THE BOOK OF NEGROES was as brilliant as I thought it would be. It follows Aminata Diallo, a young African girl in the mid-1700’s, in her village, until she is kidnapped by slavers. She is forced to walk naked to the coast, where she is branded, and stuffed into a slave ship bound for the new world.
The account of what life was like for those stolen from their homes, bound in heavy chains and thrown into the hold of the slave ship was no doubt based on historical accounts. It was hard to read. I kept imagining what it must have been like. How would you go on? Some didn’t. Some people flung themselves into the ocean, or committed suicide by attacking the crew. Although the events depicted occurred over 200 years ago, there was little comfort in that. The prejudices that allow for one person to do to another such heinous acts are still alive and well. This is not just a tale of yesteryear, but a story of today. How we treat groups of people that we see as “other;” how we allow horrors to occur for them, that we would never want for ourselves.
Aminata Diallo narrates the story, and through her unflinching honesty, dignity, and wry humor, we walk through events that would shatter most people. She is highly intelligent, and learns on the fly how to navigate the new culture in which she finds herself. Through the beginning and middle of the book, her life is recounted in detail. My one critique of the book is that as she ages, there is less detail and more summary of events. That aside, it is a powerful narrative, told by a heroic woman. While she is fictional, she represents the thousands and thousands of heroes who survived against all odds to make a life—if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren.
On a side note: while slavery is illegal on paper, there are millions of modern-day slaves working in agriculture, in the fishing industry, in the sex trade, and many other areas. The issue of viewing some people as “other,” continues. There are abolitionist groups that are working to make change, and to finally, finally, free the slaves. Some groups are: Free the Slaves (https://www.freetheslaves.net) , Beyond Borders (www.beyondborders.org/en/home) Modern Abolitionist Coalition (on Facebook under the same name), and the Frederick Douglass Foundation (www.tfdf.org). There is also a course through FutureLearn called, “Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/slavery/1) which I took, and highly recommend.
While THE BOOK OF NEGROES dives deep into the depravity to which human beings are capable, it is also about the human spirit—its strength, its inherent beauty, its stubborn hope against towering odds.