Date Read: March 31st 2015
Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Gazing at her naked body in the mirror, Mara reflects on her transformation from naïve Ghanaian village girl into a prostitute in a German brothel.
Mara has been deceived by her husband, Akobi, into coming to Europe to find a ‘Paradise’ but as the truth about Akobi and her new life unfolds she realizes she is trapped. The expectations of her family in Africa force her to remain, living a lie.
Beyond the Horizon is a gripping and provocative story of the plight of African women in Europe, and the false hopes of those they leave behind.
Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)
Oh what a tragic novel this is! I don’t think Amma Darko gets the shine she rightfully deserves for this book or for her writing in general. Her novel – The Housemaid has been sitting on my bookshelf for years now. I’ll surely read it soon, as I hear its pretty amazing. With that said, Beyond the Horizon is a heart-wrenching masterpiece and a testament to some of the unfair effects of our patriarchal societies.
This is a story of a Ghanaian village girl – Mara, who enters into an arranged marriage with a man – Akobi, from the city who works at the Ministries. When Mara finally moves to the city to live in Akobi’s one bedroom shabby shelter, he constantly abuses her. Mara, who is meek, evergreen to city-life and quite stupid (that’s my opinion, sorry) cooks, cleans their home and even sells various items at the market to support Akobi while tolerating his beatings, sadistic sexual demands and sleeping on a mat on the concrete floor while Akobi enjoys his dried-grass mattress. In my eyes, Mara was Akobi’s slave.
With the help of a ‘connection’ man, Akobi travels to Europe with the intention of working to raise money to advance his social standings in the city. Akobi traveling to Europe brings honor to his village and Mara’s family as he is seen as a man of great prestige. Months after Akobi leaves for Europe, Mara attempts to modernize herself, in the attempt to make Akobi fall in love with her. To Mara’s surprise Akobi later arranges for her to join him in Europe and Mara is more than delighted since she never dreamed that stepping foot in Europe would ever be her fate. Once Mara arrives in Europe (Germany, to be exact) with the aid of the ‘connection’ man, readers witness the manipulative ordeals Mara endures in a foreign land that leave her stranded.
I’m glad I read this book even though Mara frustrated me deeply throughout the story. Mara had no sense of her worth and sadly, her fate was determined by her chosen husband – Akobi, who did not love her. Akobi was a terribly wicked, self-absorbed man who used Mara for everything that she was. I waited so long for Mara to retaliate, to come to her senses and run away, to stop fantasizing about her husband finally loving and appreciating her; but rather, she consistently endured Akobi’s verbal and physical abuse till almost the end of the novel.
Amma Darko skillfully weaves-in a lot of themes throughout this story that make this novel relevant to present day life. Some of these themes are: patriarchy, racism, colorism, domestic violence, pornography, sex exploitation, drug abuse, prostitution, the myths of living abroad (‘Europe is heaven’), immigration, feminism, womanhood, sisterhood (between Mara and Mama Kiosk in the city; between Mara, Vivian and Kaye in Germany), village life versus city life, modernity etc.
I gave Beyond the Horizon 4 stars because Amma Darko does a great job at pulling readers’ emotions with the rawness in her style of writing! She exposes readers to the horrible realities of the helpless victims of male sex exploitation with such expertise – you would think she was a surviving victim herself. But to be honest, I don’t think this book is for everyone. This is not the type of book you read for pleasure, or to relax and fill a void only enjoyable fictitious literary works satisfy you with. Beyond the Horizon is a depressing novel and wasn’t a fun read for me especially in the beginning as descriptions of domestic abuse were quite harsh. Towards the middle of the storyline, descriptions of (consensual and non-consensual) sexual encounters between Mara and Akobi and other characters in the book made me uncomfortable and slightly upset – for example:
“He was lying on the mattress, face up, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling when I entered. Cool, composed and authoritative, he indicated with a pat of his hand on the space beside him that I should lie down beside him. I did so, more out of apprehension of starting another fight than anything else. Wordlessly, he stripped off my clothes, stripped off his trousers, turned my back to him and entered me. Then he ordered me off the mattress to go and lay on my mat because he wanted to sleep alone.” pg.22
Please note: Men are generally painted as horrendous beings in this novel. I’m assuming Amma Darko wrote Beyond the Horizon as a feminist narrative because readers surely get a deep understanding of the power men hold in society, as they manipulate, deceive and use aggression in oppressing the rights of women – in this story and sometimes in reality.
Some provocative quotes from Beyond the Horizon:
“I mean, Akobi beat me a lot at home, yes, but somehow I identified beatings like this with home. That African men also beat their wives in Europe somehow didn’t fit into my glorious picture of European life.” pg. 73
“At first I didn’t understand, because here, we hear always that African people are hard workers and love work because God made them specially for the hard work of the world…” pg. 99 (this was how a white woman in Germany viewed Africans. My heart skipped a beat reading this).
“Why couldn’t I take control of my own life, since after all, I was virtually husbandless and, what did my husband care about a woman’s virtue? If I was sleeping with men and charging them for it, it was me giving myself to them. The body being used and misused belonged to me.” pg. 118 (it took Mara several years of beatings and coercions to finally realize she was in control of her own life. *sigh*).
As depressing as Beyond the Horizon is, it is definitely a relevant story that I believe everyone should read – even if reluctantly.
★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!
Purchase Beyond the Horizon on Amazon