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Time's Memory Hardcover – March 21, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up More than a picture of slavery through the eyes of those enslaved or their captors, Lester's narrative evokes spiritual images of Mali's Dogon people. The story begins in Africa where the nyama, or life force, of a murdered spiritual leader is carried to America on a slave ship as a seed passed to his daughter through a kiss. The seed springs forth through the help of Lebe, the serpent, into the form of a young man, Ekundayo, whose mission is to bring peace to the growing numbers of spirits swarming chaotically over this new land. The creator god, in the form of a big bird, transports Ekundayo to Virginia in the body of a slave, Nathaniel, who secretly loves his master's daughter, Ellen, whom he's known since childhood and who taught him to read and write. As Nathaniel, Ekundayo learns the stories and tribulations of the slaves. He struggles to discover how he can bring peace to the dead he sees as gray fog hovering over the slave quarters. On the eve of the Civil War, Nathaniel/Ekundayo has visions of the dead who tell him the future as well as the past and he sets a course that will carry on for generations. This is a powerful novel for mature readers. It is fraught with sorrow, brutality, triumph, and joy. In the end, Lester projects hope that lost souls and forbidden relationships can find peace, acceptance, and happiness. Kathy Lehman, Thomas Dale High School Library, Chester, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 8-11. In his powerful historical fiction, Lester often confronts the harsh realism of slavery and imagines the personal experiences of his own ancestors. Now, in what he calls one of his "most autobiographical" stories, he draws on the Dogon religion of West Africa to create the tale of a nyama spirit of the dead, which he sets on the eve of the Civil War. Sent by the creator to America, the spirit inhabits the body of Nat, 17, who lives on a Virginia plantation. Nat's father hates all whites and leads a brutal uprising, but Nat has grown up with the master's daughter, Ellen, and they love each other (his father calls Nat "a white folks' nigger"). The spiritual stuff is sometimes confusing, including the tidy ending, in which Nat and Ellen, who is resurrected from the dead, are happy together in Africa. But Lester makes the history immediate while never denying the horrors of the roundups, the journey to America, and plantation life. Above all, the beautifully individualized characters reveal the lies of slavery. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
Time's Memory by Julius Lester was a wonderful book with an interesting plot. Lester mixes the traditional West African religion with the spirituals of the slaves. The beginning of the book is a bit confusing and abrupt but quickly picks up and becomes a page-turner. A theme throughout the book is the sadness and pain caused by slavery and death. But the epilogue adds a happy ending to the story. This book is great for anyone who likes to read historical fiction.
Reviewed by a student reviewer for Flamingnet Book Reviews
Preteen, teen, and young adult book reviews and recommendations
TIME'S MEMORY is the novel about a spirit sent from a God, born in human flesh to alleviate suffering and bring peace to distressed and disgruntled spirits of those African souls who were so brutally taken from Africa and enslaved in America. The first part of the book is about his first, brief experience. He's not so much "born" as appears magically fully-grown. He is able to bring peace to his 'mother' and the white man who is protecting them both from the harshness of slavery. (A widower). The second part of the book occurs after Ekundayo's spirit leaves his first body and is transplanted into the almost spiritless body of Nat, a slave foolishly in love with the plantation-owner's daughter.
Nat, Nathaniel, Ekundayo from this point are all names given to our young hero almost used interchangeably in the text. He finds himself in a strange body, in love with a woman he's forbidden to have, and enslaved. Nat's father leads an uprising where our young hero is forced to choose between the life of his father and the life of his secret love, Ellen. He shoots his father, but Ellen is murdered anyway by other slaves before he can stop them. His reward? He is the only one who escapes punishment.
Ellen's father is broken-hearted and almost spiritless himself. He confesses his life story to Nathaniel. Ellen's death is his fault. You see, Ellen came to him and begged her father to free Nathaniel and help them escape to Canada because she was in love with him. But her father refused. The reader might at first suspect he was opposed because of racial issues, but he elaborates. The truth is HE was in love with a slave woman, but he could not find a way for them to escape together. (I forget why, obviously he was married to another woman, I guess his father-in-law had power over him somehow). But his reasoning is: I couldn't spend my life with the one I loved, and you shouldn't have that opportunity either. He states his motivation that clearly in the text.
Ekundayo's role in the South...on his plantation and others...was to write the life stories of these 'lost' embittered souls to bring them peace. He would talk with these dead spirits, etc. So he kept journals of those stories. Time passes, each generation a child is born that has the power to speak with the dead. This is illustrated in some detail in the text. The young child would be sitting in school when he/she would look across the room or out the window or whatnot and see dead people. Then they'd tell the parent, have it explained to them, and then they'd start writing these stories the ghosts would tell them.
I could tolerate this business up to a certain point. As long as this was going on during slavery and the early Civil War I was fine with it. I could see the book as telling a powerful, masterful, story about heartache, loss, bitterness, hardships, hope, etc. But this ongoing talking to dead people phenomenon was not working for me.
Two things irked me about the last chapter.
1) They had, I suppose through the concept of reincarnation, the spirits of Ellen and Ekundayo be reborn and find each other & live happily ever after. I thought this was just a nonsensical ending to an otherwise good historical book.
2) This concept of disembodied, bitter spirits wandering the world destroying everything and wreaking havoc was annoying and in the end pushed way too far. The term he uses for these angry, restless spirits are nyama:
"It is of great concern to us because nyama multiply daily from wars, famines, disease, accidents, old age. They outnumber the living, and they roam the world, unknown, uncared for, unloved. Only recently have I understood that nyama along the coast of West Africa acquired the power to govern the winds and rains, and they send hurricanes across the oceans and into the Northern Hemisphere, exacting their revenge for what the Soul Stealers did. The spirits of the aboriginal people of the Northern Hemisphere are warming the air and the seas and melting the icecaps. There is nothing more I can do. . . If there is to be hope for the living, someone else must care for the spirits of the dead. Someone else." (224-225)
The last two or three paragraphs destroy the quality of the work as a whole taking it down from five stars...which I would have happily given it...to a dismal three stars. Why, why, why this nonsensical syrupy new-age rubbish. Like it would be a good thing to walk away from the novel saying, "So that's why Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans...because a hundred or more years ago slavery existed."
Dismal novel with the message: white people are evil and cause all the world's problems.
Amina, a slave woman, walks waist-deep into a river and is asked by a dead woman she never knew to be the resting place of the woman's spirit.
Nathaniel and Ellen are in love, but they can only love each other in secret places, without touching, because Ellen is the daughter of a white plantation owner and Nathaniel is a black slave.
Ekunyado knows Josiah, his late wife Hannah, Amina, Nathaniel, Ellen, and many more people both dead and alive, because he is a spirit. In Africa, the creator god Amma has always entrusted his people to care for the spirits of the dead. Since the chalk-faced men have come to African villages, killing many and taking the survivors on boats to America, Amma has worried. His people can no longer care for the spirits of the dead, called nyama. Ekundayo has been sent to America via a young woman named Amina in hopes of bringing peace to Amma's people.
On southern plantations, the white people are talking about a man named Abraham Lincoln, just elected U.S. President, who wants to end slavery and is willing to go to war to keep the country united in spite of this divisive issue. Ekunyado's quest for peace will be very difficult, but as he moves from person to person, he sees comfort as well as sorrow and that there is still hope for peace.
Even if historical fiction isn't your favorite, this is a book worth checking out. Julius Lester's writing is beautiful and lyrical, but he is first a storyteller. You will be fascinated by Ekundayo's journey and a side of Southern slave life that you might never have known about.
--- Reviewed by Carlie Webber