Saturday, February 15, 2014

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger

When Sarah Magru Kinnson was nine years old, her father pawned her to work as a servant for another man in their village, because he had debts he couldn't pay. It was only supposed to be until the harvest came in and her father could pay off his debt, but slave traders saw her and offered more money than her father could ever hope to pay. So, Magulu, or Sarah as she became known later, ended up as one of the three captured children on a slave ship bound for Cuba. There they were sold and ended up on the infamous ship, Amistad, bound for the United States.

The captured Africans didn't know what was going to happen to them and the sailors indicated that they intended to eat them. The adult males on the ship staged a successful revolt and ended up in charge of the ship. They tried to force the surviving crew to sail them back to Africa, but the captain sailed the ship back to towards the U.S. every night, in hopes of being rescued. Eventually, that happened and the ship was brought to Connecticut and the Africans were held at the New Haven jail until a trial could be held and their fate decided.

This process took several years, as the trial progressed from the court in New Haven all the way to the Supreme Court. During this time, Sarah and her companions, Kagne and Teme, were educated and dressed like Americans. Sarah also converted to Christianity while she was in New England.

When the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decisions that the seizure of the Africans was unlawful and that they were to be returned to Africa, there was no money for ship to return them. As they waited for funds to be raised, the three children continued their education.

The author of this historical fiction book performed extensive research and relied heavily on the Sarah's letters, which have been preserved by the Tulane University Amistad Research Center. Her interest was piqued when she first visited an Amistad exhibit and discovered that there were children aboard the infamous ship. She was also intrigued because the captives were from Sierra Leone, where she had been a Peace Corps volunteer.

Like the author, I didn't know that there were children aboard the Amistad. I found this fictionalized version of Sarah's life fascinating as I contemplated all she endured and striking contrast between the life she left, the life that was forced upon her and the life she chose, once she was an adult. The book is short, 64 pages, and there are numerous beautiful, colorful illustrations. This would be a good choice for anyone interested in the subject of the Amistad or the history of the slave trade. It would also be a good choice for a reluctant reader who has an historical fiction assignment.      2013

Renee Rauch

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