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History's Unaverted Eyes
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Nonfiction; Biographies; Books-titles -- Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man
Author: Berry, Mary Frances
Date: Feb 1, 2006
Start Page: C.03
Section: STYLE

[Vincent Carretta] reminds us that every autobiography is an act of re- creation and that a manumitted slave had a necessarily broad opportunity for redefinition. However, after meticulously researching the voyages of ships, the dates of writings and other materials, Carretta confirms the fundamental historical accuracy of Equiano's story. He explores whether Equiano made a few mistakes -- including his birthplace, which was either West Africa or South Carolina -- only to conclude that the evidence is "conflicting." Carretta also worries inordinately over whether Equiano secretly believed that particular misfortunes he suffered stemmed from racism. But his biography of the era's most important African in the English-speaking world should delight readers.

After Gustavus Vassa published his autobiography in 1789, he quickly became the wealthiest and most famous person of African descent in Europe and North America. "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself" has long been known to scholars and has been widely taught as an example of an early slave narrative. "Equiano, the African," University of Maryland English Professor Vincent Carretta's biography of Vassa, is an intriguing piece of detective work. He reminds us that the "Narrative" was produced by a self- made man before the example of Benjamin Franklin and that it had a major influence on the opposition to the slave trade.

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