Review: Book 1

Upon finishing part one, referred to as book 1, in The Book of Negros there are a number of points and idea’s i wish to reflect upon. To start off I will summarize the first book.

Aminata Diallo is the daughter of a Jewelry maker in the small village of Bayo in western Africa at the beginning of the 18th century. She spends her everyday assisting her mother in delivering children at the various villages, and learning basic writing from her father, the only man in the Village to own a Qur’an. She is also a free born Muslim, following Islam with much of her village, this earns her crescent scars on her face as marks of pride. However abruptly the rumor of white kidnappers on the west coast becomes a reality, and her village is attacked, leaving her parents dead and her captured. They are captured by African men working for the white men and are forced to walk in a coffle, which is a string of captured people, to be sold into slavery overseas. She sees many died on the walk, and even more on the boat, as disease and hunger and violence take many lives. However she survives the journey and as the book ends, they arrive at their destination.

To begin with Mr. Hill has done a impressive amount of research for this book. The events and details of every inch of Aminata’s journey seem to be indicators of a wealth of knowledge on the world she lived in, portraying her world vividly and accurately. However, focusing on the characters of this story, some things are rather lackluster. Examples of this would be nearly every character from Bayo, the running themes seems to be almost cliche. This is seen in the strict and selfish wife of the chief, Fanta, who fits the distinctly western trope of the no nonsense housewife who runs the neighborhood. This is also seen in Fomba, the dull giant with a heart of gold, and Aminata’s parents, who seem to be idealized concepts of people rather than characters. Even Aminata suffers from this, being unrealistically capable and strong willed for an 11 year old girl as she seems to shake off death immediately, after only being affected for a second. These faults don’t mean much in the face of the exceptional writing and near perfect setting and scene building, however they dehumanize the characters to idealistic figureheads, disallowing proper investment in these characters stories, and in the end making the audience simply care about them less. That said though what matters about this book is the world and the context, more than the characters. I would say that this book is more about the slave trade than it is about Aminata, and it excels at being that, more than anything.

Bear in mind this is not my final verdict on this book. These statements and all which follow may change drastically before the books end.

 

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2 comments

  1. arsestvita · November 6, 2014

    I find your response to Hill’s use of clichés rather interesting. I also found that the characters were cliché, but I’m not sure if I would identify this as a fault of Hill himself, literature as a whole or the lack of accurate, non-sensationalized information about west African villages in the 1700’s prior to the slave trade. Clichés regarding characters like Fanta and Fomba exist because a. they work as tools to progress the story and b. are based in logical situations and reactions. Fanta is not just the no-nonsense housewife, but also a woman who fears her position with her husband will be taken over by an eleven-year-old girl, which would undoubtedly leave Fanta feeling fragile and forced to put on a strong face. The historical accuracies definitely carry the story thus far, but I would disagree that Aminata is uncharacteristically capable. As a woman in a misogynistic society, Aminata has been forced to take on responsibility at times which would be considered premature by modern, western standards. This is the basis for her strength once she reaches the slave ship. We also need to remember that Aminata is narrating this as an old woman and, therefore, is reflecting on life and is unreliable.

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  2. leungsami115 · November 28, 2014

    I really liked your summary and response towards book one. However I feel that you should have introduced Fanta, Fomba, Chekura, Sanu and the Medicine Man. You could have also included when Sanu had her child, and Aminata became her midwife and Sanu named it after Aminata. Another thing to talk about was when each slave got branded before entering the boat and crossing the big water, and how Aminata received special treatment from the medicine man. Afterwards you could talk about how the slaves caused an uprising on the boat, which led to many deaths and bodies being thrown overboard (including the medicine man). And how Aminata and the rest of the slaves were then all chained below deck.

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