The character who tells this story has three names. She was named Magulu by her parents in Mendeland (modern day Sierra Leone). At nine years old she was sold into slavery, taken to Cuba where she boarded the Amistad. The Africans on the Amistad ended up in New Haven, Connecticut. In New Haven she was renamed Margru because the Americans misunderstood her pronunciation of her name. After two years of legal battles, the Africans on the Amistad were freed from jail. Before returning home to Africa, Margru was renamed Sarah Kinson, a name she chose, in a church ceremony.
The voice telling the story seems to be the voice of Sarah Kinson. It’s the voice of an adult or young adult but she tells the story through the eyes of her childhood self. There are times when the voice is poetic. The events she experienced had both legal and political implications, however her focus is not on these implications but on what she was aware of as a child.
Margru was very aware of abolitionists in Connecticut, particularly Lewis Tappan. He arranged for Margru and her friends to be taught to read, a skill she loved. The abolitionists helped free the Africans. They also introduced the Africans to Christianity. Margru found Christianity helped her through the rough times. Once the Africans were freed the abolitionists helped them earn money to pay for their trip home to Africa. Sarah returned to the United States when she was 16 and Lewis Tappan arranged for her to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. After Oberlin, she went home to Africa.
It’s amazing to me that Edinger was able to provide such a solid historical underpinning to the story. Researching the life of one African child on the Amistad cannot have been an easy task. The book is essentially nonfiction. The only fiction is the imagining of Margru’s feelings as a child and imaginings of some of the dialogue.
The illustrations are detailed and colorful. I have never seen such effective illustrations of dreams. Circles intertwine with other circles and inside each is a different image of Africa. It’s as if one image moves into another image the way images move in dreams.
The book never bogs down. It’s very well paced.
I graduated from Oberlin in 1980. Tappan Square is central to the town and the school, yet I never knew who the square was named for until I read this book. Lewis Tappan and his brother were instrumental in founding the school in the 1830s. In the late 1970s Oberlin was still true to the social justice emphasis present at its founding. I’ve just learned something new about Oberlin and thus something new about an institution that’s been profoundly influential in my life. I thank Monica Edinger for that knowledge!