Review of ‘The Slave Yards’ by Najwa Bin Shatwan

Mon, 2020-06-29 16:03

CHICAGO: Along the Libyan coast in 19th-century Benghazi,
thousands of African slaves line the shoreline. They’ve been
kidnapped or forcibly sold to Libyan caravans to serve their white
masters in sub-Saharan Africa and the brutal living and working
conditions they endure are laid out in “The Slave Yards,†the
latest novel by the critically acclaimed author and academic Najwa
Bin Shatwan. Shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for
Arabic Fiction, Shatwan’s incredible tale adds another shadow to
the dark history of slavery, highlighting the resilience of the men
and women who pushed forward amid the greatest inhumanity through
one of the darkest periods in history.

A second-generation free woman, Atiqa, who is described as
“long-suffering and silent, like a boulder that endures the
pounding of the salty waves year in and year out without being
eroded away,†has lived most of her life in the “slave
yards,†a stretch of the Benghazi coastline that nobody wants.
She grows up in a shack with her aunt Sabriya, who is black,
Miftah, a blue-eyed, blond-haired orphan, and herself, who is
dark-skinned but different. With an identity that has always eluded
her, Atiqa’s life has always hung in a fine balance. She lives in
a city where a name can restore a person’s rights, where a
traumatic past can be undone by a single piece of paper claiming
birthright. In a story where it’s easier to keep the door closed
on a painful past, Shatwan throws it open.

There is an ever-present heartbreak as you read Shatwan’s
powerful novel, one that steers clear of happy-endings and white
saviors, presenting itself with a bold clarity. Her characters may
have no rights and no free will, but they are vibrant. From the
moment they are auctioned off, pinched and prodded as if they were
animals, to when they step foot in someone’s home as a
possession, they suffer cruelty and viciousness. However, they
don’t allow the inhumanity of their white masters to take away
from the incredible bonds they have built and the resilience to
make a life. Women stick together in the heavily patriarchal and
traditional society where bad luck and superstition is used to
control and harm them.

Shatwan’s novel is meticulously detailed and very moving.
First published in 2016 and translated into English by Nancy
Roberts, “The Slave Yards†penetrates the soul and lives deep
down in the heart. This story adds another layer to a traumatic
history that still haunts the world today.

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Source: FS – All – Interesting – News
Review of ‘The Slave Yards’ by Najwa Bin Shatwan