The Longest Memory

The Longest Memory Study Guide

Guyanese-British author Fred D'Aguiar's 1994 novel The Longest Memory is about Whitechapel, an elderly slave whose mixed-race son is whipped to death after he tries to escape a Virginia plantation to live in the North with the slave master's white daughter. Although the hunting party sent after Whitechapel's son sets out in the wrong direction, Whitechapel tells his master the route his son took, and Whitechapel must live with the traumatic consequences of witnessing and being responsible for his son's death.

Set in the pre-Civil War American South between 1790 and 1810, The Longest Memory is told through the voices and points of view of several characters. The novel's polyphonic form collects the perspectives of slaves of different generations, as well as the plantation owner and his daughter, the plantation overseers, and fictional editorials from The Virginian newspaper. With the novel's unconventional form, D'Aguiar conveys differing perspectives on the American slave trade and debates around the need for less-harsh treatment of slaves and outright abolition.

D'Aguiar's first novel, The Longest Memory received positive reviews and won the UK's prestigious Whitbread First Novel Award and the David Higham Prize for Fiction. Channel 4 adapted the novel for television in the UK.