• Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

    Winner of the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book

    “I am a human being; I am a woman; I am a black woman; I am an African. Once I was free; then I was captured and became a slave; but inside me, here and here, I am still a free woman.”
    During a period of four hundred years, European slave traders ferried some 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. In the Americas, teaching a slave to read and write was a criminal offense. When the last slaves gained their freedom in Brazil, barely a thousand of them were literate. Hardly any stories of the enslaved and transported Africans have survived.
    This novel is an attempt to recreate just one of those stories, one story of a possible 12 million or more.Lawrence Hill created another in The Book of Negroes (Someone Knows my Name in the U.S.) and, more recently, Yaa Gyasi has done the same in Homegoing.

    Ama occupies center stage throughout this novel.

    As the story opens, she is sixteen. Distant drums announce the death of her grandfather. Her family departs to attend the funeral, leaving her alone to tend her ailing baby brother.

    It is 1775. Asante has conquered its northern neighbor and exacted an annual tribute of 500 slaves. The ruler of Dagbon dispatches a raiding party into the lands of the neighboring Bekpokpam. They capture Ama.

    That night, her lover, Itsho, leads an attack on the raiders’ camp. The rescue bid fails. Sent to collect water from a stream, Ama comes across Itsho’s mangled corpse. For the rest of her life she will call upon his spirit in time of need.

    In Kumase, the Asante capital, Ama is given as a gift to the Queen-mother.

    When the adolescent monarch, Osei Kwame, conceives a passion for her, the regents dispatch her to the coast for sale to the Dutch at Elmina Castle.

    There the governor, Pieter de Bruyn, selects her as his concubine, dressing her in the elegant clothes of his late Dutch wife and instructing the obese chaplain to teach her to read and write English.

    De Bruyn plans to marry Ama and take her with him to Europe. He makes a last trip to the Dutch coastal outstations and returns infected with yellow fever. On his death, his successor rapes Ama and sends her back to the female dungeon. Traumatized, her mind goes blank.

    She comes to her senses in the canoe which takes her and other women out to the slave ship, The Love of Liberty.

    Before the ship leaves the coast of Africa, Ama instigates a slave rebellion. It fails and a brutal whipping leaves her blind in one eye.

    The ship is becalmed in mid-Atlantic. Then a fierce storm cripples it and drives it into the port of Salvador, capital of Brazil.

    Ama finds herself working in the fields and the mill on a sugar estate. She is absorbed into slave society and begins to adapt, learning Portuguese.

    Years pass. Ama is now totally blind. Clutching the cloth which is her only material link with Africa, she reminisces, dozes, falls asleep.

    A short epilogue brings the story up to date. The consequences of the slave trade and slavery are still with us. Brazilians of African descent remain entrenched in the lower reaches of society, enmeshed in poverty.

    “This is story telling on a grand scale,” writes Tony Simões da Silva. “In Ama, Herbstein creates a work of literature that celebrates the resilience of human beings while denouncing the inscrutable nature of their cruelty. By focusing on the brutalization of Ama’s body, and on the psychological scars of her experiences, Herbstein dramatizes the collective trauma of slavery through the story of a single African woman. Ama echoes the views of writers, historians and philosophers of the African diaspora who have argued that the phenomenon of slavery is inextricable from the deepest foundations of contemporary western civilization.”

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  • An African Story of Our Time

    A story about the generation of Africans in the diaspora after independence; a generation fed on a study diet of optimism and expectation. Its about those who “accidentally” found themselves in the capitals of Europe. The interesting shades of characters who dominate the story are engaged in the same enterprise, that of survival!
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    Annie John

    Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s voice―urgent, demanding to be heard―is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers.

    An adored only child, Annie has until recently lived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl’s existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother’s benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, “It was in such a paradise that I lived.” When she turns twelve, however, Annie’s life changes, in ways that are often mysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a “young lady,” ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary. At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua and her family, but not without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. “For I could not be sure,” she reflects, “whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world.”

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    Annie John

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  • Brave Music of a Distant Drum

    In Brave Music of a Distant Drum, a blind old slave woman, Ama, summons her son to come and write down her story so that her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s children can one day read it and know their history.

    Ama’s son, Kwame Zumbi – named Zacharias Williams by the white Christians who raised him – considers her an ugly old pagan and has little interest in doing more than is necessary to fulfill his obligation to her. How he is changed by the acts of hearing and writing down the details of his mother’s story is as powerful and important a story as Ama’s.

    The story of an African enslaved in Brazil, Ama’s story is violent – it includes murder, rape, and betrayal – and yet it is also a story of courage, hope, determination, and love.

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    Crossing the River

    From the acclaimed author of Cambridge comes an ambitious, formally inventive, and intensely moving evocation of the scattered offspring of Africa. It begins in a year of failing crops and desperate foolishness, which forces a father to sell his three children into slavery. Employing a brilliant range of voices and narrative techniques, Caryl Phillips folows these exiles across the river that separates continents and centuries.

    Phillips’s characters include a freed slave who journeys to Liberia as a missionary in the 1830s; a pioneer woman seeking refuge from the white man’s justice on the Colorado frontier; and an African-American G.I. who falls in love with a white Englishwoman during World War II. Together these voices make up a “many-tongued chorus” of common memory—and one of the most stunning works of fiction ever to address the lives of black people severed from their homeland.

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    In the Ditch

    In The Ditch by Buchi Emecheta, is the semi-autobiographical tale of a young Nigerian woman, separated from her husband and living with her five small children in the slums of North London.  In spite of the desperateness of the situation, Adah is proud and ambitious and determined to retain her independence. The social workers however, decide that it is impossible for her to have a daytime job, continue the evening classes where she is studying for a degree, as well as looking after a handful of lively children on her own.

    95.00

    In the Ditch

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  • The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye

    Winner of Burt Award for African Literature

    Sargrenti is the name by which Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley, KCMG (1833 – 1913) is still known in the West African state of Ghana.

    Kofi Gyan, the 15-year old boy who spits in Sargrenti’s eye, is the nephew of the chief of Elmina, a town on the Atlantic coast of Ghana. On Christmas Day, 1871, Kofi’s godfather gives him a diary as a Christmas present and charges him with the task of keeping a personal record of the momentous events through which they are living. This novel is a transcription of Kofi’s diary.

    Elmina town has a long-standing relationship with the Castelo de São Jorge da Mina, known today as Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482 and captured from them by the Dutch in 1637.

    In April, 1872, the Dutch hand over the unprofitable castle to the British. The people of Elmina have not been consulted and resist the change. On June 13, 1873 British forces punish them by bombarding the town and destroying it. (It has never been rebuilt. The flat open ground where it once stood serves as a constant reminder of the savage power of Imperial Britain.)

    After the destruction of Elmina, Kofi moves to his mother’s family home in nearby Cape Coast, seat of the British colonial government, where Sargrenti is preparing to march inland and attack the independent Asante state. There Melton Prior, war artist of the London weekly news magazine, The Illustrated London News, offers Kofi a job as his assistant. This gives the lad an opportunity to observe at close quarters not only Prior but also the other war correspondents, Henry Morton Stanley and G. A. Henty. Kofi witnesses and experiences the trauma of a brutal war, a run-up to the formal colonialism which would be realized ten years later at the 1885 Berlin conference, where European powers drew lines on the map of Africa, dividing the territory up amongst themselves.

    On February 6, 1874, Sargrenti’s troops loot the palace of the Asante king, Kofi Karikari, and then blow up the stone building and set the city of Kumase on fire, razing it to the ground.

    Kofi’s story culminates in his angry response to the British auction of their loot in Cape Coast Castle. The loot includes the solid gold mask shown on the front cover of the novel. That mask continues to reside in the Wallace Collection in London.

    The invasion of Asante met with the enthusiastic approval of the British public, which elevated Wolseley to the status of a national hero. All the war correspondents and several military officers hastened to cash in on public sentiment by publishing books telling the story of their victory. In all of these, without exception, the coastal Fante feature as feckless and cowardly and the Asante as ruthless savages.

    The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye tells the story of these momentous events for the first time from an African point of view. It is told with irony and with occasional flashes of humor. The novel is illustrated with scans of seventy engravings first published in The Illustrated London News.

    This book won a Burt Award for African Literature which included the donation by the Ghana Book Trust of 3000 copies to school libraries in Ghana. In 2016, at the annual conference of the African Literature Association held in Atlanta, GA, it received the ALA’s Creative Book of the Year Award.

    Prof. Kwesi Kwaa Prah writes:“The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s War takes history out of the recesses of memory and obscurity, and expresses it in vivid and dazzling light.”

    The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye is a story for adults of all ages, both young adults and those no longer so young.

     

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  • The Native Son

    Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, was the first book by an African-American writer to enjoy widespread success. In fact, Wright’s novel generated much popular and critical interest before it was even published. Three hours after the book hit the shelves, the first print run out! Soon a school of black American writers – the ‘Wright School’ – began modeling itself after the author in the belief that candid art about the black American would lead to positive political change. Wright suddenly became the most recognised black author in America. Today, the novel is essential to an understanding of twentieth century African literature.

    Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.

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    The Native Son

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