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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of…

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus… (1967)

by Olaudah Equiano, Paul Geoffrey Edwards, Werner Sollors

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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797817,797 (3.56)38
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himselfwas the first work that influenced the nineteenth-century genre of slave narrative autobiographies. Written and published by Equiano, a former slave, it became a prototype for those that followed. Kidnapped in Africa as a child, Equiano was transported to the Caribbean and then to Virginia, bought by a Quaker shipowner, and placed in service at sea. Aboard various American and British ships, he sailed throughout the world, and he continued to do so after having purchased his freedom in 1766. Once settled in London, he fought tirelessly to end slavery. This edition of Equiano's Narrativeplaces the text in the center of abolitionist activity in the late eighteenth century. Equiano knew many of the leading abolitionist figures of his time, and this edition allows readers to trace the common ideas and cross-influences in the works of the political and literary figures who fought for the end of slavery in America and England. The original 1789 text of the narrative has been used for the Broadview edition with Equiano's subsequent emendations included in the appendices.… (more)

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English (7)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Now that was, indeed, an interesting narrative! The narrative may have been written in the language of the times, but even that had a hard time making this one boring. From slavery to freedom, to various sea voyages (England to America to the Arctic to Africa and back again) and disasters just barely escaping with his life and freedom. Definitely one we should have read in school! ( )
  RivetedReaderMelissa | Mar 22, 2018 |
This is a remarkable book written by a very intelligent man who was cast into slavery. It was reportedly a major influence in the anti-slavery movement. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 24, 2016 |
For this review, I think I’m going to start by saying all of the things that I didn’t really like about it before I move on to talking about what I thought its strengths were. First of all, it was boring. Not all of it was, and I’ll get to that, but long stretches of it were just “this happened to me”, “that happened to me”, “I saw this interesting thing”, “this is what it’s like in X place I visited”; just a long list of things like that. I actually smiled in the last chapter when he wrote “I therefore hasten to the conclusion of a narrative, which I fear the reader may think already sufficiently tedious.” He goes on to say that all the things he wrote about were important to him in some way, and I have no doubt of that, but the fact remains that I wasn’t interested in most of them.

I would also like to mention that I think that Olaudah Equiano was not a great poet. Sorry, but the long poem he included towards the end was just too straightforward and not poetic enough.

But there were portions of this book that were definitely much better than the others. Of course, in this case “better” does not mean “enjoyable”. The descriptions he gives of slavery in the West Indies are particularly heart-breaking. But it is in these sections that the real strength of the book reveals itself.

I think the first strength is that it’s realistic. I discussed this way back when I first starting reading this for my American Lit class and I was comparing it to Oroonoko. Everything he writes has the ring of authenticity to it. He’s telling the absolute truth, he knows what he’s talking about, and he makes both of these things clear from the start. Being able to trust the author really is instrumental in being able to take anything out of this first-hand account.

The second strength is the perspective. Of course his position as a former slave provides an inside perspective, a perspective from the point of view of a victim rather than an aggressor, but it’s about more than that as well. What I really noticed is that it’s not at all like reading a history book. Olaudah Equiano wrote about slavery in a time period when it still exists. He had no idea what the future will be like, and he would never have been able to guess what my perspective would be, reading this over 200 years later. He’s firmly placed within his time, and that makes it seem so much more real. He sees the problem of slavery as a very complex one. He wants it to be eliminated, and we see him trying a variety of approaches towards that end in the way of persuasion as he’s writing.

As I was reading some of his arguments against slavery, I found it very easy to compare the way that he was approaching the discussion to the way that we discuss important issues of our own day. Someday we might look back on the very things we’re arguing about right now and say “Oh, of course we should have done this” or “Of course that person was right”, but right now we are in the thick of it, just like he was. It’s interesting to consider.

So it was kind of boring, but, overall, it was worth it.
  dste | Oct 18, 2012 |

This is the autobiography of an 18th-century slave, sold from his home in West Africa as a child to work on the West Indian fleet and around the Anglophone Atlantic shores, before becoming a freeman, missionary and political activist. It's an absolutely riveting first-hand account, not only for the awful conditions of slavery (and indeed for freed blacks) in the British empire of the day, but also because of Equiano's unabashed enthusiasm for naval combat (reminiscent of Patrick O'Brian, with the important difference that Equiano was actually there) and his conversion to a fairly open-minded but pious evangelical Christianity. I see that some recent scholars have been trying to assert that Equiano was actually born in South Carolina, but I find his narrative of Africa and the Middle Passage completely compelling, and he comes across as a completely honest witness even if sometimes a bit scatty on long-ago detail.

One point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is that as far as I can tell, Equiano was one of the first people to use the phrase "human rights". Wikipedia thinks that "The term human rights probably came into use some time between Paine's The Rights of Man [1791] and William Lloyd Garrison's 1831 writings in The Liberator", but Equiano's Interesting Narrative is published in 1789, the year that the French National Assembly passed its Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen and two years before Paine. He uses the phrase twice, both times in descriptions of slavers brutally breaking family ties, rather than in talking of any of the other numerous abuses he witnessed.

Anyway, this is an amazing book whose title rather under-sells it to a modern audience. ( )
  nwhyte | Oct 22, 2011 |
To tell you the truth, when I first looked at the cover of “The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, I didn’t seem the least intrigued or excited. For one, it was nonfiction and to me nonfiction is not a type of book I like to read; especially if it is long like 200 or 300 pages. However, when I started reading Olaudah’s narrative, I began to enjoy it because the way Olaudah describes his life seems like a story or adventure. In my opinion, I thought the beginning and middle of the novel was the most interesting. In the beginning of the memoir, Olaudah introduces the reader to his country, culture, birth, parents, and some of his childhood memories before slavery. In addition, in the beginning of the narrative, Olaudah describes how his life transformed when him and his sister were captured, sold into slavery, and then separated. He then describes his life in a slave ship, and the horrors he experienced and witnessed as a slave. He also describes the cruelty shown towards the slaves, and the horrible living conditions; however, he describes these in brief because he says they are too disturbing and shocking. Furthermore, Equiano describes his journeys on slave ships and British naval ships to West Indies, Virginia, England, Mediterranean, Georgia, Martinique, Montserrat, Turkey, Portugal, Grenada, Jamaica, and the North Pole. He also describes how his life changed during these voyages. For instance, he gained a lot of knowledge intellectually and spiritually and religiously, which had a great impact on his life. For example, he gained knowledge in sea navigation and compasses so he spent most of his life on these ships working for no pay as a sea navigator on slave ships and British naval ships. This made him less treated as a slave. Equiano also describes how his life transformed, from hopeless to hopeful ,when he found God and Christianity. Later on in the narrative, in the middle and towards the end, Olaudah describes his schemes and efforts to gain his freedom through money. During his voyages, he buys goods and sells them in other places to earn money to buy his freedom, but this was when he was in the hands of a kind captain and a kind master. He goes through many struggles to obtain enough money to buy his freedom, but through hard work and determination, he eventually acquires the money and gains his freedom and happiness. Although he gains his freedom, some of his kind captains and masters he admired and respected ,begged him to stay longer because he was a fine and excellent sea navigator and without the comfort of him, they would lose their happiness. Although, Equiano wanted to leave and get on with his life and visit other places, he agreed to stay longer. In my opinion, I think it is extremely weird and strange that Olaudah, after many years, did not go straight to Africa to find his parents and his long lost sister because in the beginning he describes how close and attached he was to his mother and sister. It is also strange that throughout the narrative he does not say anything about how much he misses his parents and sister. To tell you the truth, I did not understand that at all. In addition, I thought the end tended to drag a bit and became less interesting because Olaudah tended to throw out too much specific information, like dates, names of his captains and masters, places he visited, all at once in one page. That specific information made the narrative a little bit boring. Also, the narrative was hard to understand and follow at times because Olaudah used some old language, included historical documents that had old language, and used difficult vocabulary throughout the whole narrative. Finally, Olaudah ends the narrative with his marriage and kids. Overall, I thought that this narrative was an extremely entertaining nonfiction book that provided a lot of information on the global slave trade, including historical documents. Additionally, I thought Olaudah did an excellent job describing the global slave trade from his perspective and view, and found Olaudah’s memoir and narrative different and unique from all the others. He did not only concentrate on talking on the life of a slave; he also discussed and described how his life transformed from his contact with the Europeans.
  Mtanase | Jan 6, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Olaudah Equianoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Edwards, Paul Geoffreymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Sollors, Wernermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Allison, Robert J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brooks, JoannaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carretta, VincentIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montolío, CeliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is an abridged edition of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African.
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Widely admired for its vivid accounts of the slave trade, Olaudah Equiano's autobiography -- the first slave narrative to attract a significant readership -- reveals many aspects of the eighteenth-century Western world through the experiences of one individual. The second edition reproduces the original London printing, supervised by Equiano in 1789. Robert J. Allison's introduction, which places Equiano's narrative in the context of the Atlantic slave trade, has been revised and updated to reflect the heated controversy surrounding Equiano's birthplace, as well as the latest scholarship on Atlantic history and the history of slavery. Improved pedagogical features include contemporary illustrations with expanded captions and a map showing Equiano's travels in greater detail. Helpful footnotes provide guidance throughout the eighteenth-century text, and a chronology and an up-to-date bibliography aid students in their study of this thought-provoking narrative.
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