by Lawrence Hill
Published January 18th 2007
Historical Fiction/ Cultural
“Some say that I was once uncommonly beautiful, but I wouldn’t wish beauty on any woman who has not her own freedom, and who chooses not the hands that claim her.”
First of all, the book is centered on slavery but it is not about slavery really. It is mostly about a woman, her journey and hardships from her abduction until her freedom. Aminata is taken by slave traders when she is just a young girl. She is able to survive it all and tell her story. This is such a powerful book and unlike any other slavery story I have ever read. It follows Aminata from her abduction in West Africa to America, from America to Canada then back to Africa and finally London where the story concludes.
“Sometimes a deal with the devil is better than no deal at all.”
I honestly had a book hangover and currently still suffering from one since reading it almost two weeks ago. It is one of those stories that leave you with many questions and you can’t help but ponder. I was talking about it to a friend of mine and she dismissed the story by saying “it’s just fiction, don’t take it too seriously.” But is it just fiction? There are people who lived through slavery. They went through worse things than the heroine in this book and I think the dismissal pissed me off because we rarely take time to really internalize history.
How messed up was it that people would choose to sell their own kind? How messed up was it that people would stand and auction off human beings? How messed up is it that they would treat fellow human beings like they were nothing? How is it that the hate from centuries ago still exists today? That’s why I love fiction, they may be made up but they get you to think.
Aminata Diallo is a woman who has dealt with so much in her life. After her abduction, she had to survive the journey to coast to board a ship to America. She was a young girl who could easily be abused by the men on the ship seeing that she didn’t have her parents with her. She has to use her wits to survive and she shows such strength and knowledge for a girl her age. They are kept in the ship in horrible conditions while chained and barely fed. Anyone who was too weak would be thrown overboard. This went for anyone who tried to defy the ‘toubab’.
“We, the survivors of the crossing, clung to the beast that had stolen us away. Not a soul among us had wanted to board that ship, but once out on open waters, we held on for dear life. The ship became an extension of our own rotting bodies. Those who were cut from the heaving animal sank quick to their deaths, and we who remained attached wilted more slow as poison festered in our bellies and bowels. We stayed with the beast until new lands met our feet, and we stumbled down the long plants just before the poison became fatal. Perhaps here in this new land, we would keep living.”
She was lucky all through her journey because she could speak two languages. She was favored by the medicine man on the ship and that made her escape some of the horrible things the rest experienced. She makes it to America where she is auctioned off to a plantation. Here she learns English and how to read and write. This becomes fundamental in her survival story.
“I had learned that there were times when fighting was impossible, when the best thing to do was to wait and to learn.”
Aminata’s journey is brilliant although sad. The trials and tribulations she goes through made my heart hurt. She was one of the lucky ones yet she went through so much. It made me think of all the messed up things others went through. This was a different view of the whole Trans-Atlantic Trade. It was also an insight on how the slaves or blacks viewed the American Revolution. They were caught between upheavals when they needed to fight for their own freedom. They could not understand how the whites were fighting for freedom when they had them enslaved. Twisted world I tell you.
Chekura’s character also made me sad. The way he would always find a way to Aminata regardless of all the trouble he could be in if he was caught. They both made me cry how they had to struggle to be together. The loss they constantly went through and how they had no choice in matters that concerned their lives. It just killed me a little. How much hate do people have in them to make people go through that?
Let’s just say that this one book that made me close the book several times so that I could compose myself. The way the author brought out the whole issue of slavery was so real and it made me feel like I was there. It made me have a newfound respect for everyone that went through slavery. The vivid descriptions especially the journey Aminata went through from the village in Mali to the slave ship felt all too real. The research that went into this book was incredible and it showed all through the book.
“If the sky was so perfect, why was the earth all wrong?”
There is a miniseries based on the book and that is what led me to the book when I was looking for something new to watch. The story deviated in many ways but I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the book. He cast did a fantastic job.
Honestly, this is such a powerful read and I highly recommend it.