This is another novel I picked up thanks to an Audie Cornish interview with Michael Donkor that I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered while driving home earlier this fall. I came in right as they were talking about Donkor’s ear for language, and the rhythms of different accents are one of the many things that stood out to me in the novel as well as the interweaving of expressions in Twi, a Ghanaian dialect.
It’s a story about relationships—one is between Belinda, a 17-year-old housegirl working for a wealthy family in Kumasi, Ghana, and her young charge, Mary—a housegirl in training. Mary is talkative, energetic, and only sometimes obedient, but also like a sister to Belinda. However, the other relationship begins when Belinda is hired by friends of her current employers to come work for them in London, leaving Mary behind. Nana and Doctor Otuo have hired Belinda not to cook or clean but to be a companion to their 17-year-old daughter, Amma. Over the last year, Amma has shifted from a bright and engaged honor student to a sullen teen her parents don’t recognize and they hope that Belinda will provide a good example of what a young Ghanaian woman should be.
Though the same age, Belinda and Amma, come from such different worlds that initially the gulf between them seems too wide. Belinda can’t understand why a girl with so much privilege and opportunity is so sad and angry, and Amma can’t fathom the world that Belinda comes from—where numerous forces shape and limit her narrow path. The clashes both young women experience involve culture, socio-economics, and identity.
However, what I really appreciate about this novel is that it is not some “after-school” special where all problems are solved by the two girls becoming friends. Instead, it is a story about how the relationship they develop changes them but in subtle ways that don’t affect their lives in dramatic fashion. Both begin to see the webs that entangle each other and to offer support if not solutions.
Again, this novel doesn’t wrap up neatly at the end but leaves you wondering about the fate of both Belinda and Amma as they attempt to live their lives.