Twin sisters Hassana and Husseina’s home is in ruins after a brutal raid. But this is not the end but the beginning of their story, one that will take them to unfamiliar cities and cultures, where they will forge new families, ward off dangers and truly begin to know themselves.
As the twins pursue separate paths in Brazil and the Gold Coast of West Africa, they remain connected through shared dreams of water. But will their fates ever draw them back together?
A sweeping adventure with richly evocative historical settings, The Deep Blue Between is a moving story of the bonds that can endure even the most dramatic change.
Review –★★★★ (4 stars)
This has been a long journey, especially for readers of The Hundred Wells of Salaga, where we are first introduced to the twins – Hassana and Husseina. Imagine the deep annoyance I felt encountering Wofa Sarpong again, at the beginning of this novel. Does anyone hate him more than me?
The deep blue sea eventually separates Hassana and Husseina not only physically, but also spiritually and mentally. Hassana and Husseina (who later changes her name to Vitória) are separated by the sea after raiders destroy their village in Botu. By fate, Hassana remains in the Gold Coast and is sold into slavery, while Husseina is taken to Lagos and later to ‘greener pastures’ in Bahia, thanks to her godmother.
In true Ayesha H. Attah fashion, this novel is character-driven, with each character’s storyline alternating in the book’s chapters. Hassana and Husseina are both well-rounded characters and readers witness their growth from their painful separation, to the journey that leads them to realizing their full selves. The oldest twin – Hassana, reminded me of the bold, fearlessness of Akua-Afriyie in Harmattan Rain and Wurche in The Hundred Wells of Salaga. While I gravitate more towards these fearless women characters, I found myself really craving more of Husseina’s/Vitória’s chapters whenever I was reading Hassana’s. It was only when Hassana moved to Accra and befriended a vibrant Ga girl, that I started to enjoy her storyline – because who doesn’t love to see camaraderie between young black girls? Their sisterhood wasn’t free of conflict, but it felt so realistic and pure.
I was soooo fascinated by Vitória’s life in Brazil. It always escapes me that Brazil is part of the African diaspora; but this book reminded me of our extended family in South America, because of the expansiveness of slavery. Even the font style of Vitória’s chapter headings show how different and somewhat vibrant her life was. Her life in Bahia brought to light similarities in our foods, like – acarajé akin to Ghanaian koose; moqueca and feijoada akin to our seafood and beef stews, respectively. It was eye-opening to learn about Candomblé, Yemanja and other orixás and how Vitória wholeheartedly leaned into her newfound beliefs. Besides the constant Googling I was doing of Portuguese words, I was also refreshing my memory on Ghana’s pre-colonial history – especially the role of missionaries and the Anglo- Ashanti wars between 1824 and 1900.
I loved that Attah shed light on some of the (women-led) organizations that had been fighting for the rights of native Ghanaians during colonial times, like – Native Ladies of Cape Coast and Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society. Mainstream history will have anyone thinking that Ghanaian women activists did not exist, which is far from the truth. Introducing young readers to this fact is commendable.
What propels The Deep Blue Between forward is how each and every character Hassana and Vitória encounter help them draw closer to finding each other. It reminded me of how real life operates, in that, by Divine order things work out how they are supposed to (at least that’s what I believe). While I really loved reading and experiencing Hassana and Vitória’s journeys, I wanted the story to be a little more exciting. I wanted there to be more plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve read and enjoyed all of Ayesha H. Attah’s novels and I love that her writing style is primarily character-driven, but I’d also like to read a story with a different style.
Since this is Attah’s first YA novel, I thought it would be corny and rife with unrealistic happenings within the story – as some YA books are (this is my opinion, sorry). But this evenly-paced novel is really laden with so much history and wisdom! If anyone new to Ayesha Harruna Attah’s work is wondering which of her books to read first, The Deep Blue Between is a good place to start. Young Ghanaian readers will feel proud to read this novel, as they would see themselves reflected in the characters and smile at the great showcase of our history and culture within the book. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for my little cousin who’ll be 12 years old in October, when The Deep Blue Between will be published!
Any fans of Frances Mensah Williams’ work in the house? I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads and Williams’ work has been on my radar for a hot minute! Frances Mensah Williams is a Ghanaian-British author of many books. If you remember, back in 2017 she was one of the 80+ Ghanaian writers highlighted in the 3-part series I did on Ghanaian writers and their books. Her latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements, was published back in March and from the synopsis, this novel looks juicy and satisfying!
In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships.
Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. But when shocking developments threaten their plans, they also expose the hidden cracks in her fairytale marriage.
Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding. But how long can she wait for her laid-back partner Nortey to stop dreaming up pointless projects from the comfort of his local bar and stand up to his family?
Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, and six years later she is desperate for a child. But while she battles a vicious mother-in-law, and her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.
Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.
I had the honor of chatting with Williams about her novels, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer, Black writers who influence her work and more. Enjoy!
I recently purchased From Pasta to Pigfoot, and I know there is a sequel called From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. I’m eager to read your latest novel, Imperfect Arrangements, which was published back in March of this year. How long have you been a writer and what other books have you written?
FMW:I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; from the early scribbles of my teen years to writing careers books and then, eventually, writing novels.
I’m so pleased you bought From Pasta to Pigfoot! It’s my first novel and very special to me. I wrote the initial draft years ago when I was living and working in Ghana. I wanted to explore the contemporary diaspora experience with the character of Faye Bonsu, a Black British Londoner and pasta fanatic, who’s torn between the culture she’s grown up with and the Ghanaian culture she’s supposed to connect with. Her story mirrors so many of the challenges young Britons of African descent face, and I wanted to depict how navigating between two cultures can be painful, illuminating and occasionally hilarious. In the novel, Faye gets the chance to visit Ghana and discovers that understanding your history can give you the confidence to choose your future.
There is indeed a sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. This picks up Faye’s story three years after the end of the original book. Hoping to escape from her suddenly complicated life and revive her wilting romance, Faye returns to sunny Ghana for what she hopes will be the time of her life. But life doesn’t always offer second chances and when disaster strikes, she is forced to confront the biggest question of her life and to make a choice that comes with consequences she will have to live with forever. I really enjoyed writing this book because Faye’s experiences are so relatable: the boyfriend who never seems ready to commit, the merciless boss who makes you struggle for promotion, the mother-in-law that drives everyone crazy, the bridezilla you love but want to kill – and the struggles we face when we’re trying to have it all!
I read an excerpt of Imperfect Arrangements, in the form of a short story, on AFREADA. In the excerpt, Theresa is at the hospital and she’s shocked to find out that she’s pregnant. By the end of the story, I really wanted to indulge in the lives of the three best friends – Theresa, Maku and Lyla. Why was it important for you to write this story that focuses on three best friends who struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships?
FMW: I first had the idea for Imperfect Arrangements when I was living in Ghana and found myself fascinated by the many arrangements that passed as marriage. As is the case in every part of the world, a perfect relationship really doesn’t exist, and when you layer cultural expectations onto the strains of any relationship, the pressure it brings will reveal the truth.
In Imperfect Arrangements, I chose to write about best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla because I wanted to celebrate the importance of sister-friends and depict an honest account of the complexity of relationships, both romantic and between best friends. I wanted to explore the joy and pain of relationships, particularly with the added pressures of cultural expectations and norms, and to tell the story from the perspectives of both the women and the men in their lives. Unusually, we also see the story unfold from the viewpoints of the three men in the relationships.
Did you learn anything about yourself while writing Imperfect Arrangements? What about your previous novels – especially From Pasta to Pigfoot and From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings?
FMW:That is an interesting question! I think I learned a lot as a writer while working on Imperfect Arrangements. The story takes place over one year and is structured in layers – every three months – with the action unfolding through the eyes of each person in the three couples. It was quite a challenge to keep the story moving at pace while ensuring that the characters grew into rounded and realistic people. The three women are very different to each other and, much as they love one another, they also experience the frustration and irritation that we all feel with our besties – loving them, but still keeping it honest and real!
I think this is a story that no-one can read without examining their own relationships and friendships. Although the three couples face different challenges, their situations reflect what so many people grapple with: lies, betrayal, adultery, interfering families, stagnant careers, and more.
Writing From Pasta to Pigfoot was an interesting journey for me; seeing Ghana through the eyes of Faye and depicting her struggles to connect both aspects of her cultural identity. Having myself mostly grown up outside Africa, although Faye and I are very different personalities, I could empathise with her feelings and her dilemma about where to call home.
Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labelled as ‘African writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer? Who do you write for and do you think your novels can be categorized under one genre?
FMW: This is something I get asked a lot. There’s so much debate what constitutes ‘African’ writing and who gets to be called what or has the authority to tell which stories. Because of my heritage and some of the settings in my books, I’m often asked whether I consider myself to be an African writer, a diaspora writer or (sometimes with a slight tinge of disappointment) just a romance writer.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing stories, but the publishing world likes to pigeonhole books for marketing purposes. Broadly, my books fall into the category of ‘commercial women’s fiction’ and for some people that’s enough. There are also those who describe it as ‘chick lit’, which doesn’t offend me, although I know many men who enjoy them, so I’m not sure that properly reflects the content.
For me, what really matters is that readers see my characters as more than simply their ethnicity. By setting Imperfect Arrangements in Ghana, one of my hopes is that it takes the conversation beyond the issue of race, as all the main characters are African. I also hope my books show that irrespective of our backgrounds, we all share the same desires for love of self, love of others, being seen and belonging. So, to answer your question, I’m an African woman and a writer, but I guess I’ve now reached the point where I leave the labelling to those who find it useful, while I focus on writing stories people can enjoy.
What have you been reading and loving lately? Who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work?
FMW: I enjoy many different types of books – a legacy from being a book addict as a child and reading anything which sounded halfway interesting that I could get my hands on in the local library. I love character driven stories with lots of dialogue: courtroom dramas, rom-coms, thrillers, murder mysteries, biographies, historical dramas – you name it.
My favourite Black writers include Dorothy Koomson, whose books I love, and Terri McMillan, whose books I read voraciously. If I’m honest, I’m probably not as widely read when it comes to African writers, but I’ve really admired the work of fellow Ghanaians, Yaa Gyasi and Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Ayesha Harruna Attah
In 2017, you were featured in my3-part series #GHat60 project, where I highlighted and celebrated over 80 writers of Ghanaian descent (which later became the#ReadGhanaianbook challenge, in 2019). Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience?
FMW: I guess that would be probably be The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson. I was attracted to the novel because her name was clearly Ghanaian, and I was desperate to discover Black writers who also wrote commercial, contemporary, women-driven novels. When I read The Chocolate Run, I was blown away by the realisation that there was indeed a market for books about serious issues written in a fun way, and featuring Black female protagonists who were firmly at the centre of the story, instead of at the margins.
Finally, why would you like us to read your latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements? What would you like reader to take away from the story?
FMW: I would love you to read Imperfect Arrangements firstly because – if I say so myself – it’s a great story! I love the characters and I want to take the reader on a roller coaster journey as they get to know the women and their partners. I want you to laugh, cry, grow very frustrated, and cheer! I want every reader to feel exactly what drives and motivates each of the six main protagonists, and to understand what makes them who they are and why the behave as they do.
I want the story of Imperfect Arrangements to provoke a conversation about the themes that arise in the novel: relationships in contemporary Ghana/Africa; myths and expectations confronted by the realities of marriage; friendship and sisterly love between women; the impact of culture on marriage and attitudes towards adultery and infertility in contemporary Ghana/Africa; the power of family versus the individual; the diaspora returnee experience; and the Black male perspective on relationships.
I also want readers to realise that love – whether it is love of self or love between friends or lovers – is the greatest gift of all.
In less than a month, the 2020 AKO Caine Prize winner will be announced!
For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing (now known as the AKO Caine Prize), which was first awarded in year 2000, is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).
Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):
Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator,Lyrics Alley, among other works.
Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines. *sigh* Rest In Power, Binya!
Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!
The AKO Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa and the Diaspora. Many AKO Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ work here on African Book Addict!
This year, the AKO Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with stories that ‘speak eloquently to the human condition’ (left to right):
Irenosen Okojie (Nigeria & UK) – Read her story: Grace Jones
Women dominate the shortlist again – I LOVE to see it! I’m still making my way through all the stories. So far I’ve read Erica Sugo Anyadike and Jowhor Ile’s stories; and skimmed through Chikodili Emelumadu and Irenosen Okojie’s stories.
Fisherman’s Stew by Ile is a calm story about Nimi, an elderly woman, who believes her dead husband comes home to her one night. It seems she frequently has encounters with this man who has long passed away, but when she mentions this to her daughter or her neighbor, they worry about her mental health. As the story progresses, readers get to decipher whether Nimi’s encounters are true or imagined. The story is quite simple, not mind-blowing. The writing is simple, yet beautiful. The descriptions of the market and it’s foodstuff, Nimi’s late night cooking of fish stew and even the opening scene (which caught me off-guard) where Nimi and her husband lay together, definitely showcased Ile’s lovely way with words. I’m not sure if the story is a prize-winning story, though.
How to Marry An African President is another good story that’s easy to read, but it wasn’t a story I hadn’t read before. I skimmed through What To Do When Your Child Brings Home a Mami Wata and I was reminded of Emelumadu’s humor! Her story Bush Baby was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2017, so I expected nothing less than her wonderful, sharp satire. I also skimmed through Grace Jones by Okojie (I really want to read her three books that have been published. But getting access to physical books is almost impossible now, thanks to the borders being close). It was a little hard for me to understand what was going on initially, but so far I’m captivated by the writing!
Sigh… To be honest, I’ve slowly lost interest in the Caine Prize over the years. I’m no longer excited about the shortlist or the stories, or who wins. I’m not sure if I’m fatigued at how repetitive everything is, or if I’m just fatigued in general.
Anyway, may the best story win. I won’t be shocked if Grace Jones is the winner. Okojie’s writing is known to be out of this world!
Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the AKO Caine Prize this year?
The winner will be announced on 27th July 2020. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!
You can also check out my past commentary on the AKO Caine Prize below:
The past couple of days have been extremely hard for many of us. The news / media has been very taxing on our psyche and we are emotionally spent. The stagnancy COVID-19 has created in our current lives as well as the disproportionate number of Black lives the virus is taking, is painful. And to add salt to injury, witnessing fellow brothers and sisters being murdered at the hands of the police in various states in the US is deeply disheartening. The anger, pain and brokenness is vast. We are thoroughly exhausted. We’ve had enough.
In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist. — Angela Davis
Non-Black friends – I’d like to implore you to please do better. Those who are silent during this time – your silence is complicity. READ, listen, do the introspective work of understanding your discomfort when it comes to conversations surrounding race. Call out your racist friends and family members (especially during ‘kitchen table talk’). Don’t just perform antiracism online by typing the generic – ‘I’m shocked’ or ‘I’m appalled’ at what is currently happening. Actually take action in trying to dismantle white supremacy, instead of performing fake sympathy online.
Evaluate your own internalized racism – how do you interact with your Black co-workers, classmates, essential workers, even Black strangers in grocery stores, public transportation etc? Be that non-Black friend / ally who’ll tell us to sit at home while you go protest. Be that non-Black friend that insists on walking by our side as we all go out and protest. Put your time, money and resources where your mouth is.
Below are some resources for ways we can all help in *our liberation, especially for those who aren’t able to protest. These are twelve (12) organizations and victim support platforms where we can help fund racial justice:
Minnesota Freedom Fund – A community-based nonprofit that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.
Black Visions Collective – A Black, Trans & Queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression & violence and shifting the public narrative to create transformative, long-term change.
Campaign Zero – An online platform and organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
Reclaim the Block – A coalition that advocates for and invests in community-led safety initiatives in Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Unicorn Riot – A non-profit organization that is dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues through amplifying stories and exploring sustainable alternatives in today’s globalized world.
Run With Maud / I Run With Maud – We all know and saw what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia. Sign the petition, donate and help make calls to demand justice for Ahmaud.
Justice for Breonna / viaChange.org – Breonna Taylor deserves accountability. Take action by donating and signing the petition. Details on what the petition entails are on the websites.
Black Lives Matter – Founded in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, #BlackLivesMatter has been working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.
There are also a ton of city Bail Funds available to bail protestors out of jail. Google your city’s Bail Fund to donate. Please give what you can, if you can.
There are many other organizations working tirelessly in demanding justice. Several Black lives have been humiliated and/or lost to white hate and police brutality. We remember Emmett Till, Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Nina Pop and so many more, including countless Black women and Black Trans women. ALL Black lives that have been lost will never be forgotten. We are human and we matter.
Nearly all the books celebrated on this book blog are great places to start for anyone trying to do the personal work of dismantling white supremacy. But below are 17 book recommendations (mostly non-fiction) of old & new reads that are pertinent to the current unrest.
If you have access to these books (and others, obviously) please READ them. Help be part of the change.
In the meantime, Black friends – make time for yourself and do the things you love. COVID-19 has already created an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty. Disconnect from the news and social media for a while – I plan on taking a social media break for some time. The constant images of Black bodies being hurt and killed takes a toll on the psyche. Make time for yourself. Be still and regroup.
*our – meaning ALL Black lives – Black women, Black men, Black LGBTQIA; Black – African American, African, Caribbean, Black British, Afropean, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Asian – any and all variations of the spectrum. All of us.
Over the years, I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads. So far I’ve loved work by a few writers of African descent who reside in the UK (or who’ve lived there for an extended period of time), like – Diriye Osman, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Warsan Shire, Chibundu Onuzo.
I still have a ways to go with regards to reading more books from this special sector of Black literature, but below are 20 books by Black British authors that are on my radar this year! Some of these books were already highlighted in my annual New Releases To Anticipate! post in January, and majority are yet to be published this year. Obviously, this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black Brit authors 2020 has to offer. The books highlighted in this post are just the ones on my TBR list!
Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.
Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
I finished reading An American Marriage yesterday. I usually take my time with my current reads, but I devoured this book in two days because I just wanted to get the pain over and done with. A book hits differently when you read it once the hype has subsided. My heart!
I initially wanted to give up on this book after the first 40 pages, but my Mom encouraged me to finish it (the book was a gift to her last year, and she loved it even though it was a painful read). I wanted to stop reading because the story was laden with a type of grief I didn’t want to deal with, especially not during this anxious time of Coronavirus. The events that led to Roy’s arrest were traumatic, painful and heartbreaking to read – especially with him being innocent. While the couple’s arguments prior the arrest were probably normal, I wasn’t encouraged by their relationship, as a whole. Reading the letters Celestial and Roy wrote each other while Roy was in prison was heavy. Their relationship before and after prison was just heavy! *sigh*… Andre, really sir?
There are no good or bad characters in this story – I’m on everyone’s side. I love that Jones showed how all the characters in this book came from imperfect (loving) families and how messy their relationships were. But I sympathize with Roy the most. Jones definitely highlights Black masculinity in all its forms, through poor Roy’s character, as well as the other men in this story – Andre, Big Roy, Carlos, Franklin, Uncle Banks. An American Marriage definitely reminds readers of the terrible effects of mass incarceration – not only for the people imprisoned, but also the friends and families involved. The last 50 pages of this book were probably the best! My heart raced as I was eager to know how the story would end. I quite liked how it ended, really. One thing that stuck out for me was how history repeated itself – with regards to how Celestial’s parents got married and Roy’s biological father in prison…
Jones made this book as Southern as possible and I loved that! Readers are acquainted with Georgia (Atlanta) and Louisiana (Eloe) via the landscape, the soul food, the accents and the lifestyles. It’s hard not to crave shrimp croquettes and blackberry jam cake while reading!
An American Marriage reminded me of Baldwin’s ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ and Ava DuVernay’s documentary ’13th’ – both tragic explorations of the serious systemic issues America is slow to rectify. Jones’ beautiful writing kept this story captivating, emotional and very human. I know this novel is a love story at it’s core, but ultimately, I found the story to be an intimately devastating tale that exposes the effects of America’s humongous issue of mass incarceration. Read this, if you have the heart.
Last thing! Maybe its because I’m almost a Dentist, but I can’t seem to get over how pained I am about Roy’s tooth… what’s the significance of the whole tooth thing? Someone please enlighten me!
★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!
It’s been a very trying time, worldwide. I hope everyone is staying (home) safe and not allowing COVID-19 to get us down. Hopefully, all this chaos will subside sooner than later – let’s stay positive!
Anyone who frequents this book blog knows I admire the work of Ghanaian writer, Ayesha Harruna Attah. I’ve read (and reviewed) all of her books and I just really resonate with her writing – the subject matter, the writing style, the character-driven plots etc. In my annual post on New Books To Anticipate this year, I mentioned that she would be releasing a YA novel. Today, we are revealing the book cover of this new novel – The Deep Blue Between, which will be published by Pushkin Press in October 2020!
Check out the synopsis for The Deep Blue Between below:
A sudden, brutal slave raid tears twins Hassana and Vitória apart, taking them far away from each other. Hassana goes to Accra, where she builds a new family and finds a place for herself in the political world; Vitória goes to Salvador, Bahia where she lives and works with a Priestess, worshipping the gods of the motherland.
But no matter the different obstacles and adventures they encounter, the sisters never forget one another. They remain bound together by their dreams, and slowly their fates begin to draw them back together.
Rich in historical detail, this epic, moving novel evokes a time of great change in West Africa, when slavery has been abolished but colonialism is taking hold, through the lives of two bold young women who are shaping their changing society.
A TEEN FEMINIST EPIC OF LOVE, COURAGE AND DETERMINATION
I connected with Ayesha for some insight into The Deep Blue Between. Enjoy our short book chat below, where she talks about the inspiration for her forthcoming novel and gives us a sneak-peek into the main characters!
The Deep Blue Between is your 4th forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! The book cover is so vibrant and glorious. It feels like yesterday that your 3rd novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga was published. What was your inspiration for this new novel and how long did it take you to write?
AHA: Thank you! The Hundred Wells of Salaga was the direct inspiration for The Deep Blue Between. This new novel follows twins Hassana and Vitória after they are separated in a human caravan – the same one which sent Aminah to Kintampo and then on to Salaga. Hassana and Vitória are Aminah’s little sisters! After writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga, I couldn’t let go of the girls and had to find out what happened next. Since I knew the sisters well – or at least what they were like at age nine – the story poured out of me and I was able to complete a first draft of the book in five months.
From my knowledge of your previous novels, this is your first book in the (Young Adult) YA genre. Did this genre affect your approach in writing The Deep Blue Between? Does writing a YA novel target a specific audience?
AHA: Yes, it is my first YA book, but in my second novel Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo, one of the four protagonists, is a teenager. I had such a good time writing his character that I was excited for the chance to do so again, even if this time I was working with teenagers living in the 19th century. I let the girls guide me and just wrote the story. It was in rewriting that I started worrying about which parts might have been a stretch for a young adult reader.
Even though I wanted to write a book that teenage Ayesha would have loved to get lost in, I also know that when done well, even adults love YA!
What was the best part about writing Hassana and Vitória’s dynamic?
AHA: I think it was the magic of their journeys. It almost felt as if I were a medium. All I had to do was allow my senses to be open to let their stories in. I also especially loved researching the worlds of Accra, Lagos, and Bahia in the 1890s.
While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in The Hundred Wells of Salaga, Wurche’s character traits mirrored some of mine. How much of your personal life is seeped into The Deep Blue Between?
AHA: My family is filled with twins, so I tried to tap into that energy to write The Deep Blue Between; even my last name – Attah – means twin. Although Hassana and Vitória are so different, it’s inevitable that they both have parts of me. While I probably identify more with Vitória’s introversion, some of Hassana’s compulsions are totally mine!
Why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Deep Blue Between? What would you like us to take away from the story?
AHA: I really enjoyed working on The Deep Blue Between and I hope the reader feels that sense of joy and wonder that kept me going as I wrote. It’s a fantastic story about the connection between people, and the unseen things that are at work in this strange world of ours – the strength of community and the power of dreams.
Special thanks to Elise Jackson, Poppy Stimpson (of Pushkin Press) + the rest of the team at Pushkin Press and Ayesha Harruna Attah for this wonderful Cover Reveal collaboration!
Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood.
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Whew! It’s been a while since I read and reviewed a 5-star book. Girl, Woman, Other is probably really 4.5 stars, but I’m giving this novel 5 stars purely because of how this book made me feel. Yes, believe the hype!
Girl, Woman, Other is an inter-generational novel that follows 12 different characters in the UK. The book is divided into 5 parts, with each part containing 3 chapters/character storylines.
Part 1 follows – Amma, Yazz and Dominique; Part 2 follows Carole, Bummi and LaTisha; Part 3 follows Shirley, Winsome and Penelope; Part 4 follows Megan/Morgan, Hattie and Grace; Part 5 is the Epilogue (which I found a bit unnecessary). Each chapter in this book is dedicated to a character and the characters are mostly woman of color (either Black or bi- or multiracial), with one character being non-binary.
Readers follow characters through their lives, as their stories oscillate from past to present. All characters and stories are interconnected in such a fascinating way. Even in this book, readers see just how small the world is. Bernardine Evaristo’s sharp wit and ability to fabricate such nuanced characters, displaying all their idiosyncrasies is such an awesome feat! The writing style of this novel is unique. It’s so unique that you might need some patience getting used to it. Once I got acclimated to Evaristo not using punctuation marks, I was easily able to vividly hear the voices of the characters.
Having all 12 characters interconnected made this book so enjoyable for me! I’ve always been a sucker for inter-connected short stories (Edwidge Danticat does this well!) and family sagas. I felt like I was part of the wonderful community Evaristo created. Each character has her/their own set of issues and the icing on the cake for me was analyzing how each character viewed themselves, and others. I loved the way perspective and our views/opinions/feelings about people play a huge role in this book. Evaristo did an incredible job of showing us how the characters viewed themselves and others from different angles.
Anyway, that’s enough gushing over how much I enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other, as a whole. Let’s now delve into 9 of the characters I loved/disliked.
NOTE – kindly tread lightly. I do my bestnot to include spoilers in my analysis of these characters. But also, just know that whatever I say here can’t even do the actual characters justice. You really get the full scope of the characters when you read the book!
Yazz: she’s the daughter of Amma Bonsu – a badass lesbian playwright and Ronald Quartey – a pissy, arrogant gay professor (sorry, but I hated his arrogance and self-hate). Yazz’s chapter was second in this book and really had me revved up to continue reading. She almost embodies the modern day enlightened teen. She’s a 19 year old super ambitious University student who is open-minded, opinionated, self-assured, woke (conscious of social issues and inequalities in the world) and not down with the bullshit. I had fun witnessing her trying to find herself and maintain a solid friend group, while dealing with her annoying, yet hilarious parents.
Dominique: poor Dominique! Her chapter was almost the most frustrating to read. Dominique is Amma’s bestie and the duo started a production company as young adults, while navigating their broke lives in London. She’s a lesbian of Caribbean heritage and from a family who disowns her after she comes out as a lesbian teen. Dominique follows an African-American woman to the States and almost loses herself. That’s all I’ll say on Dominique. I loved how her chapter shed light on abuse that happens within relationships and how oblivious the one being abused can be.
Carole: I think Carole’s character was complex. I liked Carole as I read her chapter, but when I read her mother’s chapter – Bummi, and even her school teacher’s chapter – Shirley, I realized how trash Carole actually was! I think she was a victim of her circumstances. As a young teen, Carole followed the wrong group of girls and had some unfortunate events happen in her life. She excels as an adult, but throws away her heritage. What made me dislike Carole was how negative she was. Her actions and views on innocent folks who had good intentions towards her were just off! I wonder if other readers saw her to be an opportunist… She’s a brilliant young lady, but the self-hate she displays was quite disappointing (but so real in many peoples’ lives today).
Bummi: what a woman! Bummi is Carole’s mother. Her chapter brought tears to my eyes – tears from feeling her pain, struggle and joy, all at once! Bummi is a heroine.
LaTisha: she’s Carole’s childhood friend, who isn’t the brightest of the bunch. As a teen and young adult, LaTisha’s dysfunctional family led her to fall into the arms of many men. I was shocked at how fertile she was and how dumb she was every time she slept with a man that lied to her. Like the great J. Cole once said: ‘Fool me one time shame on you; Fool me twice, can’t put the blame on you’. Given that LaTisha was fooled sooo many times, who is the fool here?
Shirley: she’s another one of Amma’s friends, but from childhood. Shirley’s a plain Jane teacher of high school students. She starts out teaching with a passion, but burns-out as the years go by. I personally think she has a perfect family – her loving husband, Lennox, is perfect for her (or so I thought….); her daughters are wonderful and Shirley’s parents are well-off pensioners with a beach house in Barbados. Like I said before, Shirley’s chapter made me see how ungrateful Carole was. But Shirley is a complainer! Her life really had no problems, but she saw problems with most things, which was hilarious and annoying at the same time. Oh, and she might be a closeted homophobe…
Winsome: she’s Shirley’s mother. Her chapter will make your jaw drop! What a wild, deprived, shameless woman! She’s the epitome of the Ghanaian phrase – ‘onipa yɛ bad’ which literally means ‘human beings are bad’ but actually means – ‘be weary of people/ you can’t trust anyone’. Period.
Morgan: They are the non-binary character, who was initially called Megan. I didn’t find their chapter convincing, to be honest. I didn’t like the flow of their storyline and found their eventual fame so random and misplaced.
Grace: she’s Morgan’s great-grandmother. I ended up loving Grace especially when she snapped out of her postpartum depression. Flossie’s (Grace’s maid) unsympathetic attitude towards Grace was unfortunate, but so real! People are quick to judge other mothers, without knowing the misery and sadness mothers who’ve experienced multiple miscarriages, or just had zero luck in seeing their babies survive after 3 months. Grace’s chapter tackled tough motherhood issues so beautifully. Grace is definitely an MVP.
I hope my brief discussion of some of the characters whetted your appetite to pick up this book! While there are a ton of characters in this book, their storylines are not hard to follow and appreciate. Bernardine Evaristo managed to make this novel modern and timeless and I really wish she didn’t have to share the 2019 Booker Prize with anyone.
This is an apt book to enjoy during International Women’s Day, which is today! Girl, Woman, Other is Evaristo celebration of Black British womanhood.
★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!