Black Gold of the Sun: Searching for Home in Africa and Beyond by Ekow Eshun, illustrations by Chris Ofili Pantheon Books, June 2006 $23, ISBN 0-375-42418-0
The search for one's roots can be both frustrating and rewarding. However, for those whose African ancestors were enslaved in the Americas and the Caribbean, the process can be especially painful, often fraught with dead ends, unexpected turns and false leads. Lack of information serves as a reminder of the loss of language, culture and a past beyond the Middle Passage.
In this sense Ekow Eshun, a British writer of Ghanaian parentage, is fortunate. For Eshun, whose parents were voluntary immigrants to the United Kingdom, slavery is not necessarily a part of the equation. When he embarks on a trip across Ghana to explore his heritage, he discovers a country full of contradictions and a family history more complex than he could have imagined.
Eshun's eye for detail allows readers to see the country as he does after a 28-year absence. While Eshun's writing is fluid and self-assured, much of the story is about his insecurities, his loneliness and his inability to feel at ease in his own skin. Eshun hopes that Ghana will restore what life in a predominantly white country has cost him: a sense of wholeness. "Even though my roots were in Britain ... I'd felt like an outsider all my life. In Ghana, I'd be another face in the crowd. Anonymity meant the freedom to be myself, not the product of someone else's prejudice."
Eshun, however, soon learns that he is no less an outsider in Ghanaian society; his foreign accent, his inability to speak Fante and his casual attitude toward money set him apart. Within days of his arrival in an Accra suburb, local children dub him "Burenyi," the Fante word for "white man." In fact, Eshun spends much of the book relating the ironies present in almost every encounter. Early on, he...