Burkina faso, togo, benin, ivory coast, niger, senegal
Indigo; In Search of the Color That Seduced the World
McKinley, Catherine E.
When you count among your forebears highland Scots, Jewish textile traders, New England mill owners, and African slaves, it seems only natural that you should be interested in your family tree. All of this is tied together – or attired with the same brush – in Catherine McKinley’s retracing of trade routes and ancient, mysterious processes, by the deep blue dye called indigo, the “hidden half” of the slave trade. Slave ships carried not only human cargo, but the costly almost purple-black dye that entitles this fascinating trip into present-day Africa, where it is still produced in the thousands-of-years-old way. Indigo and its sadly storied history come to life in unexpected ways on McKinley’s thought-filled journey.
There are bits & pieces of an interesting story here, but way too much navel-gazing. I wouldn't have minded some introspection and memoir mixed in with an account of searching out the remains of the historical record and current practices; to me, that adds context. However, this author's moaning about her first-world problems (identity issues re being both adopted and mixed-race) take away from the purported point of the book. Yes, the Fulbright Scholarship is a respected post-graduate course of study, but when you are living among and benefitting from the knowledge of many people who have not been afforded the opportunity for more than basic education, it's a bit precious to complain about being described as a "student". It's a bit...academic.
I really wanted to like this book (my husband gave it to me), but it was kind of a mess. I'm interested in artistic process, but McKinley never walks us through exactly how indigo cloth is produced. In places she crafts beautiful prose; in others she writes banalities like "Indigo is love." The narrative meanders, never quite getting to the indigo heartland she claimed to be searching for, and then ending abruptly in New York with the author caring for two children she has completely failed to account for previously. I wish she had given it a better effort; it felt rushed and disjointed.
An intriguing and adventurous book describing the source and history of indigo studied while on a Fulbright to Ghana. I too got caught in the blue.
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