Imani is a foundling. Rescued as a baby and raised by nuns on a remote Northumbrian island, she grows up with an ever-increasing feeling of displacement. Full of questions, Imani turns to her shadow, Amarie, and her friend, Harold. When Harold can’t find the answers, she puts it down to what the nuns call her “greater purpose”.
At nineteen, Imani answers a phone call that will change her life: she is being called to Accra after the sudden death of her biological mother.
Past, present, faith and reality are spun together in this enthralling debut. Following her transition from innocence to understanding, Imani’s experience illuminates the stories we all tell to make ourselves whole.
*This ARC was sent to me by Saraband books, please read our disclaimer policy for more information*
This is a novel about finding who you are. What makes you, you. Is it your spirit and culture? When you’re stripped of both, who are you?
Mensah merges together themes of history, culture, faith and reality to create a novel that explores the theme of identity and displacement. That feeling of feeling like you don’t belong and not quite understand where your foundation is in this world. Through Imani, we go on a journey of self-discovery.
The beginning of the novel was confusing and takes a while to get into. I ended up putting the book down for a while before I finally forced myself to sit down and read it. The first section where we learn about Imani’s upbringing is quite sad to read about. Her confusion and inner desire to learn about more people that looked like her was completely understandable. When you never have that opportunity to see or speak to people that resemble you, you become obsessed with finding them. It’s almost like a reaffirmation that you belong. That there are people out there that look like you.
I was a bit confused as to when this was set because of the way the first section was written. I think the isolation Imani experienced played a large part in this. If someone had told me it was set 50 years ago, I would honestly believe it. It wasn’t until the section set in Ghana did, I realise that Imani was just incredibly naïve and had been cut off from the rest of the world in the north of England.
The section in Ghana was my favourite part of the book. I liked how Mensah touched on traditions and it was rich in Ghanaian culture. I also really liked how this was where Imani truly discovered herself and understood who she was. It was her family – specifically the women from different generations – that helped her to understand what it meant to be a Black woman and Ghanaian at that.
“You’re a Ghanaian, you knew that, but suddenly you’re there and you’re…an African and you’re Black…and as a woman, you know, as with all of these things, you’re noticeable, you stand out, but you’re silenced, so it’s like you’re very visible and invisible at the same time.” P.g.154
Sometimes, when writing about discovering a newfound identity in regards to Black people. There’s a large emphasis that’s placed on racism. However, Mensah subtly weaved in race and whilst, it wasn’t prominent, it definitely played a large part in this novel. I preferred it this way and it closely resembled Imani’s understanding of what it meant to be Black. We watched her learn about slavery, the Gold coast of Ghana and so much more.
There was a lot weaved in about spirit and mind etc that was often very confusing to follow. Imani’s relationship with Amarie, in particular, took me a while to get my head around. I won’t mention it because I don’t want to spoil it but if you do want to know, please feel free to get in contact! I think the author tries to tie it together at the end as there’s almost like an “coming together” moment. But I would have preferred for it to have happened sooner.
“I am your colour and character and destiny. I hold your past. I am what has come before and what will come to pass. I am the connection between them; the knot that they have become and the code for their unravelling.”
I really liked the extended metaphor about building strong foundations. What happens when there aren’t any foundations laid down for you by your parents and you find yourself all alone. The comparison to spider webs was really unique and different. The idea that people look at some foundations as flimsy and weak because they’re laid out by those who have to look out for themselves. But Imani compares it to spider webs as being incredibly strong as it’s from the self and able to adapt.
“A castle is big and strong with bricks and stone and metal, and spider webs are flimsy… but then…the cobweb is the best foundation ever: it’s versatile, it’s for love, new life, family and personal rejuvenation, and it’s from the self, it’s of the self…”
If you’re looking for a novel about discovering who you are and how the past (your ancestors) set the path before you’re even born, then this is a great novel to read. A promising debut that I would really recommend to younger readers actually.