Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Recommended: Between Sisters

This one was recommended by the Children’s Books Panel on CBC’s “The Next Chapter” December 20/2010, which consisted of Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington chatting with Shelagh Rogers about some of their favourites. I think I could read for a solid year fuelled only by TNC recommendations!

Adwoa Badoe’s Between Sisters
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2010

I did not settle into Between Sisters right away.

I thought that I would.

First, it came recommended.

Then, the cover image was striking.

Finally, I liked the beginning: “Not’ing wonders God. This is what my daa says when something unexpected happens to take the wind out of his belly. Apparently things like that happen often in life, because I have heard him say those words over and over again.”

But I felt at a distance from the story for a good while. For me, I think this distance came from the use of language, the story’s style.

I don’t mean the occasional Ghanaian phrase; they were all defined in the glossary at the back (and many times it was clear from the context anyhow), and that helped to transport me to Accra and Kumasi.

I felt as though the narrative itself kept me at arm’s length.

Here’s what I mean:
It felt good to be associated with nice things. My daa, the great chauffeur, had never owned a car. We had never even owned a TV — only the small wireless radio that stood on our windowsill.
‘I want you to be my friend,’ Bea said.
‘Okay,’ I replied coolly. I wondered what her friends were thinking. ‘We have to go now. I’m taking Sam to the clubhouse to buy Sprite.’

The prose is clear and purposeful, but, at times, it felt as though the story was on display. I felt that the sentences were set forth, in predictable subject+verb+object form, even when what I was yearning for was more sensory detail.

In the above passage, I wanted to see Gloria’s father’s hands on the steering wheel of the car he drove for a living, to have the lack of steering the wheel of his own car accentuated subtly. I wanted to hear the wireless radio, to have the sound which emerged from it described. I wanted to feel it.

And, as in this passage, too, sometimes it felt as though the dialogue was too perfect, proper sentences used where incomplete ones would have been more likely.

But, even so, as I read on, I became increasingly absorbed in Gloria Bampo’s story.

When she leaves her family to work as a nanny for Sistah Christine, five hours away from her parents and her sister, Gloria gains privileges she has never dreamed of, but her life also becomes filled with complications she had never envisioned.

If, at times, the style had seemed simplistic to me, there was nothing straightforward about the problems that Gloria grapples with or their resolution.

Gloria’s emotions are complex (often contradictory) and the narrative heads in unexpected directions (perhaps best appreciated by ages 12+).

At the ¾ mark? I was riveted. And when it was done? I was imagining a sequel.

Perhaps my increased attachment to Gloria’s character was also rooted in her becoming more of herself. Perhaps the reader is intended to feel this distancing initially, and then draw tangibly closer as Gloria’s confidence develops (among other things, her writing and reading improve dramatically throughout the story).

In either case, I didn’t mind the wait. I’ll be watching to see if Adwoa Badoe continues Gloria’s story.

Have you read this one? Are you considering it now?

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8 comments to Recommended: Between Sisters

  • Though it seems like you came to terms with Between Sisters by the end and while the story does seem interesting, I don’t think it’s one I would enjoy very much. The writing style does, as you say, keep the reader at arm’s length and something about it rubs me the wrong way. The prose really does seem far too calculated and planned, as though there was intense restraint when writing it. Not the kind of writing that typically draws me in.

  • It’s not a style that draws me in either, Bibliblio, but if you have an interest in fiction set in Ghana, that might carry you through the first half, whilst the characters take hold, though, if not, it simply might not be the book for you.

  • Thanks for the review! This one too caught my ear on TNC – if I pick it up, I will keep in mind that it really picks up steam as you go along.

  • You might well appreciate the setting and cultural aspects of this one, Kate. And I do agree expectations are key. (You’ll recognize how far behind I am on TNC recommends: I know you listen regularly and more-up-to-date-ly than I!)

  • Ari

    I read this book some time ago and I wasn’t a big fan. Like you I thought the writing was too simplisitc. I did enjoy reading about Ghana (for a more fun look at being a Ghanian immigrant I recommend the YA books by Sophia Acheampong about a Ghanian-UK teenage girl. Cute and fun books).

    I also found it odd that the relationship betwen Efie and Gloria wasn’t explored very deeply. Based on the title I expected a lot more although I guess it might have chosen to focus less on blood sister and more on not-related-but-so-close-they-could-be sisters?

    And Gloria’s naivety grew tiring after a bit. But I liked reading about life in Ghana and the ending was riveting.

    Great review 🙂

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Ari: I’ve added them to my TBR list, and it looks as though they’d complement this one nicely. I was surprised that there wasn’t more of Gloria in the story, too; beyond the fact that their experiences are contrasting, we don’t get close to her blood sister at all.

  • […] ( Amy Reads reviewed Between Sisters last during the first Ghanaian Literature Week. See also Buried In Print’s review) […]

  • […] This passage illustrates the natural inclusion of Ghanaian vocabulary, and also the context offered, so that the glossary at the end of the novel is a bonus rather than a necessity (as was the case with her previous novel, Between Sisters). […]

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