|Barnes & Noble link|
I requested this book from PaperBackSwap at the suggestion of a friend who had begun to read it this summer. Nothing else. I’m one of those who likes to read the back of a book to prepare myself for what is in store or to decide if a book is worth my time. The back of this book reads:
We don’t want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book. It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we don’t want to spoil it. NEVERTHELESS, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again–the story starts there…Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.
Well, with that, I placed it on the bookshelf. This fall, when I joined my friend and the rest of the African Women’s Book Club for the reading of Powder Necklace, I heard a couple people discussing their dissatisfaction with this book. That was my first inkling that it had to do with Africa in some way and my interpretation was that the dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that it was a white man telling the story. Mind you, the books the club decides to read as a group are those written by African women of the diaspora about African/Diaspora lives.
So of course I had to read it next. If you don’t want me to spoil the magic for you, you might as well stop reading this post NOW.
Okay, the crux of the book is the story of a young Nigerian village girl seeking asylum in Britain as a victim of one of many oil-conflicts in the Niger Delta. After I realized that, I couldn’t help have flashbacks to that time in college when I went to hear the then President Obasanjo of Nigeria speak at the Kennedy School of Government because a young white man kept shouting out “What about the Niger Delta?!“, and when it came time for questions he demanded again “What about the Niger Delta?! What about Shell?! What about the plight of Ogoniland?!“ because whatever Obasanjo’s speech was about, it wasn’t about that. My friends (from various African countries) and I concluded that no matter what was going on in the Niger Delta, this wasn’t the place for heckling. But now I’m not so sure. I read the news reports and I know people die in these conflicts, but I guess I have become so desensitized to the reports of deaths due to conflicts around the world that it takes one fictional story to remind me of the devastating effects of such conflicts on human souls.
Reading the book, I was confused as to why I perceived a sense of dissatisfaction with it from my book club sisters. Was it that a white person was speaking in the voice of an other? I don’t think voices of others should only be expressed by others of the same kind. Was it the ignorance splayed out on page after page? That didn’t bother me. The girl is a village girl after all who doesn’t even know the wonders of the capital city of her own country. Don’t we all have stories of relatives or should I say a friend of a friend who knew someone who came from the village to the city and you wondered where they had been hiding this whole time? The one that stands out for me is the story of a woman who came to stay, and her first day taking a bath, she took her bucket of water, went into the bathroom (because they told her that’s where to wash) and stood in the middle of the room flooding it in the process of taking her bath. I’m sure she too would say (once she had recovered from her shame after the “city people” set her straight) “if I was telling this story to the girls back home they would…” in regards to this big white porcelain thing that people step into to take their baths, and the water just goes down a hole to someplace you don’t even know where. Am I lying?
My other thought reading this book was in regards to the plight of refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers in general. I’ll be honest. When I think of African refugees, Nigeria does not come to mind. In fact, if I were to come across a case of a Nigerian or even a Ghanaian seeking asylum in a Western country my first thought would be that it is a scam. After all, we are relatively peaceful countries no? But, over the course of my medical training, I have been intimately involved in the medical care of this misunderstood (by us Westerners and immigrants) group of people from helping the newly arrived Somali refugees in Boston access healthcare and other community services in Boston to caring for those women of various nationalities infected with HIV who struggle to cope with their dual (or is it triple) stigma. The majority only find out they have HIV (potentially acquired through rape as part of their torture experiences) during their refugee or asylum seeking process. Can you imagine, when you already have all these burdens, for someone to add on the burden of being HIV positive? Then where is the hope, what is the point of struggling and coming this far?
My final thought reading this book is that “money makes the world go round” and oil is the root of all evil. Okay, maybe not all evil, but you know what I mean. Not too long ago, crude oil was found off the shore of Ghana, specifically off the shore of Nzemaland, where my people are from. We’ve begun to drill, and one only hopes that we look to Nigeria and learn from their mistakes rather than make our own. I cannot imagine my homeland becoming the next Niger Delta. I pray not. But deep inside, I know people are evil, (Lord of the Flies and the Bible told me so) and what with the rising unrest next door in Cote d’Ivoire due to Gbagbo’s refusal to acknowledge that he lost in the recent presidential elections, I fear for my people. Even in times of peace, their violence spills over, how much more now?
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I disliked Lawrence, let that be known. My little experience of providing medical affidativs to document the heartwrenching tales of women such as the protagonist in this book tells me that such stories need to be told, even if in this particular case, it is one of fiction. However, the ending left me disappointed, but I guess that’s because I’m used to fairy tales and neatly tied up packages, and life really isn’t all that rosy for the majority of us in this world, is it?