From the beginning of the book, the first iBook page, I sense this book is on African Time. Happenings are explained slowly, in drawn out, yet succinct, detail. Relationships are not overly explained, you are allowed to figure it out for yourself as the details become clear. Imagery and sensory experiences are compared to strong emotional moments that at first seem odd but then, when you really think about it, make total sense and contain an intensity only someone truly in tune with humanness could write about. Ms Forna writes about the intense emotion a piece of music can bring when it triggers a strong memory, long past, and likens it to the moment when you see a woman for the first time and know that you could love her. Beautiful connections. That is the flow of this book for more than the first half and I read it in much the same manner. Taking my time. Savouring each chapter. Allowing myself to read it on African Time. I thought it would take a fortnight or more to finish.
And then I got drawn in. The connections became clearer, whatever relationships I guessed at were somehow true and yet I often had no idea until the last possible moment when I was then reassured by the author in a single sentence my presumptions had been correct. Yet even then she yanked me away from my sense of success with a twist or turn that I never saw coming. Never could see.
This story is set in Sierra Leone across two different time periods. The late 1960’s with the landing on the Moon and then present day after the civil war. There is a British psychologist with his family left back in Britain, a young Sierra Leonian doctor who’d had other ideas about his future before the war and a dying university professor with a conscience. After that I will say nothing because I don’t want to give away any piece of what the pages hold, only to say that it is worth it. Worth the patience of taking in the detail before getting to the final chapters.
I have not been to Sierra Leone. I have only lived in Ghana and Kenya. In West Africa Ghana is not a country that has experienced civil war and coups that have occurred have not erupted into violent rebellions. So I cannot draw any relationship between my life experience and the experience of Sierra Leonians. I can, however, recognise relationships, how they are formed and how differences are viewed. The deference that must be given when speaking to elders or people who are sharing stories of the past. The way you must just sit and wait for things to occur, to reveal themselves – for they will. When life is functional and meaning is taken in the smallest of events, when those small events are all seen and noticed because they hold deeper meaning than large, more visible occurrences. When those large occurrences are accepted as fate, as life, and the smaller ones as deliberate actions, that I understand.
I don’t see the point of writing here what the book is about because you can go to Amazon for that. I noticed when I looked this morning so many people leaving comments where they’d written an outline. To me that would spoil the book. When I began it I had no idea what it was about only that I had read one of her books many years ago. I recently decided, as I live in a town with no bookstore and have made iBooks my friend, that I would only download books from The African Writers Series or books that have won, or been shortlisted, for major prizes. Aside from that I read no blurbs or outlines.
So here is the ending of my review…
I woke up early this morning because I was at the last section of the book. I couldn’t sleep because I was anticipating the end. I had no idea how it would close. It was intriguing and once again, not as I expected.
Note: This book was given the Commonwealth Prize for ‘Best Book’ in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org