By the end of America’s Child, readers see Maria Nhambu having reclaimed a sense of her African identity. In Drum Beats, Heart Beats, her quest to know herself continues as she travels back to Tanzania to search for her long-lost father after meeting her mother and half-brother, Larry. In this stage of her life, Nhambu also faces a number of other challenges like divorce and serious illness. Readers see Nhambu putting her superior intellect to work as she navigates these conflicts, reprising her now-signature contemplative tone.
Drum Beats, Heart Beats follows the same format as its two precursors; Nhambu recounts a specific period of her life, organized around her most formative experiences, and reflects on the experiences — not only sharing her own compelling story, but also leaving readers with valuable insights about humanity and, especially, identity. By this point, Nhambu has already been through so much and learned so much about herself and the world, that readers may be hard-pressed to connect as strongly; she still overcomes hardship in ways that are gripping and inspiring, but she’s already so well-equipped to tackle her trouble, that readers lose a little bit of the satisfaction we get from watching her grow from her experiences in such formative ways. For this same reason, however, Drum Beats, Heart Beats stands out as a culmination of Nhambu’s evolution. Either way, Nhambu’s story isn’t defined by just struggle and growth. It’s about identity. Drum Beats, Heart Beats sees Nhambu setting out to find the last missing piece of her history in the most satisfying way. The cogency of Nhambu’s arc across all three books is astounding for works of nonfiction. Ordinary people are capable of growth, but it’s messy, nonlinear, and full of twists and turns; in some ways, it’s rarely complete. Although many of these factors may hold true for Nhambu, readers are afforded the distinct privilege of following her in her search for knowledge, identity, and home in a way that inspires and offers a closure that many of us never receive in our own lives. Even better, Nhambu’s wise reflection offers us a way out — a way to see the world and interpret our experience such that we, too, might live lives so complete.
In Drum Beats, Heart Beats and throughout her entire Dancing Soul Trilogy, Maria Nhambu proves that life imitates art. If not for Nhambu’s incredibly human voice, it might be easy to forget that you’re reading nonfiction — her fascinating life feels almost too full to be real. Fortunately for all of us, it is.