Book Review: Amma Darko's "The Housemaid"

by - 14:28

"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 ... to daub you with wrinkles" (p.3).

It may be only 107 pages, but there's a handful of quotes in The Housemaid by Ghanaian author Amma Darko that I could have drawn on. This is a powerful novella about the lives of women in contemporary Ghana. As summarised in the synopsis: 

"A dead baby and bloodstained clothes are discovered near a small village. Everyone is ready to comment on the likely story behind the abandoned infant. The men have one opinion, the women another. As the story rapidly unfolds it becomes clear that seven different women played their part in the drama".

And what a drama!!! The Housemaid is about these women lives, but it doesn't paint them as passive victims. Instead, these women are fierce, cunning and do what they need to do in order to survive. We not only see how the rich women in the story became wealthy, but we also see the elaborate plans of a female rural family trying to escape the poverty they are in. Other than that, we also get to see how different city life is from village life and the price women have to pay for living in the city. Young girls know that living in the city will lead to exploitation and uncertain job prospects, but it also beats life in the boring village:

"Life as a porter in Kumasi was not what a normal person would call living. It was survival. But Akua knew that, come the yam festival (back in the village), the adulation she would received in Kataso would make all her sweat and humiliation sweet.

Like her mates, Akua had no regular home. They all lived in unfinished buildings; when final completion work started, they moved out. Thanks to bribed of cash and sex, workers at the building sites regaularly tipped them on the next place available for occupation" (p.32)
I really enjoyed reading The Housemaid and there's so much more I could say, like the way mother-daughter relationships were portrayed, or how men really were just secondary characters in the novel. But I won't becasue this is definitely an entertaining novel, and one I would highly recommend, especially if you want to read about the lives of contemporary women in an African society.

4 out of 5 stars

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