Clearly still aiming to shock, Herbstein recasts but does not tone down his debut novel, originally published for adult audiences as Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade (2001).
Punctuating her narrative with rapes (some of which are explicitly described) and other atrocities, from forced cannibalism to a flogging that leaves her scarred and one-eyed, blind old Ama relates her life’s hard story to her increasingly disturbed son Zacharias. He, though still enslaved, had been raised in a white official’s household and forced to suppress memories of his earliest years on the Bahian engenho (sugar plantation). Writing in terse, simple language, the Ghana-born author zigzags between points of view—injecting notes of irony (the slave ship that carries Ama to Brazil is named The Love of Liberty, for instance) and acidly matter-of-fact indictments of the brutality and hypocrisy of white slaveholding Christians. Callously ordered away just as his mother is dying, by the end Zacharias sheds his self-righteous naiveté, returns to calling himself by his birth name Kwame Zumbi and vows to share his true heritage with his own young daughter. Readers will be moved as much by Ama’s intelligence and unwavering sense of self respect as by her hideous experiences.
The agenda is never less than obvious, but it’s a powerful tale nonetheless. (map, cast list, glossary) (Historical fiction. 15 & up)