Book Review: “Wake” by Rebecca Hall

Any good account of history will remind you how rigged a game that we play with it is, and how apt Orwellian quote, “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future,” remains even after all these years, and Wake by Dr. Rebecca Hall is one such book.

We know of women as victims fighting for justice throughout history, be it the Salem Witch Trials or the Women’s Sufferage Movement. It has been women fighting for something that men were born with. Women as leaders is not something that we see very often in the history books, let alone women as the saviours of groups of people.

During the 400-year long span for which the Trans-Atlantic slave trade remained at its peak, there were many revolts that we encounter. There come many such examples to mind, like the Stono Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution and a lot more. Who led them, though? The strong male slaves, of course, right? Who else could? That is how accounts of history have programmed us to think. How would you react if I told you that women led many of these slave revolts as well? Because they did. It only happens to be so that the associated historical data has been treated as mere coincidence because of the aforementioned prejudiced viewpoint of history that even historians suffer from.

Wake by Rebecca Hall

Dr. Rebecca Hall, however, through her book, give some instances that make it possible for us to have a glimpse of what was previously, be it intentional or not, was hidden from the world.

What if I told you that in the early 1700s was a political battleground (in a lot more literal sense than it may appear to be) for slaves and that many women-led slave revolts took place there? Dr. Rebecca Hall gives us two instances of such women-led slave revolts That took place in 1708 and 1712 New York, and on slave (cargo) ships that carried slaves from Africa to supply throughout the world during the Transatlantic slave trade.

She asks very simple but powerful questions throughout the course of the book that make one rethink everything from their education to their values to their very existence in today’s world. For instance, in 1712 New York, a slave revolt began as a reaction to the death of a fellow slave who was worked to death.The historical data shows there were 27 slaves involved in the revolt but out of them, 21 were hanged and one woman was pardoned for she was pregnant. Hall asks a very valid and quite an important question here. She asks how we should read this information. Do we read this as one woman was involved in the revolt, or do we read it as one woman (out of many involved) was pardoned for pregnancy? She brings into light the fact that women-led slave revolts were simply dismissed as domestic violence and the men were punished but the women were burnt at the stake, alive. Did you know that every one out of ten “cargo” ships saw such revolts during their voyage and that women played a major role in these? Because the history books did not tell you this.

Through this book, Hall explores what it means to be a Black woman and tries to make us understand as she shows her reader, her own story of the search for her past, to find what her ancestors faced and what they mean to her today. But this search for identity does not just become her own, but of all of us, the formerly colonised, and the former colonizers. We ask ourselves if we know our roots well? Where does that bring us?

Coming to the illustrations, artist Hugo Martinez has done a really great job at portraying history through his artwork. The illustrations give a history book vibe which goes quite well with the subject matter of the book. To add to that, the reflection’s of history in reflective surfaces, like puddles and windshields, in places that Hall walks through is a great touch.

This is one of the most unique books I have read in a long time and has also been my first non-fiction graphic novel, but I am sure it will not be the last!

And dear reader, always remember that history is always to be taken with a pinch of salt!

Thank you so much @allenlanepr for the review copy! I could not be more grateful.

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