Post #53: Time’s Memory

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Time's Memory by Julius Lester

Post number fifty-three is for Julius Lester's Time's Memory, another required reading title for my Fantasy Lit course. I'd never heard of this book before, and most likely would have never picked it up, mostly because – and yes, even I do this – the cover wasn't that interesting, and was sort of monotone in color. I realize now that it's it a sort of African style, which fits with the story, but it still isn't eye-catching (to me) in the slightest. Nonetheless, I liked the book, although it's not a favorite by any means.

Brief spoilery thoughts follow.

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So this book was a little odd in that it kept switching main characters at the start. You start out with Josiah, who is the captain of a slave ship. He's visited by the spirit of his dead wife, who tells him that one of the slaves on the ship is pregnant, and he needs to rescue her and save the child. The woman is Amina, who gives birth but doesn't really to a full-grown adult man named Ekundayo, who is the spirit of Amina's tribal leader. The whole point of this setup is that Ekundayo has been brought to the US (this is prior to the Civil War, obviously), to try to save the world from all of the nyama (i.e. spirits/souls) of the deceased. The more violent the death, the more vengeful the nyama, and Amma, the supreme god of Ekundayo's people, is concerned that they will basically tear the world apart. So there's your setup, and then, suddenly, things change drastically, because Ekundayo's nyama is taken by Amma from his body and placed in that of Nat, a slave in Virginia, who happens to be in love with Ellen, the daughter of the plantation owner (and she with him).

The rest of the book (parts two and three) are all about Nat and what happens to him at the plantation. There's violence courtesy of Nat's father, Gabriel, but Ekundayo finally figures out what he needs to do in order to let the nyama of the dead finally rest.

The overarching theme of this whole thing is basically how important it is to not forget your ancestors, to know their stories, and to share them with others. Ekundayo's able to help everyone with their grief by getting them to cry, and then by sharing their favorite stories of their loved ones. It was these passages that were the most touching in this story, as was the story of Nat and Ellen, who simply were born at the wrong time and place, and had to suffer because of it. This was also a very interesting look at African culture and beliefs, particularly that of the Dogon people of Mali, which is where the idea of a nyama and everything else comes from.

Overall this was a good read, a worthwhile library checkout, but not worth a purchase, at least in my opinion.

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