Just finished this book… first heard about it on Goodreads probably a year or so ago, and finally got around to reading the copy on my shelf. It always makes me a little happy when I manage to read a book I already own, instead of library books or brand new books. Anyways…
The story is about Aminata Diallo, who is kidnapped from Africa when she is 11 years old and sold into slavery. The story starts when Aminata is an old lady in England, writing the story of her life to help the cause of the abolitionists. She recounts her long and tumultuous life. Her enslaved life starts in South Carolina, lasting for years and through a lot of hurt and heartache. She eventually escapes in Manhattan and works as a scribe for the British army during the American Revolution. She records the names of blacks who helped the British and thereby earned their freedom in the famous “Book of Negroes” ( a real historical document) and as a reward sets off for Nova Scotia. From there Aminata manages to head back to Africa, before she finally makes her way to London to try and help the abolitionists. (Don’t worry, that’s not spoiler-y. It’s all on the back of the book.)
Aminata, AKA Meena, is an amazing character. She soaks up knowledge like a sponge. And while she goes through periods of grief and anguish, she astoundingly always comes back stronger. I love that so much emphasis was placed on her ability to read and write, and how much those skills helped her to gain her freedom, earn a living, and try to help other enslaved Africans. I also liked that the book showed her confusion upon arriving in America. As soon as she learns English and can communicate with the slaves around her, she begins to question the nature of slavery, how it even exists, how these toubabu (white people) could possibly claim to own her when she was born free. It’s a question that still confuses even me – I’ll never understand the basis for racism, and therefore slavery.
While this was a good book with a strong main character, there was something lacking but I’m not sure what it is. That “IT” factor that makes me gush about a book just wasn’t there. It was good historical fiction, but not something I’ll rave about. I’d recommend it to those interested in books about slavery, historical fiction, or those in the mood for something more contemplative rather than exciting.
Sarah Says: 3 stars