Over the last few years we have started to see more stories for young people that feature not just diverse characters, but also a diverse setting. This story is set in the author’s home country of Nigeria and gives us an insight into the the challenging contrasts between different ways of life. Over many years I have had several friends from Nigeria; they included girls in my class at school and then three or four friends who attended library school in Manchester and were looking forward to contributing to the development of library services in the country. However this book really brings the country to life provides a wonderful sense of the balance that is being sought between different aspects of culture.
Simi finds herself being sent to live with her grandmother for the summer, whilst her mother is in England for a work training course. Simi is a thoroughly modern girl who lives in the buzzing metropolis of Lagos, so it comes as quite a shock to find herself in a small rural village, without computers or mobile phone coverage. She then discovers that her grandmother is central to the village structure and acts as the healer and wise woman for the local community. Whilst out, exploring the local area, Simi finds herself drawn to a small lake which the local people avoid as they say many children have disappeared there over the years. What follows next seems like a dream to Simi; she is drawn down into the lake and discovers a land beneath the water, even seeing two children talking, however she is then raised out of the lake and left on its edge; so is there magic at work here? The rest of the story follows Simi as she tries to make sense of what is going on, and also how she tries to discover why there is so much bad feelings between her mother and grandmother. By the end of the book we have found old secrets uncovered, old wounds healed and a sense that a new positive future is possible for all the people of the area.
I absolutely loved this story as it shows the conflict that so many young (and not so young) people feel about the many changes that we are constantly seeing in our lives. Although this is set in Nigeria, it is a scenario that could take place in many other countries, as tradition and the modern world try to work together and maintain the sense of belonging that is so important in most of our lives. It also reminds us that the modern world does not always provide answers to what we see and feel.
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 (if not, please let me know and I will update the credit).