One of my favorites I've read this year. Edugyan used a lot of 19th C vernacular - some readers may find difficult yet I appreciated the effort and style; helped maintain setting and tone of the story. Loved her descriptions of characters' personalities, physical attributes, and dialogue.
One can read this as a simple historic novel, but it's more than that. Beginning on a Barbados' plantation, Washington's story is a story of race. So if you cannot handle that, this is not for you. The discussions of science and fanciful instruments blend the genre just a bit and left me wondering where the story was headed.
So in parts III and IV Wash catches and observes an octopus. Did anyone else read that as a metaphor for Wash? Intelligent creature which can camouflage itself for protection, defense, attractiveness, etc. I felt this symbolized his youth once Titch nurtured his artistic talent. Wash used his talents to gain education and escape from Titch. But as he matures and meets Tana the question is posed that maybe Titch had exploited Wash. Either way, Wash 'adapts' to his environment and those around him in his art, his labors, his scientific observations in order to allow people to see value in him. As a black man, former slave, with facial scars, Wash is constantly guarded and feels he must prove his worth to others.
I will keep an eye out for what Esi Edugyan writes in the future - lovely writing style and very creative.