Before the Knife

Slaughter, Carolyn. Before the Knife: Memories of An African Childhood. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Before the Knife is a very quick read. Sometimes I felt I was reading fast because I wanted to get through the truly disturbing parts. In truth they were always there, lurking  behind the words Slaughter didn’t say, or worse, only alluded to. Because Slaughter announces early on, in the preface, that she was raped by her father the knowledge is out. “…the moment when everything changed only really came the night that my father first raped me” (p 4). However, she promises her story is not about that horror in particular. True to her word, Before the Knife isn’t about that trauma but having announced it, we readers are always aware of it. We translate innuendo to mean abuse every time. The story of an African childhood is lost to the knowledge something darker is at play. What a different book this would have been if we didn’t know! As expected Slaughter comes back full circle to the first night of the rape, describing it in more detail. Why, I do not know. The entire book is a tangled and confused mess of emotions.

Line that punched me in the stomach: “But once it happened, we decided that it never happened at all” (p 4). Story of my life.
Line that brought me solace: :I hoarded his words in my heart for weeks and brought them out like a talisman any time I was at my wit’s end” (p 182).

Reason Read: November is another good time to visit Africa, only not Slaughter’s Africa. Most of the places she described are no more.

Author Fact: Slaughter has written a bunch of other things including Dreams of the Kalahari.

Book Trivia: This memoir does not include any photographs.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Dreaming of Africa” (p 76).



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