times did the images in your mind present her as blak? What insights did you gain from viewing the slaves as whyte?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. British novelist Evaristo delivers an astonishing, uncomfortable and beautiful alternative history that goes back several centuries to flip the slave trade, with Aphrikans enslaving the people of Europa and exporting many of them to Amarika. The plot revolves around Doris, the daughter of a long line of proud cabbage farmers who live in serfdom. After she's kidnapped by slavers, she experiences the horror and inhumanity of slave transport, is sold and works her way back to freedom. The narrative cuts back and forth through time, contrasting the journey to freedom with the journey toward slavery. In a less skilled writer's hands, the premise easily could have worn itself out by the second chapter, but Evaristo's intellectually rigorous narrative constantly surprises, and, for all the barbarism on display, it's strikingly human. Evaristo's novel is a powerful, thoughtful reminder that diabolical behavior can take place in any culture, safety is an illusion and freedom is something easily taken for granted. This difficult and provocative book is a conversation sparker. (Jan.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
This dizzying satire imagines a counterfactual history in which the roles of Africans and Europeans in the slave trade are reversed. Doris Scagglethorpe, the daughter of English farmers, is one day snatched up from her countryside cottage by traders and sold into slavery, soon arriving on the continent of Aphrika with a master and a new name: Omorenomwara. Evaristo (who is British and biracial) couples troubling stereotypes with scenes of slavery's hardships that are moving but somewhat generic, as if to poke fun not only at a genre or at received notions of race but, more subversively, at the contemporary reader's privileged desire to empathize. Unfortunately, this approach precludes any truly searching exploration of the psychological implications of such a traumatic historical event, and can result in a game of invert-the-reference the celebration of Voodoo mass, slaves being referred to as "wiggers"making for uncomfortable but ultimately cheap laughs. 
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker
From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/ Reviewed by Ron Charles My only complaint about Bernardine Evaristo's alternate history of racial slavery is that it's 150 years late. Imagine the outrage this clever novel would have provoked alongside Harriet Beecher Stowe's incendiary story or Frederick Douglass's memoir! But now, amid the warm glow of 21st-century liberalism, with our brilliant black president, what could we possibly learn from a new satire of slavery? Plenty. Blonde Roots turns the whole world on its nappy head, and you'll be surprised how different it looks -- and how similar. In the reverse-image past that Evaristo imagines, civilized Africans have built a vibrant culture and economy by capturing primitive Europeans and using them as slaves. This ingenious bit of "what-if" speculation provides the backdrop for a thrilling adventure about a "whyte" woman named Doris Scagglethorpe who works as a "house wigger" for Chief Kaga Konata Katamba. (She's branded with his initials: KKK.) The story dashes off the first page as Doris makes her escape during the annual celebration of Voodoomass. Recapture could mean death by torture for "the crimes of Ungratefulness and Dishonesty," but she's done waiting for freedom. "Deep down I knew that the slave traders were never going to give up their cash cow," Doris tells us. "It was, after all, one of the most lucrative international businesses ever, involving the large-scale transport of whytes, shipped in our millions from the continent of Europe to the West Japanese Islands, so called because when the 'great' explorer and adventurer Chinua Chikwuemeka was trying to find a new route to Asia, he mistook those islands for the legendary isles of Japan, and the name stuck." Historical anachronisms along with a weirdly distorted geography contribute to the novel's through-the-looking-glass atmosphere. As a rare literate slave, Doris enjoys a privileged position in her master's house, but she snatches a chance to ride Londolo's Underground Railroad -- the city's abandoned subway system -- out of the glamorous "Chocolate City" and into the seedy "Vanilla Suburbs." As we follow her perilous escape, Doris tells us how she was abducted from a poor English cabbage farm where she lived with her parents. She describes the gruesome Middle Passage, during which half her fellow captives expire or are murdered; the vicissitudes of the slave market, where traumatized family members are sold off in different directions; and the rape and humiliation that keep whyte people laboring on the sugar cane plantations. This is, in other words, a story whose basic elements we already know from Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Stowe, Alex Haley, Toni Morrison and others whom Evaristo alludes to throughout Blonde Roots, but even the most colorblind readers will be unsettled by seeing these horrors with the colors reversed. As always, the values of the dominant culture reflect its power structure; the black master's body and attitudes are the desired norm, even the ideal. "Privacy was a foreign concept to all Aphrikans," Doris says. "They said that the Europane need for solitude was further proof of our inferior culture." An expert explains that "over millennia, the capacious skull of the Negroid has been able to accommodate the growth of a very large brain within its structure. This has enabled a highly sophisticated intelligence to evolve." Are you listening, James Watson? Standards of attractiveness are similarly upended. Whyte people try to tan themselves into black beauties, and those who can afford it have surgery to flatten their noses. After giving Doris a proper name -- "Omorenomwara" -- her African owner expects her to look respectable, which means wearing her straight blonde hair in plaited hoops all over her head and going barefoot. And topless. As a "fully paid up member of the most loathed race in the history of the world," Doris admits that she has "image issues." Every morning she secretly repeats affirmations that some whyte Steve Biko must have preached: "I may be fair and flaxen. I may have slim nostrils and slender lips. I may have oil-rich hair and a non-rotund bottom. I may blush easily, go rubicund in the sun and have covert yet mentally alert blue eyes. Yes, I may be whyte. But I am whyte and I am beautiful!" The daughter of an English mother and a Nigerian father, Evaristo is a poet whose previous three novels were written in verse. This time, although she's writing in the colloquial speech of her narrator, she's still extremely attentive to the function of language, the power of words to shape reality. Blonde Roots is spiked with witty cultural references that detail the pervasiveness of racism. As she flees, Doris passes advertisements for "Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner" and "To Sir With Hate." She describes popular minstrel shows in which performers in whyte-face "sang out of tune in reedy voices, their upper lips stiff as they danced with idiotic, jerky movements . . . singing music hall songs about being lazy, lying, conniving, cowardly, ignorant, sexually repressed buffoons." Evaristo has even reversed the dialects, forcing us to struggle with the plantation whytes' thick patois the way we have to wade through the Nigger Jim's speech in Huck Finn: "Sundays him carve tings fe folk in de quarter an don't charge nuttin but just aks to join famlees fer dinner." Trying to cheer themselves, the slaves sing the old spirituals of their homeland: "Shud ole akwaintaince be forget/ An neva bring to mind/ Should ole akwaintance be forget/ An ole lang zine." In the middle of Blonde Roots, Evaristo drops in a 50-page essay written by Doris's owner: a "modest & truthful" defense of "The True Nature of the Slave Trade." It's a masterful bit of satire, with a sarcastic nod to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Breathtaking in its self-pity, self-justification and self-satisfaction, this faux memoir is full of the scientific rationales, cultural insights and moral gymnastics that buttressed 19th-century slavery and remain handy for justifying 21st-century liberations of less civilized nations. In a moving final section that keeps the excitement pounding till the last page, Doris describes the devastating effects of racism on whyte families: fathers turning violent and oversexed; young men devolving into thugs and ignoring the noble models of their ancestors; women working to death, raising children they know they'll soon lose. The whole story is a riotous, bitter course in the arbitrary nature of our cultural values. Don't be fooled; slavery might have ended 150 years ago, but you've still got time to be enlightened by this bracing novel. 
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Part alternate history and part biting satire, Evaristo's new novel plays fast and loose with geography, history, language, and culture as it restructures the world in a successful bid to reimagine the institution of slavery. Evaristo also includes several chapters narrated by Doris's master, who justifies the practice of slavery on pseudoscientific grounds and even congratulates himself on saving the brutal "whyte" heathens from lives of savagery. The world Evaristo creates is wholly foreign, yet bone-chillingly recognizable. The critics were surprised that there could be anything left to say on the subject, but Evaristo's scathing novel does just that by ripping away readers' comfort zones and turning stereotypes on their heads. Transcending labels and genres, Blonde Roots is an enthralling, eye-opening story.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
From Booklist
As a young girl, Doris is captured by slavers, taken from her family’s poor cabbage farm to the New World to work on the plantation of wealthy Africans. Evaristo, daughter of an English mother and Nigerian father, not only turns the history of African slavery on its head, she mixes times and places: waistcoats and hooped skirts along with modern slang and subways trains on the Underground Railroad. Doris is given the slave name Omorenomwara but holds onto memories of her family and a life of freedom, though lived in poverty. Doris works for a while in the Big House and later, after a failed escape attempt, as a field slave. In first-person accounts, Doris and Captain Katamba, an African slave ship captain, offer their perspectives on the hated trade in human flesh. Acclaimed British author Evaristo captures and reverses the social dynamics that cause people to adapt and to protect their culture under the oppressive and dehumanizing conditions of slavery. --Vanessa Bush
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Chapter 1

Oh Lord, Take Me Home

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. I used to hope that the celebration of Voodoomass would be the one day off in the year for us slaves—but oh no, it's business as usual. Outside the window the palm trees that line the avenues are decorated with gold and silver streamers. They are tall, sleek, snooty with the deportment of those who grow up balancing the precious milk of coconuts on their heads; dangling from their glossy green fronds are flickering oil lamps sitting in red painted cassava gourds.

The cobblestone pavement has been swept smooth of yesterday's sandstorm, and the hawkers selling takeaways have been sent packing.

Frogs and crickets provide a drunken nighttime chorus while camel-drawn carriages deliver stoosh party guests to our neighboring compounds. The men wear flamboyant kaftans and their glamorously fat women try to outdo one another with peacock-print headscarves tied up into the most extravagant girlie bows.

All the houses are freshly whitewashed, with stained-glass windows depicting the gods: Oshan, Shangira, Yemonja. Stone sphinxes guard porches, and stationed by doorways are torch lamps on tall marble plinths—their flames are slippery blue fingers grasping out at the sticky nighttime air.

From the upper rooms of the houses blast the hectic electronic beats of the young, and from downstairs comes the mellow music of the marimba, amid the laughter and bantering of people who have every reason to celebrate this season of goodwill, because they are free men and free women in the heart of the most expensive piece of real estate in the known world: Mayfah.

Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I is the Bwana in question.

He made his fortune in the import-export game, the notorious transatlantic slave run, before settling down to life in polite society as an absentee sugar baron, part-time husband, freelance father, retired decent human being and, it goes without saying, sacked soul.

My boss is also a full-time anti-abolitionist, publishing his pro-slavery rants in his mouthpiece, The Flame—a pamphlet distributed far and wide—as a freebie.

In spite of myself, I'd just begun to flick through the latest god-awful issue, feeling my stomach constrict and my throat tighten, when a hand shoved a folded note through the open office window and vanished before I could see who it was attached to.

I opened the note, read the magic words and felt my head suddenly drowning.

Waves crashed and thundered inside my skull.

I let out the most almighty, silent howl.

Then I passed out.

How long for, I've no idea, maybe a few minutes, but when I came to I was slumped in my seat, my head dropped forward, the note still in my hand.

I read it again through a film of water.

It was real and it was true—I was being given the chance to escape.

Oh Lord.

After so many years on the waiting list, the thing I most desired was in the palm of my hand. Yet it was all too quick. I sat there frozen. A thousand what ifs ran through my mind. In returning my life to its rightful owner—me—I would also be putting my life at stake. If I wasn't careful or lucky, I'd end up at the local whipping post or chopping block.

Then my survival instincts kicked in.

My head cleared.

I was back again.

I ripped the note to shreds.

I stood up and looked at the wooden mask of Bwana's face on the wall.

And I gave it the right, royal one-finger salute.

The note told me that the Underground Railroad was operating again after service had been suspended owing to derailment. It was often the case when energy couldn't be filched from the city's power station or the train broke down due to the overload of escaping slaves wanting to cadge a safe ride out of the city, to begin the long journey back to the Motherland.

I hoped I could trust the message because the Resistance was often infiltrated by sleepers who eventually went operational to betray whole rebel cells.

Deep down I knew that the slave traders were never going to give up their cash cow. It was, after all, one of the most lucrative international businesses ever, involving the large-scale transport of whytes, shipped in our millions from the continent of Europa to the West Japanese Islands, so called because when the "great" explorer and adventurer Chinua Chikwuemeka was trying to find a new route to Asia, he mistook those islands for the legendary isles of Japan, and the name stuck.

So here I am in the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa (UK or GA for short), which is part of the continent of Aphrika.

The mainland lies just over the Ambossan Channel. It's also known as the Sunny Continent, of course, on account of it being so flaming hot here.

Great Ambossa is actually a very small island with a growing population to feed, and so it stretches its greedy little fingers all over the globe, stealing countries and stealing people.

Me included. I'm one of the Stolen Ones.

That's why I'm here.

The note gave me only one hour to get to the disused Paddinto Station and directions on how to find the manhole hidden behind some bushes through which I could slip down into the subway. There I would be met by a member of the Resistance who would lead me through its dank subterranean tunnels.

That was the promise, anyway, and if it wasn't the practice, I'd be done for.

But I am a firm believer in hope. I am still alive, after all.

The city of Londolo's Tube trains had officially stopped burrowing many years ago when the tunnels started collapsing under the weight of the buildings above them. The city returned to the slower but more reliable modes of transport: carriages, horses, carts, camels, elephants, stagecoaches and, for the really nutty fitness fanatics, velocipedes. The only vehicle we slaves owned was called Shanks's Pony.

But here's the thing: at some point, a bright spark in the Resistance had a brainwave and the disused subway was put to use, enabling many to make their way out of the heavily guarded city of Londolo as far as the docks, where they began the long, hazardous trip back to Europa.

For the first time since I had been taken away, I could seriously consider that I might be returning home. Was it possible?

I still had such vivid memories of my parents, my three sisters, our little flint cottage on the estate, and my beloved cocker spaniel, Rory. My family were probably all dead now, if they had survived the raids by the Border Lander men who had been my first captors.

The Ambossans called us tribes, but we were many nations, each with our own language and funny old customs, like the Border Landers, whose men wore tartan skirts with no knickers underneath.

The Ambossans also called Europa the Gray Continent, on account of the skies always being overcast.

But oh, how I longed for those cloudy gray skies.

How I longed for the incessant drizzle and harsh wind slapping my ears.

How I longed for my snug winter woollies and sturdy wooden clogs.

How I longed for Mam's warm dripping sandwiches and thick pumpkin broth.

How I longed for the fire crackling in the hearth and our family singsong around it.

How I longed for the far northern district from whence I was taken.

How I longed for England.

How I longed for home.

I am proud to declare that I come from a long line of cabbage farmers.

My people were honest peasants who worked the land and never turned to theft even when it snowed in summer or rained all winter so that the crops miscarried in their pods and turned to mulch.

We weren't landowners, oh no, we were serfs, the bottom link in the agricultural food chain, although no actual chains clinked on the ground when we walked around. Nor were we property, exactly, but our roots went deep into the soil because when the land changed hands through death, marriage or even war, so did we, and so tied we remained, for generation upon generation.

The deal was that we were leased some fields by our master, Lord Perceval Montague (Percy, behind his back), the umpteenth eldest son in the family to whom my family had an umbilical bond. In return all male serfs were conscripted to be foot soldiers in his battles, and believe you me it was a lawless society back then. It was pretty wild in the far north in those days. If someone wanted to raid your land or steal your flock, they did it through brute force, unless you were able to meet fire with gunpowder, or rally a private army to defend yourself, even if it was just a motley crew of shambolic farmhands.

So we worked our patch of land, as well as Percy's.

Whatever we harvested, we had to give half to him.

He was supposed to offer poor relief, but rarely did.

We were charged for extras such as taking his cart to go to market or using his grain mill or bread oven, which, if we had poor harvests, meant a debt carried over on our annual accounts for several years.

Montague Manor was an imposing pile of granite, tomblike slabs framed against skies that shuddered beneath the chain mail of the north's daily bout of rain.

It proved an irresistible attraction to us kids, yet I was the only one of my sisters with enough derring-do to risk succumbing to the lure of the big house.

Once, when everyone was at the annual summer fayre on the estate, my sisters peeping through some bushes as cowardly witnesses, I sneaked in through the manor's heavy wooden door into the cavernous Grand Hall. I tried to tiptoe, but my clogs echoed around the high ceiling.

The walls were hung with tapestries of fair maidens stroking the horns of unicorns, reindeer antlers spread out like the branches of trees, and a massive bear's head with salivating gnashers was stuck up directly opposite the front door. Its wet, limpid eyes followed my every move.

When I heard moans coming from deep underneath the ground, I panicked, about-turned and charged out, bumping into a stuffed wolf by the front door, which looked ready to lurch and take a bite. The moans must have come from Percy's legendary dungeons where he imprisoned poachers and captives from the Border skirmishes. Eventually they'd be packed off for the long trek through the forests to the next ship docked on the coast bound for the New World—or so we'd heard.

To us peasants, the New World was a distant land far across the seas about which we knew nothing, except that no one wanted to go there, because those that did never came back.

Home was Apple Tree Cottage on the edge of the estate. A hotchpotch of timber beams and earth-packed walls. It was infested with rustling insects. Indeed the whole house was alive with vermin—from the wasps nesting in the straw-thatched roof to the body-hopping fleas for whom our blood was the elixir of life. A front door opened onto a tiny parlor with an earthen floor and a peat fire. Two sleeping spaces were separated by heavy green woolen drapes either side of the corridor that served as the kitchen. We couldn't afford window glass because of the tax, and so with the shutters closed it was always winter inside.

Madge, Sharon, Alice and I shared a straw mattress. We slept under a multicolored quilt made out of cast-offs stitched by two great-aunts who'd died before we were born. I bagsyed the middle, kept warm by my sisters during those freezing northeasterly nights.

Then there was Rory the dog, who was always bounding around knocking things over even though he wasn't "a puppy no more," as Mam'd shout. Her foot would send him on an impromptu long jump from which he'd land with a squeal, legs comically splayed flat.

Our Pa and our Mam were Mr. Jack and Eliza Scagglethorpe.

Pa's muscles clung to him in hard sinews because there was little fat to shelter his bones. He had a bushy scrag-end of a beard that he "couldn't be arsed" to trim, and his cheeks were blistered from where the bitter winds had rubbed them raw.

He had the stoop of a thin tree blown forward by a gale, because he'd been planting and digging up cabbages since he was a tiny kid.

Pa's hair was the dark ginger of the folk from the Border Lands. It fell to his shoulders in spirals beneath the widebrimmed farmer's hat he always wore when outdoors.

Before I was old enough to know better, he'd roll up his smock, instruct me to put a finger to the throbbing pulse of the veins on his arms and tell me centipedes lived inside them. I'd run away shrieking with him chasing me, both of us knocking over stools, pails and my sisters in the process.

Pa was passionate about his cabbages, said they had to be treated lovingly, like children. What didn't I know about flaming cabbages! January King was "crispy and full of flavor," the Autumn Queen was dark green and the Savoy King was "a tough little bugger." What didn't I know about the Cabbage Wars of old, when the Scagglethorpes had fought victoriously for the Montagues against the Paldergraves?

I hated eating cabbage in those BS (Before Slavery) days.

What I'd give for one now.

Pa never once complained about not having a son, but we all knew what was on his mind, because sometimes when he looked at us, his disappointment was undisguised.

Who was going to carry on the Scagglethorpe cabbage farming tradition?

He'd always shake it off, though.

"Go on," he'd urge us girls. "Tell me I have one wish."

"What wish?"

"Don't be so stupid. Tell me I have a wish. That you can grant me."

"But we don't have special powers; we're not fairy godmothers."

"It's a game, you silly lot. Give me one wish or I'll throw a cabbage at your thick skulls."

"All right then, Pa, you have one wish."

"Well, now, let's see. What would I want? Oh, I know what I'd wish for," he'd say, scratching his chin like the thought was just coming to him.

"To see my girls in those crinolines with expensive whalebones that those ladies up there wear, pretty paste on your cheeks, pearls around your swanlike necks; to see you swirling around at dances with kindly gentlemen on your arms, winning smiles on your lips and glass slippers on your feet."

"Oooh, don't be so soppy," I'd say, before going to fetch the looking glass to see if my neck really was "swanlike."

That night I dreamed of a lacy yellow crinoline with puffedup sleeves. My gown was so exquisite, my glass slippers so dainty, that when I ran across the meadows, hair flowing in the wind, everyone gasped at how elegant I'd turned out.

Then I ruined it by getting bunions because the slippers were too tight and one of them cracked and the glass cut into my foot, waking me up with the pain of it.

Reprinted from "Blonde Roots" by Bernardine Evaristo by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2009 by Bernardine Evaristo.

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Bernardine Evaristo is one of eight siblings born in London to an English mother and a Nigerian father. An award- winning writer, she is the author of three critically acclaimed novels-in-verse, has coedited Granta’s New Writing 15, and has written for a wide variety of print, radio, and media including The Guardian, Times (London), BOMB magazine, and the BBC. The recipient of several awards, most recently a NESTA Fellowship Award, Evaristo is a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature as well as of the Royal Society of Arts.

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Blonde Roots

March 2010’s BB Book Club Book Pick:
Blonde Roots By Bernardine Evaristo

Bonde Roots talks about "palm wine". Palm wine? What is palm wine? Turns out, it's an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree. (Makes sense.) Now where can you find it?... well, we couldn't. It sounds interesting, but since we could not find it we decided to go with wine from Africa instead!


Mulderbosch 2004 Shiraz - Syrah/Shiraz Red Wine
(Was $28)
The number one pick this month is a blend of 88% Shiraz and 12% Petit Verdot. Right off the bat the wine displayed a deep dark squid ink color that saturated the sides of my glass. As I tasted this wine there were concentrated dark fruit on the front end and it was dominated with the flavors of blackberry and cherry. In the mid palate it was complex and powerful and it was followed by a long smooth lengthy finish. Its a 2004 so its good to go right now but can also be laid down for a year or two.
Uncorking Rating:
"Very Uncorkable"

Kanonkop 2008 Kadette - Red Wine
(Was $13)
This wine was a blend of 50% Pinotage, 25% Cabernet, 15% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc. The Pinotage is the signature grape in South Africa and is cross between Pinot Nior and Cinsaut. For those of you who enjoy a smoky, cedar, intense leather taste will love this wine. It's very different from the first one and definitely has its place with grilled meats and strong cheeses. A good buy.

Uncorking Rating:
Glen Carlou

Glen Carlou 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Red Wine
(Was $15)
This Cabernet was disappointing as that the nose was quite thin and the flavor characteristics were plum, wood and a little bit of pepper. This is a simple wine with not a lot going for it.

Uncorking Rating:
Mildly Uncorkable"
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