How is it possible that someone can write so beautifully about something filled with so much terror? That is the question when reading Esi Edygyan’s latest novel, “Washington Black” (Knopf, 2018).
Washington Black is an 11-year-old slave living on Faith Plantation in Barbados in 1830 under a cruel master, Erasmus Wilde. He is carefully watched by Big Kit, a slave woman of great size and strength who dreams of dying so she can return to her homeland of Dahomey in the spirit world. Her plan is to effect this fate for herself and Washington, but before she can, they are both called to serve at the Great House where the master’s brother, Christopher, called Titch by close friends, chooses Washington to be his assistant in his scientific experiments with new cloud cutter technology. He finds the young slave has an unexpected artistic genius.
Titch is a naturalist, inventor, explorer and, fortunately for Wash, as Titch calls him, an abolitionist. In an attempt to set the cloud cutter aloft, Wash’s face is excessively burned in a gas explosion, leaving a horrendous scar. One day Titch’s cousin, Phillip, who had come to tell the Wilde brothers that their father had died, leads Washington into a clearing and then shoots himself. Knowing what this will mean for Wash, Titch secretly whisks them both away from the plantation in the cloud cutter just as a terrible hurricane is brewing.
The cloud cutter crashes, but Titch and Wash escape and journey to the Arctic where they find the senior Wilde, who is also a naturalist, alive and cataloguing botanical species. A mystery ensues and Wash finds himself free from slavery with the English abolition, but never truly free from his past as a slave, nor from the bounty hunter who wants the price on his head.
All this is told with exquisite beauty, capturing the juxtaposed horror and magnificence of life on a slave plantation, of a runaway slave, and a freedman navigating a world that still holds hatred and uncertainty. Edugyan is the genius here and her novel does not disappoint.
Two varieties of pumpkin, the garden and belly, both eaten as vegetables, are staple crops on Barbados. At this time of year, we prefer our pumpkins sweet as both a side dish and a dessert. Try this quick and easy pumpkin spice dump cake to assuage your fall cravings.
Pumpkin Spice Dump Cake
1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin
2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toffee bar chips or sea salt caramel chips
2 cups pecans chopped, lightly toasted, divided
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter melted
Whipped topping or ice cream and butterscotch or caramel sauce, as toppings
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13x9-inch baking dish or spray with nonstick spray.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and salt until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to form an even layer.
Sprinkle chopped toffee bits or sea salt caramel chips over batter. Top with 1 1/2 cups of nuts, reserving rest for garnish. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pecans. Mix together the milk and melted butter and spread evenly over dry cake mix covering as much of the cake mix as possible. Bake dump cake for about 45-60 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and on top. Cool slightly, then serve with toppings as desired.