Review: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

Book Cover - Wake by Rebecca Hall - Several black women in blue stand on a roof looking over a colonial town.
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hall's historical exploration of women-led slave revolts is reminiscent of Maus by Art Spiegelman in its storytelling and some of its visual layering. It's an amazing work that ingeniously melds together the story of the history, Hall's story, and the actual history that she aims to cover.  As a Black, lesbian, mother who gave up her work as a lawyer to pursue a Ph.D. in history, Hall takes readers through the practices of historians as she dives deep into archives in the United States and England to unpack the history, the historiography, and the lapses in understanding by a field dominated by white men that made them blind to the fact that there were, in fact, numerous slave-revolts in the Americas and on the slave-ships in the Middle Passage that were led by women.  That mixture of storytelling itself is enough to warrant attention and to see how the personal intersects with the pursuit of knowledge--something not enough historians or scholars have the ability or willingness to do: lay it bare of how their work relates to who they are.  However the value of Hall's work is not just in what she has researched and written; it gains rich visual overlays through the artist, Hugo Martinez's graphic depiction that never leaves an opportunity to forget how the past is always present in the lives of all of us.  Martinez routinely slips in mirror images (in reflective spaces such as mirrors, puddles, windows, etc) to draw connections between the present where we see Hall digging into the archives, traversing a city, or with family).  These images serve as contrasts to the past and also, very smartly, connect how the present is shaped.  This theme repeats regularly both in Martinez's art and in Hall's work as she captures the anecdotes of micro and macro-aggressions towards her as she tries to capture the history that we're reading.  What I really love about this graphic novel is that it is a fantastic book that one could use to teach the impact of history, how history is recorded (or censored or unrealized), and also tell a very particular history that flips "conventional wisdom" (i.e. white male gaze) of slavery and resistance.

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