Brave Music of a Distant Drum

Written by Manu Herbstein
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In the early 19th century, Zacharias is introduced to his mother in Portuguese Brazil. The two have not met for many years because they are both enslaved, held separate by different masters. At first Zacharias is repelled by Ama. She is old and blind, ugly to his eyes, and she calls him by an un-Christian name, Kwame Zumbi. Zacharias, a clerk for the United Kingdom consul, wonders whether she can actually be his mother.

Only after Ama asks him to write down her life does Zacharias begin to understand. Ama was stolen from her African village as a young woman and has been passed from one master to another. She has been raped, lashed, had one eye torn out, and has been treated kindly and promised her freedom only to see it denied. Ama has loved two men and seen both of them brutally slain, and she has had her infant son taken from her arms. In short, Ama’s life echoes the experience of at least twenty million Africans who were forced into slavery.

Manu Herbstein, a Ghanaian/South African, tapped research for a previous, award-winning book about Ama for his 2012 Brave Music of a Distant Drum. The scars of slavery have never healed, and Mr. Herbstein hopes that Brave Music will introduce new readers to the “fetish of slavery” and keep the debate open with his echoes from that distant drum. Brave Music is intended for readers 16 and over. This book is not a pleasant read, but it is a horrific and compelling message from all of our pasts which must not be forgotten.