When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black, an eleven-year-old field slave, is terrified to be chosen as manservant to one of these men. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, an explorer, an inventor and an abolitionist. Soon, Washington is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning—and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Washington’s head, Wilde must choose between family bonds and Washington’s life. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, which opens them up to the extraordinary: a voyage aboard a ship captained by a hunter whose real purpose is unknown to them; a dark encounter with a scholar of the flesh; a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad; and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.
From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black is an electrifying story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, that asks the question, What is true freedom?