DIANE DE BEER
These three books all deal with children who have lost their mothers and how that influenced their lives:
The Girl with the Louding Voice
by Abi Daré (Sceptre):
“I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.”
And that sentence explains what is to follow in the 14-year-old Adunni’s life. Her mother is the one who paid both to keep her at school and the exorbitant rent for their house.
But since her death, Adunni has become a valuable commodity. In fact, her life amounts to four goats, two bags of rice, some chicken and a new TV, as she is sold as the third wife to an old man. With a dedication to the author’s mother (the first female professor of taxation in Nigeria) and someone who promoted the importance of education and sacrificed so much that her daughter could get the best of it; and a prologue that points to Nigeria as the 6th largest crude oil exporter in the world (and with a GDP of $568.5 billion, the richest country in Africa, yet with 100 million people who live in poverty surviving on less that a $1 a day) that’s who this story deals with, one of the many young girls who become the sole provider for their family, not by choice but because they don’t have any.
Whatever your level of interaction with the rest of Africa, we have all heard of the plight of the Boko Haram girls who were abducted. Some will never be returned to their families, while those who do are often rejected, with the children forced upon them by their vicious captors.
Think about those 16 year-old girls kidnapped by the marauding monsters only to be blamed on their return at a time when being a teenager should be your only worry. It’s the kind of book that hopefully opens new worlds and reminds you how lucky we are to have the luxury of only discovering this kind of terror in a book.
I loved the story and the writing. It’s a unique voice, as so many from Africa are.
Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens (Corsair)
Kya was only six when her mother walked out on the family. In the following few weeks, an older brother and two sisters also drifted off and Kaya was left with her favourite brother Jodie and her drinking dad.
Jodie didn’t last that long and neither did her father, only a few more years. By the time she approached her teens, without any schooling, neither writing nor reading, she was on her own living in their shack in the marsh on the edge of Barkley Cove.
Not only had this young girl been deserted by her entire family, the town also rejected her and she had no one to turn to. Dumped on by everyone who saw her as the Marsh Girl, she was laughed out of school, her only resource the marsh and its embracing flora and fauna that taught her about life.
It reads like a modern-day folktale, almost too far-fetched to hold on to and yet, we all know the Kyas of the world, those living on the edge, some who manage to get ahead in spite of the struggle and the way the world has turned its back on them.
The author Delia Owens has three internationally best-selling non-fiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari, and this is her debut novel, which is probably why it has such an almost naive yet wondrously unique voice.
It’s beautifully written and takes you to another world as Kya tries to face a world that keeps turning its back on her.
The Dutch House
by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury)
From the time that Danny and Maeve’s mother leaves home – and this time doesn’t come back – their lives are about longing, which is very closely linked to the Dutch House.
“Like swallows, like salmon, we were helpless captives of our migratory patterns. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father.”
And thereby hangs the tale in a fascinating story that is viewed from many different perspectives, all of this packaged with a delicious caricature of the evil stepmother at the centre. But this isn’t her story.
Patchett is a familiar name but this is the first of her novels I have read and from the first page just loved the writing. It’s clean yet charming, shows an insight that is uncanny and hitches your heart to the characters whose lives have been thrown into a storm that is beyond their means and abilities to deal with – yet they do.
Because the brother and his older sister are dealing with the same trauma, it’s also intriguing to see how they deal with their loss, abandonment and sheer misery of what they have to come to terms with in their upended circumstances.
It has to do with age and gender, how a mother’s absence plays into their lives and how they deal with these emotions – whether it is anger or longing that lingers most strongly. The older daughter might find it difficult to resist clinging to old feelings because there are clear memories to return to time and again, while the younger brother might be more broody and resentful about a mother leaving her children still so young.
Yet it is these close family ties that are tied up and thrown about in different scenarios to see how they play out.
And in the end, although all three the books hold a certain longing from those who have lost what is one of their most impactful relationships, it is also the different voices, the way the authors tell their stories and their writing, that is finally quite extraordinary in all three.
I will certainly want to read more by Patchett who has quite a resumé, but am also hopeful that the other two writers will keep writing following these brilliant debut attempts.