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Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,003 ratings  ·  96 reviews
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, she reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African American ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 22nd 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2007)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  1,003 ratings  ·  96 reviews

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Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review was published originally in Left Turn Magazine.


Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007

One of the most painful political battles I've ever had was with a white activist. When co-authoring a political document, I was asked to declare myself as "an American." They couldn't understand how and why I refused to accept that label, nor had any sense that there is a school of Black political
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think it would be correct to say that Saidiya Hartman is an academic and went to Ghana to do academic research. That she decided to communicate that research as this highly accessible and moving personal story, I am deeply grateful for. But the quality of insight in this book (and perhaps the integrity as well, the commitment to refuse easy answers and excuses, to seek the true truth without sparing oneself in any way, is not only a personal quality of the author but something of the spirit of ...more
There are things that I can take for granted. I may not be able to recite my family tree by rote, and there is the question that my paternal grandmother may have been Jewish, but I know that my family hails from England, France, Canada, Lithuania, and Italy. It is something that I have taken for granted. Saidiya Hartmans book is about, in part, having a lack of that, a lack of sense, and a lack of belonging.

Its too glib to say that we all feel that sense of loneness. In part this is true, but
penny shima glanz
Sep 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-nypl, women
This passage stuck me as no other in the book has. In Chapter 4, "Come, Go Back, Child", p100: "Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on 'what happened then' than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell. What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn. But when does one decide ...more
Sara-Maria Sorentino
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Naeem, Alison, Dan
Shelves: west-africa, slavery
In both Bayo Hasleys book, Routes of Remembrance and Saidiya Hartmans Lose Your Mother, the authors--female African-American scholars--explore shared ground: the political economy of diasporic celebrations, the complex politics of memory for inhabitants in the shadow of Cape Coast and Elmina slave fortresses, the class dynamics of slavery in the Northern regions, the psychology of pan-african longing. But the difference in form is crucial, and with the outcome, one cant help but think it is ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was somewhat surprised at this book. Having read Hartman's first published book, Scenes of Subjection, I was expecting a similar analytic angle. I didn't get what I expected, but I got something rather amazing, nevertheless. The analytic value of this book goes on at both at the descriptive level and at the movement between personal narrative and historical scene-setting.

Lose Your Mother appears to be intended to be sold as a more "mainstream" book, an idea I like--it's an attempt to
"If secretly I had been hoping that there was some cure to feeling extraneous in the world, then at that moment I knew there wasn't a remedy for my homelessness."

This book, a sort of travel memoir on Hartman's travels in Ghana tracing various experiences of the Atlantic slave trade, was thoughtful in a different way than if she had adopted a more professorial, academic approach. It was an eye-opening read for me, because heritage journeys (I don't even have good words for this phenomenon - and
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
I had high expectations and felt they were not met. There was information on the Atlantic slave trade that was new to me. I discovered some different avenues of inquiry. I thought much of the book had the tone of aggrievement -- a tone of whining -- a bit of sulkiness. I'd assume the author might know that not all African Americans approach the continent and its poeple with as much naivete, misinformation and sense of entitlement.
Erfan مجیب)
If the past is another country, then I'm its citizen.
It is sometimes hard to believe that the Atlantic slave trade, as a thing that happened, happened. Like, if you were told that literally millions of people were hunted down, fought, captured, put on boats, and sent across an ocean to work on another continentand for literally centuries, hundreds of years, this went on day in and day out and lots of people considered it totally normal, even naturalthat people destroyed entire societiessometimes their ownto exchange other people for currency that ...more
Mar 03, 2018 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
"If I learned was that old identities sometimes needed to be jettisoned in order to invent new ones. Your life might just depend on this capacity for self-fashioning. Naming oneself anew was sometimes the price exacted by the practice of freedom."
Amaryah Armstrong
Hartman's book is a wandering tale that gives voice to the displacement of loss and desire that marks the trail left by slavery and the Middle Passage. There are some truly beautiful passages in this book, and the author's blend of history with the personal drives home her point in an understated way. Some chapters dragged a bit, but for the most part, there is quite a bit of riveting information.

"To believe, as I do, that the enslaved are our contemporaries is to understand that we share their
Jun 20, 2009 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm about half way done with this book. i'm reading it as my "bedtime reading", which was not the best choice, as it is really intense and not exactly cheerful (to say the least). but it is a great book. aside from learning a lot about slavery, what i am most struck by is the writing. for me, this is a totally unique way of doing academic writing. on the one hand it is a popular book, but it is still an academic book. i very much admire her honesty and insights as she deals with this deep and ...more
Ai Miller
A really great book--Hartman traces her research journey through various slave trade sites in Ghana alongside her emotional reaction to them and the constant deferral of what she emotionally wants/needs out of that trip. There's so much going on in here about space and geography, and the collapsing of time that is super interesting, and Hartman is a really excellent writer. The way she weaves some sentences leaves a lot of "oh eff" moments, and I really feel like I have to revisit this when I'm ...more
Dissonant from her previous book, this historical memoir explores the realities of slavery in an African context, rather than solely a transatlantic sense. Hartman's conflicted response to the notion of an African homecoming illustrates the difference between black Americans who have suffered the legacy of slavery and African progeny of slaves, who consider themselves survivors. There are several poignant passages in the text where Hartman allows herself a raw unveiling of the chasm between what ...more
Kia B
Oct 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Currently in process, but so far amazing. Puts a lot in perspective.Very sad yet interesting journey seen through the very detailed authors eyes.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's the all-encompassing, overwhelming depth and breadth of feeling in Saidiya V. Hartman's tour de force Lose Your Mother that makes it so difficult yet so intoxicating, that nurtures your spirit while pummeling your chest. It's the juxtaposition of simmering prose and abject gut-punches that make the book so unique in its beautiful yet unrepentant spilling of harsh truths, cruel pasts, and all-too-tragic presents.

The book is many things: it's one of the most expansive versions of the "you
Black Spring
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Saidiya Hartman's "Lose Your Mother" is a masterpiece, and yet another nail in the coffin of the notion that "modernity" has been anything more substantially than it has been a horror show, an unmitigated disaster. This is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching exploration of the old truism that "history is written by the winners" ...where the winners are masters and the lost are slaves. The book follows one of the author's trips to Ghana to trace one of the many slave routes that criss-crossed that ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Biased and blind to her own privilege

The author is absurdly critical of how Ghanaians access and interpret their own history. Her perscriptivism for nearly three hundred pages in which she complains that Ghanaians:
- Don't know anything about their history
- Memorialise their history in the slavery museum incorrectly
- Don't talk about slaves enough
- Talk about the wrong slaves when chiefs agree to grant her an audience to talk about slavery
- Don't cry/grieve when passing slave forts (Even though
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: masters-year-1
This book depicts Hartman's Fulbright year in Ghana and her experience exploring the slave routes leading from the coast of Ghana, as well as the castles and dungeons along the coast that held slaves before their forced migration to the Americas. Despite being non-fiction, Hartman herself remains a central figure in the book and this gives the book an accessible narrative with which to understand the atrocities of the birth of exploitative capitalism, as capitalism necessitates the devaluing of ...more
James Cogbill
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saidiya Hartmans Lose Your Mother is a thoughtful and emotional account of the authors journey along the slave routes in Ghana through which she attempts to fill the hole of her lost and stolen past. The book alternates between her personal reflections on loss and a powerful retelling of the brutal and sickening history of the slave trade both within Africa and along the Atlantic slave route. In addition to themes of loss of home, family, and history, Hartman returns time and again to insatiable ...more
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book centers around the interesting relationship between African Americans and Africa, particularly the relationship between African Americans and Ghanaians. The disillusion of the opening chapters is heartbreaking, but soon the narrator's sadness turns into a kind of bitterness that refuses to see from the perspectives of others, and this becomes a constant bother throughout the rest of the book. Hartman at times comes across as a person unwilling to consider her own privilege and that the ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a white Australian, the history of slavery (and wider dispossession) is one I am only familiar with from the outside. This book brings everyone into some understanding, no matter their background. As it explores the tensions between African-American and African perceptions of slavery, the author's voice grounds the reader in the truth of the words.

Obviously, as it looks at the Middle Passage and slavery, it has an American emphasis. But I did find myself getting frustrated by the author's
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had a conversation with a friend about this one. They related that they hated the book because to them it reads like a caricature travel narrative of a black American in Africa, and while I read I couldn't get that image out of my mind. My friend raised the question, "Is this book nothing more than the typical black-american-desiring-africa?"

I think I prefer to read the works of Africans, black people of the West Indies and the Caribbean, because the particularities of black Americans and
Nadirah Nayo
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why We Just Cant Get Along

This is one of the greatest books I have ever read. It touched the core of my existence. It answered questions that eluded me about my identity, my history and my Ancestors, and most of all what happen to me, and why my soul often feel feels shattered sometimes because it was shattered. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand slavery, why we cant get along, why Black People have such a different view across the world about their
Matt Sautman
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lose Your Mother is an excellent blend of history, critical race theory, and travelogue that documents Saidiya Hartmans attempt to connect to her roots. In the process of looking for what she calls Afrotopia in the Afterlife of Slavery, Hartman traces the distinct subject positions Africans occupy that African Americans do not. While Lose Your Mother is certainly a challenge to a Pan-African view of the world, Hartmans interrogation into the role strangers play in the Transatlantic Slave Trade ...more
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Part history, part memoir. The story of Hartman's travels to Ghana and her search for traces of the history of slavery and her own family history. The book centers on the impossibility of recovering this past, of finding any authentic history, and her own status as an eternal outsider/foreigner as an African American in Africa - but the desire for belonging and return that persists nevertheless. Beautifully written.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"My narrative was a history of defeat, which at best was the precondition for a victory, long-awaited, but that hadn't yet arrived. This was the story I had been trying to find. And in listening for my story I had almost missed theirs."

This book was frustrating at times, but I think it's because I didn't realize the book was about the above quote, the journey.
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-for-sip
From the writing you can tell that this is some of Hartman early work. It is very much so in the field of afro-pessimism but in the English department which make it strange and different to read. It is important to read this on the path to understanding the concept to going back to Africa from generation to generation.
Dec 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book ended up not being what I expected. It was less history, more like an academically driven memoir with some theory thrown in among personal imaginings. I gave it three stars, not because of that, but because I didnt buy her happy ending where she can see a place where the refugee can thrive. But then again maybe I spend too much time reading the news. ...more
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Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, and Scenes of Subjection. She a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a Cullman Fellow and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.

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