Friday, 16 March 2012

Ancestor Stones: Aminata Forna (Sierra Leone)

Abie follows the arc of a letter from London back to Africa to a coffee plantation that now could be hers if she wants it. Standing among the ruined groves she strains to hear the sound of the past, but the layers of years are too many. Thus begins the gathering of her family's history through the tales of her aunts - four women born to four different wives of a wealthy plantation owner, her grandfather. Asana, Mariama, Hawa and Serah: theirs is the story of a nation, a family and four women's attempts to alter the course of her own destiny.

Having searched for books by authors from this part of Africa, it was inevitable that I would come across this authors work towards the end of 2011, when I tentatively began this challenge. The book was duly added ot my wish list until I noticed that it was the Kindle Daily Deal, which was almost too good to be true, and so I began to read.

This really is a very well written book, full of insights into the lives and experiences of four African women, all related by marriage. The four women are Aunts in the Kholifa family whose wealthy patriarch has no less than eleven wives. Although the country in which the story is set is not explicitly stated, I tended to assume that it was the authors homeland of Sierra Leone, for the descriptions of war that follow seem to follow the same pattern of my own admittedly limited knowledge of this land.

The book starts when the lead character Abie receives a letter from her cousin Alpha requesting that she return to take over the family's coffee plantation. She had left her homeland as a teenager and is now happily living in London, with her husband and children. What follows is a pilgrimage into her own past.

The story focusses on the stories of her four aunts, covering an extended period of time from the late 1920's through to the millennium. The various stories touch on village life, customs and traditions written very much from the female perspective, as seems to be the case with the majority of African books that I have read. As the book was read some months before I wrote this review, it is difficult to remember exact facts or details, except to say that although the book was rather slow to begin with, as the story began to unfold I found myself gently drawn in. Although some of the stories were harrowing, especially the treatment of the younger wives, I was and am no stranger to this type of book, so it did not unduly shock compared to books set in other African, or indeed, Southeast Asian countries. Nevertheless it is clear that Sierra Leone has a chequered history.

It was refreshing indeed to read a book that was so free of pretensions and I will definately try and read more of this authors work.

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