Writing: 5/5 Plot: 3.5/5; Characters: 5/5
New words (for me): Buba is an item of clothing; Gele – a Nigerian head scarf
A stunningly good book — I read it in a single sitting (OK – it was only 118 pages — but I had to halve my usual reading speed in order to fully enjoy the lovely language).
Morayo Da Silva is a strong, vibrant, deliciously interesting character. Almost 75, she lives in a small, book-filled, rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco with an incredible view. A retired professor of literature, she was born in Nigeria and lived around the world before settling in San Francisco. She arranges her books by which characters ought to be talking to each other and often rewrites the endings of well-known stories to allow women characters to survive, stay sane, or accomplish great things!
Her life story unfolds through memories as she roams around San Francisco engaging with friends, strangers, and the city itself. Her current story unfolds simultaneously as a fall interrupts her trajectory and exposes her to new people, places, and dependencies. While most is told through her first person narrative, we often get inserts of third person narrative describing an interaction with Morayo. It works!
There is no simplification or any sense that the author is actively trying to make the work more accessible. There are literary references you may not get ( I looked up several) and references to African cultural items and phrases (again – Google is your friend). I love that this book didn’t dumb anything down for potential readers. Similarly, you won’t find any political correctness in the pages — the story is as multi-cultural as you can get, but Morayo’s opinions are her own and she speaks them beautifully.
The writing is spectacular — it’s a short book but I took it slowly so I could appreciate every line. “A straciatella sky” stops Morayo from worrying about something; Lagos is the “land of constant sunshine and daily theatre”; and her home in Jos, unfortunately a target for Boko Haram, is “ … the place where people said “sorry” whenever someone tripped or fell or grazed themselves because that was the linguistic mirror of a culture based on empathy …”.
I picked this book up at last year’s Berkeley Book Festival after seeing the author on an African author panel. She was an intriguing speaker as well as writer. Wish I had started it sooner. Must get to work on that backlog!