I don’t read a lot of literary fiction, even less when it’s of the historical variety, but given all the hype surrounding this book I just had to give it a try.
The book begins with two sisters in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the mid-18th century, one who marries a British slave trader and one who is captured into slavery. From there it follows the lives of their descendants up until the present day, allowing the reader to see how the initial split into two very different paths has a knock-on effect on each successive generation.
This is a highly impactful novel that focuses on the hardship black people have had to face, both as individuals and as a community. It is by no means a comfortable read – I was disgusted at how the characters were treated by white people at many points throughout the book, and it is therefore necessary to put out a trigger warning for sexual assault/harassment, physical abuse and derogatory language (I should also mention that the book includes drug use and murder). It highlights how whilst slavery involving Ghana and Britain/the US was abolished approximately 150 years ago, its effects were long-reaching and still has a negative influence on modern society. As the years pass through the book’s duration it is possible to see that some progress has been made in the conduct towards ethnic minorities, however there is definitely still room for improvement.
I was a bit apprehensive going into this as I thought I might struggle with the writing with it being literary fiction, however it was a straight-forward read that kept me interested and invested in the characters (Ness, Kojo and Akua were particularly strong for me). There were several sentences that made me pause in appreciation – there was a section about how we can know the truth of a story that included “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story” which I found especially relevant.
I can see why this book has been receiving such high praise and I expect it to be talked about for some time, however for me personally I’m only giving it 3 stars. I can’t fault it for anything but as it’s outside my reading preferences it’s not a book that I’ll be including among my favourites.
[Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for allowing me to read this for review.]