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WOW! You all are amazing and extremely supportive. Thank you for the abundance of emails expressing your love for “Read A Book” Thursday. I am glad you all are enjoying learning and discovering new, and some familiar authors.
Oh, yeah, I got a flood of emails trying to get their hands on last week’s post for E. Lynn’s latest release, “In My Father’s House.” Thank you and I know E. Lynn is smiling down on us all.
I am proud to introduce this week’s “Read A Book” break-thru new fiction author, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and her new novel, “Powder Necklace” (Washington Square Press, April 2010).
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond has written for AOL, Parenting magazine, The Village Voice, Metro, and Trace Magazine. Her short story, Bush Girl was published in the May 2008 issue of African Writing and her poem, The Whinings of a Seven Sister Cum Laude Graduate Working Board as an Assistant, was published in the 2006 anthology Growing Up Girl. A cum laude graduate of Vassar College, she attended secondary school in Ghana.
The “Powder Necklace” is a story about a sexually curious and petulant Lila Adjei who makes the fatal error of inviting a male schoolmate to her London home to play video games—without adult supervision—her mother flies into a rage and decides to send Lila packing “for her own good” on an indefinite sojourn to rural Ghana, her homeland. Lila is furious at her mother for her seemingly rash decision and terrified at the thought of being so far away from home in an unfamiliar place. Although her mother’s explanation for the move is that she is attempting to protect her daughter from the bad influences of London, Lila is convinced that the uncongenial relationship between her mother and her estranged father, who lives in America, is at the core of the decision.
Once in Ghana, Lila arrives at the home of her Auntie Irene and soon discovers that life there is devoid of the luxuries she was accustomed to in London. Her aunt, while loving, is strong-willed and determined to have Lila enroll at Ghana’s most prestigious school for girls. After an interview with the school’s headmistress, an influential reference, and monetary bribes, Lila is accepted at the school. However, the harsh reality of being the odd-girl-out amongst “her own” proves to challenging as she is taunted and robbed by her schoolmates and constantly reminded she is an outsider. But after a few months, Lila eventually becomes part of a circle of friends who bond over the reality of frequent water shortages, the “powder necklaces” formed from their liberal use of talcum when they are unable to bathe, petty injustices and ferme, the homemade moonshine they concoct with sugar water placed in empty soda bottles and then buried in the ground.
After finally adjusting to the Ghanaian way of life after what seemed like a lifetime, but was actually six months, Lila’s life is once again turned topsy-turvy as her mother suddenly summons her to come back to London. She is met at Heathrow airport by her mother and the new man in her life who has a daughter Lila’s age. During their conversations and correspondence over the years, Lila’s mother has never mentioned this relationship and Lila is stunned by the development as well as the fact that her mother has purchased a new home in a new neighborhood. However, Lila’s reunion in London is short-lived as her mother—along with her father, whom she has not seen since she was three years old—decides she should spend the summer with her father to become acquainted with him. Again, Lila is unhappy about the decision to uproot her yet again but after her arrival in America and an immediate road trip to Disney World, she becomes less tense about the visit with her father, her stepmother, and her half siblings. Although Lila believes she will return to London at the end of the summer, she learns she is going to live with her father and his family on Long Island permanently.
Through language interspersed with both humor and bitterness, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond deftly explores themes of community, loneliness, preservation of culture, and assimilation.
Check out my interview with Nana as we discuss her debut novel, “Powder Necklace”:
Nana: I’ve always wanted to write about my experience as an American-born kid being abruptly sent to Ghana. It was a crazy experience for me that I alternately resented and deeply appreciated. It was incredibly lonely being so far from my family, friends, and the culture I knew. But it was also thrilling and ultimately, empowering. I went to Ghana at a time in my life when I was ashamed to be African, mortified when my parents spoke Fante in public, and wished my skin were ten shades lighter. In Ghana I suddenly had a context for myself and my culture and it felt amazing. It was also so cool to travel by myself across countries. On the cusp of young adulthood, it was amazing to be exposed to a completely different culture. It opened up my world. I started to write this book as a memoir, but I found that fictionalizing the story and characters freed me to explore what that experience was like more objectively.
Nana: My first goal was to tell the story of this young woman who grew up in London, the daughter of a Ghanaian immigrant. But using her story, I wanted to explore the immense ignorance people have about Africa, the shame and cluelessness many children of immigrants have about the countries their parents emigrated from and why, and also what it is like to be raised by a person from another country and culture, when you’re not living in that culture. I wanted to touch upon the superiority complex we in the Western world have about the so-called Third World too, and break it down.
TD: How do you feel your novel will resonate with young girls? Will they find some solace or connection with Lila?
Nana: I don’t think Lila is that much different from any other young person in that soupy adolescent phase. She may have had to split this turbulent time across three continents, but everyone has had to deal with parents who just don’t seem to get them, decisions by the adults in their lives that seem to change their whole world, discovery of new places and types of people, that struggle for independence…
TD: Your novel explores themes of community, loneliness, preservation of culture and assimilation. Was that your goal in writing “Powder Necklace”?
Nana: Sort of. I didn’t go into the book explicitly trying to address these themes – I wanted to tell the story of a young girl trying to find her way and herself in the shadow of two cultures, the adults guiding her, and the friends that help her navigate. I did think about myself as a young girl and how much I wished I’d had more books that told a diversity of black stories. Books like White Teeth; Breath,; Eyes; Memory; Purple Hibiscus; Half of a Yellow Sun; Graceland; Harmattan Rain; etc., were long overdue.
TD: Is much of Lila’s experience based on your own experiences?
Nana: I definitely drew from my own experience leaving New York when I was 12 to live and school in Ghana. But the details of the story are fiction.
Nana has been so gracious to give-away five (5) signed copies of her book, “Powder Necklace,” to you wonderful readers of this column. So, the first five persons to email me the books I have featured, to date, for “Read A Book” Thursday will win a signed a copy. You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.