: Simon and Schuster / Atheneum, 2006. $16.95,
ISBN 0 689 82181 6.
Note: Two fifteen-year-old girls--one a slave and the other an indentured servant--escape their Carolina plantation and try to make their way to Fort Moses, Florida, a Spanish colony that gives sanctuary to slaves.
Sharon Draper's Cooper Sun is a work of historical fiction written by an American for an American audience. Nonetheless, she still engages Africa, exploring the African backgrounds of the enslaved people on United States plantations; a fact evinced in the writer's choice of title, Cooper Sun. The title was selected from the poetry of Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, who asked what is Africa to me: Copper Sun or Scarlet Sea? For Draper, whose grandfather was a slave in nineteenth century United States of America, Africa is Copper Sun.
"Can you say Myna? It's your new name. She pointed to the girl on the floor.
"Myna". The slave girl shook her head. "Amari," she said with pride, pointing to
herself." (Cooper Sun, 95)
So Copper Sun begins in West Africa and ends in the United States. The story is centered on Amari, who barely beyond her teenage years, is abducted from her home among the Ewe an ethnic group located in southeast of modern day Ghana. Perhaps, Draper's choice of the Ewe may either be a beneficiary of or compared to the heavily historically tinged literary work by Anne C. Bailey, African voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame which records similar stories as that of Amari in Ewe land.
Amari like the real historical slaves is personified shackled and beaten after her capture, and walks the slave trade route from Ewe land to the Cape Coast Castle, which is in the Central Region of Ghana. From this slave dungeon, she embarks on the infamous trans-Atlantic journey of no return to colonial America's rice slave plantations in the Carolinas. Copper Sun is a story of dehumanization, enslavement, survival, escape, and perseverance that should inspire the young readers the book is intended for.
Those familiar with the history of the Atlantic slave trade in enslaved Africans are bound to notice the familiar themes of capture, indentured servitude, enslavement, and the middle passage where we witness ship-bonding among enslaved peoples of different ethnic heritage. Through Draper's imbuing of Amari as the carrier with the spirits of the slaves and their descendants, we also see vivid elements of slave seasoning, slave auction, adaptation and acculturation, and plantation life wherein readers are introduced to house and plantation slaves. Amari who is renamed by her slave master when she is sold to the Derbyshire plantation also affords us the opportunity to see various forms of physical and psychological abuse enslaved people faced, and the travails of run-away slaves. Also explored in other characters are race, racism and forced and non-forced inter-racial relationships of the period. The sensitive nature and intricate details of these themes of slavery have been made real and lucid for the consumption of teenage readers for whom slavery may seem to be part of a distant past.
I highly recommend Copper Sun for young readers unfamiliar with the Atlantic slave trade. It is clear that Draper has taken time and effort to embellish this book with historical scholarship, as shown in her various depictions and writings of colonial America, the plantation, African society, Ghanaian ethnonyms and naming patterns. I would however have liked to see a more subtle and nuanced portrayal of slave resistance or non-resistance on the slave plantation, as well as African participation in the slave trade within the context of race and identity given contemporary scholarship on the subject like Sylvaine Diouf's Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. This however does not detract from the merit of Copper Sun.
Copyright 2011 Africa Access
Published in Africa Access Review (April 10, 2011)
Reviewed by: Harry N. K. Odamtten, Santa Clara University
Subject: West Africa / Ghana / Asante / Ashanti / Historical Fiction