The Hundred Wells of Salaga
By Ayesha Harruna Attah
Paperback original, 240 pages, $16.99
While I have some knowledge of the slave trade, I know next to nothing about life in west Africa before the European slave trade and colonialism began. Sadly, I’m sure that’s true of 99% of Americans. The early portion of Yaa Gyasi’s 2016 novel-in-stories, Homegoing, taught me a little about life in Ghana when the slave trade began. So my interest was piqued when I came across The Hundred Wells of Salaga.
Ayesha Harruna Attah’s third novel is based on the experiences of her great-great grandmother, who was captured by African slave traders and sold at the slave market in Salaga, Ghana. Attah has reshaped that story into the narratives of two very different young women in late 19th century Africa, just as the British and Germans are making inroads for trade.
Aminah is a village girl who is captured by African slave traders and taken to Salaga, where she is sold to an abusive farmer. Wurche is the daughter of a chief and is clearly a natural leader herself. The girls’ stories are told in fast-paced alternating chapters; the plot becomes more complex and the tension increases as their paths approach and then cross.
The most notable aspect of The Hundred Wells of Salaga is the way Attah gives us both a wide-angle view of pre-colonial west African life, including tribal alliances and warfare, and a close-up look at the two girls’ very different lives to show us the range of cultures and experiences there. The result is a compelling story of a time and place we need to know more about and better understand.