Lets just begin this review with a quote from the start of the book (not written by the author).
The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position. – Akan Proverb
I can assuredly say that reading this proverb at the beginning of the book sent my expectations sky high. I love the sentiment and the meaning behind it, it is beautiful and stunningly truthful and as soon as I read it I knew it was something I will always remember and that it would stay with me.
The same can be said about the book.
I’ll just set out to you exactly how this story is told; the book is split into 14 chapters. Each chapter tells a different person’s story, starting from two half sisters who have never met, and gradually descending through each line, telling every generation’s story. Both sisters live in Ghana, but in different villages. One of the sisters marries an Englishman and moves to live in Cape Coast Castle. Her half sister is captured in the dungeons below the castle, to be sold into slavery.
Obviously we can see here the clear divide between the two sisters’ wellbeing. We are witness to the horrors of the slave trade, the shocking conditions of Esi’s imprisonment, and we can see the consequences of this treatment not just to Esi, but how it impacts every descendent’s life in a unique way. However, we are also realistically shown the suffering in both sister’s lives. In each story, we see the impact of love as well as the impact of racism, the presence of love and hate in all of their lives. The characters that are pictured in this book become more than just a picture, they become real, living people. At the start of this book there is a family tree. When you first look at it, it is irrelevant. At a glance it is just a group of names, something distant with no meaning to you. When you finish the book, it becomes real, you look at that tree and every name as its own imprint on you, its own place in your heart. You see that ‘each tree has its own position’.
I would like to note that this book is just 300 pages long. 300 pages. 300. Yet in these 300 pages, we are taken on a journey through history. Somehow, it covers an incredible amount of history, about 300 years worth, and truly displays the lasting effects of British colonisation and the slave trade. It does this by making us feel like we are part of this family, that these lives are familiar to us. The history feels relevant, current and something that we definitely should be aware of. It doesn’t feel like you are reading about the past.
It is so amazingly compelling and engulfing to read. Reading this book, you will be transported. This is a book you don’t read, you live.
But make no mistake, there is a distinction between easy to read and compelling. This book is not easy to read. It is at times devastating, at times heartwarming. At times shocking, always rewarding. If a book truly shows you slavery and the effects of it, it will not be easy to read. And this book definitely does that, but also has sensitivity along with truthfulness.
This is definitely a book everyone should read. It manages to capture entire lives in single chapters, it provides a window into the slave trade and colonialism, somehow covering 300 years of history, but also showing you how people lived that history, showing you the ups and extremely low downs of this family’s life and giving each name on that family tree a story and giving history a voice. Please, just read it. It is incredibly captivating and rewarding, a book that will stay with you for the rest of your life.