21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Abie comes from London to her home country in Africa to see Kholifa Estates, the coffee plantations in Rofathane, which used to belong to her grandfather. She remembers the place from her childhood and now she finds out that she inherited it. The past catches up with her while she walks among the neglected, overgrown bushes.
Abie's grandfather, Gibril Omaru Kholifa, had eleven wives, and it is through the voices of her four aunts, daughters of four wives, that she hears the family stories. The old aunts share with her their experience, honestly telling the fascinating and often painful secrets of their lives.
Asana, Mariama, Hawa and Serah are very different, but all of them are women from the African country, living in the difficult times, when twentieth-century Africa struggles with newly acquired independence from colonial powers and the traditional life must be confronted with progress. The political and social backgrounds directly influence the lives of the four women, and each of them finds her own path. Asana, the daughter of Namina, the first wife, is much older than Serah, the daughter of the tenth wife. This difference is reflected in their life experience: Asana cannot read or write, but she fights and achieves her independence, becoming the owner of a store. Serah is educated in Great Britain, dresses in the European style, participates in the political life, but suffers from unhappy relationship with the conservatively-minded husband. Both of them, however, as well as Hawa and Mariama, try to protest against the traditional treatment of women as disposable objects, which is deeply rooted in the society and difficult to erase. They all have strong will and are determined to survive as individuals.
The family history is an interesting, if not a very inventive pretext to depict the African country. Aminatta Forna is originally from Sierra Leone, so it is fair to assume that the nameless country in the novel is Sierra Leone too (perhaps it is obvious for those who know the recent history of Africa). Traditional stories are told by women, the guardians of history, who preserve both good and bad memories, passing them to the next generations as a wonderfully rich and detailed family saga.
The book is written in a very evocative way - the reader can see the colors, taste the food and feel the textures described in the women's stories. The language and style varies with each narrator. The prose has the fresh, palpable quality. Together with Abie, the reader is immersed in the life of the small African country, a community, and an extended family within it. The picture of chaos and desperation emerges, but together with it the universal optimism and energy of strong women who know how to live through the most difficult times.