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 built to 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.
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 na ve 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.