In her debut novel, Juo weaves a rich narrative about a displaced woman facing war in a foreign land and in her heart.
Set primarily in the ’70s, Juo’s novel traces the life of Sylvia, who meets the adventurous and altruistic Winston and raises a family. Winston whisks Sylvia, who’s Chinese, from a mundane European destiny and into what Sylvia hopes will be an exciting life in West Africa. Winston plans to carry out his work leveraging agricultural techniques and “miracle seeds” to help combat starvation in the region. Sylvia had married Winston to find adventure, but instead, “she found herself in a prison full of large rooms, high fences, and the solitary company of herself.” After giving birth to daughter Lila, with whom she was pregnant before she met Winston, Sylvia struggles to bond with the baby. Their attachment, however, grows as Sylvia fights to save Lila from malaria, a snake bite and a near drowning. Meanwhile, Patience, who cleans and cooks for the family, watches over them during Winston’s many business trips and Sylvia’s bouts of emotional negligence. Patience injects local culture and spirituality into the narrative and augments its authenticity. When a curse ultimately kills Winston, Sylvia and her family members find they may be able to start over. The chronological narrative, separated into three sections, evocatively describes Sylvia’s experiences raising a family, working as a nurse and surviving a military coup, and her journey to America. Juo’s writing eloquently captures an alluring and threatening landscape: “Outside, the breeze scattered fragile, white frangipani blossoms, a deceptive beauty with poisonous white blood leaking from its stems.”
An emotionally satisfying tale of prolonged struggle.