Lizard & Other Stories by Marcelle Mateki Akita

Date Read: December 27th 2016

Published: December 18th 2016

Publisher: Marcelle Mateki Akita

Pages: 63

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Follow the stories of five young characters who try to make sense of loss, sex and sexuality in Lizard & Other Stories. Marcelle Mateki Akita explores how topics such as broken family and romantic relationships, sexual violence and masturbation impact a young girl and woman’s development. The collection’s short stories and flash fiction focus on girls and women of Ghanaian and mixed heritage. Written in an imaginative and sobering style, Lizard & Other Stories will unsettle and surprise you.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

How cute is the cover art of Lizard & Other Stories? The beads are truly attractive! Lizard & Other Stories is the good debut of short stories by reader, researcher and co-founder of Afrikult. (a literary platform that discusses, explores and celebrates the diversity of African literature) – Marcelle Mateki Akita. The collection consists of five stories that focus mainly on girls and women of Ghanaian or mixed heritage. The stories in this collection are vivid, bold and told in a calm manner. Once I started reading, I was drawn into Marcelle’s comfy, calm writing style, which allowed me to get to know the characters at relatively good paces. Some issues explored in this collection are: coming of age, religion, family, sexuality, (domestic) violence, naivety and betrayal.

What makes this collection special is the ambiguous nature of all the stories. If you read this collection more than once – which I highly encourage, you will realize that there are various interpretations and extra, juicy details you probably missed during the first reading. When I got the chance to discuss Lizard & Other Stories with Marcelle during Christmas break, I realized I interpreted the stories, especially the final one, entitled Kwesi, in a completely different way than she did. It takes talent to pull that off, even if it’s never a writers’ intention to give stories various meanings. Another thing that’s great about this collection is the unpredictability of the stories. I felt really cozy while reading the first story, entitled Ama, until the story took an unexpected turn and left a sour taste in my mouth. From the way the stories commence to their finality are polar opposites, which was refreshing!

I would’ve been more satisfied with these stories if the characters were developed a little further for readers to fully understand their actions. Also, some passages in this collection seemed overly descriptive, which isn’t my preference when reading short stories and flash fiction. But I must say, the vivid descriptions certainly allow one to picture exactly what is being observed, which was appreciated.

If you want to indulge in bold, unpredictable stories written in a calm voice, definitely look into reading this collection! I eagerly look forward to Marcelle’s future projects – a novel soon, maybe? Pretty please?

Special thanks to Marcelle, for the free copy of Lizards & Other Stories, in exchange for an honest review 🙂


To get a feel of her writing, check out Marcelle’s story that was published by AFREADA last year – Cassava’s Finest

Read more of Marcelle’s work on her websiteShe posts wonderful musings of the mind and soul every Monday and 100 word stories every Wednesday.

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

Purchase Lizard & Other Stories on Amazon

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiDate Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Yaa Gyasi’s debut – Homegoing, is historical fiction at its best. I honestly thought Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah hit home for me back in 2013 when I read it. But Homegoing IS home. Homegoing is about my home. I never thought I’d read book that perfectly articulates the dynamics of being Ghanaian-American. The only book I’ve read that somewhat touches on the identity complexities of being Ghanaian by blood and American (or British) by birth, was Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (another awesome Ghanaian-American writer). I might have to re-read Powder Necklace and review it on this platform soon!

Homegoing was an emotional read – throughout! I started reading during the wake of the horrific Alton Sterling and Philando Castile police shootings of early July, so you can imagine how haunting these real life events paralleled with this particular historical fiction, which focuses on the legacy of slavery in America and Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters – Effia and Esi who live in 18th century Ghana and the generations after them, making Effia and Esi the matriarchs of dual lineages. Effia becomes the wench (not wife) of the British governor of Cape Coast Castle (a slave castle here in Ghana) and is the matriarch of the Ghanaian line of the family; while Esi, who is kept as a slave in the dungeons of this same Cape Coast Castle where Effia resides with the governor, is the matriarch of the American line of the family. Homegoing alternates between the descendants of the two sisters, chronologically from 18th century Ghana to present day (after the millennium), in both Ghana and the US. As with most books of the historical fiction genre, a family tree is provided on the first page of the novel which makes following the two lineages and the different family members pretty easy.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to read Homegoing without harboring some resentment for the insanity white folks forced people of African descent to endure. From the events of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the injustice and discrimination black folks faced in the American south as slaves, to the Anglo-Ashanti wars in Ghana, to present day racial tensions and disregard for black bodies, are all legacies of slavery. I truly admire how Gyasi manages to personalize slavery and its effects through the use of character development in each chapter. In every chapter, readers witness how each generation got some inheritance of slavery – be it through mass incarceration, the need to pass as white, lynching, colorism, the fragmenting of families and so much more.

As much as the terrors white folks caused black people are highlighted in Homegoing, I appreciate Gyasi for not letting Africans off the hook for being complicit in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the role African nations played in enabling slavery are  rarely addressed. All the ethnic wars, kidnapping of innocent people and trading of human beings in exchange for goods from the British, Dutch and Portuguese were all selfish, contributing factors to the slave trade and the inhumane effects they still manifest. While reading Homegoing, I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s autobiography – All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and her valid feelings of anger and disappointment she expressed after visiting the Elmina Castle (a Portuguese slave castle here in Ghana) in Cape Coast, Ghana back in the 1970’s. I understood her anger, as she was a descendent of our people who were captured and sold to the Europeans. As upsetting as the slave trade was, I applaud Gyasi for using Homegoing as a way for opening up conversations on the obscure relationship between Africans and African-Americans today, thanks to our disturbed past.

Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly weave Ghanaian and African-American histories into this story was very ambitious and exciting to read! I was impressed with the plethora of themes, actual historical events and icons that made realistic cameos in this novel. Don’t get me wrong – Homegoing is not rigid with historical facts. It’s very much a holistic novel with issues like interracial relationships, sharecropping, homosexuality, racial passing, lynching, homosexuality, mental illness, abelism, colorism and so much more, embedded into the storyline with respect to the times in which the characters live. Real historic icons and happenings like Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu, The Asantehene, the civil rights movement & non-violent resistance headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Harlem heroin epidemic of the late 1960’s and others are all impressively packed into this novel of 305 pages!

I enjoyed most of the chapters and characters in Homegoing. But my favorite character was Marjorie. I like to believe Marjorie’s chapter is Yaa Gyasi – fictionalized. Marjorie was born in Ghana and raised in the US, just like Yaa Gyasi. In Marjorie’s chapter, I loved how the character articulates how she doesn’t identify fully as Ghanaian or ‘Black American’ which is sometimes used synonymously with the ambiguous term – ‘akata’ by some Africans. I especially loved that Marjorie found joy in reading books by writers of African descent,

Her work was in African and African American literature, and when Marcus asked her why she choose those subjects, she said that those were the books that she could feel inside her. (pg. 295)

Is Marjorie me? That quote is basically the essence of why I created African Book Addict! It was refreshing to read Majorie’s chapter, as I completely understood her identity struggles. While my life story is a little different from Majorie’s/Yaa Gyasi’s, reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying. You begin to realize that there are others like you in the world; that you’re not alone in your confusion as to where you call home; that your convictions on your ever evolving identities are valid.

While discussing Homegoing with other book lovers here in Accra, I realized there were some minor inaccuracies in the novel. But I didn’t mind the minor inaccuracies others felt the need to point out. I did however find the ending of this phenomenal book a bit corny. Marcus’s chapter should have ended with a bang – as all the other chapters did! Regardless, Homegoing was emotional and heartbreaking, yet exhilarating to read. I hope Yaa Gyasi makes a trip to Ghana soon or adds Accra to her book tour. I’d love a good ole’ chat with a fellow Ghanaian-American and of course, for my copy of the book to be graced with her signature!

I’d like to extend a special thank you to my new friend – Trish Tchume and publishers A. A Knopf  for my copy of the book.  Homegoing is definitely one of my top 5 favorite books of this year. Don’t be surprised when it is required reading in schools soon.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

My copy of Homegoing before and after reading.

P.S: I’ve typed all of the quotes I highlighted while reading and I’m open to sending anyone who’s interested, the PDF file of the compiled quotes via email. Some of the quotes, notes and suggested readings I highlighted would make for amazing book club discussions 🙂

Purchase Homegoing on Amazon

Brunch Over Books – Sip ‘n’ Swap in Accra!

Ever since I moved to Accra in 2014, I’ve really been missing the variety of literary events I used to attend back in Boston and Middlebury. But Accra has its own selection of events I’ve been enjoying. Writers Project Ghana has been spearheading the literary scene with the plethora of events they host, like – Ghana Voices Series: where bookworms and literary fiends gather for monthly public book readings featuring African writers who visit Accra; Writers Project on Citi FM: an hour of poetry readings and updates on literature-related events in Accra on the radio waves; writers workshops, book club meetings and more! With respect to book festivals, GAWBOFEST – Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival has been a recurring book festival for 5 years now. Hopefully I’ll find time to finally attend this year’s event in September. Also later this year, the Storymoja Festival will be in Accra (not Nairobi, Kenya) – so that will be exciting!

To add to the eclectic and ever growing bunch of literary events in Accra is – Brunch Over Books! Two weeks ago, Brunch Over Books – a Sip ‘n’ Swap book exchange was inaugurated at the quaint Café Kwae, in Accra. This maiden event, curated by the lovely Nana Konamah (@nanakonamah), attracted lots of bookworms, book bloggers and page slayers to sip yummy drinks and exchange book titles and actual books! After a speed book exchange activity, I jotted down a couple of book recommendations, met some folks I had been following (or stalking) on social media – like Ghanaian bibliophile, Shika of @bookpress on Instagram (@bookpresse on Twitter) and just geeked-out over books with fellow book lovers who also recently moved to the city, and long time residents of Accra!

Images via Brunch Over Books

As per my Book Chat post on book lending – you know me! I do not lend or exchange books (sorry, not sorry). So for this event, I purposely purchased a new copy of Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko (a Ghanaian book and author I believe is seriously underrated) for whoever wanted to swap with me – but for the person to KEEP.

Its always refreshing when you can converse with book lovers and discuss why you loved/disliked certain novels. If you live in Accra, try and come to the next Sip ‘n’ Swap event! Rumor has it that the next gathering will be in August. I can’t wait to see what new activities and conversations we’ll have over yummy cocktails.

 

What type of literary events do you usually attend? Have you ever been to any book festivals, public readings (I feel like public readings are standard go-to’s for book lovers, right?), book signings, book exchanges, book blogger meet-ups? How many times a year do you attend literary events? Please do share!

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

African Love Stories: An Anthology edited by Ama Ata Aidoo + GIVEAWAY!

aidooDate Read: January 23rd 2016

Published: 2006

Publisher: Ayebia Publishing

Pages: 249

 

The Blurb

African love stories? Is that not some kind of anomaly? This radical collection of short stories, most published in this edition for the first time, aims to debunk the myth about African women as impoverished helpless victims. With origins that span the continent, it combines budding writers with award-winning authors; the result is a melting pot of narratives from intriguing and informed perspectives.

These twenty odd tales deal with challenging themes and represent some of the most complex of love stories. Many are at once heart breaking yet heart warming and even courageous. In Badoe’s hilarious ‘The Rival’, we encounter a 14 -year-old girl who is determined to capture her uncle’s heart. His wife, she decided would just have to go. Mr. Mensah the uncle is all of sixty years old.

Crafted by a stellar cast of authors that includes El Saadawi, Ogundipe, Magona, Tadjo, Krog, Aboulela, Adichie, Oyeyemi, wa Goro, Atta, Manyika and Baingana, there is hardly any aspect of women’s love life untouched. From labour pains to burials, teenagers to octogenarians, and not to mention race-fraught and same-sex relationships, the human heart is all out there: beleaguered and bleeding, or bold, and occasionally triumphant.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I think I have a soft spot for anthologies. Anthologies help me discover new writers. African Love Stories: An Anthology is the second African women’s anthology I’ve enjoyed. In 2014, I reviewed Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera (1999) and was thrilled by the diverse stories and cast of African women writers. I even took interest in the writers who were unfamiliar to me at the time, like Leila Aboulela and Lília Momplé.

I know what you were thinking when you saw the title, ‘African Love Stories’ – no, this is not a collection of sappy, romantic, unrealistic, happily-ever-after tales. African Love Stories: An Anthology is a collection of 21 contemporary short stories laden with breathtaking originality. The stories speak on: the issues inter-racial couples face, a woman’s wrath when she discovers her lover is married, the lengths a village boy goes to rescue his wife-to-be, domestic violence, a child born out-of-wedlock who is scorned at her father’s funeral, same-sex relationships, sisterhood, a mother’s love, sacrifice and so much more. There are layered complexities in all 21 stories and the writers skillfully consummate each short tale such that readers ponder and cherish them, even days after enjoying the stories.

The women writers and the stories of this anthology span across the African continent – from Egypt to South Africa. Well-known authors such as: Nawal El Saadawi, Veronique Tadjo, Chimamanda N. Adichie, Leila Aboulela, Sindiwe Magona, Sefi Atta, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Helen Oyeyemi amongst others, are featured in the anthology. But I expected more diversity with respect to the countries represented in this collection. I didn’t expect a lot of the stories (11 of them) to be written by Nigerian women – this is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong! I just wish there was a better mix of countries represented, as was in Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera (1999). (I’m not comparing… but I’m comparing haha)

Anyways, I enjoyed all the stories from this collection (well, except two) and my faves were:

“Something Old, Something New” by Leila Aboulela (Sudan) – This is a story that chronicles the events that occur prior to a wedding between a young, muslim, dark-skinned Sudanese woman of the diaspora and a white, muslim man from Edinburgh. During their trip to Khartoum for the ceremony, several events occur that threaten their impending wedding. I really admire the calm manner of Aboulela’s storytelling, especially in this tale.

“The Rival” by Yaba Badoe (Ghana) – The Rival has got to be the most absurd story I’ve ever read! In this story, a wife tries her best to keep her marriage from falling apart by the twisted, affectionate love of her husband’s niece. Since when did nieces start falling for their uncles and dreaming of being the ‘madam’ of the house? How awkward! Yaba Badoe created a masterpiece with this strange story.

“Tropical Fish” by Doreen Baingana (Uganda) – University student – Christine, finds herself sleeping with a British expat who exports fish to the UK. The story takes us through the inner thoughts of Christine as she tries to find herself – because she truly seems lost. I was disgusted and at times mad at Christine for tolerating the intolerable in this story. I loved how Doreen Baingana kept me on the edge of my seat while reading this! (I have Doreen Baingana’s novel Tropical Fish which this story is an excerpt from, and I’m excited to read it soon!)

“Needles of the Heart” by Promise Ogochukwu (Nigeria) – I enjoyed the easy, simple nature in the writing of this story. A woman marries a man who she discovers is a chronic abuser. She constantly finds herself making excuses for her husband, even while she suffers on hospital beds from his fury. The ending of the story had me wondering if the author actually condones domestic violence… This story is pretty scary, but holds a great message if you read in-between the lines.

The editor, Ama Ata Aidoo urges readers to enjoy this collection slowly:

Dear reader, it is highly recommended that you take these stories one at a time, so that you meet these African women properly and individually, and listen to them and their hearts: whether Sudanese, Kenyan, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Zimbabwean… (pg. xiv)

and I totally concur with her. I read these stories slowly and savored them. Why rush through such a rich anthology? That’s no fun!

Even though this anthology was published in 2006 – about 10 years ago, I believe the content is ever so relevant to this day. I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to everyone. These contemporary stories may be set in countries in Africa, but the theme of love is universal to all!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase African Love Stories: An Anthology on Amazon


GIVEAWAY ALERT!

February is the month of love, and I’d like to give away one brand new copy of this lovely anthology! Enter the giveaway below to stand a chance at winning African Love Stories: An Anthology. The winner will be announced a day after Valentine’s Day – so you have about 10 days to try your luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway TERMS & CONDITIONS:

  • Giveaway starts Feb 4th 2016 at 12am GMT & ends Feb 15th 2016 at 12am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
  • This is an international giveaway – it is open to everyone, worldwide.
  • You must be 18 years and older to participate in this giveaway.
  • The winner will be selected by Random.org, through Rafflecopter and will be notified by email.
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email before a new winner is selected.
  • If you are the lucky winner of the book, Darkowaa will be shipping your prize to you directly.
  • Once the winner is notified via email, providing shipping details will go to Darkowaa only and will only be used for the purpose of shipping the prize to the winner.
  • The item offered in this giveaway is free of charge, no purchase is necessary.
  • If there are any questions and concerns about this giveaway, please email: africanbookaddict@gmail.com

Good luck, everyone!

Update: This giveaway has ended. Thanks to those who participated! Congrats to the winner! 

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala… the film?

Yes, yes, yes! Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel, Beasts of No Nation: A Novel (2005) is being adapted for the big screen and will be showing in select theaters (in the U.S) and available worldwide on Netflix next month – October 16th 2015! Beasts of No Nation: A novel (which is a title adopted from Fela Kuti’s 1989 album) was released 10 years ago, but the haunting novel is still on the minds of readers who’ve enjoyed the book! Have you read Beasts of No Nation: A novel yet?
Beasts of No Nation 

Check out the synopsis: 

In this stunning debut novel, Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation, is recruited into a unit of guerrilla fighters as civil war engulfs his country. Haunted by his father’s own death at the hands of militants, Agu is vulnerable to the dangerous yet paternal nature of his new commander. While the war rages on, Agu becomes increasingly divorced from the life he had known before the conflict started—a life of school friends, church services, and time with his family still intact.

In a powerful, strikingly original voice that vividly captures Agu’s youth and confusion, Uzodinma Iweala has produced a harrowing, inventive, and deeply affecting novel.

Beasts of No Nation: A Novel has been required reading for a Political Science class: African Politics (PSCI 0202) at my alma mater, Middlebury College. I never registered for that class but I decided to start reading the book on my own back in 2011, and never finished it as I was busy with finals at the time. When I was the President of the African Students’ Association at Middlebury – UMOJA, we invited Iweala to our ‘Touch of Africa Week’ where he gave an enlightening talk on “What, Who is an ‘Authentic’ African?” After the talk we discussed his novel Beasts of No Nation, African identity and other topics pertaining to our beloved continent over dinner at a professor’s house. Check out the (grainy) pictures below:


I’m excited and proud of Uzo! It must be every author’s dream to have their novel made into a film – it’s a big deal! I’m still fascinated at Iweala’s ability to embody the sentiments of a child soldier in the novel, since his background of being a Harvard graduate seems far from the unfortunate struggle of being a child victim of civil war. That takes real talent and a vivid imagination! I will definitely finish reading Beasts of No Nation: A Novel before I watch the film. Films don’t usually capture the essence of the books they are based on. However, I’m confident this film adaptation will do Beasts of No Nation: A Novel justice. The film is set in the Eastern Region of Ghana and is directed by Emmy Award winner Cary FukunagaGolden Globe Award winning actor, Idris Elba plays the main warlord in the film and the talented Ghanaian actress, Ama K. Abebrese plays the child soldier – Agu’s mother. With all that talent in one film, I have faith that it will be superb!

Check out the trailer for the film below:

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Purchase Beasts of No Nation: A Novel on Amazon

The Housemaid by Amma Darko

the housemaidDate Read: May 7th 2015

Published: 1998

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writer’s Series)

Pages: 107

 

The Blurb

A dead baby and bloodstained clothes are discovered near a small village. Everyone is ready to comment on the likely story behind the abandoned infant. The men have one opinion, the women another. As the story rapidly unfolds it becomes clear that seven different women played their part in the drama. All of them are caught in a web of superstition, ignorance, greed and corruption.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I bought The Housemaid back in 2008, but finally gave this book a chance and finished reading it in May of this year. This is such a messy, messy story- but in a good way! This novel tells a story of how a poor family in a Ghanaian village decides to jilt a rich businesswoman in the city, by using their daughter – who becomes a housemaid, to attempt to steal this rich woman’s wealth. As usual, Amma Darko tackles a lot of social issues in this novel and this is why I respect her as a writer. Darko explores issues of socio-economic differences between the rich and the poor, city life versus village life, feminism, spinsterhood, gender roles, religious beliefs and superstition. I liked how the story was consummated at the end, even though this novel consists of a series of crazy events.

But I was a little disappointed with Amma Darko’s writing style in this novel. The writing was choppy and too colloquial for my liking. It was quite annoying to spot basic grammatical errors and the misusage of words like ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ in some chapters. Nonetheless, the social issues addressed in this book made me appreciate the story. Amma Darko’s novel Beyond the Horizon is still a gem and a more meticulously written book than The HousemaidThe Housemaid is more of a 2.5 stars rating for me.

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

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Purchase The Housemaid on Amazon

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

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Date Read: April 29th 2015

Published: 1991 (first published in 1986)

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 208

 

 

 

 

 The Blurb

In 1962 the poet, musician, and performer Maya Angelou claimed another piece of her identity by moving to Ghana, joining a community of “Revolutionist Returnees” inspired by the promise of pan-Africanism. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is her lyrical and acutely perceptive exploration of what it means to be an African-American on the mother continent, where color no longer matters but where American-ness keeps asserting itself in ways both puzzling and heartbreaking. As it build on the personal narrative of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together In My Name, this book confirms Maya Angelou’s stature as one of the most gifted autobiographers of our time.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is book five of Maya Angelou’s autobiography series. I read books one, two and three when I was younger; I’ll dig through my Mom’s old books and read book four soon! Check out the books in her autobiography series – here.

This autobiography takes place in Ghana (mostly Accra) in the 1960’s, shortly after Ghana’s independence in 1957. In All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou joins a community of disenfranchised African-Americans/Negro Americans (they called themselves the ‘Revolutionist Returnees’) on their quest to explore, understand and aid the Motherland in any way they can. While in Ghana, Angelou finds a job as an administrator at the University of Ghana – Legon and at a local newspaper as a journalist. Angelou takes us through the different conversations and interactions she has with the kind-hearted Ghanaians during her stay. I loved how most Ghanaians made her feel at home; Ghanaians are very hospitable – especially to foreigners, and this book definitely highlights this fact. My country did me proud in this book! I was glad that Maya Angelou was living with a community of African-Americans, but mostly interacted with Africans throughout her stay in Ghana – there was a good balance.

An interesting part in the book is when Angelou and the other African-Americans protested in front of the American Embassy in Accra on the same day of the March On Washington, lead by Martin Luther King Jr in the United States. The purpose of the March On Washington and the simultaneous protest at the American embassy in Accra were to demand the equal rights of people of all colors, as well as desegregation in the United States. W.E.B DuBois was also in Ghana at the time – he gained Ghanaian citizenship and lived in Ghana during the latter part of his life. My favorite part of the book is when Malcolm X arrives in Ghana and Angelou along with the other ‘Revolutionist Returnees’ do their best to make him feel at home, arrange various talks for him around Accra and even pull some strings for him to meet President Kwame Nkrumah. The historical snapshots in this book are awesome! It was amazing to read about these iconic leaders being regular people while making history, through Angelou’s lens.

Angelou struggled a lot in this book with her identity and facing the facts of the past. It constantly angered her to recollect how Africans sold other Africans into slavery, giving rise to present day African-Americans and other people of African descent in the diaspora. Maya Angelou couldn’t even visit the Elmina Castle – which housed millions of slaves at the Cape Coast of Ghana, because the dehumanizing ordeals her ancestors endured at this historical venue prior the Trans-Atlantic journey nauseated her. I appreciated her quest to live and understand the ‘black experience’ in Africa – Ghana, which is a place where almost everyone is black. This is truly an informative, fun, fast read, as Angelou articulates her experiences with such ease and humor. This memoir ends on a satisfying note for me. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates Black history and those who wish to travel to the continent of Africa on the quest for his/her identity.

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

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My mother’s lovely Maya Angelou collection above. These books are super old! Purchase All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes on Amazon

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.

Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

beyond-the-horizonDate Read: March 31st 2015

Published: 1995

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 140

The Blurb

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!

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Purchase Beyond the Horizon on Amazon