THE ATLANTIC SOUND by Caryl Phillips (Knopf), 275 pages, $38 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
caryl phillips' intriguing book The Atlantic Sound looks at how Africans who ended up in England, the Caribbean and North America relate to each other, but not from any predictable angle.Phillips, a St. Kitts-born, London-based writer and novelist, travels from Guadeloupe to Liverpool by ship, then to Accra, Ghana, and to Charleston, South Carolina, tracing the lines of the slave trade and dispersion.
With a mixture of historical documentation, fiction and hilarious travel writing, he explores whether and how the diaspora has affected each city.
Blacks have long been part of Liverpool, a main British hub of the slave route, but Phillips still gets stared at when he walks through a hotel lobby there. In Charleston, the point of arrival for most slaves in America, people have come to terms with the past but, at the same time, are trying to obliterate it.
Phillips saves his sharpest observations for Ghana, where more than a third of the slaves to be sent to America were sold. Its capital, Accra, is now split between the hyperbole of the back-to-Africa movement, with its raised fists, jingoistic catchphrases and expat Americans who've moved "home" to the "motherland," and Ghanaians who believe their best hope for getting ahead is to leave Africa.
Phillips' skill is in blending his narratives to give the heady topic a light, extremely personal touch. The book is not didactic -- The Atlantic Sound's surreal cast of characters hammers home the point for him.MATT GALLOWAY