I have been wanting to read this since coming across an extract in my English A-Level exam!! After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin last year it lead me to finally get myself a copy of his memoir - and also of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. So eventually - a year later I am reading it!
I enjoyed reading what I suppose you'd call source material. It didn't teach me anything new about slavery that I didn't already know of course, but there's one thing reading a text books or watching documentaries - and another reading original accounts written from that time in history.
However, it wasn't quite what I expected. Whilst it is about race and slavery, so much of it is just him travelling about on ships. Thank heavens I watched the ITV/ABC series of Hornblower several times so I just about got what was going on half the time.
Olaudah was originally from the country of Benin - and at the age of ten he was kidnapped and taken through a series of people to eventually be put on a slave ship. Olaudah grew up in a society that kept its own slaves - albiet their own countrymen some of them put into slavery because of a crime they committed. Olaudah was more opposed I think, to the treatment and transportation of slaves and the unfairness against people just because of colour.
He was lucky pretty much from the start to go into the hands of kind people who treated him well. His experience of mistreatment beyond the terrible transportation to England, was mostly second hand. He was a naturally curious, intelligent and helpful person who seemed to enjoy pleasing people by working hard for them. In fact, he became very attached to many of the people who "owned" him.
Olaudah seems one of those people whom people naturally took to and liked. This is probably in part, due to his obvious affection towards England - and the people. According to the memoir, almost from the moment he set foot in England he started to want to learn about it and everything. He admired the technology, the people, manners and adopted the Christian religion as a child.
Most of his life he spent as a sailor and through travelling the world - even to the North Pole - he witnessed many scenes of torture and injustice towards black people and slaves. He became angered by the fact that even as a free man, black people were still not allowed equal rights. Eventually he became a freeman and returned to England to take up the trade of hair dressing. He soon returned to sea though - his natural curiosity made him want to see different parts of the world.
During his travels he visited many different churches - a Catholic Cathedral in Spain, he looked into the Jewish religion and even attempted to enter a Mosque in Turkey (a country he liked very much for its people). For a while he had become very worried about sin and the desire to go to Heaven and after "finding" God - he became very disillusioned with blasphemers and hypocrites who called themselves Christians.
I didn't think this book really gave me a good insight to Olaudah as a person, or slavery either. I think perhaps for people of the time it would have been more insightful and educational. As a modern day reader reading a historical text, I come to it from a different position. The fact that he was a good Christian and showed obvious (probably exaggerated) affection towards England probably won the support of many of its readers.