Publisher(s): Doubleday, Penguin Random House UK
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Magical Realism.
Format: 384 pages, Hardback
Rating: 2.75/5 stars.
TRIGGER WARNING! Murder. Abandonment. Poverty. Suffering. Pshycosis, Incarceration. Mental health challenges. Sexual abuse. Grief.
“It only looks like things aren’t changing because we’re in it”.Rosana Amaka -The Book of Echoes
The book opens up with an incident that occured in 1903 (Two hundred years before the time in which actual story is set).
Our narrator, a Nigerian slave woman, tells us how she lost her freedom, leaving behind a husband and a son behind for a life of servitude. She finds love again, with a man called Wind. albeit briefly. Unfortunately, his attempt to smuggle her into London, leads to her execution at the West Indian Docks in 1903. This time, she loses a daughter, who is immediately sold into slavery.
Subsequently, the slave woman’s spirit reunites with her lover’s spirit. Together, they keep watch, searching for their progenies all over the world.
This is the point at which the actual story begins. The rest of the narrative alternates between the lives of two of her descendants, Michael ( Jamaican) and Ngozi (Nigerian) and the afterlife from 1981 – 1998.
“What I am saying is that we, I mean the African diaspora, really need to cut each other some slack. Understand that there’s a whole lot of healing that needs to be done, before we can move forward.”Rosanna Amaka
Given that the book was inspired by the need to give a voice to the fast-disappearing Brixton community, the themes did justice. It was really easy to identify issues of gentrification, police brutality, racism, exoticism, colorism and outright anti-blackness. It also highlights the different kinds of tension that exists within the Afro-Carribean communities and versus the Black American/ British community.
The book also examined the negative impacts of the Osu-Caste system which is still being practiced in some parts of Eastern Nigeria, today.
Overall, the omnipresent and omniscient attributes of the narrator-cum-matriarch worked well to establish how all the members of the said communities are more connected than they think they are. In essence, I think the question Rosanna wants us to consider is this: since all black people are technically Africans in the diaspora, isn’t it time we stop fightging each other and start fighting the system?
Despite how noble the author’s endgoal appears to be, I found this to be a very problematic and challenging read and here’s why.
First, it was quite challenging to figure out who the narrator is and what her place was in the grand scheme of things. I was only able to draw up the synopsis I included at the beginning of this review, after I had completed the book and put things in perspective. It was even more of an uphill task, trying to enjoy the beauty of the storytelling because of the endless forms of trauma the characters had to deal with.
Secondly, I am aware that sometimes, writers are able to tweak or disregard the “show, don’t tell” rule and get away with it. Unfortunately, it did not work out well in this book. The prose was unnecessarily flowery where it needed to be crisp. In addition, it lacked that serenading mystique that sets magical realism apart from other related genres.
Thirdly, the message was often spelt out to the reader, so the prose felt very repetitive, which made it seem like she had zero respect for the reader’s intelligence.
The worst written sections of this book are the parts set in Nigeria. Or to be more direct, the whole part of Ngozi’s story. As a Nigerian, living in Nigeria, I can boldly say that the banter used here is not Nigerian. Nobody in Nigeria adds ‘O’ as much as the Nigerian characters did in this book. (Which for emphasis, was an ad-lib to almost everything that was said by the Nigerian characters.) The Pidgin English was also way off and some of the Igbo words were misspelt.
I am so mad at the person(s) that edited this book because I feel that these are major issues that should have been spotted and corrected before publication. At the same time, I wonder if my anger should be directed at the decision makers at the publishing house who may not have thought it wise to hire an African/Nigerian editor to look at the manuscript since part of the book is set there.
The Book Of Echoes is by no means the worst book I have ever read. It has its merits and I believe the author achieved her set objectives. However, it turned out to be an overly ambitious novel that failed to hit the mark. I will always think of how great this story would have turned out, if only the editors did their due diligence.
For additional context, this book might be up your alley, if you enjoyed one or more of the following books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Dare, She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore and A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes.
Read this yet?
Kindly share your thoughts below. I would love to read them.