Book 2 begins with the chapter, “And my story waits like a restful beast“, Aminata is in London in 1803 and is meeting with the abolitionists to plan how they will address Parliament and the king regarding the issue of outlawing slavery in British Colonies. Aminata is told that they need:
… A human face for our fight…. A woman. An African. A liberated slave who has risen up, self-taught.
Aminata already knows that outlawing slavery will be an incredibly difficult task but she has already been forced to dedicate the majority of her life to slavery and is willing to put effort into ensuring that others do not have to face the hardships that she has faced. She also notes that despite the abolitionists needing her in order to win their case they do not treat her as an equal.
The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name and their ears do not yet hear my story.
Because the abolitionists do not listen to Aminata as she wishes they would, she dedicates much of her time to writing down her life story and muses about who may be the first person to read her book.
In the next chapter, “They call me an ‘African'”, Aminata and the rest of the survivors from the slave ship reach Sullivan Island in South Carolina where they are herded into barricades where they waited to be taken to the mainland to be sold. Fanta, Fomba, Chekura and Biton continue their typically social patterns and Aminata refuses to eat out of fear of eating pork and being a bad Muslim. As she physically withers away her mind begins to unravel as she realizes that she cannot pray to Allah in the way that her father taught her. The homelanders are put onto a boat and sail towards what is presumably Charles Town. Once in Charles Town, Aminata encounters gross refuse and other foul sights in the city which scare her and make her feel less and less comfortable. Aminata and the rest of the slaves are examined to be sold and Fanta makes quite the scene which shows Aminata just how cruel the toubabu can be.
After being examined Aminata walks for days without food or water towards what is presumably St Helena Island. Aminata continues to be humiliated by her treatment and loses faith in herself and in God until she encounters a heavily pregnant rabbit which has her mother’s eyes. This rabbit hops down the path in front of Aminata for some time, which helps Aminata regain some mental capacity. Aminata also tries to find someone from her land that speaks her language, which is a dramatic and fruitless search for some time until she sees a woman carrying her baby like a Bamana. This woman, Nyeba, helps Aminata keep in touch with her identity back in Africa. From Nyeba, Aminata also first learns about the fishnet, which is how the slaves share information with each other.
While crossing over to St Helena Island by canoe, Aminata meets a first-generation Carolina born slave who explains where they are going, what the fishnet is and what they are – Africans.
In the last chapter of this reading, “Words swim farther than a man can walk” Aminata arrives at Robinson Appleby’s indigo plantation on St Helena Island. It is here that Aminata meets Georgia, who acts like a mother figure to twelve-year-old Aminata. Georgia is unable to say Aminata – so it is from her that Aminata gets her new name, Meena.
In this new land, I was an African. In this new land, I had a different name, given by someone who didn’t even know me. A new name for the second life of a girl who survived the great river crossing.
Georgia teaches Aminata how to behave on the plantation, as well as teaching her Gullah – the language of the slaves, and English – the language that was to be used to talk to Master Appleby and the other ‘white people’ or buckra. Georgia says that these languages are never to be confused because the buckra were not to know a single word of Gullah. Aminata goes with Georgia to deliver babies at other plantations where her skills learned from her mother once again come in handy in staying alive. Georgia is also a medicine woman who uses natural remedies to help sick negroes live. Aminata purposefully contracts the pox from Georgia so that she can be immune to them later in life.
After recovering from the pox, Georgia warns Aminata that “she needs something to ugly her up”. Georgia repetitively warns Aminata that she is too smart and too beautiful because these things make Aminata more likely to be hurt, raped or killed. Soon after this, Aminata meets Master Appleby, he asks a series of questions about Aminata’s abilities as she is a “sensible n****r”.
Aminata continues to harvest the indigo for Master Appleby with Georgia and the rest of the slaves on the plantation. On the last day of the indigo harvest Aminata drops a sack of indigo mud – spoiling the entire batch. Mamed, a half-black overseer – grabs her arm and, without thinking, Aminata says Allahu Akbar, a forbidden prayer. Instead of beating her, Mamed says the prayer in return. Aminata becomes very close to Mamed, who teaches her how to read and other things about the world around her as long as Aminata does not let on that she knows these things. While Aminata is with Mamed, Chekura comes to visit Aminata.
The next year is similar to the last and punctuated with learning things with Mamed and visits with Chekura, who she becomes very close to romantically. Master Appleby notices Chekura’s monthly visits and brings Aminata into the big house where he conforts her about it. When Aminata denies the encounters Appleby rapes Aminata violently.
The first half of the second book is, again, incredibly well written. Hill has a true gift in making even the mundane and awful linger in the reader’s mind long after reading. This reading is far more realistic, to me, than the first reading because Aminata begins to unravel mentally and physically after facing nearly a year of horror since being abducted from her village. This development of Aminata is what stands out most in the reading. Aminata does regain her signature spunk but the facts of her situation still weigh down on her mentally and this is seen in her actions and thoughts. While Aminata’s life on the plantation is horrible, especially what happens at the end of the reading, I was actually shocked at how well Aminata took it and made it into something that she could almost enjoy. I’m assuming that real life slavery was similarly horrible but still bearable because of one’s mindset. The development of the Gullah language and culture allowed the slaves to regain lost identity and to feel human. This mental state obviously led to the perseverance that caused so many slaves to marry, have children willingly, and, eventually, escape from the horrors of slavery itself.