I confess this was not my choice of book. As a child, I had endless hours to spend perusing the bookshelves of my local bookstore, but as a (supposed) grown-up, I rely on either media hype or recommendations from friends.
As I had been the one to come up with the idea that my transatlantic friend and I should read a book together for discussion in an attempt to reduce the miles between us, I let her choose the book.
Initially I thought, hmm. Mainly because I hate reading books where there's a possibility I might cry, but this was a prime example of one of those books that could easily have passed me by and I'm so glad it didn't.
While a work of fiction, the story is interwoven with slightly altered facts in order for them to enhance and fit in with the author's narrative, giving it the weight it deserves.
The book is told from the standpoint of Aminata Diallo, who is stolen from her native Africa and sold into the slave trade at the tender age of 11. A horrendous boat trip takes her to America where she resides for many years before finally earning her supposed freedom by moving onto Nova Scotia, then back to her homeland or Sierra Leone as it is by this stage known; and finally to England. Aminata or Meena as she becomes known, has both intelligence and the privilege of parents who taught her to read and write. A rarity among the slaves, this helps Meena on her travels, giving her many opportunities for a slightly easier life than that experienced by the other slaves. This both serves to highlight the gross treatment of the slaves as lesser mortals and the disadvantages they faced in their adversities and shows just what they might have achieved, had they had the opportunities.
Meena's story is heartbreaking involving long separations from her husband and children, with many ties broken along the way. She is blessed to meet a much needed companion along each of her travels, who are able to help her and provide her some comfort in the hard life that she lives.
As I said this is a work of fiction, but the author does a marvellous job of bring Meena to life and I literally kept having to check the back of the book to confirm that she wasn't a real person. Her beauty, intelligence, wonderful spirit and luminosity glows throughout, quickly sucking the reader in and making you feel as if you are listening to an old friend.
At times raw and painful, there are also moments of great beauty and love. The amazing Aminata leads a life she doesn't deserve but I'm glad that in the end, she receives the love, care and devotion she deserves.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and it is certainly proof that you shouldn't just stick to the genre's you prefer, that there are gems out there that you could easily miss.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Why: A beautiful yet horrific story that fully brings to life the tale of a slave. Torn from her home and loved ones, Aminata continually shines and survives the many atrocities and adversaries she faces. Despite her treatment and hardships, she shows just how beautiful the human spirit can be. A fictional character who worthily represents the real victims of slavery, and who ultimately shows the true worth of those forced into slavery, by triumphing over her supposed superior captors.
Awards: Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize