Friday, August 05, 2022

94. African Town


African Town: Inspired by the True Story of the Last American Slave Ship. Irene Latham and Charles Waters. 2022. 448 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Be still, my children. Listen with your ears
and your heart. Our story starts with this
mark on my right cheek, these chipped teeth.
See? This is how you know I am who I say I am.
De town where I was born is called Bante.
It's nowhere near here, not in African Town, not
in Alabama. This town's way across de ocean,
on de west coast of Africa in de kingdom
of Dahomey. My family's home was a round,
two-story adobe with a terrace. Surrounded by hills,
about eight days' walk to de sea. Someday maybe
you will see de world de way I have seen it
in Bante. Then you will know how de sun
kisses de earth, melts like honey over de land--
it's no wonder I believed all of life would be
bright and sweet. No wonder it still shocks me
that de world can be so hard, so dark.
But that darkness, it brought me here.
It brought you here. This is our story.

Premise/plot: African Town is a verse novel based on or inspired by a true story. Long after the importation of slaves was illegal--though not slavery itself--one ship, the Clotilda, was used to smuggle in a shipment of slaves. The year was 1860. 

It is a verse novel that spans a little over four decades. It opens around 1859/1860 and closes around 1901. The poems alternate narrators...and in doing so alternates perspectives. Though by far the greatest representation are the men and women captured, enslaved, sold. Other narrators include white men in the slave trade, slave owners, and VERY VERY VERY oddly the ship Clotilda. 

It isn't "just" the story of African slaves. It is the story of how these last slaves bonded and formed a community--literally and figuratively. This is the story of the formation of African Town or Africatown.

My thoughts: Powerful. Compelling. Important. These are the words I'd use to describe this verse novel. It is a heavy novel in its subject matter. The characters--[loosely] based on real people--are well developed. The characters were easy to care about. I got swept up into this one. I knew a little bit about the Clotilda from previous reading. But this was an absorbing read. I thought the verse novel format was a perfect fit for this one.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Laura @ RBA said...

I've never heard of a verse novel before. Its an interesting way to tell a novel-sized story but I don't think I would enjoy reading it. Thanks for your review though!