Amina, a young West African woman stolen from her village, is on a slave ship when she discovers she is pregnant. Amina soon realizes that this is no ordinary baby, and after arriving in America, she gives birth to Ekundayo, a young man sent by the creator god Amma, the master of life and death.
Amma is worried. His people have always known how to take care of the spirits of the dead - the nyama - so that they don't become destructive forces among the living. But amid the overwhelming chaos of the African slave trade and the persistent brutality of American slavery, too many people are dying and their souls are being ignored. Amma hopes that Ekundayo will find a way to bring peace to the nyama in their new land before its too late.
Amma places Ekundayo on a plantation in Virginia where he is a slave on the eve of the Civil War. Ekundayo can see only sorrow in this new land - sorrow in the ownership of their people, in the slaves who have been separated from their children and their souses, in the restless spirits of the dead, and in his own forbidden relationship with a white woman, his master's daughter. How Ekundayo finds a way to bring peace to both the living and the dead makes this an unforgettable journey into the slave experience and Julius Lester's most powerful work to date.
About the Author
JULIUS LESTER has written more than forty books of fiction,
nonfiction, and poetry for children and adults. He lives in
Read an Excerpt
From Time’s Memory
I lay within the body of the woman who was called Amina
and I listened to the silences between the beats of hearts that
beat no more and the wind in breaths that no longer breathed.
I saw with eyes that were only sockets in skulls. Though I was
no larger than the twinkle of a star, I already knew that lives
did not consist only of what happened during one’s brief span of
years. No. Each person is the sum of the generations that went
before, generations of people whose names have been forgotten,
whose faces have sunk below where memory can go. Yet those
generations live within everyone, pulsating with each heartbeat
and each breath.
I listened to the blood roaring through her body, and within the
cacophony I found the memories of her brief sixteen years, the
memories of her mother and father, their mother and father,
and their mother and father, and on back to unnumbered time
when no one counted the risings and settings of the sun and
there were no months or years but only Time as broad and
without end as the universe.
But as intently as I listened, as arduously as I searched, I could
not find the reason why I had been conceived. Neither did her
blood tell me where we were being taken nor what I was to do
when I got there.
When Amma, the creator god and master of life and death,
had Amina’s father place me inside the woman, he told me my
name was Ekundayo, Sorrow Becomes Joy. Surroundedby
sorrow deeper than any sea and wider than any sky, I thought
I had been misnamed.
Reading Group Guide
• The book is divided into three parts. Why do you think the author structured the book like this? What is the main theme of each part?
• How do the epilogue and prologue act as "bookends" and help you understand who is narrating the story, who is recording the story, and why? How do they work in tandem with the body of the book?
• Why is it important that Nathaniel tell the whole story of his ancestors, from the time they first became enslaved?
• How does Julius Lester's use of a multi-perspective narrative affect the telling of the book?
• The first chapter of Part One opens with Josiah Willingham, a grieving man who has lost his faith in God and who is regretting his part in the slave trade. How does this set the tone for the book?
• Throughout the story, the author offers information to define the word nyama. By the end of the book, what do you understand nyama to mean? How would you compare nyama to similar terms from other religions and philosophies?
• "Words were as alive as any man, woman, or child. They had an odor . . ." (p. 31) On several occasions the truthfulness of a speaker's words is measured by the tangible quality of smell. How do we evaluate someone's words? What do we say when we believe someone's words to be truthful? To be false?
• In Part One, Chapter 5, the author uses the term "Time's memory" for the first time. Julius Lester challenges the concept of linear time in the structure of TIME'S MEMORY. Had you thought of time, of history, in this way before? Why did the author choose this as the title of the book?
• In the Author's Note, Julius Lester states, "The story is perhaps one of the most autobiographical I've ever written." (p. 228) What do you think he means?
• A dream inspired Julius Lester to begin writing TIME'S MEMORY. What role do dreams play in the novel? (e.g., p. 44)
• The narrator says in the Prologue: "We are more than our personal memories." How does this statement affect or change your ideas about memoirs and memoir writing?
• What kind of information would you need to collect or find out in order to write your own "Time's memory"?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
-Ekundayo, meaning Sorrow Becomes Joy, arrives in America in the belly of a pregnant African woman, Amina, on a slave ship. Luckily, the captain of the slave ship, Josiah, is a kind man, drafted into the work through the overwhelming grief he has faced since the death of his beloved wife. Josiah saves Amina from slavery and Ekundayo is born, but he is special, as he is the keeper of all of his people¿s memories and emotions, and must find a way to let the souls of his people, left to wander America, find peace. Ekundayo soon finds his own soul taking flight and coming to rest in the body of a slave on a Virginia plantation, and there he finds a way to fulfill his purpose. Well written, gives a view of slavery (slave ships, the capturing of African peoples, and life on a plantation) that is frightening and sad, but gives hope.
Like Men of Salt, Time¿s Memory features the people of Mali. The thoughtful, lyrical prologue of this book had me ready to vote yes on this one for it alone: ¿Our lives do not begin when we are born. Only our bodies do.¿ Lester has taken Dogon tradition of honoring spirits and blending that foundation into something distinctly American. ¿Our lives begin so long ago that only Time remembers when and where and, most importantly, why. Our lives begin in a past of which we have no knowledge. They extend into a future we cannot imagine.¿ Ekundayo serves as our Dogon, spirit host. He inhabits the body of a young slave, Nathaniel and guides souls through the Middle Passage and slavery. Lester shapes history based on his understanding of the African cultural roots of the book¿s characters. Despite having some transition problems (the change between Amina and Ekundayo in the first section to Nathaniel/Ekundayo in sections two and three is somewhat abrupt), the unique Mali spiritual component make this book an easy one to recommend for middle school and high school libraries.
A young woman is stolen from West Africa and carried in shackles across the Atlantic to be sold as a slave. But Amma, the creator-god and master of life and death, has chosen a different fate for her: She is to give birth to Ekundayo, a spiritually-conceived being whose mission is to bring peace to the miserable and restless souls of countless African descendents who die in slavery. The task seems impossible, and Ekundayo fears that his world and traditions will disappear in chaos and grief, until he finds the key that may release a flood of healing compassion and humanity. This elegantly crafted book does not shy away from its subject: A world where the line between good an evil is blurred, and even the gods do not know where they stand. Time¿s Memory vividly depicts themes of West African spirituality, American history, and the possibility of inter-racial love and cooperation.
This book was fabulous for those who love hostory and othe religions in tribal civilazations.