Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Manu Herbstein Winner of the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book "I am a human being; I am a woman; I am a black woman; I am an African. Once I was free; then I was captured and became a slave; but inside me, I have never been a slave, inside me here and here, I am still a free woman." In the course of four hundred years some twelve million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic to serve European settlers and their descendants. Only the barest fragments of their stories have survived. Manu Herbstein's ambitious, meticulously researched and moving novel sets out to recreate one of these lives, following Ama, its eponymous heroine, from her home in the Sahel, through Kumase at the height of Asante power, and Elmina, centre of the Dutch slave trade, to a sugar plantation in Brazil. "This is story telling on a grand scale," writes Tony Simões da Silva. "In Ama, Herbstein creates a work of literature that celebrates the resilience of human beings while denouncing the inscrutable nature of their cruelty. By focusing on the brutalisation of Ama's body, and on the psychological scars of her experiences, Herbstein dramatises the collective trauma of slavery through the story of a single African woman. Ama echoes the views of writers, historians and philosophers of the African diaspora who have argued that the phenomenon of slavery is inextricable from the deepest foundations of contemporary western civilisation."
REVISED NOTES 05.08.2014
Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, 2002. Currently in print: USA – Open Road Media (on-line and POD); India: print – Taxmann/Bookmann; Ghana: print – Techmate.
Taxmann has Asian rights but is unlikely to exercise them outside of India. Techmate has Ghana print rights only. Open Road Media’s rights are recoverable on request.
Out of print: Pan Macmillan (South Africa)/Picador Edition.
Entry in The Columbia Guide to South African Literature in English Since 1945, Gareth Cornwell, Dirk Klopper and Craig Mackenzie (Apr 13, 2010):
"Herbstein, Manu (b. 1936) Novelist. Born in Muizenberg, near Cape Town, Herbstein studied engineering at the University of Cape Town before leaving for West Africa. He has since lived in Accra, Ghana, returning for the first time to South Africa during the end of apartheid. His novel, Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade (2001), follows the narrative of Ama, who is captured as slave by a Dagomba raiding party in West Africa in the late eighteenth century, and is sold to Asante, Dutch and British traders before ending up on a sugar estate in Bahia, Brazil. Through the events of Ama’s life, the novel depicts the historical and cultural circumstances of slavery and its varied practices in Africa and in the European colonies. It skillfully shows the relationship of contradictory human impulses and the complexities of moral dilemmas. The novel was a 2002 Commonwealth Prize winner."
Academics who have used Ama in their teaching include Prof. Martin Klein, University of Toronto; Prof. Emmanuel Akyeampong, Harvard University; Prof. Kenneth Wilburn, University of East Carolina; Prof. Heidi Gengenbach, Boston University; and Prof. Pumla Dineo Gqola, University of the Witwatersrand.
The late Albert Adu Boahen, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Ghana, Legon.
A passionate and vivid semi-historical and semi-fictional story about the internal and external trans-Atlantic slave trade in Ghana, showing the humanity of the former and the cruel, exploitative and dehumanizing nature of the latter.
Kofi Anyidoho,Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Ghana.
Amais the story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. This is a story that has been told and retold by countless scholars and creative narrators, but almost always in bits and pieces, leaving many gaps and questions. Never has it been so captured in its total complexity, never have its tragic implications been laid out so fully, with all the scattered details brought together into one magnificent narrative of awesome and humbling imaginative impact. We may query a number of the details, we may quarrel with the fictional interpretation of certain historical events, but it is difficult to break away from this long and entangling story once you let yourself into its messy, gruesome and occasionally uplifting moments. Ama is perhaps a long story that seems to be barely begun even as your reach the final page.
Manu Herbstein’s first novel does an amazing job of recreating the experience of enslavement and resistance through the voice of a young female slave. . . The depth of description and anguish sends a cold chill through the reader as one remembers that although this novel is fictitious, the events were all too real for many women of the time. . . Subaye Opoku Acquah, Business World, Accra, July 2012. http://www.businessworldghana.com/company-news/139-by-manu-herbstein
Ama's journey allows us to read the complexities and contradictions of the time, where all classes, free and slave, women and men, black, white and mulatto are in some way interrelated in a dynamic that results from relations of power. Shereen Essof, African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town.
Avec l'histoire d'Ama, toute l'expérience des Africains du XVIIIè siècle (esclaves ou non) est ainsi personnifiée d'une manière réaliste est inoubliable. Kristel Nana-Mvogo, Afriquechos
Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade is a meticulously researched historical novel that offers a vividly rendered picture of the atrocities of the slave trade. Tamara S. Wagner, National University of Singapore in The Post-Colonial Web
An engrossing and powerful story of a woman of courage, intelligence, and strength. India Edghill, The Historical Novels Review
(Ama’s) body, her experiences, are a metaphor for the plight of Africa – explored, exploited, lied to and abandoned, by Africans and Europeans alike. A very readable book, as a novel as well as an analogy. Mary Morgan, The Statesman, Accra, Ghana 27.01.07