4 of 5 stars
Published June 2016
This story covers over two centuries of history, the history of two families. Two half sisters (though they never knew it) had very different lives. They were both born in small villages in Africa, of two tribal nations, the Asante and the Fante, in the centre of what is today Ghana on the Gold Coast of Africa, once a British colony. One was captured and taken to the coast, Cape Coast and held in the dungeons of the Castle before being sent on a slave ship to America and the other was married to the white governor of the territory, and lived in the Castle above the dungeons. Their lives and their descendants are traced through connecting stories, one from each generation over the next two centuries up to just after the millennium when it all ties together.
For the sister who was a slave in America and her descendants, we are given windows into the life and experiences of African Americans, the racism that changes over time, evolves, maybe gets better but not really. It comes down to what these characters did to survive hardships, poverty, addictions, and it comes down to families at the core, a steel thread of strength and love through the generations of families that survival hangs on to. The scene moves from the deep south, on plantations and coal mines, to New York and Harlem in the 20th century.
For the sister who remained in Africa and her descendants, we see village and tribal life and politics, superstition, war, conquest, the difficulty of not always fitting in. Again, though, the blood of the family flows through each generation but in this case, each generation family member that we meet seems to be more isolated from the previous one. The bond of the family doesn’t seem to be there for many and each character has to make their own way on their own. But there is also reconciliation and, in the end, that familial bond is forged.
It really is a story about slavery from both sides, the sellers and the sold, and the effects over time. The slave trade not only affected the people who were enslaved but also the countries where these people were betrayed and captured by their own people and sold to the white rulers and slave traders.
The only reason it didn’t get a full 5 stars is because one thread of the story wasn’t really finished, for me. Each of the sisters is given a necklace with a polished stone. One is able to keep it and pass it down through the generations but the other is lost and buried in the dungeon under the castle before she is put on a ship and it is never found again. I would have liked to have seen that come full circle. What was the point if it is left hanging?
That aside, the stories from each generation are all very good and all the characters are vivid and believable. The earlier generations of the book get more time than the later ones because they are the foundations of the future. Thus, some of them we get to know better than others but all of them stay with you. This is the author’s first novel and is setting the bar high for her next one. She’s a very talented writer. This book has received a lot of attention and this time, I think it’s worth the hype! Then again, it ticks a lot of boxes for me, historical fiction, family saga and believable characters.