Common Threads
by L.A. Champagne

"Throughout the early years Rolly had taught Jacob about the Negro ways, slavery, and their history while John taught him of white life, side by side with his own son, George."

This book begins in 1854 in Jamaica, the world's largest sugar exporter. Here, readers meet Jacob Marcus and Jed as they await the arrival of the Destino and its illegal cargo. In the novel's first few moments, readers learn that Jed, whose birth name was Berko Yaba, was born a member of the Ashanti tribe, captured, and shipped to Jamaica on the Destino. From there, the story unfolds as Jed reflects on the Ashanti and the darkness that befell them due to their involvement in the European slave trade. Readers also learn Jacob's story, who left the United States, bought the sugarcane plantation in Jamaica, and developed it into one of the largest and finest farms on the island. Across the ocean in Scotland, young Johnny McDonald is a farmer focused on his crops and livestock. As Johnny's life unfolds, he marries young Diana, farms his own land, and watches as his path unfolds in the worst ways for him and his. Eventually, through their turmoils and narrow escapes, Johnny and Jed find themselves united in a small, rural Ontario community where potato farming links their lives together.

In portions of the narrative, specifically Jed's reflections, this book is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, especially in its depictions of cultural changes sparked by European greed. For example, as Jed (Berko) reflects on his past in Ghana and his life in the Ashanti culture, he acknowledges that they were a creative culture whose wood carvings, metal works, jewelry crafting, and prized Kente cloth established them as fine craftspeople. However, Jed also confesses the darker side of Ashanti culture. For example, the Ashanti were the first tribe to capture other Africans and force them to become slaves. What the novel emphasizes is the European manipulation of the Ashanti's already inhumane practice and the generational consequences it would have for the African people that are evident even today: "The white men recruited African men, even kings and dignitaries from many tribes, to go into other parts of the continent and kidnap other blacks. This curried favors and saved their own lives."

After establishing the potato farm in Canada, Johnny's life and land development echo those of Jacob: "'Olde McDonald's Potato Farm' had grown so much over the years that there was enough work for everyone living on the farm to have chores, but the children all went to school Monday to Friday with Diana." Jed continues to play a significant role in the story as John advocates for their hiring on the farm. However, before Jed and his wife, Mary, can reach Canada, they must escape the hellish conditions under which they live on a plantation in the United States: "It could take between two and three months to get from Mississippi to Canada."

Daring and heart-wrenching, this novel challenges readers intellectually and emotionally, especially regarding what they may perceive they know about the slave trade, immigration, and cultural interaction. Spanning decades and generations, the plot in this book becomes a timeless one. The interwoven stories of Johnny and Jed make it a unique read. Obviously well-researched and contemporary in its cultural discussion, this book is sure to appeal to fans of not only historical fiction but especially those with an interest in African history.

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