OBSESSIONS OF PARADISE by Benjamin Kwakye

OBSESSIONS OF PARADISE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A literary novel tells the story of two couples a continent apart.

Ama Danso, a 29-year-old doctor based in California, is visiting her hometown of Accra, Ghana. She is seated with her friend Abby at a waterfront restaurant when she first sees a figure—the Shoreman—rise from the surf: “The shine of moon-glow on his bared upper torso seemed to carve him out as a dark sparkle on the shoreline. Like a shadow that held light.” She does not speak to him, but the two friends return several times hoping to cross his path. When they finally do, Ama learns his name is Shem Bonsra, but he is reluctant to speak to her for more than a few minutes at a time. Over the course of several dates, Ama learns that Shem has a tragic, fiery past, and that he now works as a nightsoil carrier. This second bit of information causes Ama to stop seeing him—the stigma would be too great—but she cannot get him out of her mind. Meanwhile, in a London pub, a physician named Maud James encounters a guy she calls the Barman. She soon realizes he’s George Stanton, a leader of a far-right political party. His nationalist politics appeal to Maud, whose white father was murdered by black men in her native Zimbabwe. The tales of these couples—Ama and Shem, Maud and George—seem starkly different, but their futures are all bound up together in this novel that explores the interconnected modern world. Kwakye’s (Songs of a Jealous Wind, 2018, etc.) prose finds the tension in the strangeness of place, as here when Ama searches for Shem in the nightsoil-disposing town of Old Fadama: “The town was barely alive and, except for the moon glow, it was totally dark. Even before they got close to the cesspit, they could smell the poignant odor. But they got closer anyway, surrendering safety of body and comfort of nostrils.” The plot moves slowly, and there is never much indication of where it is going. But a bubbling mysteriousness rooted in desire and longing will propel readers ever deeper into this idiosyncratic story.

An oddly compelling tale of two connected couples separated by geography and culture.

Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Cissus World Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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