Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Aminata is an African girl in the late 1700s who is whisked away to the New World by slave traders. It soon becomes clear, in this first-person saga, that she is actually quite remarkable. She learns to read and write, performs midwife duties for blacks and whites alike, and masters three languages, all before she is 20. She has 2 big flaws, though. One is that she is too trusting and thus sets herself up for betrayal time and again. Secondly, she has an obsession with returning to her village in Africa, regardless of the fact that she has no family there. We know from the outset that she spends her final days in England, assisting the abolitionists in Parliament to end the slave trade, if not slavery itself. There's a history less here, if you can separate fact from fiction. After the Revolutionary War, the British rewarded Black Loyalists in the U.S. with transport to Canada, then later to a new settlement in Sierra Leone. Aminata is a part of this migration—swept along from New York to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, to Halifax, and finally back to Africa. Her story, though, is more about loss than adventure. Her husband Chekura and she are separated for years at a time, and then when we think they'll finally have some peace together, fate steps in and deals them yet another devastating blow. Her two children, one born into slavery and sold, the other born free and abducted, are never far from her thoughts and serve as constant reminders that nothing is constant or predictable for Africans in the New World. Aminata is always an anomaly, set off first by her education and then later by the fact that she is one of the dwindling few actually born in Africa. She is a survivor, but this book is relentlessly sad, and I think that the author could have celebrated Aminata's triumphs to give us an occasional break. Even the happy moments at the end are tainted with the sense of a life completed but never enjoyed. She doesn't come across as spunky but seems to trudge from one hopeless setting to another, mired in the past and never hopeful for the future nor comforted by the legacy of progress, slight as it may have been, that she leaves in her wake.

1 comment:

France said...

A beautifully crafted story based on research of the African slave trade and brought up close and personal through the character's tortuous life journey. Hill's tale leaves an indelible mark on one's soul, creating empathy for the trauma that lives on in the generations that followed.