Title: The God Child
Author: Nana Oforiatta Ayim
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Published: 4th February 2020
Synopsis: Maya grows up in Germany knowing that her parents are different: from one another, and from the rest of the world. Her reserved, studious father is distant; and her beautiful, volatile mother is a whirlwind, with a penchant for lavish shopping sprees and a mesmerising power for spinning stories of the family’s former glory – of what was had, and what was lost.
And then Kojo arrives one Christmas, like an annunciation: Maya’s cousin, and her mother’s godson. Kojo has a way with words – a way of talking about Ghana, and empire, and what happens when a country’s treasures are spirited away by colonialists. For the first time, Maya has someone who can help her understand why exile has made her parents the way they are. But then Maya and Kojo are separated, shuttled off to school in England, where they come face to face with the maddening rituals of Empire.
Returning to Ghana as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her powerful but increasingly troubled cousin. Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice.
Moving between Ghana, England and Germany across five parts, and told through Maya’s eyes, The God Child is a debut novel from Ghanaian author, Nana Oforiatta Ayim. Maya has grown up in Germany. She knows her parents are different, on many levels. They make her aware of it, in their own ways, and society does. Her mother is a spinner of stories of former glory that those around them do not believe yet Maya lives with these stories and it would seem, doesn’t always actively question them, though she may want to, as I felt she was quite a practical character in some ways, but like her mother in other ways. She is still a child when her cousin, Kojo comes to live with them one Christmas. Soon, the family is split – it seems Maya’s parents separate, though like many things, this is not spelled out so readers have to infer and guess what happened, and Kojo and Maya are sent to school in England.
In England, Maya and Kojo attend school – until a turning point send the family back to Ghana, and years later, Maya returns – and this is the turning point – where everything changes and comes full circle to the opening chapter.
From the first few pages, we know that something big happens in Maya’s family – something that tears them apart and changes Maya forever. From there, she flicks back to her childhood, moving through it in what feels like a chronological way, and the story feels as though it is set in the eighties or nineties at least – based on the presence of cars but the lack of technology we are familiar with are not present, giving it a sense of class as well as race – and perhaps hints at ideas of what matters on a human level that we can recognise in many people – for a variety of reasons. Maya’s journey is interesting as she grapples with her three identities – Ghanaian, German and English – and how she navigates this between the expectations of her mother and her mother’s stories and traditions, as well as those of her Ghanaian family that come through in later parts, and who she is within the context of how she has grown up and what she has been exposed to. It shows that identity is complicated in a myriad of ways, and for some people, caught between two very different cultures and nations, can be fraught or confusing.
Categorising this for my tags and blog was difficult – it didn’t have a feel of any genre – other than what is called Literary Fiction – which is often seen as better than genre fiction, but can also be a lot more conceptual or character driven – so it’s not something I read a lot of. However, this one definitely had a clear plot, even though at times I felt like it jumped a bit or didn’t state things clearly – the inferring between the lines seems to be a characteristic of literary fiction.
What I did find interesting about this book was the way it dealt with diversity and navigating life across three different countries whilst discovering your identity. Maya was an intriguing character to follow, and I wanted to know more – about the gaps that weren’t always filled in but at the same time, I can see why some bits were left out and it will work for those who want to read this and enjoy literary fiction. It had some really good and insightful points, and I hope there are many out there who will enjoy it.