Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s prose in her debut novel The God Child feels like poetry: vivid, associative, beautiful – and sometimes a little confusing. The story navigates between Ghana, Germany and the UK, following its young protagonist Maya from childhood to her early twenties, and is a narrative rich in history, complicity and complicated relationships.
The book begins with young Maya growing up in Germany with her Ghanaian parents: her charismatic and ostentatiously beautiful mother, and her bookish, frustrated father. The burden of history and duty on Maya’s matrilineal line is heavy; her mother is royalty and carries this as entitlement, pride, and a duty to show her superiority. This manifests in lavish spending and an uncompromising bearing, qualities that eventually lead to the disintegration of the parents’ marriage. Narrated through Maya, the reader is intimately bound into the experiences of a shy, young girl trying to come of age in a society to which she feels acutely other, in the shadow of a woman whose charisma exhausts her daughter.
Maya’s life changes when her cousin Kojo comes to live with her family and her understanding of the world and her place in it are altered. Fortunes shift, they must move to the UK – another society in which they are made to understand themselves as other and unwelcome – they must suffer the indignities of boarding school and the pains of being children who often seem wiser than the adults who make decisions on their behalf. With Kojo, Maya comes to understand a greater role for herself in configuring the history and destiny of Ghana.
The story Ayim tells is marred by tragedies personal and political, by frustration and rage and, at the end, still tinged with hope. The narration is sometimes a touch bewildering, and the different narrative strands don’t really seem to come entirely together to form a coherent whole – but perhaps they don’t need to, or were never meant to. The God Child is a beautiful book, and I think I could read it a second time and get even more out of it.
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