This has been the book of the moment lately, and it’s pretty easy to see why: the cover is maybe the most beautiful book cover I have ever seen. It’s so striking and bright, and the hardback underneath the dust jacket is also lovely. And the endpapers! Ugh. I think the cover was a big part of why I bought it – I had just seen it all over social media, and that cover really stuck with me. I had also heard it talked about months and months ago on Books On The Nightstand (RIP), and forgotten the name but remembered the concept, so I was overjoyed when I heard about it.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (or spend less time on BookTube than me), the book is about two sisters, Esi and Effia, who don’t know of each other’s existence and lead totally different lives. Esi is sold into slavery, while Effia becomes the wife of a white slave trader. Each chapter follows a different one of their descendants down the centuries, right up to the 21st century.
As an idea, it’s arresting: it’s definitely very original, and a powerful way of showing the impact of slavery down the generations. But in practise, it wasn’t as impactful as I expected. Certain chapters are: Ness, Esi’s daughter who is born into slavery, in particular, but it really lost its momentum in the last third. On top of this, because there is no central thread, it ceases to be memorable at a certain point: Ness is the only character whose name I can remember without googling it. It is frequently horrifically violent, like most slave narratives, but somehow lacks the impact of The Underground Railroad.
It does however, do something new with the well-trodden path of a slave narrative: it demonstrates the impact slavery has had on both America and Africa right up to the modern day. That alone would make it worth reading, and in combination with two or three chapters which really stood out, make it engaging while you’re in it, although it is not the most memorable novel I’ve ever read.