What does it mean to come of age, and how does that change depending on where you live? In his debut novel, Donkor explores the tensions of growing up between two cultures as three young women face the challenges of adolescence in Ghana and among the Ghanaian diaspora in London.
Just after the millennium, 17-year-old Belinda and 11-year-old Mary are live-in maids for a wealthy elderly couple—whom they call Aunty and Uncle—who made their money in the U.K. and retired to their native Ghana. When Ghanaian friends still living in London come to visit, it’s decided that they’ll bring Belinda back with them to London to act as a good influence on their moody, rebellious, and thoroughly Westernized teenage daughter, Amma. (Donkor’s parents are Ghanaian; he was born in London.) Donkor’s deft shifts between spheres and scenes—house parties populated by posh British teens; the rural village where Belinda grew up and where she and her mother are mysteriously ostracized; the opulent home where Belinda and Mary work—are confident and illuminating, revealing the complexity and nuance of modern life, particularly for immigrants. Dialogue, both external and internal, is often a delight—Mary and Belinda’s speech is peppered with pop-culture references and Twi idioms. (There’s a helpful glossary at the beginning of the book, though some phrases go untranslated.) As Belinda teases Mary on the phone, shortly after she arrives in London: “And what do you know of planes? Oh, I forgot, you are in aeroplanes all of the time, isn’t it? Like a smaller Naomi Campbell.” The narrative stays closest to Belinda’s perspective, as it is she who travels from Ghana to England and back again. Throughout the novel, growing up is characterized as a series of losses, as Belinda, Amma, and Mary face death, limited opportunity, and unrequited first love. While the conclusion veers toward didacticism, Belinda learns that there’s power in living through loss, too.
An intimate and resonant take on finding one’s place in the world even while being pulled in opposing directions.