Lose your mother A journey along the Atlantic slave route

Saidiya V. Hartman

Book - 2007

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Subjects
Published
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux c2007.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
xi, 270 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. [237]-258) and index.
ISBN
0374270821
9780374270827
Main Author
Saidiya V. Hartman (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Hartman journeys along the route taken by captured slaves from the interior of what is now Ghana to the Atlantic coast. With no specific trail to follow from her own lineage, Hartman views her search as a coming to terms with her status as stranger and wanderer in the African diaspora. She meets African American expatriates who have been living in Ghana for 20 years, not fully integrated in Africa but alienated from America. She also meets Ghanians who deride or exploit the desperate longing they see in the throngs of black Americans who visit the slave castles each year. She explores the perspective on slaves and slavery held by Africans versus the African American view and how those perspectives affect diasporan efforts to reconnect and to reckon with history. Reflecting on the complex history of slavery, Hartman integrates memories of her own family's journey to become African Americans from the Middle Passage through the Caribbean to the U.S. An eloquent and thoughtful look at the Atlantic slave trade and its resounding impact on the African American psyche. ((Reviewed February 1, 2007)) Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

In search of her personal history as well as popular memories of the transatlantic slave trade, Hartman (Columbia) retraced slave routes from Ghana's Atlantic coast into the northern interior. As an African American searching for her "lost mother," she claimed kinship with her hosts. However, where she saw commonality, Ghanaians saw difference. She was not welcomed home as a long-lost sister, but regarded suspiciously as the descendant of strangers. After all, it was strangers, not brothers and sisters, who were sold into slavery: war captives, debtors, criminals, and troublemakers--vulnerable people unprotected by kin. Those she hoped would embrace her as a sister were, loosely speaking, the descendants of those who had sold her ancestors into slavery. They either scorned her because of her slave origins or envied her as a relatively well-off American. There was little common ground. Hartman's journey of self-discovery punctuates the larger tale of slave raids, forced marches, holding cells, and the horrors of the Middle Passage, stories that are informed by archival and oral histories. The author's language is evocative, sometimes poetic. Her narrative is uninterrupted by footnotes, which might trouble some historians. However, she acknowledges quotations and includes scholarly annotations at the end of the book. Summing Up: Recommended. All academic levels/libraries. Copyright 2007 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

These two books on the slave trade, particularly the Middle Passage, reach beyond the bounds of traditional historical writing to great effect. Hartman (English, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Scenes of Subjection ) is one of the first scholars to examine critically today's African American pilgrimages to Ghana and the complexities of slavery tourism in the region. Having traveled to Ghana to research the slave trade, Hartman became embroiled in the rituals at certain historical sites (e.g., Elmina Castle) associated with Ghana's part in enslavement, as well as the uneasy local politics of tourism. While other authors have covered the history of the slave trade in greater detail, Hartman's strength is how she interweaves vivid scenes of the terror of the slave trade with her own internal struggle to confront the pain of slavery in her family's past. In her first book, Smallwood (history, Univ. of Washington, Seattle) aims to move away from the numbers game that has ensnared so many other historians studying the Middle Passage. Instead of ledgers and account books, she uses letters, journals, and narratives from around the trade route to get closer to the slave experience itself. As the narrative follows the progress of the newly enslaved across the Middle Passage, Smallwood's use of quotes brings to life the everyday horror experienced by Saltwater Slaves, as Africans first arriving in the Americas were described at the time. The clear explanations of the economics driving the slave trade and the process of human commodification will be especially helpful to new students of slavery history. Both books are highly recommended for academic libraries and large African American collections in public libraries.—Kathryn V. Stewart, SLIS student, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City [Page 122]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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 nave 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.) [Page 35]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

In this rousing narrative, Berkeley professor Hartman traces first-hand 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 de-colonization 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. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman traces the history of the Atlantic slave trade by recounting a journey she took along a slave route in Ghana. Following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, Hartman reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African-American history. The slave, Hartman observes, is a stranger, one torn from family, home, and country. To lose your mother is to be severed from your kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as an outsider, an alien. There are no known survivors of Hartman's lineage, no relatives in Ghana whom she came hoping to find. She is a stranger in search of strangers, and this fact leads her into intimate engagements with the people she encounters along the way and draws her deeper into the heartland of slavery. She passes through the holding cells of military forts and castles, the ruins of towns and villages devastated by the trade, and thefortified settlements built to repel predatory armies and kidnappers. In artful passages of historical portraiture, she shows us an Akan prince who granted the Portuguese permission to build the first permanent trading fort in West Africa, a girl murdered aboard a slave ship, and a community of fugitives seeking a haven from slave raiders. Book jacket.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Includes information on abolition, Atlantic slave trade, castles, children, cowrie shells, Isaac Cruikshank, Ottohab Cugoano, death disease, dungeons, Dutch slave trade, Elmina, Elmina Castle, Europe, female slaves, France, genealogy, Ghana, Gold Coast, Great Britain, Martin Luther King, Jr., male slaves, Kwame Nkrumah, Portuguese slave trade, race, racism, rape, ruling class, Salaga, slavery, tourism, United States, violence, etc.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman journeys along a slave route in Ghana, following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast. She retraces the history of the Atlantic slave trade from the fifteenth to the twentieth century and reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy. There were no survivors of Hartman’s lineage, nor far-flung relatives in Ghana of whom she had come in search. She traveled to Ghana in search of strangers. The most universal definition of the slave is a stranger—torn from kin and country. To lose your mother is to suffer the loss of kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as a stranger. As both the offspring of slaves and an American in Africa, Hartman, too, was a stranger. Her reflections on history and memory unfold as an intimate encounter with places—a holding cell, a slave market, a walled town builtto repel slave raiders—and with people: an Akan prince who granted the Portuguese permission to build the first permanent trading fort in West Africa; an adolescent boy who was kidnapped while playing; a fourteen-year-old girl who was murdered aboard a slave ship. Eloquent, thoughtful, and deeply affecting, Lose Your Mother is a powerful meditation on history, memory, and the Atlantic slave trade.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman journeys along a slave route in Ghana, following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast. She retraces the history of the Atlantic slave trade from the fifteenth to the twentieth century and reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy.There were no survivors of Hartman's lineage, nor far-flung relatives in Ghana of whom she had come in search. She traveled to Ghana in search of strangers. The most universal definition of the slave is a stranger--torn from kin and country. To lose your mother is to suffer the loss of kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as a stranger. As both the offspring of slaves and an American in Africa, Hartman, too, was a stranger. Her reflections on history and memory unfold as an intimate encounter with places--a holding cell, a slave market, a walled town builtto repel slave raiders--and with people: an Akan prince who granted the Portuguese permission to build the first permanent trading fort in West Africa; an adolescent boy who was kidnapped while playing; a fourteen-year-old girl who was murdered aboard a slave ship.Eloquent, thoughtful, and deeply affecting, Lose Your Mother is a powerful meditation on history, memory, and the Atlantic slave trade.