The lives of two young women—one kidnapped into slavery, the other a royal whose family is complicit in the slave trade—intersect in pre-colonial Ghana.
Despite a peaceful upbringing, 15-year-old Aminah has heard murmurings of horsemen who steal people riding through villages like hers. The rumors soon become a reality—Aminah is violently separated from her family and enslaved—sending her on a harrowing journey. Far from Aminah’s village, Wurche, the strong-minded and independent daughter of one of the “three lesser chiefs of Kpembe,” is forced to marry, part of her father’s strategy to accrue power. (The title refers to the humming market town next to Kpembe where “everything was for sale,” including people.) The strength of Attah’s (Saturday’s Shadows, 2015, etc.) novel is in these two fully realized women, who must navigate their own ever changing circumstances against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile political landscape, in which feuding royals are competing for power among themselves but also with the Germans and the British. Wurche is especially compelling: As the story progresses she becomes increasingly skeptical of the slave trade but is also a participant in it. A “boyish woman,” in Aminah’s eyes, Wurche’s sexuality is as complex as the rest of her, and though Attah doesn’t delve as deep here as she might, on the whole it is a rich and nuanced portrayal. The plotting, especially in the book’s final third, can feel rushed. Still, Attah is adept at leading readers across the varied terrain of 19th-century Ghana and handles heavy subjects with aplomb.
Two memorable women anchor this pleasingly complicated take on slavery, power, and freedom.