A vivid and ambitious memoir, in many ways a prequel to The Devil that Danced on the Water, of several generations of African women as they struggle to balance ancient traditions with the encroaching mores of the West. At age 19, Aminatta Forna's mother left her hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland, to move with her African husband to Sierra Leone. ...
A vivid and ambitious memoir, in many ways a prequel to The Devil that Danced on the Water, of several generations of African women as they struggle to balance ancient traditions with the encroaching mores of the West. At age 19, Aminatta Forna's mother left her hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland, to move with her African husband to Sierra Leone. Surrounded by an extended polygamous family that included her grandfather's fifteen wives, some sixty aunts and countless cousins, Forna spent her first decade in the small town of Koidu before being sent to England for boarding school. In her new book, she draws on the rich oral history of her aunts to tell of a culture torn between ancient traditions and tantalising new Western goods and ideas: the enslavement and emancipation of her great grandmother, the daughter of a king, who received a large dowry when she married as a free woman; the scandal of Aminatta's own marriage to a British man, who paid no dowry for her and whose customs required her to fund the wedding; the story of Etta, who as a girl in the 1980s watched as other girls her age were given gifts and new clothes for their initiation into a women's secret society. Families like Etta's no longer participated, but Etta begged to go. Her mother conceded without argument, sending her daughter off to a painful and horrifying circumcision by the Bondu elders. Rich in detail of time and place, the narrative stretches back to pre-colonial Africa through colonialism, independence and civil war. Though some women grew up and married into traditional polygamous relationships, others lived in the West on the cusp of cultural change, where prescribed emotions such as love caused confusion. Interweaving a range of personal tales, Aminatta Forna has composed a moving and vivid account of women, family and Africa.
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Publishers Weekly, 2006-07-17 Acclaimed memoirist Forna (The Devil That Danced on the Water) glides into fiction with this sweeping portrayal of the lives of five Sierra Leonean women. Abie-a young woman born and raised in Sierra Leone, who now lives in London with her Portuguese-Scottish husband and their children-receives a letter from her aunts informing her they're bequeathing her the family coffee plantation. When Abie returns, her aunts offer her another gift: their stories. A native of Sierra Leone, Forna unpacks Abie's family history (and that of Sierra Leone) using the alternating points of view of Abie's four aunts-Asana, Mary, Hawa and Serah. Asana outlives two husbands and eventually opens her own store, "relinquishing the birthright of womanhood in exchange for the liberty of a man." Mary addresses the changes brought to Africa by the Europeans (prominent among them, the mirror she uses to examine her disfigured face). Hawa trades her gold earrings for bus fare in order to see the sea just once in her life. And Serah opens a voting station during corrupt national elections. Though it's a stretch to call this a novel (each chapter is a self-contained story), Forna's work sheds light on the history of a long-struggling nation. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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