For almost five millennia, in every culture and in every major
religion, indigo-a blue pigment obtained from the small green leaf of a
parasitic shrub through a complex process that even scientists still
regard as mysterious-has been at the center of turbulent human
Indigo is the story of this precious dye and
its ancient heritage: its relationship to slavery as the "hidden half"
of the transatlantic slave trade, its profound influence on fashion, and
its spiritual significance, which is little recognized but no less
alive today. It is an untold story, brimming with rich, electrifying
tales of those who shaped the course of colonial history and a world
But Indigo is also the story of a personal quest:
Catherine McKinley is the descendant of a clan of Scots who wore indigo
tartan as their virile armor; the kin of several generations of Jewish
"rag traders"; the maternal granddaughter of a Massachusetts textile
factory owner; and the paternal granddaughter of African slaves-her
ancestors were traded along the same Saharan routes as indigo, where a
length of blue cotton could purchase human life. McKinley's journey in
search of beauty and her own history ultimately leads her to a new and
satisfying path, to finally "taste life." With its four-color photo
insert and sumptuous design, Indigo will be as irresistible to look at as it is to read.
In this memoir of longing, community, and personal maturation, McKinley (The Book of Sarahs), half African-American by birth, adopted and raised by white parents who were plant devotees, seeks her roots through the intertwined European and African history of the once rare indigo. A plant dye long prized for its deep blue color, indigo became a staple of trade from Africa across the Mediterranean and Europe; indigo and the fabric dyed from it evoke stories of slavery (past and present), global trade, and entrenched cultural traditions. McKinley's journey to the source of indigo leads her unexpectedly to politically unstable areas like the Ivory Coast, as well as to Ghana, Mali, and other African countries, where she is welcomed. McKinley's passion for the rare blue dye created from ash, urine, and leaves, and used to painstakingly imprint storytelling designs leads to intense friendships and an introduction to the complexity of social and economic status in a continent so far removed from the woman who inspired McKinley's journey her grandmother a questioning, tartan-clad woman in a rich blue coat. Photo insert; map.