Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Book Review: Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

Let me start out by saying, this is one of the most beautiful, haunting books I have ever read. The writing is so vivid and intimate that it is difficult for me to remember that Aminata Diallo is not a real person, and that while several of the events and characters are based on reality, she herself is a mere construct of the author's imagination. Aminata's story begins with the eleven year-old girl assisting her mother in midwifery, and learning the ability to guide women through the birth not only of their children, but of themselves into motherhood. Soon, when her African village is invaded by slave traders, she is shackled with other survivors and marched to the coast to meet the slave ship that will take her to the American south. The remainder of her story, which is reminiscent of Roots both in topic and its ability to live under your very skin, follows her from her sale at auction through years of love, loss, births and deaths. Always at the surface is the ultimate longing for freedom and the journey to the land of her birth that burns within her. Her eventual triumph, and the price she pays for her persistent striving to lift up not just herself but everyone around her, while simultaneously being surrounded by the very worst of humanity, results in a gorgeous and vivid tale. While some of the fortuitous events seem mildly contrived, and the ending is a little too neatly pleasing after the repetitive tragedy of the preceding three hundred pages, I was so thrilled that anything positive at all happened to this character I had come to love that I didn't mind. The ending of Aminata's story both satisfies and brings the theme of birth and rebirth full circle.