The Black Book Blog is in conversation with the beautiful, talented and lovely MS ROSANNA AMAKA, author of ‘The Book of Echoes!’ One of our favourite reads of 2020
The Book of Echoes
Brixton 1981. Sixteen year-old Michael is already on the wrong side of the law. In in his community, where job opportunities are low and drug-running is high, this is nothing new.
But when Michael falls for Ngozi, a vibrant young immigrant from the Nigerian village of Obowi, their startling connection runs far deeper than they realise.
Narrated by the spirit of an African woman who lost her life on a slave ship two centuries earlier, her powerful story reveals how Michael and Ngozi’s struggle for happiness began many lifetimes ago.
Through her haunting, lyrical words, one unforgettable message resonates: love, hope and unity will heal us all.
I’m super excited for this interview. Not only is this our first ever interview but considering how much I loved The Book of Echoes, it was a dream come true to sit down and talk to Ms Amaka about the book.
Firstly, I have to say a massive thank you to Ms Amaka for allowing me to interview her and for having such a wonderful conversation with me! I also wanted to say a big thank you to Double Day UK for helping to arranging this!!
If you needed further encouragement to read ‘The Book of Echoes’ then look no further…
Would you say that ‘The Book of Echoes’ is almost like a love letter to your ancestors?
I don’t think I started off like that. Once the narrator started telling the story…because of the history behind it and because of things discussed. It did eventually develop into a love letter.
I read in the back of my hardcover copy that you began writing the Book of Echoes twenty years ago. Was what the writing process like?
I actually wrote the first draft in 6 months! And originally, when I first started writing it was a challenge! I was away working and I didn’t have a TV so I decided that this was what I was going to do in the evenings. By the end of those 6 months, I had something that I felt could be published.
Was the next 19 and a half years just editing?
Of course, I wasn’t just working on the book for the next 19 and a half years. But I spent my time editing, querying, receiving rejections, taking time away to see if I could make the story better, redrafting it and seeing what I could take out or add to it.
Out of all three protagonists (Ngozi, Michael and the omniscient narrator) were there any that you enjoyed writing more?
I actually enjoyed all 3 for different reasons.
I loved writing about Ngozi but she actually made me cry the most because of what she goes through and I just admired her strength and her resilience.
I loved writing about Michael because I just wanted to grab him up and tell him to sort himself out! That being said, I also wanted to mother him.
And then, I loved writing the narrator because of the historical aspects, the links between the characters and the view she brings to the book. For me, she completes the book. She held it all together.
I can’t not talk about the influence of history and the past. My motivation to get through university was thinking about how much my ancestors before me would have loved the opportunity to study and learn. Is it right to assume that history has had an impact on you writing this novel?
I think as I started writing the novel, my mind was open to what I was going to write. I started off writing about Michael, then Ngozi and then the narrator came into it. And I couldn’t help but think what would she think about what’s happening to these two characters. And then, at the same time as I was writing this story, I was also thinking:
‘What would our ancestors think if they came back and saw us now?’
This novel alludes that intergenerational trauma can be passed down through generations but there’s also love…a burning love that seems to shine through all the characters from this omniscient narrator. Do you believe intergenerational trauma can be broken? Can we have love without the trauma?
Oh definitely! Yes, eventually but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. However, the next generation will be better for it.
As a grandchild of the Windrush generation, I often found myself inhaling Michael’s chapters. Do you feel that the Windrush generation deserves more acknowledgment or a simple credit for their contribution to rebuilding Britain? And how do you think that should be shown?
I do feel that it should be acknowledged. But more importantly, I think it’s important for us to keep it alive. We need to be talking to our families and parents to find out their stories to pass on to the next generation. Otherwise, it will die out similar to many other Black communities that have been in this country.
For instance, at the beginning of this book. The narrator talks about the Black folk that lived in Canning Town. A clear example to show that there have been other Black communities in this country that have died out.
It’s important for us to know our stories and to pass on those same stories in different art forms whether that be through music, literature or whatever art form that is comfortable to you.
In order to make sure, it’s not lost and it’s documented.
Quite a bit of Michael’s story straddled the line between self-hate and self-love. Do you think Michael’s journey to finding himself is one that manifests differently in women?
I think it is something that manifests differently in women. Such as in terms of our pretty standards, colourism, the way that we treat ourselves internally in our heads. It’s not always easy to recognise.
Sometimes the journey to self-love is a bit like a recovering alcoholic. You might never fully reach the end goal. But the important thing is that you recognise it and pull yourself up on it. For some people, they’re able to recognise it but for others, they have to constantly assess themselves and make sure they aren’t displaying those traits of self-hate.
Ngozi’s story was just as beautifully written. I loved how she began to learn about computers. It’s a story that I don’t hear about often when it comes to Black people. But yet they most definitely exist. Is there a particular reason why Ngozi ended up becoming a huge IT consultant or did it just fit the story?
In the 90s, there was a big kick where IT was employing people. A lot of immigrants came over at that time and went into IT and were successful at it.
It’s opened a lot of doors. I also think IT represents the future and it’s international. IT has made a lot of changes in places across the world e.g. Africa and the Caribbean. Better communication is made possible because of these constant technological developments.
Simon and Marcia’s battle with mental health was a story that weaved throughout Michael’s narrative. What are your thoughts on mental health within the Black community? Do you feel that more needs to be done?
*Disclaimer – Neither one of us are mental health professionals, this is just our thoughts and opinions.
This is a big one!
I’m not a mental health professional
However, what I can say is that the pressures and demands of constantly walking the line between different cultures…you know some of us are straddling 2/3 different cultures…we’re more likely to lose our jobs…is bound to have an affect on us
Even just take the Euro 2021 final that happened yesterday. Some of them will go home and just have to worry about the fact they lost the match. But there are others that will go home and have to worry about losing the match and the racial abuse they’ll receive on top of that.
There is a lot of pressure on us. It’s very important that we look after it and seek professional help when we can. However, it’s also important that those professional services also recognise that added pressure on us.
What was the biggest turning point for Ngozi in her story? I honestly, felt she had many different ones.
I think her biggest turning point is when she escaped from the Obindu’s and finding her friend Stella. There’s a lot that she learned from living with Stella and her friend.
I think it was the little details for me – that really stood out. Such as the mispronunciation of Ngozi’s name. However, I’ve noticed that even in today’s society, how often African names tend to be mispronounced. I felt there was something significant in that Ngozi chose to correct Michael’s pronunciation when they finally met. I just wanted to know whether there is some significance to her correct Michael’s pronunciation?
I think what I was trying to show is that even though they’re both Black, there’s still a lot of learning that they need to do between them. Just because you’re Black doesn’t mean you know and understand each other.
Your descriptions of stereotypes amazed me, especially as it’s something I’m sure loads of Black British people (and even Black people in general) can relate to. You make it clear that the West has had a significant impact on these stereotypes. I wanted to ask about whether you think these stereotypes will die out as the future generations come together over here?
That book was written during the 80/90s and I think even coming forward now we’ve changed our stereotypes of each other. So yes, these stereotypes will change as time goes on.
And also, as time goes on, there’s more and more of us in the media as well. And maybe we might get some new stereotypes!
But the more we mix, the more we talk and the more we find out about each other, the less those stereotypes will affect us.
Which leads me onto my next question about Black British Culture – What do you think is the future for Black British Culture? Will it be a merge of both Caribbean and African diaspora influences?
Firstly, I don’t think Black culture is stagnant. I think it’s something that develops. Black culture is developing here. It’s also developing in our home countries. Some of us who are immigrants here, such as our Grandparents, will go back to those countries and recognise how much it’s changed. So, culture is not stagnant. And yes over time, through the next generations, it will continue to change.
The important thing is that we acknowledge and know the roots.
British youth culture has been so influenced by Black culture so much already that as long as we know the roots, we can make sure that it isn’t repackaged and sold back to us as something else.
A message that stood out to me was about small choices and how they can have such a big impact on our life…more than we could ever imagine. Do you think we, as humans, need to be more consciously aware of the choices we’re making – even the small ones? Or do you think our paths can be split into many different ones and it’s the small choices that decide which way we go?
Gosh, I think it’s all-important! The small choices and the big ones! We tend to ignore the small choices because we don’t think they’re as impactful as they are. But it’s important to know where exactly we want to go and what we want to do, in order to pay attention to the important small choices that are going to go us there.
I have to talk about Brixton and the gentrification that you touched on through Michael’s narrative. I’ve heard my own parents discuss it about where they grew up in North London. And what do you think will become of communities such as Brixton if gentrification continues?
Well, the communities we moved into were different and unfortunately, due to the older generation passing away, people moving out and people not being able to afford the area. All these have changed the communities that were in existence there. So, unfortunately, I do think gentrification will affect these areas but they were different from before we moved in anyway. I think it’s important to document that we were there and that we contributed.
Brixton and Hackney were almost like a haven growing up. You felt safe the minute you stepped into the area.
I’ve heard that you’re working on your next book is there anything you can tell us about it?
Yes, I’m working on a second book but I can’t really talk about it. But once it’s done, I’ll be happy to talk about it with you!
Finally, if you could pick out one message that you would want your readers to hold on to from reading The Book of Echoes, what would it be and why?
Gosh, I have many!
Hopefully, that people come away with the idea that life is tough and it’s important to have resilience, love and hope. And with these things, life can change. Just because you start off in one place doesn’t mean you’ll end up in that place. Things can be changed.
Also, that it’s important to have self-value. If you look at Ngozi’s journey, she had to have self-value in order to get where she ended up. She had to learn that.
Thank you so much again to Ms Rosanna Amaka for allowing me to interview her. As you can see there’s so much discussed in The Book of Echoes with so many incredible timeless messages. It’s truly a beautiful book and one that I highly recommend!
It’s out in both hardback and paperback! And they both have stunning covers!
This book will undoubtedly leave you hooked throughout! I’ve linked my review further up in the post but just in case, here’s the link if you want to know why I loved this book so much!
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