Sunday, May 22, 2011

My take on: The Civilized World

The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories"...all of her half-formed thoughts about Africa became as clear and sharp as the air around her, and she understood at last why she hated living there. It wasn't, as she had once thought, the poverty and constant harassment for money. It wasn't the heat or the dirt or the cacophony of foreign tongues. What she finally understood was that nothing felt safe to her -- not her marriage, not her physical self, not even her sanity -- and without that feeling of safety, she could never create a home for herself and her child." -- Pg. 125

That was my favorite quote from The Civilized World by Susi Wyss. Ophelia and her husband Philip have lived in Africa for years because of his job. Her marriage lacks the passion it once had. They have been struggling with fertility, and Ophelia thinks a child will cure everything. Even on the cusp of adopting a child, nothing seems right. A child can't solve the overwhelming feeling that something is missing. What's missing is a sense of security. And that's just one of the stories in this book.

Adjoa and her brother Kojo are twins living on the Ivory Coast, trying to save money to open a hair salon. Adjoa works for Janice, a white woman, as a masseuse. Janice sees Adjoa as more than just an employee, she sees her as a friend. Adjoa sees Janice as the white lady who asks too many questions. Why would this white woman care about her? Adjoa has dreams of a better life, but Kojo loses his way. Instead he goes for the quick fix, robbing Janice and several others. Janice is unaware it's Kojo, but Adjoa learns the truth she keeps the secret from her family and her friends. Why tarnish his name? It's a secret that eats at her soul even after Kojo's death. Does she owe Janice the truth? Does Adjoa owe it to herself to tell the truth? Janice, like Ophelia, loses her sense of security.

Just when you get into Adjoa's story, you meet Comfort, a widow from Ghana with several children, including one living in America. Her American daughter-in-law frets about everything. Comfort can only hold her tongue, while hoping her son Ekow will still preserve family traditions. Comfort is the matriarch that every family has. She believes in respecting your elders, cooking in the traditional way, and dispensing wisdom no matter how much people don't like it.

How does everyone come together? At Adjoa's salon, The Precious Brother Salon. Kojo is gone, but in way he is still with his sister. He is gone physically, but Adjoa can still feel the loss physically.

Each chapter is a snapshot in their lives. A snapshot, that's vividly written by Susi Wyss. I can just picture all of the women sitting around the salon swapping stories and gossiping.
Rating: Superb
Note: I received a copy from the publisher (Henry Holt and Company) in exchange for an honest review.

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