Full Disclosure: I received this book as an ARC from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review, and this review also can be found on Amazon. Searching for Zion
was first excerpted in The Believer
, which published the chapter titled: "Points to Ponder when Considering Repatriating Home", which stirred my interest in Raboteau's larger work.
Ten-years in the making, Searching for Zion
could be catagorized as a personal memoir, a family memoir, a travel memoir, a work of history and a study in comparative religions. It transcends all, though, as a narrative of a young 'witness', as the author finally styles herself at the end, searching for a definition of home.
"Points to Ponder" is perhaps the most riveting chapter in the entire book: Raboteau skillfully disects the legacy of slavery in Ghana while describing her visit to the slave castle of Elmina and discussing the relationships between African Americans who 'Repatriate home' to Ghana and the Ghanians who never left.
The fates of diasporas are an educational interest of mine and I was rapt with Ms. Raboteau's history of Black Zionism. She travels from Harlem to Israel to Jamaica, to Ethiopia and Ghana, and finally to the Black belt of the American south, seeking answers from the communities of the Black diaspora to the question: What is Zion? And where? All the while she investigates her own feelings of displacement, or misplacement, and how they relate to her African-American heritage and her relationship to her father.
I am not a fan of the new creative-non-fiction that has become so popular recently. There are few things that I dislike more than reading a blurb of a book, describing some strange or forgotten history, only to pick the book up and in chapter three have to read about the author's fraught relationship with their mother or the backpacking trip they took through Moravia when they were 19. It is a rare author who can pull off inserting history into personal memoir or personal memoir into history, but Raboteau succeeds by writing a book that, by making its focus neither personal history nor greater history, but a search for a definition, seamlessly incorporates both personal memoir and narrative history together into a coherent, organic whole.
The only thing that this book was missing, for me, was Harlem. After starting off in the first chapters describing her neighborhood, Raboteau stops. She seems to insinuate that Harlem was Zion, too, for blacks fleeing the South, and that Harlem was a departure point for many seeking Zion elsewhere, but it is always in the perifery, never at the forefront. Many of Ms.Raboteau's interviews are incredibly probing, and she doesn't seem to let people off easily. I wonder if she chose not to cover her neighborhood because she didn't want to put her neighbors on the spot; or maybe I am wrong and she wasn't really hinting at a place for Harlem in her quest for Zion.