A look at 300 years and TWO sides of the slave trade. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads but 3.5 stars is more accurate.
Author Yaa Gyasi offers an intriguing premise. Two half-sisters from Ghana are separated at the height of the slave trade. One becomes the local, much loved “wife” of a British slave trader. The other winds up in a desperately overcrowded hold of a slave ship, bound for the United States. By following these two women and each generation of their descendants, Gyasi offers a telling of the Afro-American experience. Brutal beatings, forced separation from spouses and children, rape, unjust imprisonment, underpaid and unhealthy coal mining jobs, and drug dependency in Harlem are all part of the story. In this way it’s a powerful read.
What disappointed me is that there is really only one chapter on each person’s story. And, while many are engaging (some more than others), you wind up leaving each person behind, almost as soon as you become engaged in their narrative. Sometimes you learn a bit more about a character in the next chapter, but not always.
It’s a bit like reading one of Edward Rutherford’s novels (i.e. Sarum, London, Russka) where he too follows generations of a family through history. With both authors, I think their goal is using individual anecdotes to further a more important overall story from history. In that, Gyasi succeeds in portraying the American story of slavery — with all its evil and horror.
More about author Yaa Gyasi.