Callède & Gael Sejourne: L’Appel des Origines

I often get drawn in by book covers and what the featured image might represent–this is generally in lieu of actually reading the synopsis. Good art and an intriguing composition can empty my wallet like magic. This one for the collected books is nice, but it didn’t grab me the way the cover for Book 1 did.

I can’t figure out if the proper translation of the title would be The Call of Origins or The Appeal of Origins. I think “Call” sounds better in English and Google seems to agree with me, so I’ll go with that. Right or wrong, beyond the title was a good story.

Anna, a waitress in a Harlem diner during the 1920s, is happy with the life and can’t imagine ever giving it up or trading it in for another. That was until she learned the truth about her mixed heritage. She knew her father was white, but that was about it. Her grandmother, aunt, and uncle who raised her, kept the specifics of her past mum until a name from their past resurface in the news. Once her grandmother reveals the truth, Anna sets out on a mission to find her father.

Her father was a guide in Africa and the new reported that the expedition he’d been hired for had been out of contact and people feared the worse. I’ll leave how she made it to the “Black Continent” to be discovered by any one who cares to read the story. But once she made it there a her journey to the end made the one she had getting out of Harlem seem like fairytale.

Day after day the beautiful vistas she took in stood side by side with the ugliness and greed of racism and capitalism. While the story had its fair share of glamorized moments, overall it presented a decent picture of attitudes about race in the 1920s.

It’s very interesting to read the conversations about hunting animals and other things that are not just taboo these days, but also legally prohibited in many cases. You get a straightforward look at how greedy and opportunistic white people and those who gained power by stealing it were and how contagious those diseases were/are. It wasn’t enough to take a continent’s inhabitants and drop them off on distant shores, but to return to the land and scrounge about for its history and its life for the sake of filling museums, satisfying curiosities, and appealing to audiences for the purpose of entertainment–to sell a culture, many cultures–is unconscionable. Sadly, not much has changed. That is not to say that nothing good came out of it, because I doubt I would be as enthralled with history museums, natural or otherwise, if they only featured local yore. But the fact remains that more was lost than gained.

Turning back to the story, I really like the way history was woven into it. And not huge events, but subtle encounters and exercises in proximity. Real names, real places, real events–some playing in the background while others stood front and center for a moment before returning the spotlight to Anna’s story.

As with any journey, what Anna’s represented was manifold. She escaped from secrets and unwanted attention in Harlem, and into the arms of a man would accompany her on most of her mission to find her father. Along the way she would meet pillars of ignorance, pharisees, and sincere hearts. Physically, she left one continent to cross another. Mentally, she broadened her horizons and contemplated her new experiences. And emotionally, she wrestled with the pain in her past, she confront the sudden emptiness of her present, and armed with hope–still somewhat unsure–she pushed on into her future.

Anna was a principled and kind woman, and though she cowered from the taunts about her heritage in her youth, as an adult, she took hold of herself and refused to be used or abused. She went through a lot, but rather than harden her, it just made her more determine to make sense of her life.

I was really satisfied with the ending and then the epilogue kind of broke my heart, but probably made me enjoy the story that much more.

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