Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review-- Bloodlines Collection

Title: Bloodlines: Tales from the African Diaspora

Editor: Veronica Henry

Presented by

This collection of short stories was inspired by the silences many members of the African diaspora face when they try to trace their genealogies back past the time of slavery. In 2007 the editors-- Veronica Henry and her partner, Eric Deal-- took the dramatic step of sending DNA samples to the genetic-testing site in hopes of shining a light back through their shadowed histories. The website offered to certify* DNA strains as stemming from particular regions, nations, or even cultural groups on the African mainland (*literally-- you get a formal certificate of ancestry at the end of the process.. with a seal and everything!). When Henry's results drew a direct "bloodline" back to the Mende people of Sierra Leone, and Deal was linked to the Kru people of Liberia (amongst others) the couple immediately began researching their respective cultural groups and reaching out to the communities to which they suddenly seemed to belong.

Henry and Deal soon discovered that they were not alone in their project-- this type of genetic testing has become quite a business in African American and Afro-Carribbean communities-- and started up a web community to facilitate and promote international communication and to give members a space to finally say "This is where I'm from. These were my people." The website,, quickly attracted new and established authors who were looking for an opportunity to "write themselves back into history" by spelling out their ancestral bloodlines. The collection is the result of this effort.

I spend so much time explaining the history of the collection because it is this contextualization that makes Bloodlines such a special work. While there are some superior efforts ("No World Order" by Jeff Carroll, "Near But Far" by Boureima Soumana and Henry's own "My Soul to Free" in particular), many of the pieces in the collection fall a bit flat when taken purely on their own merit as literature: some of the dialogue is stiff and unnatural; many of the plots are a bit obvious and cliche; few characters approach three-dimensionality. If, however, you read the book as a sociological effort of a community to negotiate their way into historical understandings of self that were denied to them by the disruptive trauma of slavery... the collection becomes pure magic.


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