Cover Reveal + Q&A | The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah

Hello everyone!

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!

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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.

[Cover design by Helen Crawford-White]

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!

(note – ‘AHA’ represents Ayesha Harruna Attah’s responses)

 

  • 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!

Pre-order The Deep Blue Between on Amazon

 


P.S: GHANAIAN readers – stay tuned for a giveaway of The Deep Blue Between, soon!

Check out my thoughts on Ayesha Harruna Attah’s novels:

Harmattan Rain | Saturday’s Shadows | The Hundred Wells of Salaga 

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 Book chat with Ayesha Harruna Attah

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Date Read: February 22nd 2020

Published: May 2nd 2019

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Pages: 453

The Blurb

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.

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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 best not 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.

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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!

Purchase Girl, Woman, Other on Amazon

2020 NEW RELEASES TO ANTICIPATE!

Happy New Year, everyone!

We are in the year 2020 – how crazy is that? 2020 sounds like a year in a Sci-Fi novel, doesn’t it?!

Below is my annual collage of new books to anticipate this year. I’ve compiled about 80 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. Please note – this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black authors 2020 has to offer!

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

MORE books to look out for in 2020:

image via Essence

Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me into the Life of My Dreams by Yvonne Orji 

The Blurb

In Bamboozled by Jesus, a frank and fresh advice book, Orji takes readers on a journey through twenty life lessons, gleaned from her own experiences and her favorite source of inspiration: the Bible. She infuses wit and heart along with practical pointers―such as why being talented is not as sexy as being available, and how fear is similar to food poisoning―with the goal of helping others live the most fulfilling, audacious life possible.

With bold authenticity and practical relatability, Orji will inspire everyone to catapult themselves out of the mundane and into the magnificent. Bamboozled by Jesus paints a powerful picture of what it means to say “yes” to your most rewarding life―no matter your beliefs.

To be published May 2020

 


image via Twitter

An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon

 

The Blurb

An Ordinary Wonder is the powerful coming of age story of an intersex twin, Oto, who is forced to live as a boy despite his heartfelt belief that he is a girl. His wealthy and powerful family are ashamed of him and treat him cruelly to secure his silence. His twin sister’s love wavers in a world of secrets and lies that seems determined to tear them apart, and Oto must make drastic choices that will alter their lives forever.

Richly imagined with African mythology, art and folk tales, this moving and modern book follows Oto through his life at home and at boarding school in Nigeria, and his ultimate dream of emigrating to a new life in the United States. It is a novel that explores complex desires as well as challenges of family, identity, gender and culture. An Ordinary Wonder takes us on a beautiful journey of what it means to feel whole.

To be published April 2020

 


image via Big Friendship

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

The Blurb

Two of the nation’s leading feminists and hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend make the bold and compelling argument that a close friendship is the most influential and important relationship a human life can contain—helping you improve as a person and in your relationships with others.

To be published July 2020

 


Also look out for work from: Ayesha Harruna Attah’s YA novel – The Deep Blue Between, Maame Blue, Thando Mgqolozana, Bryan Washington.

 

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!

The End of a Decade – Recap

2019 has come to an end! The end of another decade is nigh.

This year hasn’t been my best reading year, at all. I only read 9 books this year, but to be honest, I’m quite proud of myself. I’ve been extremely busy this year, so the blog posts and my reading have decreased exponentially. For those who have been visiting this book blog since 2014, you already know that I’m pursuing my 2nd degree in a 6-year dental program. God willing, I will graduate from dental school in 2020, but until then, my life is all about the clinic, operating theaters, my research project (on dental anxiety), a billion requirements and constant studying – fun! (joking).

– The 9 books I managed to read this year –

Besides being super busy this year, I must say, book blogging has been such a fun outlet for me for the past 5 years! I started this book blog before I got admitted into dental school, and it’s been such a great, fulfilling hobby. I hope to continue reading and sharing my passionate thoughts on books I read.

Over the past 5 years I’ve reviewed a total of about 87 books and have hosted a couple of book chats with awesome participants, here on the book blog. At the end of every year, from 2014 to 2017, I’ve highlighted some of my top 5 books of the year and featured a bunch of my favorite photos of the years’ literary events in those recaps.

Check them out below:

2014     2015    2016     2017

African Book Addict! has also received lots of recognition throughout the years! Being featured on WordPress Discover, Malala Fund’s Assembly, The Africa Center, various podcasts and other blogs/organizations have been so unexpected and affirming. While I never intended for African Book Addict! to gain such recognition, it feels good to know that my book reviews have helped, encouraged and uplifted students, publishers, fellow book lovers and authors. I’ve also made some great friends, thanks to the awesome readers who have been commenting on blog posts and help me comb through different issues raised in the books I’ve read.

My passion for highlighting writers from my homeland commenced in 2017, via the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge. The hashtag has gained some traction on social media (especially Instagram/Bookstagram) and many folks have participated in reading at least one book by a Ghanaian author this year, which is super cool. The book challenge is still open to anyone, to participate in any year! The template for the challenge is available on my last blog post.

Anyway, this recap is very text heavy! I usually prefer to combine photos of books or book covers with text – but stay tuned for an awesome book collage which will be published at the beginning of next year, of my annual picks of books to anticipate in 2020.

I always appreciate the support and love shown here from you all. Happy Holidays, everyone!

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 updates / check-in

Hello everyone! How is the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge going? The year isn’t over yet!

So far I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 books for the challenge. I’m currently a final year dental student and it’s been a struggle to find time to read recently, but I am determined to complete the book challenge. I’m currently reading Tampered Press Vol. 2 – Braided Quilt. This edition of the magazine features many more stories by young Ghanaian writers, which are excellent so far.

On my #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 TBR, I want to read Black Gold of The Sun by Ekow Eshun, From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah-Williams and complete The Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali. This is an ambitious TBR if I’m being honest, but I will complete this challenge oh!

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My artist brother – AduKofs, created a cool template for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge! To those who are unfamiliar, templates are pretty popular on Instagram/ Bookstagram. This template is to help those participating in the book challenge to track the books they’ve read thus far.

Share the books you’ve read by posting the filled-in template on your Instagram stories or Facebook and Twitter for others to see which books they are missing out on! Including the hashtag also helps others see what books by writers of Ghanaian descent are out there! If you are not active on social media, you can print out this template and simply record the books you have read or plan to read for the book challenge.

Template created by AduKofs

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Last month, the Malala Fund featured African Book Addict! and the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge on their digital publication and newsletter – Assembly. It was such an honor to shed light on this book challenge with Malala’s audience! Do check out the feature if you have time. Thanks again to the Malala Fund Assembly team!

via the Malala Assembly feature

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For more recommendations of books by writers of Ghanaian descent, check out:

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

+ Kid Lit recommendations by Booksie:

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

Please note: These recommendations are not exhaustive by any means! The book challenge includes even reading short stories/non-fiction by writers of Ghanaian descent in anthologies, magazines, cookbooks, poems etc. 

 

What books have you read thus far for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge? Please share some of your reads!

A Particular Kind of Black Man by Tope Folarin

Date Read: August 30th 2019

Published: August 6th 2019

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

A stunning debut novel, from Rhodes Scholar and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Tope Folarin about a Nigerian family living in Utah and their uncomfortable assimilation to American life.

Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in and find his place in the world, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.

Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.

But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief from the demons that plague her; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.

Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

I was so excited when Simon & Schuster sent me Folarin’s debut. I’m a fan of Folarin’s Caine Prize shortlisted stories – Miracle and Genesis and I had been waiting for this debut since 2016 – when he was shortlisted for the second time for the Caine Prize.

A Particular Kind of Black Man is a coming-of-age tale that follows Tunde and his family, in Utah and later in Dallas. Throughout the novel, Tunde is trying to understand himself while enduring various changes that emotionally rock his family.

While reading this debut, I was hoping it wouldn’t be the cliché immigrant story of the first-generation American character trying to strike a balance between their American-ness and their African-ness – I’ve honestly read ENOUGH of such stories over the years. This novel did touch on those identity issues, but Folarin gave us more. I love that Folarin shed light on the importance of a mother’s love in the development of the boy child; the effect a mother’s abuse and absence have on the boy child’s psyche. Throughout the novel, it’s clear that Tunde childhood with and without his mother affected him in a plethora of ways. I always knew mothers/mother figures were important in families, but this novel somehow made me see their importance from a whole different angle, especially with Tunde’s lack of his mother’s love.

Tunde’s dad is such an important character in this book – if this debut is ever read for a literature class or discussed in a book club, soooo much can be said about him! He was a loving, strict father, who was deeply affected by the demise of his marriage(s). He was a proud Yoruba man, yet desired to assimilate into American culture (especially in his need to acquire an American accent) just so he could keep a job. Stress gets the best of him and readers see hints of depression, as he fought to stay jovial and positive for his family. Reading and relating to his character felt so real, because in real life, many immigrants don’t always achieve the ‘American dream.’ I wish Folarin gave more insight into Tunde’s dad’s life towards the end of the novel, because he just vanished when Tunde went off to college.

Folarin made this debut more exciting for me with how he played with perspective and memory throughout the novel. At one point, the novel is written in first person (Tunde’s voice) and in some chapters it’s written in the third person. With chapters that are written in first person, Tunde admits to readers that the re-telling of various events discussed in the book may be false, as he seems to suffer from double-memory. I found this both upsetting and fascinating, because Tunde himself isn’t sure of anything anymore, to the point where he thinks he possesses symptoms of his mother’s Schizophrenia. Tunde steadily tries to be a particular type of black man, and Folarin’s use of various perspectives help us witness Tunde’s performance from various aspects.

What I’ve always liked about Folarin’s writing is how lucid and artfully descriptive his stories are. This debut shows Folarin’s poetic and funny side, as various passages display bits of humor and poetic melodies. I will continue to read anything Folarin writes! Read this book if you can.

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster for a copy of this book!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase A Particular Kind of Black Man on Amazon

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Date Read: July 21st 2019

Published: June 4th 2019

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle – of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a ‘true’ Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too ‘faas’ or too ‘quiet’ or too ‘bold’ or too ‘soft’.

Set in Little Jamaica, Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.

A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

The title of this collection is so cool! Everyone loves fried plantain, so the title is truly inviting (Fun fact – fried plantain is called kelewele in Ghana (when diced & spiced), dodo in Nigeria, alloco in Cote d’Ivoire). Frying Plantain is a coming-of-age collection of interconnected short stories that follow Canadian-Jamaican girl, Kara Davis. Initially, I thought with each successive story, I’d be engrossed into Kara’s journey as she went through childhood into adolescence. But now, a part of me feels a little disappointed by this collection. While reading, I felt like I was drowning because I found the characters relentlessly toxic, hence making my reading experience a bit sour.

The collection commences with a story called ‘Pig Head.’ In ‘Pig Head’, we’re introduced to Kara who is on holiday in Jamaica with her family. While on holiday, Kara is sent to get something from the freezer and is terrified by the sight of a huge severed pig head stored there. Kara goes back to her 4th grade classmates in Canada and tells fibs about the pig head. She brags about how she helped kill the pig and gives her classmates gory details of the killing, which eventually land her into trouble with her school’s principal and her mother. Kara fabricates the story in an effort to seem unique and to claim her Jamaican roots even though her neighborhood friends call her ‘stush’ (posh/boujee).

Throughout this collection, Kara tries to fit in by either lying, falling prey to peer pressure or staying quiet to keep the peace. As a child, she spends a lot of time with (toxic) neighborhood friends, who are also of Caribbean heritage. Among her group of friends, some are even straight from the Islands and they impose their Caribbean authenticity by constantly reminding others within the group – including Kara, of how un-Jamaican/Caribbean they are –

Miss Canada gwine fi bust out the patois? Yuh need to stop Ja-fakin’ it, Kara – pg. 32

 

I enjoyed the short stories that explored Kara’s relationships with boys and wanted more! I found the descriptions of her first kiss so cringey yet hilarious, as Reid-Benta aptly portrays the awkwardness –

I told him he could kiss me, and then he inched forward and meshed his lips with mine… My own lips were still puckered when he started to open his mouth. He pressed the tip of his tongue against my teeth until I unclenched and allowed him access. I couldn’t figure him out… I hunched my shoulders instead, trying to show eagerness, and twirled my tongue around his, but he got excited and shoved his tongue so far down my throat I gagged. I pulled away – pg. 116

But Kara’s mother’s sharp gaze always marred my joy of witnessing Kara find love (or have fun, in general). Kara is raised by a single mother – Eloise, who seems pretty miserable. Initially I didn’t feel any love between mother and daughter, but later I realized Eloise’s brash, over-controlling manner was driven by fear. Eloise raises Kara on her own but with the help of her own parents, who come with their own set of issues. *sigh* Eloise’s relationship with her parents (Kara’s grandparents) is tragic – there is a lot of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation and gaslighting between Eloise and her parents, but also between Kara and her grandparents. Eloise’s parents also have a dysfunctional marriage – but I don’t even have the energy to get into their marriage. Kara’s family dynamics in this book are just A LOT.

Since Kara is raised in an over-controlled, stern environment, her personality is unassuming and quite unclear. She comes off as meek, subdued and repressed; but she can defend herself or react to unfair treatment when pushed to her limit, which is often.

According to other readers on Goodreads, this collection is very Canadian. I wasn’t sensitive to the Canadian-ness of this collection, as I wouldn’t even know where to catch the nuances. I’ve only visited Canada three times (Toronto when I was about 5 years old, Montréal as a sophomore in college and Windsor when I was a senior in college), so I didn’t have the eye for spotting the Canadian vibes from the collection. I did like the mention of poutine though, when Kara and her friends trekked through a snow storm just to eat some.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing style. She has a beautiful way with words such that I vividly saw Kara’s quiet awkwardness; I could hear Eloise shouting at Kara to stop crying; I could feel Kara’s desire to fit in with her fellow Caribbean friends. Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing is the reason I finished this collection. She has a gift with words, and I surely admire that!

I think I would have enjoyed this collection more if I was new to African Diaspora literature. But I’ve read countless stories like this, so it didn’t really stand out to me as super unique. I just find it very interesting how Caribbean women writers always seem to touch on strained mother-daughter relationships in their work. I haven’t read a ton of work by Caribbean women writers, but so far Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Jackson, Alexia Arthurs ALL touch on this strained relationship in their stories. Why is this type of relationship so prevalent in their work? Anyway, even though I wasn’t blown away by this collection, I look forward to reading more of Reid-Benta’s work! She’s a pretty damn good writer.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for sending me a review copy of the book!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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You Too Will Know Me by Ama Asantewa Diaka (Poetra Asantewa)

Date Read: July 16th 2019

Published: June 11th 2019

Publisher: Akashic Books

Pages: 30

The Blurb

“Here is a poet whose practiced weaving of talk and song is a testament to her devotion to language and her clarity of vision. Those of us who have encountered Diaka with excitement invite you to listen with us as she offers us a new song, one which will surely not be her last” – Tjawandwa Dema

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

You Too Will Know Me is a chapbook that reads like a series of confessions, in an effort to better love and accept oneself. Through the sincere truths and feelings revealed, Diaka shows that ‘any day is a good day for redemption’, that there is joy in the morning and we can all start over again. Most of the poems speak to the challenges of adulthood, abandonment of lovers, unrequited love, (un)forgiveness, feminine strength + beauty and more.

Diaka’s writing style is bold – bold enough to have the words ‘God’ and ‘blowjob’ in the same stanza! Bold enough to capture the essence of what it’s like to be deeply disappointed in your home country for not loving its citizens enough (from my favorite poem – And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place).

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Favorite quotes from various poems in the chapbook:

‘how do I distract myself from myself in order to free myself?’ – Before The Gag, page 12

 

‘What’s the English word for someone who still has hope in lovers who cause too much anxiety?
Tell me so I can spit it out.’ – Spit, page 13

 

‘Damn everybody!
Do they not know
that the sun borrows light from your fingertips?
Do they not know
that you give color to the rose?
Do they not know
that your breath is studied by the highest of connoisseurs
to make the best perfumes?
There’s something about you
that makes looking away impossible’ – Suicide Sarah, page 15

 

‘I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford…
I want a love
that doesn’t require me to be ridiculously multifaceted
in order to have a fraction of an equation at being equipped for survival;
a love that doesn’t wait for another suitor to sing the praises of my genius
before recognizing my worth,
or worse, only after I’m dead.
I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford,
the way white lusts for a backdrop to outshine.

And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place, page 18

 

‘I have been fretting over things that God shakes his head at
toying with faith as if it were a disappearing act.
One minute I’m full of it,
the next, I don’t exactly know the shape of it.
I fret over now and tomorrow,
giving myself and God a headache.
Spoon feed myself faith,
and come up hungry again…’ – Let It Be, page 22

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Bloom is an unapologetically Ghanaian poem, that reads like a vivid short film. In the poem, the narrator takes readers to Accra, Ghana- Labadi, to be precise. The narrator describes the ordinary Ghanaians she sees on the road, simply living. The laugh and smiles of a porridge seller – Ms. Atta, keeps her customers coming for more, despite the deep pain and hurt she feels within.

‘These people teach me,
that if you are from Accra and you are placed anywhere in
the world,
there’s no way you won’t know how to bloom’ – Bloom, page 24

 

This collection is meant to be read more than once. Multiple readings will reveal different truths – about the poet and even you, the reader! Diaka’s work allows readers to meditate and examine their feelings towards their present lives. You Too Will Know Me is honest, visceral and necessary. Also, it’s Ghanaian AF!

 

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

You Too Will Know Me is part of a series published by Akashic Books in collaboration
with the African Poetry Book Fund:
New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita) (African Poetry)

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