Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Ancestor Stones

by Aminatta Forna

“A compelling drama and a thoughtful, sensual study of women’s survival.” —Entertainment Weekly

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date September 18, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4321-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date March 18, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9196-0
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Aminatta Forna, whose moving and gorgeously written memoir garnered international attention, has seamlessly turned her hand to fiction in Ancestor Stones a powerful, sensuous novel that beautifully captures Africa’s past century and her present, and the legacy that her daughters take with them wherever they live.

Abie returns home from England to West Africa to visit her family after years of civil war, and to reclaim the family plantation, Kholifa Estates, formerly owned by her grandfather. There to meet her are her aunts: Asana, Mariama, Hawa, and Serah, and so begins her gathering of the family and the country’s history through the tales of her aunts. Asana, lost twin and head wife’s daughter. Hawa, motherless child and manipulator of her own misfortune. Mariama, who sees what lies beyond. And Serah, follower of a Western made dream. Set against the backdrop of a nation’s descent into chaos, it is the take a family and four women’s attempts to alter the course of their own destiny.

A wonderful achievement recalling The God of Small Things and House of the Spirits, it establishes Aminatta Forna as a gifted novelist.

Tags Literary

Praise

New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

“A compelling drama and a thoughtful, sensual study of women’s survival.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Forna seems here more like Isabel Allende at the height of her early, inspired, politically testifying powers. . . . Ancestor Stones is a marvelous novel, but it’s also history—at once lush, despairing, hopeful, horrifying. . . . [Forna] has given us a full family portrait of a set of glorious, funny, tenacious, incredibly resilient souls. It’s a miracle in some ways. It seems humans can survive almost anything. That should give us all hope.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post

“Sweeping portrayal of the lives of five Sierra Leonean women . . . Forna’s work sheds light on the history of a long-struggling nation.” —Publishers Weekly

“A compelling drama and a thoughtful, sensual study of women’s survival.” —Debora Lidov, Entertainment Weekly

“Sweeping . . . Heartbreaking.” —Tyrone Beason, The Seattle Times

“An intimate portrait of the evolution of one West African community . . . Highly recommended.” —Rebecca Stuhr, Library Journal

“Strong, memorable, and original.” —Maud Newton, Newsday

“Forna’s prose, reminiscent of consummate stylists such as Jean Rhys, becomes condensed and palpitating, each word doing triple duty.” —Maxine Swain, Bookforum

“A literary diamond, a bloody ruby, leaving the reader elbow-deep in a treasure trove and heady with guilty delight at what has been discovered. . . . Staggering first novel. . . . This is a work of literature that reached as deeply into the being of a white male Anglo-Saxon card-carrying bloke as, I dare say, it would touch the heart of any woman, any African, Inuit, bond trader or raving banshee. . . . Lovingly honed stories. . . . Forna is destined for the shortlist of all the literary prizes—on offer with this beautiful book, not because she has revitalised the fading art of story-telling but because, for me at least, she has rekindled the dying embers of a much more precious art – that of listening.” —Sam Kiley, Evening Standard (UK)

“Vivid, graceful prose . . . Tender, haunting novel.” —Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“A dazzling storyteller, Aminatta Forna vividly evokes the daily lives of African women and their brave attempts to alter their destiny.” —Anne Poole, Books Quarterly (UK)

“Extraordinary . . . Vibrant with sadness and joy . . . Forna beautifully describes the chafing confines and glorious freedoms of lives whose rich continuity is being gradually rent asunder, as Africa’s political situation becomes increasingly fraught.” —Eithne Farry, Daily Mail (UK)

“A wonderfully ambitious novel written from the inside, opening up a particular society and delving deeply into the hearts, histories and minds of women. . . . Inspired storytelling and beautifully crafted prose.” —Bernadine Evaristo, The Guardian (UK)

“A writer of startling talent . . . sumptuous prose which makes it a delight to read. Virtually every page contains breathtaking descriptions of the natural world . . . The writing is luminous . . . Every word rings true. . . . The book leaves an impression of immense joyfulness, a sense of delight and wonder. Conveying the human spirit’s irrepressible love of life is the triumph of this magical book.” —Cressida Connolly, Daily Telegraph (UK)

Praise for The Devil That Danced on the Water:

“A masterpiece that makes sense of senselessness . . . We could place [Forna’s] memoir of Sierra Leone alongside Nega Mezlekia’s Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, about Ethiopia, or Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart, about South Africa. . . . An original work made out of necessity.” —Lorraine Adams, The Washington Post Book World

“Poignant and passionate . . . [Forna’s] father was taken from their home and executed in a government attempt to quash democracy. But this isn’t a political book. In the first part of this moving memoir, Forna brings her family to life, in both their idyllic ups . . . and incongruous downs. In the second [part] . . . she discovers the story of an entire nation’s demise.” —Allison Lynn, People

“Powerful . . . At once impassioned, lucid, and understandably enraged, The Devil That Danced on the Water illuminates the troubled, tragic history of a country and a continent. It helps us understand how the faraway events we’ve grown used to seeing on the nightly news—the violent coups, famines, mass murders, and migrations—affect the lives of individual men and women, of parents and children, of families just like our own.” —Francine Prose, O Magazine

Awards

Winner of the 2007 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction
Selected as a 2006 Washington Post Book World Most Favorable Reviews title
Long-listed for the 2008 Dublin IMPAC Award

Excerpt

London, July 2003

It began with a letter, as stories sometimes do. A letter that arrived one day three winters ago, bearing a stamp with a black and white kingfisher, the damp chill of the outside air, and the postmark of a place from which no letter had arrived for a decade or more. A country that seemed to have disappeared, returned to an earlier time, like the great unfilled spaces on old maps here once map makers drew illustrations of mythical beasts and untold riches. But of course the truth is this story began centuries ago, when horsemen descended to the plains from a lost kingdom called Futa Djallon, long before Europe’s map makers turned their minds to the niggling problem of how to fill those blank spaces.

A story comes to mind. A story I have known for years, it seems, though I have no memory now of who is was who told it to me.

Five hundred years ago, a caravel flying the colours of the King of Portugal rounded the curve of the continent.

She had become becalmed somewhere around the Cape Verde Islands, and run low on stocks, food and water. When finally the winds took pity on her, they blew her south-east towards the coast, where the captain sighted a series of natural harbours and weighed anchor. The sailors, stooped with hunger, curly haired from scurvy, rowed ashore, dragged themselves through shallow water and on up the sand where they entered the shade of the trees. And there they stood and gazed about themselves in disbelief. Imagine! Dangling in front of their faces: succulent mangoes, bursts of starfruit, avocados the size of a man’s head. While from the ends of their elegant stalks pineapples nodded encouragingly, sweet potatoes and yams peeped from the earth, and great hands of bananas reached down to them. The sailors thought they had found no less a place than the Garden of Eden.

And for a time that’s what Europeans thought Africa was. Paradise.

The last time I thought about that story was a week after the letter came. By then I had left London—the city I now call home—to retrace the letter’s route to the place from where it had come and beyond. I was standing in a forest just like the one the sailors had stumbled into. And I remembered how in the early morning I used to watch my grandmothers, my grandfather’s wives, leave their houses and make their way, down the same path upon which I was standing, towards their gardens. One by one each woman parted from her companions and went to her own plot, whose boundaries were marked by an abandoned termite hill, a fallen tree, and upright boulder. There, among the giant irokos, the sapeles and the silk-cotton trees of the forest, she tended the guavas, pawpaws and roseapples she had planted there. Then she weeded her yams and cassava where they grew in the soft, dark earth and watered the pineapple plant that marked the centre of her plot.

I thought of the sailors’ story. And for a long time, I thought it was just that. A story. About how Europeans discovered us and we stopped being a blank space on a map. But months later, after the letter arrived and I traced its arc and came to land with a soft thud in an enchanted forest, and after I had listened to all the stories contained in this book and written them down for you, that one story came back to me. And I realised the story was really about something else. It was about different ways of seeing. The sailors were blind to the signs, incapable of seeing the pattern or logic, just because it was different to their own. And the African way of seeing: arcane, invisible yet visible, apparent to those who belong.

The sailors saw what they took to be nature’s abundance and stole from the women’s gardens. They thought they had found Eden, and perhaps they had. But it was an Eden created not by the hand of God, but the hands of women.

The letter that brought me back to Africa came from my cousin Alpha. I didn’t recognise his hand on the envelope: he had never written to me before. Alpha had once been a teacher, but in those changed days he made his living composing letters for other people. People who took their place opposite him one by one, clutching a scrap of paper bearing the address of an overseas relative or else the business card of some European traveller, unwittingly exchanged in a moment of good humour for a lifetime of another person’s hopes. Alpha conveyed greetings, prayed for the recipient’s health, invoked the memory of the dead, and wrote hereby merely to inform them of the sender’s situation, the dislocations and hardships of the war. Sought their help in solving their many difficulties. By God’s grace. Thanking them in advance.

And then he swivelled the letter around to face his customer, for their perusal and signature. They nodded, feigning comprehension. And signed with a knitted brow and a wobbling hand the letters of their name learned by heart. Or else they pushed a thumb on to the opened ink pad, and left a purple thumbprint like a flower on the bottom of the page.

My own letter was written on a single side of paper taken from a school exercise book. No crossing out, no misspellings—suggesting it had been drafted beforehand and carefully copied out. Alpha’s signature was at the bottom of the page. Alpha Kholifa, plainly executed without flourishes, a simply statement. He used our grandfather’s name, the same as mine, so there could be no mistake. The other thing I noticed, only after I had read the letter through, was the absence of a post-office box address. Knowingly, he had denied me the opportunity to write back with ready excuses, to enclose a cheque bloated with guilty zeros.

The letter contained not a single request or plea. The sum of it was held within two short sentences.

“The coffee plantation at Rofathane is yours. It is there.”

O yi di. In our language: it is there. Alpha had written to me in English, but the words, the sensibility, was African. In our country a person might enquire of another after the health of a third. And the respondent, wishing to convey that the individual was less than well, requiring the help of God or man, might reply: “O yi di.” He is there. She is there. The coffee plantation at Rofathane is yours. It is there.

He did not ask me to come back. He willed it.

The letter finished in the conventional manner. Alpha enquired after my husband, whom he had met once, the last time I went back. We had taken the children, to be seen and admired by family and friends, though they—the children, that is—were too small then to have any memory of the visit. I remember my aunts called my husband the Portuguese One, the potho, which had become my people’s word for any European. After those sailors who landed and kept coming back. Named the country. Set up trading posts. Bred bronze-coloured Pedros and Marias. And disappeared leaving scattered words as remnants of their stay. Oporto. Porto. Potho. The tip of the tongue pushed against the back of the teeth, a soft sound. Over the years the word had moulded itself to the shape of an African mouth. It did not matter to them—my aunts—that my husband was, in fact, a Scot.

The morning after the letter arrived I woke to a feeling, which I mistook at first for the chill that follows the end of a warm dream. A sense of apprehension, of an undertaking ahead. Every year for years I had told my Aunt Serah I was coming home. But every year Aunt Serah told me to wait. “Come at Christmas. When things have settled down.” I knew I had left it long enough. A spectator, I had watched on my television screen images of my country bloodied and bruised. The burned out facade of the department store where we bought mango ice cream on Saturdays. Corpses rolling in the surf of the beach where we picnicked on Sundays, where I rolled for hours in those very waves. A father with his two sons dodging sniper bullets on a street I travelled every Monday morning on my way to school. Peace had been declared and yet the war was far from over. It was like witnessing, from a distance, somebody you know being set upon by thieves in the street. And afterwards, seeing them stagger, still punch drunk, hands outstretched as they fumble for their scattered possessions. Or else, shocked into stillness, gazing around themselves as if in wonder, searching for comfort in the faces of strangers.

What would you do? You would go to them.

I sat up and shook my husband’s shoulder—my Portuguese Scottish husband—and I told him I was going away for a while.

And so there I was, standing in the forest among the women’s gardens, remembering my grandmothers. Beyond the trees their daughters were waiting for me. Four aunts. Asana, daughter of Ya Namina, my grandfather’s senior wife: a magnificent hauteur flowed like river water from the mother’s veins through the daughter’s. Gentle Mary, from whom foolish children ran in fright, but who braided my hair, cared for me like I was her own and talked of the sea and the stars. Hawa, whose face wore the same expression I remembered from my childhood—of disappointment already foretold. Not even a smile to greet me. Enough of her. And Serah, belly sister of my father, who spoke to me in a way no other adult ever had—as though I might one day become her equal.

They were the ones whose presence filled the background to my childhood. Not my only aunts, by any means, rather my husbandless aunts. Asana, widow. Mary, spinster. Serah, divorcee. The fate of Hawa’s husband had never been quite clear, it remained something of a mystery. I had heard some of their stories before, though I didn’t remember who had told me or when. As a child I had spent my evenings at home doing schoolwork, or trying to get a picture on the black and white TV, as a teenager I’d lain in my room fiddling with my yellow transistor radio, waiting for my favourite tunes. Without men of their own to occupy them these four aunts had always been frequent visitors to my father’s house until he left to take up a series of appointments overseas and I followed in his slipstream to university.

Coming back, I thought about my aunts and all the things that had never been spoken. And I saw them for what they were, the mirror image of the things that go unsaid: all the things that go unasked.

The stories gathered here belong to them, though now they belong to me too, given to me to do with as I wish. Just as they gave me their father’s coffee plantation. Stories that started in one place and ended in another. Worn smooth and polished as pebbles from countless retellings. So that afterwards I thought maybe they had been planning it, waiting to tell me for a long time.

That day I walked away from the waiting women, into the trees and towards the water: the same river that further on curled around the houses, so the village lay within its embrace like a woman in the crook of her lover’s arm. Either side of the path the shadows huddled. Sharp grasses reached out to scratch my bare ankles. A caterpillar descended on an invisible filament to twirl in front of my face, as if surveying me from every angle before hoisting itself upwards through the air. A sucker smeared my face with something sticky and unknown. I paused to wipe my cheek in front of a tall tree with waxy, elliptical leaves. Along the branches hung sleeping bats, like hundreds of swaddled babies. As I watched, a single bat shifted, unfurled a wing and enfolded its body ever more tightly. For a moment a single eye gleamed at me from within the darkness.

Here and there scarlet berries danced against the green. I reached through the cobwebs, careful of the stinging tree-ants, and plucked a pair. I pressed a fingernail into the flesh of a berry and held it to my nose. Coffee. The lost groves. All this had once been great avenues of trees.

And for a moment I found myself in a place that was neither the past nor the present, neither real nor unreal. Rothoron, my aunts called it. Probably you have been there yourself, whoever you are and wherever in the world you are reading this. Rothoron, the gossamer bridge suspended between sleep and wakefulness.

In that place, for a moment, I heard them. I believe I did. A child’s laugh, teasing and triumphant, crowning some moment of glory over a friend. The sound of feet, of bare soles, flat African feet pat-patting the earth. A humming—of women singing as they worked. But then again, perhaps it was just the call of a crane flying overhead, the flapping of wings and the drone of the insects in the forest. I stood still, straining for the sound of their voices, but the layers of years in between us were too many.

I passed through the ruined groves of the coffee plantation that by then was mine. Not in law, not by rights. Customary law would probably deem it to belong to Alpha, Asana’s son. But it was mine if I wished, simply because I was the last person with the power to do anything with it.

Down by the water, under the gaze of a solitary kingfisher, a group of boys were bathing. At the sight of me they stopped their play in order better to observe my progress, which they did with solemn expressions, kwashiorkor bellies puffed out in front of them like pompous old men, sniffing airily through snot-encrusted nostrils. I smiled. And when they smiled back, which they did suddenly, they displayed rows of perfect teeth. One boy leaned with his arm across his brother’s shoulder, his eyes reclining crescents above his grin, and on the helix of his ear the cartilage formed a small point in exactly the same place as it does on my son’s ear. I had bent and kissed that very place as he lay sleeping next to his sister, before I left to catch my early morning flight.

And later, inside my grandfather’s house, I pushed open the shutters of a window, finely latticed with woodworm. The plaster of the window sill was flaking, like dried skin. The clay beneath was reddish, tender looking. In the empty room stood the tangled metal wreck of what was once a four-poster bed. I remembered how it was when my grandfather lived and I came here as a child on visits from the city on the coast where my father worked. Then I sat bewildered and terrified before him, until somebody—a grandmother, an aunt—picked me up and carried me away. It was only the fact that my father was the most successful of his sons, though still only the younger son of a junior wife, that made hum deign to have me in his presence at all.

In the corner a stack of chests once stood, of ascending size from top to bottom. Gone now. Fleetingly I imagined the treasures I might have found inside. Pieces of faded indigo fabric. Embroidered gowns crackling with ancient starch. Letters on onion-skin parchment. Leather-bound journals. Memories rendered into words. But, no. For here the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from the fire or floods or war. In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told. Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.

And it is women’s work, this guarding of stories, like the tending of gardens. And as I go out to them, my aunts, silhouetted where they sit in the silver light of early dusk, I remember the women returning home at nightfall from the plots among the trees.

And I wonder what they would think if they came here now, those hapless port drinkers. Of all the glorious gifts the forest had to offer—fresh coffee.

Reading Group Guide

Reading group guide by Lindsey Tate

1. In speaking of her marriage, Asana states “I learned about women—how we are made into the women we become, how we shape ourselves, how we shape each other” (p. 107). Using this quote as a springboard, begin your discussion by considering the central role of women in the patriarchal society portrayed in the novel. Is their crucial role something of a paradox? What are some of the specific roles that women undertake? Throughout the novel we learn much about the complex hierarchical system of marriage. How do the women support each other and how do they undermine one another? Note that the word “Ores” means both co-wife and rival.

2. At the beginning of the novel Abie returns to her childhood home of Rofathane from London and strains to hear the voices of the past, “but the layers of years in between us were too many” (p. 10). What does she mean by this? What is Abie’s role in the novel? Do you find her to be a satisfying and fully fleshed character? Are the stories of the four sisters perhaps more accessible when filtered through Abie?

3. When Abie reads the letter she states that it is written in English, “but the words, the sensibility, was Africa” (p. 8). How far could this statement apply to the whole novel? Think about the story that Abie tells at the beginning of the novel about different ways of seeing. Consider also cultural differences between the West and the African society depicted.

4. One of the striking images in the first pages of the novel is of Gibril Umaru Kholifa’s iron four-poster bed being carried by eight men through the forest. How is the patriarch portrayed by his daughters? What are their relationships, their memories of his public persona vs. his private moments? Would you consider him a good father? How do the opinions of the sisters regarding their father change as they mature, and as outside influences enter their lives?

5. What do the ancestor stones of the title represent? How do they fit in with Asana’s statement that “there are many ways of looking at the same thing” (p. 236)? Consider how important they are to Mary’s mother. Explore the importance of names in connection with the stones, and throughout the rest of the novel, especially reflected in the character of Mary. What is Mary’s given name and when is it changed, and changed back? Does she think of herself as Mary? Why do you think she is referred to as Mary in the chapter headings?

6. Told as a series of stories, this novel celebrates the oral tradition. Whose work is “this guarding of stories” (p. 12) and why? Think of some of the different ways in which stories are told and used throughout the novel, from the scare-tactic tales of Asana’s grandmother to rumor-mongering about Sereh’s mother. Discuss the place of truth and memory in the telling of stories. “What story shall I tell? The story of how it really was, or the one you want to hear?” (p. 15).

7. Consider the theme of silence as it runs through the stories. Recall why Mary was banished from going to the women’s meetings once she learned how to talk. Can you think of instances in the novel where “words once uttered never die” (p. 62) and loose talk causes dramatic upheavals in the sister’s lives? What about later in the book during the dangers of the civil war? How does voting fit into the theme of silence? What is the role of Bobbio, the boy with no voice?

8. In many ways, Asana, daughter of Ya Namina, represents the old way of life before the changes wrought by the twentieth century. What is her relationship with her mother? Why does she head so blindly into her disastrous marriage? How has Asana’s opinion of her mother changed by the end of the novel? What profound realization occurs when she catches sight of her mother mourning, and what does it give Asana the strength to do?

9. Mary says, “We deserted our gods. . . . My mother would not yield. And to this day nobody has ever come to me and said she was noble and righteous to do so” (p. 36). In what ways does Mary’s life reflect the seeming desertion of the gods of her childhood? In which ways does she find comfort in her early beliefs? Find examples of the blending of the old and the new in Mary’s faith and practice of religion.

10. Hawa seems to attract bad luck and indeed her life is filled with unlucky events. In tracing the details of her misfortunes, do you see patterns beginning to occur? How much of her misery does she make herself? Think back to the best day of her life, “the day every one of my father’s wives wished she was my mother. And every one of his daughters wanted to be me” (p. 68). What do these feelings show about her character? When she says about Khalil, “I loved him so much I sacrificed my own happiness” ( p. 191) do you empathize with her or are you irritated by her actions? What about when she waits in vain for her soldier son to visit?

11. During her childhood, Sereh rejects her mother when she is accused of adultery. “I no longer wanted her for my mother” (p. 101). As Sereh grows up and makes her own mistakes in life, what is the irony of this rejection? At what point does she realize how much she owes her mother and how alike they are? Consider Sereh’s statement, “I preferred to make my way alone than live with unhappiness” (p. 233), and discuss the ways she demonstrates this independence throughout her life.

12. Sereh is one of the new generation who left their country without looking “back at the old, only forward to the vision of the new” (p. 214). To what extent is Sereh able to leave her old way of life behind? How does she find herself caught between two worlds? Consider her relationships with Janneh and Ambrose. What do the red shoes represent? In the forty years that pass between her two experiences as a returning officer at a voting station, how has Sereh changed? How has Africa changed? Are there reflections of the world Sereh knew from her childhood in the tense atmosphere of the voting station? Recall the women singing.

13. As Asana says about Rofathane, “change came slowly to this place” (p. 121). Talk about examples of the way in which the western world started to infiltrate the society of the village, from Asana’s stories of the moon-shadow man to the arrival of Mr. Blue and the mining companies. How did the creep of colonialism affect the lives of the sisters?

14. As the novel follows the sisters and they move beyond the reach of Rofathane their family history becomes entwined with the history of a nation. How has their childhood prepared them for this future? Do any of the sisters surprise you with their actions? How much do you agree with Asana’s statement that her great-granddaughter “had arrived in a world where suddenly we were all lost, as helpless as newborns” (p. 297)?

15. Consider the ways in which the author forces the sisters to confront and reflect on their own identities, and the ways in which they are viewed by others. Why is this especially important to Mary’s story? Discuss her experience in England, the country with “so many mirrors” (p. 206), where “nobody looked me in the eye” (p. 206). What are her feelings when she returns home, and why? Why does she feel the need to communicate her story to Abie? How does her story mirror the story of Africa itself?

16. Toward the end of the novel Sereh says, “Sometimes I think this is what happened in our country. Nobody heeded the warnings, nobody smelled the rain coming . . . until we were all engulfed by it” (p. 264). Find instances from the lives of the four women of this constant refusal to admit the truth. The author often uses images of stopping up the senses to portray this smothering of the truth: “I plugged my ears with imaginary mud” (p. 64) and Sereh covering the smells of poverty with the scent of flowers (p. 225). Discuss other examples.

17. “We were like a collection of differently coloured and shaped bottles” (p. 168), says Sereh of the various children raised by her grandmother. How fitting a description of the upbringing of the sisters is this? How are the sisters alike, how different? Do they become more or less alike as the novel progresses? Discuss the role of parenting in general in the novel.

18. At the end of the novel, Abie finds that she is no longer a stranger in Rofathane, and says that “in this small world everybody had a place” (p. 314). Asana states that at Rofathane there existed “an imperfect order. An order we understood” (p. 294). How much do you agree with this statement? What are your feelings about the order that existed?

19. How do the sisters make private acts of rebellion against the society of their childhood? Are these conscious acts, or reflections of the changing times they live in? Why do you think they all end up at Rothafane again?

20. What is the effect of telling the stories with the added layer of hindsight after a long passage of time? How accurate do you think the details of the stories are, and does that matter to you? Can you think of examples of how the women grapple with the effort to remember, or even wonder whether they have the details right? What about clear images that bring back a whole scene?

21. Discuss the role of love and sexuality throughout the novel. Consider the importance of the theme of fertility from the constant references to the rainy season, to Hawa’s tubal ligation. Asana describes her sexual initiation (removal of clitoris) as a special time in the company of women—are you able to support or understand her viewpoint?

22. Conclude your discussion of the novel by considering Asana’s statement “I let it be known that I would consider relinquishing the birthright of womanhood in exchange for the liberty of a man” (p. 248). What does she mean by this, and how does it resonate throughout the novel? Look back at the question that started your discussion, perhaps, to fully understand the rich complexity of the birthright of women. Do you think that Asana’s was a good decision to make?

Suggestions for further reading:

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; Falling Leaves by Adeline Mah; Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; The Darling by Russell Banks; Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih; Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah; In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif