The best books on Caribbean slavery and its aftermath

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a human product of a Demerara sugar plantation, and spent most of my formative years in this environment. If you’ve added brown sugar to your coffee, tea, or baking, or indulged in chocolate or candy, you’ve probably come into contact with part of my heritage. It’s a heritage with a sweet and a bitter side. My novel The Wisdom of Rain follows Mariama, an enslaved girl struggling with life on a nineteenth century plantation. She could have been my ancestor. Canada has become my home and I’m a proud alumna of York University and the University of Toronto. Most days, I enjoy the diversity and promise of this country.


I wrote...

The Wisdom of Rain

By Eleanor P. Sam,

Book cover of The Wisdom of Rain

What is my book about?

I wrote The Wisdom of Rain about a young girl with special significance in her West African village because her birth signaled the return of life-giving rains after a devastating drought. But then, at the threshold of womanhood, she is uprooted and cast into the maelstrom of 18th-century slavery. She must endure the loss of liberty, home, and family and then the infamous Middle Passage on a slave ship bound for the British colony of "Demerary" on the northern coast of South America. The Wisdom of Rain is a story of oppression and brutality, but also fortitude and redemption as hope and love endure despite the circumstances. It is a tale of the past but with meaning for the present and the future.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Book of Night Women

Eleanor P. Sam Why did I love this book?

This novel, told from a slave woman’s perspective, illuminates the time of maximal oppression in the slave colony of Jamaica, where White men sexually and physically abused enslaved Black women at whim. Lilith, the main character, came alive to me as her rage and despair grew with the multiple attacks on her body and spirit. 

It took me back to the anguish I felt discovering the journals of Thomas Thistlewood and his chronicling of close to 4,000 acts of rape carried out on his female Black slaves. When I visited Jamaica for the first time, I included Westmorland Parish as a stop. It was there that Thistlewood perpetrated his atrocities – an appalling example of the conditions under which enslaved women and girls lived during this period. 

By Marlon James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Night Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the National Book Award finalist Black Leopard, Red Wolf and the WINNER of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings

"An undeniable success.” — The New York Times Book Review

A true triumph of voice and storytelling, The Book of Night Women rings with both profound authenticity and a distinctly contemporary energy. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they- and she-will come…


Book cover of Island Beneath the Sea

Eleanor P. Sam Why did I love this book?

This novel also explores the suffering inflicted on enslaved Black women by their White colonial masters. An unwilling French heir to his father’s plantation buys an adolescent slave girl as his wife’s maid. But then he uses the child for sex, while she longs for freedom. Fortunately, there’s a faint light of hope at the end of the tunnel of oppression.

The fact that this story is set during the time when enslaved Africans revolted against France, made me celebrate the indefatigable spirit of these warriors. Despite defeating Napoleon’s army and becoming the first self-liberated slave society, Haitians were faced with the challenge of building a successful nation in hostile surroundings. This novel reminds me of the price they paid then and still pay for their freedom.

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Island Beneath the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Isabel Allende's latest novel tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny in a society where that would seem impossible.

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue - now known as Haiti -Tete is the product of violent union between an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's…


Book cover of The Long Song

Eleanor P. Sam Why did I love this book?

Levy takes us to the transition between slavery and emancipation, if not true freedom. The focus is again on the female experience and the main character is herself the outcome of a sexual assault by a White plantation overseer. 

I truly loved this book. Although there is plenty of pain and suffering here, Levy skillfully injects humour into the character’s outlook and gives us glimpses of the nascent strength and richness that became Jamaican culture. Some of my closest female friends come from this stock of talented people. I see and feel their joy and success as it triumphs over the grim chapters of their ancestral history.

By Andrea Levy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Long Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize
The New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year

In her follow-up to Small Island, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction, Andrea Levy once again reinvents the historical novel.

Told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently…


Book cover of Washington Black

Eleanor P. Sam Why did I love this book?

Set on the beautiful island of Barbados, Edugyan’s take on the slavery/emancipation interface focuses on primary characters that are male. The relationship between two of them, one White and one Black, becomes an exploration of how slavery created a toxic psychological legacy that distorted the nature and possibilities of friendship and trust.  

I’ve loved Barbados since my first visit as a teenager, and I became more attached after some of my siblings called it home. Known as ‘Little England,’ a downside of this sunny paradise, and a relic of slavery, is its unequal economic and social class divisions. The population is over 90% Black but most of the valuable land and resources are owned by non-Blacks. I encourage readers to look beyond its surface beauty and explore its deeper history. 

By Esi Edugyan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Washington Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018

WINNER OF THE GILLER PRIZE

SHORTLISTED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD 2020

FINALIST FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL AND THE ROGERS WRITERS TRUST FICTION PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE 2019
New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year 2018
Sunday Times Paperback of the Year 2019

'A masterpiece' Attica Locke
'Strong, beautiful and beguiling' Observer
'Destined to become a future classic ... that rare book that should appeal to every kind of reader' Guardian

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black - an…


Book cover of The Sleeping Car Porter

Eleanor P. Sam Why did I love this book?

The story is set in Canada during the 1920s but Baxter, the main character, is an immigrant from the Caribbean and exemplifies a consequence of the region’s slave history. He is part of the diaspora of descendants seeking better lives in other parts of the world. But although in a different country, Baxter does not escape the pressure to accept a position in a subservient class.

Mayr effectively creates the sense of threat that pervades Baxter’s environment, intensified by his sexual orientation. A saving grace is his peer group of fellow porters. Initially they seem cruel and disinterested, but when faced by oppressive authority, they rally around him. This book reminded me that though the physical confinement of slavery has ended, the devaluation of Blackness continues.

By Suzette Mayr,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Sleeping Car Porter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2022 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY TOP 20 LITERARY FICTION BOOKS OF 2022

OPRAH DAILY: BOOKS TO READ BY THE FIRE

THE GLOBE 100: THE BEST BOOKS OF 2022

CBC BOOKS: THE BEST CANADIAN FICTION OF 2022


When a mudslide strands a train, Baxter, a queer Black sleeping car porter, must contend with the perils of white passengers, ghosts, and his secret love affair

The Sleeping Car Porter brings to life an important part of Black history in North America, from the perspective of a queer man living in a culture that renders him invisible in two…


You might also like...

Book cover of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

Nev March Author Of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History lover Scriptwriter Reader Nature lover

Nev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An entertaining mystery on a 1894 trans-Atlantic steamship with an varied array of suspects, and a detective who must solve his case in six days to prevent international conflict.

Retired from the British Indian army, Captain Jim is taking his wife Diana to Liverpool from New York, when their pleasant cruise turns deadly. Just hours after meeting him, a foreign diplomat is brutally murdered onboard their ship. Captain Jim must find the killer before they dock in six days, or there could be war! Aboard the beleaguered luxury liner are a thousand suspects, but no witnesses to the locked-cabin crime.

Fortunately, his wife Diana knows her way around first-class accommodations and Gilded Age society. But something has been troubling her, too, something she won’t tell him. Together, using tricks gleaned from their favorite fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Jim, and Diana must learn why one man’s life came to a murderous end.

By Nev March,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Spanish Diplomat's Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Spanish Diplomat's Secret, award-winning author Nev March explores the vivid nineteenth-century world of the transatlantic voyage, one passenger’s secret at a time.

Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife Lady Diana Framji are embarking to England in the summer of 1894. Jim is hopeful the cruise will help Diana open up to him. Something is troubling her, and Jim is concerned.

On their first evening, Jim meets an intriguing Spaniard, a fellow soldier with whom he finds an instant kinship. But within twenty-four hours, Don Juan Nepomuceno is murdered, his body discovered shortly after he asks rather urgently to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Slavery, Jamaica, and the Caribbean?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Slavery, Jamaica, and the Caribbean.

Slavery Explore 286 books about Slavery
Jamaica Explore 54 books about Jamaica
The Caribbean Explore 195 books about the Caribbean