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Housemaid, by Amma Darko.

June 18, 2012

The Housemaid, by Amma Darko.  Heinemann (1999).  Paperback, 107 pages

A witty and insightful little novel about women in Ghana.

Amma Darko opens her book with this passage.

In Ghana, if you come into the world a she, acquire the habit of praying. And master it. Because you will need it, desperately, as old age pursues you, and mother nature’s hand approaches you with a wry smile, paint and brush at the ready, to daub you with wrinkles.
If, on top of this, your children, waging a desperate war of their own for economic survival, find they have too little time for you, count you among the forgotten and forsaken; and if, crowning it all, cash, fine, sweet cash, decides it doesn’t really fancy your looks and decides to elude you in all nooks, crooks, and crannies, then know for sure that you are on route to qualifying grandly as a witch.

Then she goes on to tell the stories of a cluster of Ghanaian women who, sooner or later, may very well end up being considered witches. They are old and young, rich and poor, urban and rural, all involved somehow or other in devious schemes to improve their personal or family situations. When evidence appears of a possible crime, they weave an increasingly intricate web deceiving each other about what is going on.

The plot is complicated and less important than the depictions which Darko gives of each of the women involved. Using lots of dialogue, she takes her reader into the daily lives of each of her characters, revealing the problems each faces and the decisions each make. She never offers advice about what the women should do or what should be done it improve their lives. Unjudgmentally, Darko helps us understand the variety of paths each chooses.

Readers will probably want to laugh and cry in reading Housemaid, and that is what Darko seems to want. She ends her book with an observation about her characters.

And, together, they laughed and cried; laughing and crying away their pain, their disappointment, their anger, their fear. And laughing with hope.

Darko is a fine writer. I look forward to reading some of her longer books.

READ FOR THE AFRICAN READING CHALLENGE.

I highly recommend Housemaid to anyone wanting to understand women and Ghana, and ready “to laugh with hope.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2012 3:27 am

    Probably not for me, but I have a friend researching in this area and when I see here tomorrow I’ll make sure she knows this author. Thank you on her behalf.

    • June 20, 2012 8:56 am

      Definitely not for everyone. Thanks for passing the author’s name along.

  2. June 19, 2012 5:17 am

    This is a fine review; you’ve summed up the essence of the novel nicely. I read Housemaid some time ago and though I did not particularly like some of the characters, I do believe that Ama Darko’s treatment of the themes of poverty, deceit and the survival instincts of her characters was adequately handled. You will like her novel, Faceless much better, I dare say.

    • June 20, 2012 9:07 am

      Thanks. I didn’t like or identify with ANY of the characters, but I enjoyed the book . Unusual, at least for me. Yes, her forte is her depiction of “poverty, deceit and survival instincts.” And I realize those or universal traits, not limited to Ghanian women, and that Ghanian women don’t all act like these do. I look forward to Faceless.

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