Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!
Today’s pick is a hybrid graphic novel / graphic memoir from a couple years ago.
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall and illustrated by Hugo Martínez
Rebecca Hall is a scholar, activist, educator, and former lawyer. Wake follows Rebecca as she researches slave revolts and specifically, slave revolts led by women. Until I read this book, I had no idea that slave revolts were so frequent. I am unsurprised I didn’t know this, given the way history is taught and not taught here in the United States. While instances of slave revolts can be found by digging around, most of the information available is about the men involved and very little about the women. Honestly, I learned more about the slave trade from this book than I did during school. The depths of depravity are astounding and I am both haunted and disgusted by the things I’ve learned, more than I already was.
At the same time, this book is also a great story about researching history and reading between the lines to piece together the things that are left unsaid and thereby being able to get a more full picture of what may have happened. Wake also includes dramatizations of such stories as imagined by the author who is trying to fill in the gaps. The artwork is completely in black and white, which I think in some ways helps to keep readers from being overwhelmed by the imagery, which includes a lot of violence, enslaved Africans on ships, and more.
In the interwoven memoir we also learn about the present-day barriers keeping academics like Rebecca Hall from unearthing this history. The existence of bureaucratic red tape that makes accessing archives and records sometimes impossible. For example, Lloyd’s of London is a huge insurance provider (that still exists today) which laid the groundwork for its empire by insuring slave ships. I’m sure you can imagine how they feel about people accessing their archives with slave ship details.
This book is pretty intense and very important. I learned so much through this short volume and it’s been important in filling in my mental gaps around history.
That’s it for now, book-lovers!
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