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Ancestor Stones [Paperback]

Aminatta Forna

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Book Description

Sept. 10 2007
Aminatta Forna, whose moving and gorgeously written memoir garnered international attention, has seamlessly turned her hand to fiction in Ancestor Stones a powerful, sensuous novel that beautifully captures Africa's past century and her present, and the legacy that her daughters take with them wherever they live. Abie returns home from England to West Africa to visit her family after years of civil war, and to reclaim the family plantation, Kholifa Estates, formerly owned by her grandfather. There to meet her are her aunts: Asana, Mariama, Hawa, and Serah, and so begins her gathering of the family and the country's history through the tales of her aunts. Asana, lost twin and head wife's daughter. Hawa, motherless child and manipulator of her own misfortune. Mariama, who sees what lies beyond. And Serah, follower of a Western made dream. Set against the backdrop of a nation's descent into chaos, it is the take a family and four women's attempts to alter the course of their own destiny. A wonderful achievement recalling The God of Small Things and The Joy Luck Club, it establishes Aminatta Forna as a gifted novelist.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (Sept. 10 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143211
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #306,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Forna follows up her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water (2003), with a novel that explores relationships among co-wives in an African village as they cope with religious and political changes that wreak instability in the family complex. Abie is a young woman from West Africa who has lived in England for many years. She left as a child, went to college, and married a Scotsman, with only infrequent visits to keep her attached to her homeland. When she inherits her father's coffee plantation, she returns to face memories and to confront realities of a troubled nation that she has only viewed on the television screen. In simple, subtle stories, Forna conveys the complexity of life in small African villages as Abie's aunts recall their youth, courtships, and lives as co-wives, finding friendships or bitter rivalries. Through the stories of these women, Abie learns of old folkways and modern religious and political strife, as well as enduring lessons of family and kinship. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully rendered Oct. 9 2006
By Q - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A beautifully rendered novel, reminiscent in some ways of Andrea Levy's Small Island which won a few prestigious awards a few years ago. The scope here of Aminatta Forna's novel, though, is slightly larger, representing a range of women's voices, their individual life-stories often clamoring with one another to form a rich, mosaic depicting the various fates of a community of African women living through social and political changes. While the novel focuses on the women's personal stories, it does not by any means insulate itself from the ever-encroaching social, political and historical pressures exerted by Western imperialism, colonialism, as well as independence and the ensuing civil war.

Since Publishers Weekly and the Booklist provide a summary of the novel above, I won't repeat it here, but I would say that I disagree with Publishers' comment--that the novel here is really a collection of linked stories--because that is simply untrue. While each chapter is a first-person narration of one woman's story, they are not self-contained; they are simply not structured that way, and as a casual and critical reader of linked stories, I would say that, experientially, it doesn't read like that either. Moreover, to see this text as linked stories instead of a novel is perhaps to miss what I think is one of the novel's fundamental points: that these stories are inseparable from one another, the multiple voices not only building on each other, but also proving to be indispensible to the telling of this continuing collective history--or perhaps herstory--of Sierra Leone.

I would also contest the comparison the jacket cover makes between this book and Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. One of the many things I appreciated about this novel is precisely that it resists overly sentimentalized and/or utopian depictions of this community of women. To be sure, the novel dramatizes the struggles and defiance of women living under Sierra Leone's patriarchal culture, this novel does not devolve into tear-jerking melodrama, or reduce the problems to patriarchal oppression alone. Instead, it offers a range of subtle (and not-so-subtle, though never didactic) critques of not just African patriarchal culture and its practices, but also of the many guises of Western colonialism and its legacies, as well as of the power inequalities, struggles and hypocrisies among the women themselves, who, in many and various ways, contribute to the social and political problems addressed.

Overall, Ancestor Stones is a good, substantial, fluid read, the writing lyrical, but not overly so, with plenty of narrative tension, as well as critical complexities that challenge Western assumptions about Africa and African women, sometimes holding up a proverbial mirror to reflect back images of the West and Western attitudes towards African people. I would give this a 4.5, but since that's not an option, I've chosen to give it a 5 instead of a 4. Well worth the read.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it to make them live on! March 23 2007
By Isabelle Rzehulka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a fine example of how crucial a front cover can be for grabbing readers' attention. I, too, was attracted to "Ancestor Stones" by the colorful letters and graceful cover composition (Atlantic Monthly Press edition) in the first place. Rest assured, the promise made was kept!

I value novels that weave facts into the storyline and thus give me a better understanding of different cultures and mindsets. Along with the women's many personal triumphs and tragedies I learned a lot about the country's (assumed to be Sierra Leone) history, customs, social and cultural changes and, sadly, intense political upheaval. Ms Forna's beautifully crafted prose made me marvel at bygone village-life in serene, Eden-like surroundings, while later on I almost choked on the atrocities of civil war. Of course, given her writing talent she never needs to get graphic.

I don't give a full five stars because the book felt a little bit overconstructed with its prologue, epilogue and the four individually themed blocks that bind the chapters together. In addition, the chapters don't carry on the life-stories where they left off in the previous chapter. To know what had happened in between would have been interesting on the one hand and helpful on the other. I often needed to turn back the pages to remind me of the particular history of a protagonist.

However, I don't consider this a flaw. One just doesn't have to comprise this book as four comprehensive biographies, but rather pivotal periods in each woman's life, each opening a window into their world and times. In the end, I felt both uplifted and humbled by their courage and resilience to all kinds of adversity.

I will definitely get Ms Forna's memoir and hope that she will soon publish her next book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amahzing Book Aug. 1 2008
By Barry C. Schwaab - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a guy, I first read the back cover review of the book, and said "chick book". But I gave it a chance. How wrong I was. It's an incredible 'recollection' of life in Africa through the 1900s, as told by the women of different generations who relate their stories.
This is all a revelation to me - how would a white boy living in the US have any clue to what daily life was like then and there?

But, it turns out to be absolutely fascinating. The author creates her stories 'visually' extremely well - you feel like you're right there, observing the scene or event that's being described. Highly recommended!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vision of storytelling in womens voices Feb. 17 2008
By watermama - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A great novel shows much and leaves more for the mind to unwind. Ancestor Stones does just that. I finished the last pages with tears on my face and questions left unanswered.

The bits of story left untold about the war and the safety of family members (Adama and her soon to be born child heading into the forbidden forests for example) serve to make this a stronger novel. I enjoy the fact that Forna leaves me with living stories, not cast off unnoteworthy letters and diaries as she puts it.

I will read her memoir and await further writing from Forna. The life stories she holds are vivid.
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Type of Novel Aug. 17 2013
By AA Greece - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I suppose this could be called 'faction' in that it combines fact with all the pleasures of a well-written novel but that categorization
does little to convey the wonderful language and images that together provide such insight into the lives we witness while reading the book. It's so far beyond it you can't reduce it to 'post-colonial' literature. It's a book that defies classification even as it draws you in and keeps you fascinated.

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