Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book 35: Someone Knows My Name

Spanning several decades and continents, this novel begins in early 19th century England as Aminata Diallo takes a look back on her life.  Born in an West African village, she was a priviledged only child until she was kidnapped by slavers at the age of 11, and sold in South Carolina.  Her mother had been the village's midwife, and fortunately for Aminata, her mother had already started training her before her kidnapping.  Once she reveals these skills to her master, she gains a certain amount of freedom of movement, and gains the attention of a few others in the community as well.  Her second master even allows her to hire herself out as a midwife and continues to teach her to read (an overseer had already taken an interest in her education) so she can maintain his books.  Eventually, she ends up in New York, and works for the British during the Revolutionary War given their promise to free any slaves that work for them.  The British lose the war, and she along with many other freed men and women are given the opportunity to set up a life in Nova Scotia.  Unfortunately, the whites aren't exactly welcoming, and life is incredibly difficult in that colony so once Aminata meets a prominent British abolitionist, she decides to join him in his venture to begin a colony in Sierra Leone.
That is basically the threadbare plot of the novel, but the story is incredibly moving as it chronicles Aminata's life, losses and occasional triumphs.  She loses her parents, is separated from her husband and child, raped by one of her masters and experiences many hardships and yet, she still seems better off than many others - her role as midwife gives her a certain amount of value, so she doesn't experience as many beatings as some others, and doesn't experience quite the same physical hardships as others.  The author uses Aminata's life to showcase many important events that took place during slavery and the evolution of the abolitionist movement, such as her voyage on the middle passage, a slave rebellion, the colonies in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, neither of which was incredibly successful due to a certain lack of resources and the fact that both those places weren't exactly good land for English crops.  I actually read this book a long time ago (it was part of an African American history month display), shortly after finishing Bury the Chains, a nonfiction account of the British abolition movement.  The two pieces are really perfect companion pieces.  While one gives the facts, this novel takes those facts and uses one life to illustrate them.  It is especially interesting because it doesn't just follow the usual slave narrative accounts, but illustrates other parts of history that Americans especially may be less familiar with.  I'd highly recommend this one.

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