Publishing history

Ama was first published in the U.S. by E-Reads in 2001. In 2002 it won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book. In April 2014 Open Road Integrated Media took over E-Reads’ list, including Ama. On August 26, 2015, Open Road wrote to me as follows: “We have decided to revert the rights to you.” They gave no reason. Ama became out of print in the United States at the end of September. The novel has also been published by Pan Macmillan (South Africa) under its Picador Africa imprint. It is still published by Techmate in Ghana.

Use in Academia

Ama has been taught at several U. S. universities including Harvard (Prof. Emmanuel Akyeampong), East Carolina University (Prof. Kenneth Wilburn), Carleton College (Prof. Martin Klein, University of Toronto) and Boston University (Prof. Heidi Gengenbach, University of Massachusetts). This fall Prof. Rebecca Shumway is teaching it at the College of Charleston in a HIST 361-02 course entitled West Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade. Her syllabus is at Students visiting Ghana from Grand Valley State University under the leadership of Prof. Sherry Johnson have twice used Ama as the focus of their studies.

Selected extracts from reviews and readers’ comments.

I had seen this book on many occasions during my travels to Ghana. Never quite knew what to make of it and frankly didn’t trust the White South African writer to be able to reliably tell a story about an African woman caught up in the Transatlantic Trade in Human Beings. I was encouraged, however, by a trusted literature professor friend that it was a powerful read and I began it during my Ghana trip in the Summer of 2010. . . It is a great read. . . It is a disturbing tale but an extremely important one. . . Considering it all, what captivated me mostly was the humanity of the story. ALL of the characters are presented as they likely were and as people we can believe existed and exist now. How all were caught up in this crime against humanity. And, most of all, how the humanity of the African, both male and female, was foremost focused on resistance in all its forms. . . I highly recommend it! Prof. Kwesi Soti Mtundu, North Carolina State University

To fully appreciate the necessity for a global view of the problem of slavery, the slave trade, and enslavement of African peoples, we must turn to Manu Herbstein’s magnificent and disturbing and yet hopeful novel. Herbstein’s narrative and descriptive detailing of these horrors is something special, something truly unforgettable. Each character he selects for special focus is given his or her full measure of inhumanity and/or humaneness. Never for one moment are we as readers allowed to forget that every participant in this tale of horror must be accountable as an individual, not a mere unnamed figure in one of the most sordid moments in human history. Prof. Kofi Anyidoho, University of Ghana

In Ama, Herbstein creates a work of literature that celebrates the resilience of human beings while denouncing the inscrutable nature of their cruelty. By focusing on the brutalisation of Ama’s body, and on the psychological scars of her experiences, Herbstein dramatises the collective trauma of slavery through the story of a single African woman. Ama echoes the views of writers, historians and philosophers of the African diaspora who have argued that the phenomenon of slavery is inextricable from the deepest foundations of contemporary western civilisation. Prof. Tony Simões da Silva, University of Tasmania

Herbstein reaches into Ama’s inner life so completely that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is not actually a memoir, but a lavishly done, wonderful novel. There aren’t enough good things I can say about this book. Rich in details, filled with African myth and folklore and exquisitely researched. Maria Andreu, author of Illegal: Growing up Unwanted in America

Ama’s body, her experiences, are a metaphor for the plight of Africa – explored, exploited, lied to and abandoned, by Africans and Europeans alike. Mary Morgan, The Statesman, Accra (now BBC World Service)

You will love Ama for her beauty and strong character, pray for her in her constant bid to break free, admire her persistence, courage and inner strength in the face of hostility and danger. Sometimes, you will even scold her idealism and childlike day-dreaming. One thing is certain, you will be with her, and every breath she takes. This is your story too – black or white. Patently well researched, told in living colour and with little pretension, Manu Herbstein’s novel made my very rare foray into the world of fiction a positively gruelling one. Victor Kgomoeswana, Money Biz, Johannesburg

Ama is as much about the violence of colonialism, patriarchy, female sexuality or gendered reproduction, economic production and the site of imperial contest, racial difference, as it is about resistance. Ama’s journey allows us to read the complexities and contradictions of the time, where all classes, free and slave, women and men, black, white and mulatto are in some way interrelated in a dynamic that results from relations of power. Shereen Essof, Just Associates, Cape Town

Manu Herbstein’s first novel does an amazing job of recreating the experience of enslavement and resistance through the voice of a young female slave. . . The depth of description and anguish fashioned by the author as [Ama] is captured, raped and enslaved sends a cold chill through the reader as one remembers that although this novel is fictitious, the events were all too real for many women of the time. . . From the moment when she loses her freedom, [Ama’s] life moves between resistance to her successive owners and a resignation to the power they wield over her. . . Sustained by ancient beliefs, Ama’s spirit never wavers. Enslaved she might have been, but to herself she is never a slave. . . Ama is a must read for those who are interested in the issues of racism, repatriations and “home-comings.” . . . Although the trans-Atlantic slave trade is over, our generation faces new aspects of slavery and as such, the themes of this novel will forever be relevant. Subaye Opoku Acquah, Business World, Accra

This is the kind of book I wish they had six stars for.. I sincerely believe my life would have been a tad less rich if I had never found it. An amazingly intimate and emotionally real novel written by a white man about the experiences of a young black slave, it is a testament to the power of imagination (and a whole lot of research). Herbstein reaches into Ama’s inner life so completely that you have to keep reminding yourself that it is not actually a memoir, but a lavishly done, wonderful novel. There aren’t enough good things I can say about this book. Rich in details, filled with African myth and folklore and exquisitely researched, Ama should be required reading for all schoolchildren …Something else notable about Ama is the wonderful, award-winning website put together to support the book, filled with maps and documentation that demonstrates that, although fictionalized, Ama’s story is almost identical to thousands of people in the region. It’s worth checking out as well: Maria:

Reading Between Color Lines

Wednesday night I went to a book reading presented by the Writers Project of Ghana at the Goethe Institute …Accra. The author, Manu Herbstein is a South-African writer currently based in Ghana . . . The main feature of the reading was . . . his first novel Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade . . . Given the subject of the reading I admit I expected Herbstein to be black and was a bit surprised to find he was white. The two poems he read and excerpt from an article he’d written made me realize that part of my assumption that he would be black no doubt came from my experiences as an African-American in the U.S. . . The long and short of it is that Herbstein is a wonderful writer who has portrayed a horrific event with mastery and sensitivity. It’s clear he spent infinite hours researching every detail in his writing and he has an insight and understanding of the languages and rich and complicated traditions and customs found on the continent that I couldn’t even begin to understand. And me? I will be more cognizant of judging a book by its cover from now on . . . Stephanie Smith (More at:

Avec l’histoire d’Ama, toute l’expérience des Africains du XVIIIè siècle (esclaves ou non) est ainsi personnifiée d’une manière réaliste est inoubliable. Ce roman explique également très bien les causes et les origines de l’esclavage, ainsi que les conséquences du commerce triangulaire, qui furent désastreuses pour la population africaine. Kristel Nana-Mvogo, Afriquechos