#TwentyIn2020Bad Love is the story of London-born Ghanaian Ekuah Danquah and her tumultuous experience with first love. Marked by this experience, she finds herself at a crossroads – can she fall in love again, or does the siren song of her first love still call?
Against a backdrop of enigmatic nights scattered with spoken-word poetry in London, Venice, Accra and Paris, Ekuah tries to reconcile her personal journey with the love she struggles with for Dee Emeka, a gifted musician who is both passionate and aloof in his treatment of Ekuah.After 18 months together, he disappears from her life, confirming her worst fears about the unstable foundation of their relationship. She attempts to graduate university whilst retreating into herself, searching for new validations and preoccupations from heartbreak.
Life marches on and Ekuah finds personal fulfillment in her poetry and community work. But when she must choose between her first love and the promise of a new, unexpected love, in the form of Jay Stanley, can she handle the vulnerability and forgiveness required? Grappling with her examples of love, Ekuah must forge her own path. With an increasingly successful career, she finds herself travelling around the world. When her rise intersects with Dee’s own fame, the two are pushed to reach a final resolution.
Review – ★★★ (3 stars)
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Twenty in 2020 is a collaboration between Jacaranda Books and Words of Color, where they dedicate this year to publishing 20 works by Black British writers. The works include adult fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The aim of this trailblazing program is to normalize the presence of diverse literature, characters and authors across all genres and curricula, with the hope that it will be a source of inspiration for a new generation of publishing professionals and authors. Maame Blue’s debut was among the 20 works published by Jacaranda Books, back in June of this year.
Bad Love is more of a 3.5 stars rating (out of 5), for sure! I double-fisted this debut by listening to the book via Audible alongside reading the paperback, which I recently purchased. I really enjoyed the audio narration of this book! The narrator – Vivienne Acheampong, did a superb job. Maame Blue is a stellar writer and I must say – I enjoyed how smooth and lucid the writing was in this novel.
Black Brits – especially Ghanaian-British readers would appreciate this story, as there are nuances only they can fully grasp within the novel. Since I was a child born and partially raised in the Diaspora, I appreciated these nuances – for example, being raised by Ghanaian parents outside of Ghana; going to Ghanaian restaurants in the West and realizing that bad (rude) customer service is one of our trademarks; constantly grappling with double identities; viewing the world through double lenses, etc. At this novel’s core, Bad Love is a coming-of-age cum love story. At the periphery, the story delves into family, marriage, same-sex love and travel. The latter themes intrigued me most.
I’m not really a fan of the romance genre, especially involving young characters. A part of me felt annoyed by Ekuah’s ‘situationships’, her misplaced priorities and her need to feel wanted. Ekuah’s entanglements with Dee and Jay definitely felt real, but were cliché (and slightly triggering!) and I was not moved by their shenanigans. In fact, I actually really disliked those two male characters – especially Dee. Maame Blue’s mastery in her development of these characters allowed me to have strong emotions towards them, which is telling. Perhaps readers aged 17-26 would be more into Ekuah’s love entanglements. However, while reading, a part of me felt compassion for Ekuah, as I journeyed with her into adulthood. She’s just your typical university student finding her way through life while trying to not lose herself in ‘bad love’.
Bad Love takes readers from London to Venice, Paris to Accra, and back to London. I enjoyed being in different settings with Ekuah – descriptions of places and happenings in Italy and Accra were palpable and made me miss spoken word/literary events and musical concerts during this pandemic.
There are quite a number of characters to keep track of in the novel, and I was very much entertained by Ekuah’s parents and their marriage. Ekuah’s Dad in particular was such a different character. What a man! I wonder what a character like Okonkwo from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apartwould think of him! Ekuah’s Dad was the complete opposite of the African hyper-masculine stereotype that I’m so used to reading about in literature. Without giving too much away, the evolution of Ekuah’s parents’ marriage was fascinating and I loved the trajectory of that relationship, as it was sooo unexpected.
Overall, the title ‘Bad Love’ may have readers expecting a story laden with sour happenings, but this isn’t the case at all. Bad Love is an entertaining coming-of-age story that follows Ekuah into slowly realizing that she is her own best thing.
P.S: I’ll be hosting a GIVEAWAY for Bad Love + other goodies, kind courtesy of Maame Blue over on Bookstagram – Monday November 30th to December 4th. Be sure to enter the giveaway at @africanbookaddict on Monday! It’s open to all readers on the African continent. All the details will be posted on African Book Addict!‘s Bookstagram.
Lastly, if you’re still wondering whether you should indulge in Maame Blue’s writing, definitely read her 2018 award-winning short story, entitled – Black Sky. This is probably the 5th time I’m referencing this short story on this book blog. Read it oh!
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.
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.
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!