It wouldn’t make a lot of sense if I didn’t quickly summarize the story’s events because there are so many things to experience! This novel follows the main character, Aminata, who is recounting her life in this book where the real book itself is like a memoir. The book is not only adept at making the character quickly draw upon the descriptions to craft their own experiences, but it is extremely realistic that I felt I was reading a real memoir! Aminata in the present, is an old woman living in 1802 London who constantly visits the public to tell her stories. She feels that it is her duty to share her story as she has survived through so many hardships. Since she feels that she has been so fortunate to have lived so long, she recounts fragments of her past life.
In the beginning, we are transported back to Aminata’s childhood in Bayo (1750’s) where her father is a jeweller and her mother is a midwife. Her mother teaches her the secrets to catching babies and right from the start, readers can sense something special with Aminata. Her parent’s different upbringing which focuses on the importance of education proves to be life saving in the future. Despite the villager’s lack of approval, she is taught how to write and speak various cultural languages. This important backdrop sets the tone for the story. The reminiscent and melancholy feel that comes with the novel allows all the experience’s of Animata to impact my heart. It’s hard not to feel empathetic because within a couple of pages, the beautiful childhood memories of Animata are destroyed when she and her mother are kidnapped.
The smooth transition between the change of events really allowed me to live through the eyes of Aminata which is a prominent reason for why her account is so believable. Her kidnapping and her witness of how her parent’s fought for their survival until they were killed by the robbers, rapidly starts Aminata’s exponential growth out of childhood. The innocent descriptions of her thoughts and the feeling of helplessness as she watches the two people that she loves so dearly is heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but feel angry and want to take revenge for her. As well, I also felt helplessness because in that moment she was vulnerable and I wished I could have comforted her. Even though, everything in that instant changed Aminata’s life forever, she is still able to push through. She is courageous even for such a young child! She knows that life must go on and so she accepts her fate but also hopes for the best.
As the story goes on, we learn that Aminata has been kidnapped by what she calls toubabu, which we learn later is a white man. The novel is not too graphic in manner, but the descriptions Aminata recalls of her treatment is heart wrenching. What’s more is that it isn’t so much the physical pain or torture that comes from these kidnappers, but the humiliation with which she is treated. She talks about her dignity and that these men have often tore piece and piece of her dignity away. Through the process of reading this story, it’s like plunging into something foreign and enigmatic. For me, I didn’t know exactly what was going on until I started looking in hindsight. It may be obvious for some, but Aminata was unfortunately kidnapped into the slave trade. They walk for many day and nights where time is interestingly recounted differently by her people. The book wonderfully brings in different cultural practices and the unbelief to our modern culture allows me to see how others feel when they view our Canadian/American cultures. For instance, she talks about time in regards to nature like three revolutions of the moon, fourteen rains, etc.
The novel set up of Aminata’s story is told through four books which marks four significant bundles of time in her life. Specifically in the first book, two characters Fomba and Fanta from her hometown provide her comfort as they have also been kidnapped into the slave coddle where they all wear yokes around their necks.
Fanta and Aminata are able to put away their past dislikes of each other to support one another. Aminata even helps Fanta catch her baby, Sanu. Fomba is also her friend and is a well known hunter in her village, but does not speak often. She is easily able to make friends with those around her, and she befriends a boy, Chekura, who is her captor at first but she realizes that they are on the same side.
After many revolutions of the moon, the villagers are sent onto a ship. Due to Aminata’s ability to speak various languages, she is of great help to the investigators or should I say interrogators on the ship. All the people that are meant to board the ship are inspected with at times humiliation. Once on the ship, the brutal living conditions lead to the death of many people. The crowded spaces, lack of food, and poor treatment of the people by the toubab are impossible to escape, but luckily Aminata, Chekura, Fanta, and Fomba are all able to survive. Unfortunately some of the people she meets in the coddle, have died. She is able to get onto the good side of the medicine man who is alos a toubab. And she uses this to her advantage to gain more medical resources and small snacks for her and her friends.
Time and time again, Fanta’s bold spirit defys these men and she tells Aminata to never trust the toubab. The villagers feel oppressed and mistreated, so after a few weeks, they go on a rampage that kill many of the toubab. Aminata soon loses her trust towards Fanta especially as she sees how Fanta is easily able to kill her own daughter and other humans. She understands that a baby is a burden especially on the process of survival but she cannot get over Fanta’s acts and distances herself. Even though Aminata dislikes the toubabu, she can never get over the murders of so many people on the ship.
All in all, as I recount the first book, I felt that in some ways this book is a symbol within itself. A symbol of courage and transparency that gives a taste of what many slaves went through.
I am very happy to have chosen this book because it has definitely opened my eyes to a personal recount of what it might have been like for those who were sold into the slave trade!