#FridayReads Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill

If you were to read the summary presented on the NLS site, you would get the sense that this was all the book was about. By itself, I figured “hmmm, it could be worth the read”. But that description hardly does it justice.

As the story starts, we see the main character (I suppose her name is spelled Aminata Dialo, but that’s where audio can get me in trouble), in London toward the end of her struggle, working with the British to have slavery abolished. But then we almost immediately flash back to her residing in an African village, I think somewhere around present-day Mali, where she and her family practice Islam and farm the land. It takes on a Roots-like feel, as she is snatched, placed aboard a slave ship for the vivid ride over, and taken into a property on St. Helena Island off of the South Carolina coast.

The story continues in this vein, flashing forward to London at the beginning of each major section then back to the time that had been left off, spanning from approximately 1754-1793. She doesn’t experience the outright cruelty that is often seen in such tales, but the psychological trauma along with people’s constant betrayal of her trust are just as bad in the long run. And of course, she continues to dream of returning to Africa, which eventually happens but doesn’t turn out to be all she had hoped either.

Aminata, (called Nina by people in what would become the United States), tells the story in first person, with the amazing rhythm that comes from her initial culture, and even some snippets of the language she spoke. Interestingly, Colleen Delany the NLS narrator who reads this, reads the entire thing in an African accent. I must admit she does pretty good with this, as well as an American could be expected I suppose. Probably her American slave accents were not as good, but one really does not have issues when listening, as the power of the story itself takes you away.

I think the thing that interests me most about this piece is its presentation of a little-known portion of the history of slavery in the US, how Britain and their soon-to-be-Canadian colonists treated these individuals after they had aided in the fight against the American colonies, and even many Africans’ unwillingness to truly assist them. The latter happened in many respects because those coastal folks were being sweetened by the resources provided by their European colonizers.

I don’t know who this Lawrence Hill guy is, but I want to see if he has anymore work. Because this book, 18+ hours of audio, has me so captivated I can hardly put it down, even when I grudgingly have to at work. This woman’s life was amazing, and it does us all well to expand our views of how people lived under and rebelled against that awful institution.

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