Book Review: Goree: Point of Departure by Angela Barry
Unresolved traumas always come back to haunt us. From hidden infidelities to atrocities on the ocean, they linger in the private and collective consciousness like a tumor that can become malignant in a second. Or they grow undetected, their poison infecting the vulnerable members of our families and communities. In Goree: Point of Departure, Angela Barry muses on the enormity of the Atlantic holocaust through the fractured relationship of Magdalene Joseph, a St. Lucian filmmaker, and Saliou Wade, a Senegalese doctor, and their children, Khadi and Maimouna.
Although the plot unfurls inauspiciously, a “chance” meeting of Magdalene and Saliou—coincidence is the bane of fiction—what kept me reading was the vitality of the main characters and the beautifully shaped language:
“A tender grey light lifted the blackness from the waves. All was tranquil, the silence disturbed only by the quiet swishing of the surf, the gurgling of water in hidden caves and the first fluttering of early swallows. Between the darkness and the light, the sea and the land, there was a whisper of benediction” (22).
By the second chapter, however, the tumultuous relationship between Magdalene and Saliou, who suspects that his wife has had an affair with his best friend, takes center stage and the effects on the children, Khadi and Maimouna, become evident. Khadi, the rootless daughter, is at first wary to return to Senegal because her first memories of Senegal/Africa are of victimization:
“I’m just little. Four. I’m asleep under my mosquito net as usual and I wake up to find that I’ve wet the bed. I start to cry…Finally Mum comes. She’s in a hurry and throws a blanket over my wet nightdress…There’s a car waiting outside our gate and as soon as we get in, the car moves off” (35).
The trauma of Khadi’s abduction by her mother and her Saliou’s best friend, Antoine, affects her relationships and she seeks refuge in therapy: “The doctor’s voice was smooth. “You’ve told me the facts. What you haven’t told me is your experience of that memory which has become a recurring dream” (35).
Maimouna, on the other hand, has grown up in a stable environment with her mother, Ndeye, Saliou’s second wife, and a family that notices her special talents:
“she progressed around the yard, inhaling rosemary and thyme hiding from the sun on a window sill, crying out in delight when she discovered a couple of crusty turtles slowly digging their way into a spot of deepest shadow, stroking the vivid flowers tumbling over the fences, taking care to avoid their sharp thorns” (40).
It’s hard not to miss the metaphorical implications. And when the two sisters meet, there is an instant bond, blood to blood, that takes a fateful turn when they visit the island of Goree: the point of separation for Africans and New World Africans. Berry’s handling of the imagery surrounding the incident on this landmark that has become an icon in the memory of people of African descent is masterful and should not be trivialized by précis.
There are few physical monuments to the Atlantic holocaust. The literary memorials such as Zong! by M. Nourbese Philip and Feeding the Ghosts by Fred D’Aguiar are two of the more recent contributions. Goree joins this list. But Goree is more than a memorial—although that in itself would be an accomplishment. It is a story of bridging distances, both physical and psychic, between Africa and the Caribbean, London and St. Lucia, damnation and redemption in the lives families torn apart by an estranging ocean.