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Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna

Ancestor Stones (2006)

by Aminatta Forna

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I loved this. Beautiful book. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
gifted writer recreates the stories of four West African sisters whose lives span the twentieth century.

As the twentieth century begins, a West African man clears land and starts the coffee plantation that will make him wealthy. Four of his daughters, by four of his eleven wives, tell their own stories about their lives as children, coming of age, in maturity, and in old age. The stories are told to a niece who grew up among them and now lives aboard, a woman who could be Forna herself. When the niece returns to the plantation, the aunts are waiting to tell her their stories.

In Forna’s hands, stories are “ancestor stones,” each a jewel in its own right, but even more meaningful in the context of the others. They recount how lives were lived in the past, but not with the intention of preserving particular traditions. Instead they are meant to deepen our understanding of the choices we all face as humans. All of them affirm life in face of pain.

Read more:http://wp.me/p24OK2-163
  mdbrady | Jun 20, 2014 |
I borrowed this from a friend after seeing her latest book shortlisted for two awards. I think the story line had huge potential. However, I found it a struggle to recognise the different narrators each time they appeared, so their individual life experiences all ran together.
It is the story of four sisters, born to different wives of Gibril Kholifa, in Sierra Leone. There is little to suggest their connection to each other as it is not until the later years that they feature in each others stories.
The tale does gradually build up a picture of the role women play in Sierra Leone i.e. chattels to the men. However their independent spirits slowly emerge as the twentieth century progresses. A distinction is also made between the cultural lifestyles of the western world and these third world countries. ( )
  HelenBaker | Apr 23, 2011 |
The book tells the life stories of women in the Kholifa family, across multiple generations and 70+ years. While the book includes a family tree diagram in the opening, the book can be read without it, or in any order, such is its lyrical, poetic and connected nature. Unlike 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez, Ancestor Stones almost never explains the relations between the characters, including the matriarchs, daughters, aunts who, as the story progresses proceed through each of those roles. The book is set in Sierra Leone, and the reader is exposed to the admixture of tribal, Muslim, and missionary Christian cultures. At times poignant and sad, the book drives forward with matter-of-fact life-changing events such as war, regime change, independence, fire, betrayal, marriage, but without these events overshadowing or corrupting the sophisticated and subtle maturation of the women. ( )
  shawnd | Aug 30, 2010 |
This a beautiful, thoughtful piece of work to be read and savored. The protagonist, Albie, has moved from Sierra Leone with her family to settle in the UK. She receives a letter from Sierra Leone informing her that her grandfather's coffee plantation is now hers and is waiting for her. Compelled by her curiosity, she travels back to Africa to find out more.

Her journey takes her into the lives of her family. She sits at the feet of four of her paternal aunts, hearing their stories as they relive their lives through the decades. Polygamy is the order of the day in this society, so the aunts share a father, but each has a different mother. This is an oral storytelling society, so the women are skilled in spinning tales that captivate and paint a distinctive picture of life in Africa. References to the sun and the wind, the grass and the trees, the moon and the shadows abound, and hold intrinsic value for these people. When they declare that, "the air was heavy and wrapped itself around" them, and "the shadows were short and black black black", or refer to the "steely-grey light of the morning", we see how close they are to nature and how its aura has a bearing on their daily lives.

Forna's luxurious writing makes the reader feel present in Africa: You can hear the trader calling his wares in the marketplace; sense the twittering birds hiding in trees from the warm afternoon sun; and watch the clear river water running as the women bathe and revel in its coolness. I love the wisdom and the spirit of these women who forge lives for themselves, without complaint. They take control and shape their own destinies; and, in the telling, they seem to share their disappointments and triumphs with equal vigor. Their stories span almost ninety years—from the 1920s to the present in Sierra Leone—and provide an outline of the country's social and political history as the four characters face the challenges of being women in a male-dominated society and coping with colonisation, subsequent independence, voting for the first time, new and corrupt political leaders, and civil war.

Each woman's narrative is unique, with a few subtle overlaps between stories. I would have enjoyed seeing the individuals, as sisters, interact even more in their stories. Forna is an outstanding writer and this is an accomplished novel. Read it!

This review was initially published in the launch issue of Belletrista: http://www.belletrista.com/2009/issue1/reviews_16.html ( )
2 vote akeela | May 9, 2010 |
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For Yabome, oya ka mi
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I see her sometimes, usually when I least expect it:  a reminder of her.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802143210, Paperback)

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 The Joy Luck Club, it establishes Aminatta Forna as a gifted novelist.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Abie has followed the arc of a letter from London back to Africa, to the coffee groves of Kholifa Estates, the plantation formerly owned by her grandfather. It is a place she remembers from childhood and which now belongs to her - if she wants it. Standing among the ruined groves she strains to hear the sound of the past, but the 'layers of years' in between then and now are too many. So begins her gathering of the family's history through the tales of her aunts." "This is the story of four lives: Asana, Mariama, Hawa and Serah Kholifa, born to the different wives of a wealthy plantation owner in an Africa where change is just beginning to arrive. Asana, lost twin and head-wife's daughter. Hawa, motherless child and manipulator of her own misfortune. Mariama, who sees what lies beyond this world. And Serah, follower of a Western-made dream." "Stretching across generations and set against the backdrop of a country's descent into freefall, Ancestor Stones is a novel about understanding the past and how stories ancient and new shape who we become, and one which offers a different way of seeing the world we share. It is the story of a nation, a family and four women's attempts quietly to alter the course of their own destiny."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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