In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman traces the history of the Atlantic slave trade by recounting a journey she took along a slave route in Ghana. Following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, Hartman reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African American history.
The slave, Hartman observes, is a stranger, one torn from family, home, and country. To lose your mother is to be severed from your kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as an outsider, an alien. There are no known survivors of Hartman's lineage, no relatives in Ghana whom she came hoping to find. She is a stranger in search of strangers, and this fact leads her into intimate engagements with the people she encounters along the way and draws her deeper into the heartland of slavery. She passes through the holding cells of military forts and castles, the ruins of towns and villages devastated by the trade, and the fortified settlements built to repel predatory armies and kidnappers. In passages of historical portraiture, she shows us an Akan prince who granted the Portuguese permission to build the first permanent trading fort in West Africa, a girl murdered aboard a slave ship, and a community of fugitives seeking a haven from slave raiders. The persons shattered and transformed by the slave trade come alive as Hartman weaves together history, biography, and memoir.