African Venus: Sheryl K. Carkhum-Lord
A daughter’s hopes and dreams are shattered when revenge is in the air and slavery seems to be the primary way for many to make money. Hundreds of young women are taken from their homes and placed on boats, filthy conditions and shipped to another place in order to become slaves. When her father who has destroyed many villages and deals with slavery realizes but too late that his Royal Palace has been invaded and Princess Nima, who has just married and given birth to a son is gone, his whole world changes. No longer would she be considered special nor would she have the comforts of home as she will be sent to France to work as a maid in a rich and weathy household. But, first she will endure many hardships, fevers, illnesses and dehydration as she has little food on the boat and her health rapidly declines. But, her owner is not happy with her appearance and the fact that she is ill but is convinced to get her a doctor, restore her health and send her to pose as a model for a French Artist who cannot resist her beauty, creates a sculpture that would become world famous and who is against slavery and wants it abolished in France.
This is a story of power, revenge, greed and hopelessness for those enslaves against their will. As artist Charles Cordier’s scuplture titled the African Venus is presented on May 1, 1851 and is purchased by Queen Victoria. Called at first “Bust of an African Women,” it is changed by a critic named Theophile Gautier to The African Venus. But, no one knows who she is or where she came from as you see many images of her in the internet with her heavy earrings, corral necklace and some ponder that she came from the Eastern part of the African continent but did she?
Cordier as we continue to read this novella is captivated by Nima his model and her beauty emanates and radiates in this sculpture as you see her on the front cover of this book. Treating her gently and taking care not to frighten her, he manages to capture her special allure and the beauty of an African woman treated with respect and dignity. As you look at her face on the cover of the book you wonder what she was thinking, where she came from and what her hopes were if she were not there. The look on her face is serene yet sad and the image allows readers to ponder who was she? Why does she look so sad and what brought her to this moment?
There is much history behind this short book as the author begins with the story of King Ghezo, Nima’s father whose kingdom spans Nigeria, Niger, Burkina, Faso and Togo according. The author based this novel on the real King Ghezo who according to research tells us he was the ninth King of Dahomney called Benin who reigned for 40 years. He was rich, powerful and his money came from selling prisoners of war into slavery. Author Sheryl Lord brings this time period and this history to life in this powerful novella. The powerful ending proves that the author realizes that Nima’s story has just begun and there is more to learn about her as she struggles with her feelings, fights for her freedom and hopes that someday to see her family and her son. Although short and quite compelling Nima spent twelve years as a slave and within this short novella, the author sends some powerful messages about prejudice, injustice, greed, revenge and hate as the novel spans many continents and several voices are heard that ring out at different times allowing readers to understand the times, the struggles and their impact of what some were doing to profit at the expense of others. Charles Cordier created two sculptures that sealed his fame and gave him prestige as the event opens and a male portrait bust of a ficional “Said Abdullah of the Mayac, Tribe, Kingdom of Darfour is revealed.” Both the African Venus and the other sculpture created quite a stir and Cordier’s ability to depict the different human qualities was remarkable. As you look at the picture of the African Venus you see the metal finishes and dark stand that helps to enhance her beauty. She is placed on a pedestal looking at the world through semi-closed eyes and the sadness comes through. The African Venus is a compelling story that will embrace each reader in a different way and if you look closely you will know that Nima has more to say and her story is still unfolding when you learn her final destination and fate. As you read it on the back cover it encompasses it all:” No other star in the night sky can come close to matching Venus.” Author Sheryl K. Carkhum-Lord has opened the world up to a story that needed to be told and I hope she will continue writing more and share more of Nima’s story with readers.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine