“In Brave Music of a Distant Drum, a blind old slave woman, Ama, summons her son to come and write down her story so that her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s children can one day read it and know their history. Ama’s son, Kwame Zumbi— named Zacharias Williams by the white Christians who raised him— considers his mother an old pagan and has little interest in doing more than is necessary to fulfill his obligation to her. How he is changed by the acts of hearing and writing down the details of his mother’s story is as powerful and important a story as Ama’s. The story of an African enslaved in Brazil, Ama’s story is violent—it includes murder, rape, and betrayal—and yet is is also a story of hope, courage, determination and love.”


The above synopsis (taken from Goodreads) pretty much sums up everything about Manu Herbstein’s Brave Music Of A Distant Drum. I did not have any expectations before reading the book because I knew little about the author. My love for historical fiction is what made me want to delve into the book especially since it concerns an important historical past of my country, Ghana. However, I enjoyed reading the book although it mostly saddened me too. It talks about certain events that transpired during the transatlantic slave trade era. It contains interesting facts about some tribes in Ghana as well. At some point, I got a bit confused with the numerous characters and their double names and titles but it was not something I couldn’t work through.

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but tear up frequently, often pausing to brood over the credibility of some of what I was reading. Because it was really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that indeed such was the plight of our ancestors who lived and died in the era of slavery. I mean slavery was such a dehumanizing thing and I’m glad it ended for good though the wounds and scars it left behind are still visible to this day. As a Ghanaian, I personally think it’d be wonderful if books like Manu Herbstein’s were taught in our primary or secondary schools.

This was not an easy read for me as certain incidents were quite upsetting for me, like the countless number of times Ama had to endure rape and sexual assault aside the other hideous things that happened to all slaves in general. Made me realize how being a woman can just aggravate everything we go through. Nonetheless Ama showed exceptional courage and bravery in all circumstances which was inspiring to read. Which in fact I believe was the reason she was able to survive all those inhumanness she faced till old age and even got an opportunity to tell her story.

One thing I greatly loved about Ama was also the fact that she was aware of the importance of telling and documenting her story. A lot of times, as Africans (largely, Blacks), we don’t document our stories. We don’t tell our stories enough. The old folks who witnessed many of these atrocities died without sharing their stories with anybody (for which I cannot blame them much because it takes a heavy heart to go through these barbaric ordeals and still be able to talk about them). And so the young and coming generations have little or nothing to reference or fall back on.

But it’s essential that we get these stories out, that we tell them, that we write them down for safekeeping and for future referencing. The West is very good at that. I mean the only reason why the name King Leopold II doesn’t evoke much hate and disgust like Adolf Hitler is really because the numbers and documents to his crimes in the Congo are lacking as opposed to the Holocaust where the numbers and facts were very well documented for all to see.

How many people died in the transatlantic slave trade? How many were sold? How many books and archives are there to show for it? It’s always guesswork or an estimate when it comes to Africa which usually never evokes the same kind of empathy or urgency as hard, concrete, set-in-stone figures.

Storytelling and story writing are the two most powerful ways to keep information and important facts in history from getting lost or disappearing forever with the bearer. So we must begin to tell our stories and put effort into documenting them properly as well.

Aside all the pain and sadness, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s written in such plain, clear language, very easy to understand and read. And I’m grateful the author chose to write this in fiction for those of us who may never pick up a history book.

Four and a half star rating (⭐⭐⭐⭐💫), definitely recommended for anyone interested in historical fiction, and a must read for all Ghanaians!

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