“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.” ~Geoffrey Philip
Goree: Point of Departure is a contemporary portrait of estrangement. The novel explores the African diaspora and the encounters made by people of African descent as they journey from New York to London, St. Lucia, and Senegal. A chance encounter at Kennedy Airport with her ex-husband, Saliou Wade, takes Magdalene and their now adult daughter, Khadi, on a visit to him and his new family in Senegal. Magdalene is understandably nervous about the return, remembering the pain of the mutual cultural incomprehension – she is a St Lucian – that ended the marriage almost twenty years before; but Khadi refuses to go without her.
According to Angela Barry, her novel might be called “a ‘diasporic’ novel – if the term exists – as it looks at the complex and ever-evolving relationship between the children of present-day Africa and contemporary descendants of those Africans who, as victims of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, made the Middle Passage journey to the Americas.
The story is about a family, an extended family, with members on opposite sides of the ocean. It chronicles the return to Africa of Khadi, a young, New-York based woman, who was born in West Africa but raised in London because of the divorce of her parents. Her Caribbean mother, Magdalene, accompanies her to Senegal and acts as mediator between Khadi and her estranged Senegalese father, Saliou, and his new family. Despite all the emotional challenges of this trip, Khadi forms a deep connection with Maimouna, her seven year old half-sister. This chapter finds the two sisters going on an excursion to Gorée Island, just ten minutes away from the mainland. There the little girl discovers that the place she thought was simply “a beach” has a tragic history as one of the great slave ports that dot the coast of West Africa.
Gorée: Point of Departure does not fit seamlessly into a specific category. This is nothing new for my work. I was born in and live in a tiny Atlantic island, not connected to any other territory, although most people think that Bermuda is part of the Caribbean. In fact, we are well over a thousand miles to the north of the most northerly Caribbean islands and have a climate that is called “sub-tropical”. For three months of the year, we have to wear coats! Despite these differences, though, Bermuda’s history shares more with the Caribbean than any other region and, as a writer, I have always fully identified with the issues of Caribbean writing. If my writing has to be placed somewhere, I am happy for it to be placed in a body of work that has produced writers of international acclaim such as Walcott, Naipaul and Lamming. One of the recurring themes of Caribbean literature has been the severed connection with Africa, with writers such as Kamau Brathwaite making it their life’s work to attempt to mend the breach. In the novel whose excerpt appears here, I too attempt to address this problem. I come to it with insider knowledge of the vicissitudes of the African / diaspora African divide as I was married to a Senegalese for 17 years. So, in a sense, this story takes the problem to its source, to the place where the rupture in the African family began. Gorée Island becomes representative of all of those other ports like Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle where the Atlantic holocaust began.
In conclusion, then, I feel I must place this work in the context of Caribbean writing but would be extremely happy if it found resonance among students and practitioners of African literature.”
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