Ghanaian Writers | Book Chat :: with Ayesha Harruna Attah

Once again, the month of March is here! Ghana gained independence in March (TODAY, March 6th 1957), so I like to dedicate this month to celebrating Ghanaian writers and their work. In the African literature scene, Ghanaian writers and their books are seriously underrated. As a reader of Ghanaian heritage, I enjoy discovering new Ghanaian writers and learning about our pioneer writers. If we don’t celebrate our own, who will?

Last year on African Book Addict! we celebrated 75 Ghanaian writers and their books in a 3-part series. This year (more like this month), I’ll be in conversation with some of the writers highlighted in last year’s series!


 

First up is Ayesha Harruna Attah – author of Harmattan Rain, Saturday’s Shadows and forthcoming The Hundred Wells of Salaga, which will be published by Cassava Republic Press in May! Enjoy this fun book chat where Ayesha talks about the inspirations for her forthcoming novel, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer & the future of Ghanaian literature, the Black writers who influence her work and why we should indulge in The Hundred Wells of Salaga.

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

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Check out the synopsis for The Hundred Wells of Salaga below:

Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens to cleave the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century.

Set in pre-colonial Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. Through the experiences of Aminah and Wurche, it offers a remarkable view of slavery and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people.

 

  • The Hundred Wells of Salaga is your 3rd forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! When did you first get ideas on the story and how long did it take you to write the novel?

AHA: Thank you! About ten years ago, I found out that my great-great grandmother was enslaved. I wanted to know more. Who was she? Where had she come from? What were her desires before her dreams were snatched away? To unearth more, I made a trip to Salaga, in northern Ghana, where there was an infamous slave market. But I kept hitting walls – either people didn’t want to talk or they didn’t know enough. So in 2012, I decided to research how people ended up in Salaga and to also put my imagination to work. I officially started writing in 2014.

 


  • Did you learn anything about yourself while writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga?

AHA: I learned just how much I didn’t know about African history. For instance, it was a big surprise to me that in the 19th century in the Sokoto Caliphate, there were women teachers, jajis, who taught other women and they used poetry as a way of disseminating values.

 


  • While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo’s character mirrored a lot of my life as well! How much of your personal life seeps into your stories?

AHA: I don’t consciously set out to put my lived experiences into my writing, but it would be almost impossible to divorce myself from my characters. Even if I were writing the vilest character on earth, it would be with my flavor and through my eyes. Of course, there are certain moments in life that are too good to keep to oneself and, those, I very intentionally put into my stories. For instance, the anecdote in Saturday’s Shadows, where a man cuts himself with a blade to prove he’s invincible—that was a real life scene I witnessed.

 


  • Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience? After working on the #GHat60 project last year, I was amazed at the great number of Ghanaian writers doing amazing work. How do you feel about the future of Ghanaian literature?

AHA: I think it was The Anthill in the Sea, an illustrated poetry book by Atukwei Okai. I don’t even remember how old I was. Maybe seven. I loved it.

On the future of Ghanaian literature, there is so much potential and possibility brimming, which I find really exciting. I think the work the Writers Project of Ghana is doing is commendable and writers such as Ruby Goka, Nana Awere Damoah, Mohammed Naseehu Ali, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Boakyewaa Glover give me hope for our generation of writers. What we desperately need are publishing houses with serious distribution networks.

(all these Ghanaian writers were featured in the #GHat60 3-part series, last year)

 


  • What have you been reading and loving lately? And who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work?

AHA: After almost a year and a half of new mummy duties, I have started reading again. Since January, I have read Akwaeke Emezi, JJ Bola, Ayobami Adebayo, all debut novelists and I have loved all their books.

I devour work by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Bessie Head, Ama Ata Aidoo, Lucille Clifton, and of course, Ayi Kwei Armah, who gave me the push I needed to write my first novel.

 


  • Finally, why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Hundred Wells of Salaga? What would you like us to take away from the story?

AHA: The involvement of Africans in the slave trade is a part of history that I feel hasn’t been confronted or dealt with enough. There were entire villages built in rocks to prevent slave raiders from attacking. It was a traumatic moment we suffered on the continent, and if trauma isn’t healed it manifests itself in disease, passiveness, self-harm… The list is endless. My impression is that most African countries do not want to deal with this past. Just recently, the world learned of slave auctions in Libya. I was ashamed and appalled that Ghanaians and Nigerians were involved, once again as middlemen. I hope that this book will wake us up to the role that we played in the slave trade, and begin us on the path of forgiveness and healing.

 

Pre-order The Hundred Wells of Salaga on Amazon

 

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

Harmattan Rain  |  Saturday’s Shadows

 


Check out the 75 Ghanaian writers that were highlighted in last year’s 3-part series below:

 

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Saturday’s Shadows by Ayesha H. Attah

Saturday's ShadowsDate Read: February 27th 2016

Published: January 2015

Publisher: World Editions

Pages: 352

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The protagonists of Saturday’s Shadows experience the fine line between sanity and madness as they try to find and hold on to love in the volatile world of 1990s West Africa. After a seventeen-year military dictatorship, a country tries to find it’s footing while the members of the middle-class Avoka family lurch towards destruction. They live in a politically complex climate, a time so tenuous that the country could easily dip back into its military past.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Saturday’s Shadows is a multi-voice novel about the Avoka family in an unnamed West African country. Readers meet Theo – the head of the Avoka family, who is working on the president – Dr. Karamoh Saturday’s memoir and might be caught up in dangerous political risks. His wife is Zahra, who works in the farming industry but is pre-occupied with re-living her past love life with an old flame. And there’s Kojo, their only child who is struggling to keep up with schoolwork at the prestigious International Secondary School. Atsu, the Avoka family’s house help is straight out of the village and is busy balancing learning to read and write English while trying to stay out of trouble with a suspicious man who admires her.

Saturday’s Shadows is a decent novel and Ayesha H. Attah does an amazing job with character development. Character development is a huge strength of Ayesha Harruna Attah’s and I remember truly enjoying the character development of characters like Sugri and Akua-Afriyie in Harmattan Rain back in 2014. My favorite character in Saturday’s Shadows is Kojo. He is such a witty, hilarious, typical teenage boy with insecurities and worries of growing up. I was always happy to read his chapters in this novel as he finds young love and struggles with bullies and Math at school. My least favorite character in this novel is Kojo’s mother – Zahra. She’s such selfish mother and wife! Throughout the book, she only lives to satisfy her own wants and needs, which put her health and marriage at risk. Theo Avoka’s chapters are intriguing as well. He gives the novel a political feel, which is a different dimension to the family-oriented theme of this novel.

Because this story takes place in an unnamed West African nation, the different characters have various names of West African origin. For example, some characters have Nigerian names like Kunle and Ngozi ; Ghanaian names like Atsu and Kojo ; Senegalese names like Ndeye and Diouf. This may seem trivial, but I really loved how there was a cute blend of West African names in this novel! But it took me 2 months to finish Saturday’s Shadows – I started it a day after Christmas and ended up taking a break from the book when I got to page 260 or so. I think I was just craving a story that was more fast-paced and exciting. Why did all the good action have to happen on page 300, almost towards the end? After I picked this up again in February, I found the storyline to be a bit predictable. I’m a huge fan of Ayesha H. Attah’s work, but this book wasn’t as exciting for me as Harmattan Rain. Definitely read this book if you enjoy character development and a family themed story!

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

Check out some photos from the Saturday’s Shadows book reading I attended back in 2015 – here.

Ayesha H. Attah is working on a new novel called One Hundred Wells! Read more about it – here. I’m excited for it!!

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Purchase Saturday’s Shadows on Book Depository

Excerpt from ‘Saturday’s Shadows’ by Ayesha H. Attah

If you were a fan of Harmattan Rain, you would probably love Ayesha Harruna Attah’s second novel, Saturday’s Shadows as well! I recently read an excerpt (8 pages) from the novel and so far, so good 🙂

Saturday's Shadows

Check out the synopsis of Saturday’s Shadows:

           A thin film exists between sanity and madness, learn the protagonists of Saturday’s Shadows, as they try to find and hold on to love in the volatile world of 1990s West Africa. After a 17-year military dictatorship, the members of the middle class Avoka family lurch towards destruction as their country is trying to find its footing. The father, Theo, is recruited to write the memoirs of the dictator-turned-president whom he both loathes and reveres. Zahra, matriarch of the Avoka household, rekindles an affair with an old lover and barely keeps her family and sanity together. Theo and Zahra’s son Kojo has just started the boarding school of his dreams but finds out sometimes dreams should remain dreams. Their help, Atsu, a recent transplant from the village, struggles to understand big city living with all its temptations—money, men, and lust—and a family in which the mother doesn’t possess a single domestic bone. The climate they live in is politically complex, a time so tenuous the country could easily dip back into its military past.

This multi-voiced novel not only paints a picture of these tumultuous changes, but also shows that tenderness can persist even when everything else is being rent apart. Influenced by Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Saturday’s Shadows allows its four characters to narrate how they will do almost anything to find themselves.

Read the excerpt from Saturday’s ShadowsHERE.

I purchased Saturday’s Shadows a couple of weeks ago from Vidya Bookstore in Osu, Accra. If you’re in Accra, try and pick it up! The book is also available on Amazon. Expect a review soon.

Check out my review of Harmattan Rainhere.

Harmattan Rain by Ayesha H. Attah

Harmattan-RainDate Read: February 10th 2014

Published: 2008

Publisher: PER ANKH

Pages: 434

 

The Blurb

Harmattan Rain follows three generations of women as they cope with family, love and life. A few years before Ghana’s independence, Lizzie-Achiaa’s lover disappears. Intent on finding him, she runs away from home. Akua Afriyie, Lizzie-Achiaa’s first daughter, strikes out on her own as a single parent in a country rocked by successive coups. Her daughter, Sugri grows up overprotected. She leaves home for university in New York, where she learns that sometimes one can have too much freedom. In the end, the secrets parents keep from their children eventually catch up with them

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

Once I finally gave this book a chance, I really enjoyed it! I started Harmattan Rain in October of 2013, but put it down after reading 30 pages or so. I found the beginning a bit slow so I just took a break and came back to it in February.

Harmattan Rain focuses on three generations of Ghanaian women in a family: Lizzie-Achiaa, Akua Afriyie and Sugri. Readers experience Ghana (mostly the capital, Accra) through these characters from 1954- before independence, to the early 2000’s. We learn about Ghana’s political unrest during the coup d’etat era and witness the evolution of Ghanaian politics. Ayesha Harruna Attah does a great job of weaving Ghana’s history into the storyline in a simple, clear way, without being politically biased.

The novel is divided into three parts, so readers have the opportunity to delve deep into the lives of each character and their storyline. Ayesha Harruna Attah effortlessly develops each character and their storyline to the point where all three storylines are meshed together perfectly. As the novel takes us from one generation to the next, readers witness family cycles, past mistakes and habits continuing. It was refreshing to go through the realistic ups and downs of these ladies’ lives: Lizzie-Achiaa- the brave matriarch of the family runs away from her village to find her lost lover and also tries to pursue her nursing career in Accra; Akua Afriyie- Lizzie’s rebellious first child struggles with being a single parent and strives to find happiness through her art; Sugri- Akua Afriyie’s only daughter, a brilliant but sheltered girl, learns hard lessons of life as she goes away to college in the US.

My favorite part of the novel is part three, which focuses on Sugri. I could identify with Sugri more, as she attended an international high school, went to university abroad and experienced being ‘different’ outside of Ghana. She may be a little naive, but her growth and strength by the end of the novel was inspiring! Ayesha Harruna Attah seems to be a shy person from some interviews I’ve seen, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was reading this book because she’s a powerful writer with an unexpected creative imagination. Harmattan Rain is a great debut for Ayesha Harruna Attah and I can’t wait to read her next novel!

Check out a sneak peek of her second novel, Saturday’s Shadows to be launched this Fall – here!

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

Purchase Harmattan Rain on Amazon