My Name is not Friday is an emotional novel about hardship, courage and friendship.
Samuel lives at an orphanage, and the resident priest and teacher thinks that he is a model student; quiet, clever, kind. In fact so much so that Samuel’ll even take responsibility for something he didn’t do, even if it is just to save his troublesome brother, Joshua, who is constantly getting up to mischief. But suddenly it’s all gone wrong, and things have escalated quickly, with Samuel tossed into a world of slavery. Now the wrath of God is not the only thing he has to worry about, but lashings from his new masters.
I thought that there was a good mix between serious issues and humour, to prevent the novel from being too downcast. There were very imaginable and life-like characters which made the novel seem incredibly realistic, however at times the novel was slow to get going, making reading at times slightly tedious. On the other hand, let’s not let this overshadow the fact it is written very vividly and sounded, at points, like a genuine story. Even though these slaves where incredibly lucky in the way they were treated by their master, it tells a (relatively) unvarnished version of the past. The part I am referring to is that, as someone from the 21st century, it was weird that none of the slaves on the original plantation thought that it wasn’t iniquitous that they weren’t allowed an education, and it was shocking when Samuel (or Friday as he is called in that part of the book) tried to persuade them to read and some of them resisted quite heavily- I think this just intensified that race inequality was the norm, which people don’t often appreciate until represented in a literary form. However, some aspects of the plot felt equally unrealistic to me; I think that it was incredibly easy for Samuel to find his brother Joshua. Yes he had to wait for several years, and there was a few obstacles along the way, but it felt too easy in my eyes. In those few years, Joshua, who has an established reputation for a troublemaker, would probably have run away to find his brother, whom he is apparently incredibly loyal to. To add to that, I think that although it was sweet, and although there were some half-hearted attempts from the boy’s mother to try and stop it, the ‘secret’ friendship between Samuel and the boy who owned him seemed unlikely to have happened in the real world.
On a positive note, this book gives an exceptional perspective on how the American Civil War affected the slaves at the time. Most of the novel takes place on a Mississippi plantation, and is written with utter originality, and stands out for me because of the intriguing twist in the plot line at the end; when Samuel was partially blinded, devoid of an eye. Why is such a gruesome thing a supposed highlight for me? It is because the novel illustrates well that not only at the time of the injury is the pain and frustration insurmountable, but that the pain and frustration stays with you long after the bleeding has stopped. Even today one might read about an amputee in a newspaper, and there might a flash of sympathy. But the point is that this is a person’s life, and for Samuel, missing an eye is an issue that will stay with him for the rest of his life. It also means that lots of people are prejudiced against because of it, even when you see through the narrative that his personality is still as thoughtful and kind-hearted as ever.
I think that this could a perfect half-term read, and although it requires a bit of patience in the first instance, you should make time in your day to pick up the novel! I read this novel as part of my reading challenge to read a historical novel.