cover image Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Saidiya Hartman, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (270pp) ISBN 978-0374270827

In this rousing narrative, Berkeley professor Hartman traces firsthand the progress of her ancestors—forced migrants from the Gold Coast—in order to illuminate the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Chronicling her time in Ghana following the overland slave route from the hinterland to the Atlantic, Hartman admits early on to a naïve search for her identity: “Secretly I wanted to belong somewhere or, at least, I wanted a convenient explanation of why I felt like a stranger.” Fortunately, Hartman eschews the simplification of such a quest, finding that Africa's American expatriates often find themselves more lost than when they started. Instead, Hartman channels her longing into facing tough questions, nagging self-doubt and the horrors of the Middle Passage in a fascinating, beautifully told history of those millions whose own histories were revoked in “the process by which lives were destroyed and slaves born.” Shifting between past and present, Hartman also considers the “afterlife of slavery,” revealing Africa—and, through her transitive experience, America—as yet unhealed by decolonization and abolition, but showing signs of hope. Hartman's mix of history and memoir has the feel of a good novel, told with charm and passion, and should reach out to anyone contemplating the meaning of identity, belonging and homeland. (Jan.)