In the last few years we have begun to see a growth in the number of diverse books of all kinds being published, but this is still a very small part of the scene in this country. Books written by people of colour are beginning to be published, but we still have a long way to go. It seems appropriate that as I am writing this post, the Diverse Book Awards longlists are being announced. I have to say that I can imagine this book being part of the longlist next year and I hope that it achieves this.
The author, Efua Traore has been at the forefront of the movement to show us the way that people live in Africa (in this case it is Nigeria), but through the authentic voice of children who live in the villages and cities. I have been a fan ever since I read her first book, “Children of the Quicksands” and she continues to delight with her characters and her descriptive settings.
This is the story of Jomi, who has been living with his aunt and uncle, after his mother left for Lagos, in order to get a job and then come back for Jomi. However, after three years she has not returned and he thinks that she has forgotten him. When circumstances show him some letters from his mother, after developers start digging up the land around his village, he knows this is not the case and decides that he has to try and find her in Lagos. The problem is that Lagos is the most populated city in Africa (Wikipedia) and how do you find someone in a city of over 26 million when you don’t have an address to go on? Luckily Jomi is helped by a group of young street children, led by the feisty Tanks and looked after by ‘Aunty Bisi’, a nurse who is providing shelter and food for the young ones. But the issue is still ‘how to find his mother?’ Then Jomi has a brainwave, his mother avidly watches a dance programme on TV, so if he and the others can get on the show, she will see him and know where he is. Will Jomi succeed and can there actually be a happy ending for him and his new friends?
The author has created a stunning and heartbreaking story that resonates in so many ways. The themes of homelessness and modern slavery are shocking and we know they are happening across the world. If you then add in the destruction of farmland and forests it makes for a situation that seems almost unbearable. What makes this into an ultimately positive and hopeful story is the attitude of the central characters. Despite all of the tribulations that they suffer, they still manage to retain a sense of optimism and a determination to make their lives better. I really cannot recommend this enough, it is amazing and deserves all the accolades that I am sure it is going to receive in the future.
Efua Traoré is a Nigerian-German author who grew up in a small town in Nigeria. For as long as she can remember, her head was filled with little stories, but it was not until much later that she began to write them down.
Apart from Nigeria, she has also lived in France and Germany and she writes in English and in German. If she had her way, she would travel much more and write every single day.
Efua won the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa with her short story ‘True Happiness’ and she is a literature grant holder of the Munich Literaturreferat. Children of the Quicksands is her debut novel which won the Times / Chicken House Prize in 2019.
She lives in Munich with her husband and three daughters.
Photo credit belongs to Boubacar Traoré. Thanks to the Chicken House website