Canadian Novelist Blasts Dutch Burning of 'The Book of Negroes' Ahead of Big-Screen Treatment

Controversial novel whose title page was torched Wednesday by Dutch fanatics is being adapted as an international movie co-production by Canadian indie producer Conquering Lions Productions.

TORONTO – Canadian writer Lawrence Hill has reacted angrily to a Dutch burning of his novel The Book of Negroes now being adapted into a feature film as an international co-production.

The Dutch group Federation for Honour and Reparation of Slavery in Surinam on Wednesday torched the cover of Hill’s novel, rather than the entire book, to protest what they claim is the offensive use of the word “negro” in the book title.

"There is no defense to burning a book. It's a hateful act designed to intimidate,” Toronto-based Hill told the CBC Metro Morning radio program.

“It's something that stifles dialogue and the notion of the freedom to read and to write,” he added.

Hill insisted he did not aim to be sensational or provocative when naming his 2007 novel The Book of Negroes.

The award-winning Canadian novel is being developed as a feature film by indie producer Conquering Lions Pictures, which has extensive local backing, including from Telefilm Canada, the Canadian government’s film financier.

Casting for the film has not yet begun as the producers, Damon D’Oliveira and director Clement Virgo, continue their search for an international co-production partner, likely from Britain.

“The burning of books represents censorship at its worst,” Greg Hollingshead, chairman of The Writers’ Union of Canada, said Wednesday in a press statement.

“While we recognize the sensitivity over the use of the word ‘negro’ in the book’s title, The Book of Negroes is a real document and Mr. Hill uses it deliberately to underscore the plight of African Americans being shipped from New York to Nova Scotia in 1783,” he added.

Hill’s novel was published in the Canadian and U.K. markets with the title The Book of Negroes.

But historical sensitivity led Hill’s novel to be published in the U.S. market as Somebody Know My Name, where it made Oprah Winfrey’s summer 2010 reading list in O magazine.