ANCESTOR STONES by Aminatta Forna
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A British writer casts back nostalgically to the stories of her West African female ancestors to evoke lyrically the lost village traditions of her family.

Abie, a wife and mother of West African descent now professionally established in England, receives a letter from her cousin Alpha, offering her the family coffee plantation in the family village of Rofathane. Abie receives the news as a kind of fatal directive, since she always knew she would be going back to Rofathane. Once she returns and begins to listen to the testimonies of her aunts, she senses how they “lifted the past from their own shoulders” and handed it to Abie, who thus presents these stories in separate chapters, from the aunts’ girlhood in the 1930s, through their late life in the ’90s. First, there is the tale of Asana, the firstborn of the family headed by a respected chief advisor of the village and his first wife (indeed, Asana’s father would have several wives, leading to terrible complications and rivalries). Except that a brother is born after her, and takes her place, although he is sickly and eventually dies. Soon, the father becomes a prosperous coffee-grower, and Asana enters into an unhappy marriage, although she finds fulfillment later in life, a widowed businesswoman who chooses the status of “mambore,” or woman who lived as a man. Next, Mary, who has a sloping eye, remembers when the Muslim leader Haidera Kontorfili visited the village, to great fanfare. Then Hawa, whose mother is the father’s sixth wife, and whose narrative is full of village gossip. And finally, Serah, who recalls the coming of the so-called Cement Man in the 1950s and the beginnings of modernization in the village and civil war; later, she becomes a record of the first elections and fraught issues around voting. Forna (The Devil That Danced on the Water, 2003) creates, through the voices of these wizened creatures, a richly patterned mosaic of African culture and history.

Gorgeous and dreamlike.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-87113-944-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2006


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