Synopses & Reviews
For almost five millennia, in every culture and in every major religion, indigo-a blue pigment obtained from the small green leaf of a parasitic shrub through a complex process that even scientists still regard as mysterious-has been at the center of turbulent human encounters.
Indigo is the story of this precious dye and its ancient heritage: its relationship to slavery as the "hidden half" of the transatlantic slave trade, its profound influence on fashion, and its spiritual significance, which is little recognized but no less alive today. It is an untold story, brimming with rich, electrifying tales of those who shaped the course of colonial history and a world economy.
But Indigo is also the story of a personal quest: Catherine McKinley is the descendant of a clan of Scots who wore indigo tartan as their virile armor; the kin of several generations of Jewish "rag traders"; the maternal granddaughter of a Massachusetts textile factory owner; and the paternal granddaughter of African slaves-her ancestors were traded along the same Saharan routes as indigo, where a length of blue cotton could purchase human life. McKinley's journey in search of beauty and her own history ultimately leads her to a new and satisfying path, to finally "taste life." With its four-color photo insert and sumptuous design, Indigo will be as irresistible to look at as it is to read.
"In this memoir of longing, community, and personal maturation, McKinley (The Book of Sarahs), half African-American by birth, adopted and raised by white parents who were plant devotees, seeks her roots through the intertwined European and African history of the once rare indigo. A plant dye long prized for its deep blue color, indigo became a staple of trade from Africa across the Mediterranean and Europe; indigo and the fabric dyed from it evoke stories of slavery (past and present), global trade, and entrenched cultural traditions. McKinley's journey to the source of indigo leads her unexpectedly to politically unstable areas like the Ivory Coast, as well as to Ghana, Mali, and other African countries, where she is welcomed. McKinley's passion for the rare blue dye created from ash, urine, and leaves, and used to painstakingly imprint storytelling designs leads to intense friendships and an introduction to the complexity of social and economic status in a continent so far removed from the woman who inspired McKinley's journey her grandmother a questioning, tartan-clad woman in a rich blue coat. Photo insert; map. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"[McKinley] introduces the reader to a wide cast of characters who slip in and out of the narrative unobtrusively."—Kirkus Reviews
"The sections in which [McKinley] focuses on the history of indigo are fascinating, and some of her vivid descriptions shimmer with an almost cinematic quality." —Ingrid Levin, Library Journal
"Call it blue gold, the devils dye, or the cloth of history; indigo is the color that launched the ships and caravans of worldwide commerce. It encompasses the slave trade, the factories of European industry, and the woman-dominated markets of Africa. It binds the blue sails of Columbuss ships to denim jeans and the exquisite hand-woven fabrics collectors crave. Catherine McKinley follows her passion, her ‘insatiable, desire for this beauty and history to Africa. There she enters a complex world—ancient, post-modern, stable and volatile. It demands that she be student, adventurer, aesthete and journalist: she meets these demands with restless intelligence, scrupulous honesty, a love of paradox and a generous exuberance. Indigo haunted her; now it will haunt you."—Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson
"A charming book: ethereal, wise, personal, as well as an imaginative exploration of what this color really might be, when you go under the surface of its just being about blue."—Victoria Finlay, author of Color: A Natural History of the Palette
"Indigo is a journey in every sense of the word, and one undertaken with an engaging passion. It is also, in the words of Miles Davis, Kind of Blue."—Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt
"Catherine McKinleys Indigo is a moving and lyrical journey through several continents and through the writers own internal landscapes. This beautiful and unforgettable book, like indigo itself, reaches deeply into all our lives."—Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, Im Dying
"Gorgeously recounts McKinleys journey to West Africas teeming markets and churning factories, through funerals and uprisings, to find ‘the bluest of the blues"—Los Angeles Times
"[McKinleys] discoveries resonate, and her unique experiences provide a vivid snapshot of the cultures she encountered in Africa."—Washington Post
"An eye-opening account of the controversial role this gorgeous, coveted pigment has played through the millennia."—Elle
Brimming with rich, electrifying tales of the precious dye and its ancient heritage, Indigo is also the story of a personal quest: Catherine McKinley is the descendant of a clan of Scots who wore indigo tartan; Jewish "rag traders"; a Massachusetts textile factory owner; and African slaves—her ancestors were traded along the same Saharan routes as indigo, where a length of blue cotton could purchase human life. McKinleys journey in search of beauty and her own history leads her to the West African women who dye, trade, and wear indigo—women who unwittingly teach her that buried deep in the folds of their cloths is all of destiny and the human story.
About the Author
Catherine McKinley is the author of The Book of Sarahs. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she has taught Creative Nonfiction, and a former Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, West Africa, where she began her research on indigo. She lives in New York City.