It’s a perilous thing to write a review so soon after finishing a book, but I shall try. First -- Why does the book exist? The writer begins with a humiliating search by security at Israel’s airport by personnel who are confused by her heritage. She is light-skinned, considers herself black and has what they fear is an Arab middle name. She’s in search of Zion.
After this intro, we are introduced to her upbringing. She is the child of an African-american professor and a white mother who is unfortunately almost invisible in this text. Not feeling at home in America, she envies her Jewish best-friend who had the same feeling and eventually emigrated to Israel. While in Israel, she discovers the Beta Israel and hears about the Black Hebrews who live in Dimona. The idea of the book begins here; she will travel the black Diaspora to ask whether any of those myriad places became their Zion and their home.
It’s an interesting trip that that approximately ten years (If I have the dates correct). While she finds some people satisfied with their lot, she finds many more dissatisfied and eager to explain why “this” place is not Zion. Zion is somewhere else. From Israel, the book takes us to Jamaica. From Jamaica to Ethiopia. From Ethiopia to Ghana. From Ghana to Bay St. Louis where her father’s father was lynched. Along the way, she meets many elders that advise her and confuse her. Instead of major figures, she spends a lot of time with everyday Jamaicans, Ethiopians, and Ghanians. She comes to her own understanding of home. And funny enough --which I saw a mile away--she finds out that the “arab” middle name is actually jewish, the result of a liaison between her great-great grandmother and a german jewish merchant.
I enjoyed the book. Occasionally, I was amazed by what she claims not to know of black or world history. I wonder if this was done for effect so that she could elicit a story from her host’s point of view. On the other hand, she is very well versed in the story of the African liberation movement. She moves among the poor and lower middle-class people of each country with no trace of being the ugly American. (People occasionally told her tales about Americans complaining about the lack of air conditioning in the middle of a poor African country.) I was envious of her ability with languages. I appreciated the fact that she had to save up for these trips; it made this search sound realistic. I only wish that the book included some of the many pictures that she mentions taking. I found the book a page turner even though it is non-fiction. Each frustrated attempt to find Zion draws us to the next one. Unlike her, we can make this ten year search in a matter of days.