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Book Review: The Shimmer In The Photo Album

Truth be told, for a good part of this year, I have read and engaged more non-fiction books than I have fiction. It is ironical because I write (mostly) fiction. However, comparatively, I write more non-fiction these days than I do fiction. I have my column in the newspaper to thank for this. Not that I care about the labels that much. I know better to be caught up in labelling myself at the expense of doing the work of a writer. But I digress…

When I first saw this book, The Shimmer in The Photo Album (a work of fiction), my brain hungered for it. Till now, even after reading it, it is quite difficult to tell why I was so fascinated about the book. I have been battling to choose between two theories to explain my enchantment with the book. Maybe, I should settle for both. Who says one must compulsorily choose between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as his favourite soccer player?

The first thing that drew me to the book was its title. I found it riveting. There was this mysterious tone to it that made my mind snarl and howl in hunger. Also, from the shadowy title came a not-so-subtle undertone of ache. The ache came in waves and it haunted me till I got my copy of the book on the fateful Friday of its launch. Then, there was the author of the book – Golda Addo. We have only been friends on Facebook since the beginning of this year. Our interactions even in that space could be counted on one hand but, I must admit, I admired her intelligence, wisdom and wit. I guess these qualities of hers made me find the fact that she had written a book enthralling that I yearned to read it.

From the first chapter of the book where we are introduced to the four main characters of the story (The Hewale teenagers), each page is an adventure. In almost every chapter, we are introduced to one or two more people whose lives are interwoven with those of the teenagers.

Golda Addo is a master of suspense. She either makes a cursory mention of the new character(s) at the end of a chapter or somewhere within it and, then, properly exposes him and/or her to the reader in the next. I cannot tell if this was premeditated but the trend continues even to the end of the book when she introduces the teenagers’ great-grandfather – a major character in this first installment of what, I have gathered, is the first of a ten-series collection – who is spoken about fleetingly until he appears again on the last page of the book at the home of the teenagers and their grandfather. This provides a perfect – but annoying – ending to this part of the book as it leaves the reader with more questions, hypothesis and theories about things to come in the next publication of the series.

I can’t wait!

I am familiar with African literature (written and folklore) which talk about travelling between time dimensions. Most of these are about present life and life after death. It is not uncommon to read (or hear) stories about interactions between ghosts (the dead) and the living in African literature. This book and its characters move in an opposite direction from what the trend has been – time travel to the past! Note that this is not flashback; it is about the characters teleporting to a time long before they were born and yes, one of the characters (Adja-munku) even travels into the future once. Simply gripping!

The author weaves the transitions from the present to the past seamlessly and takes the reader on a trip to understand the events of the past. Again, she leaves the reader on tenterhooks, wondering how the revelations from the past influence the present (or, call it the immediate future).

Time travel is not the only unfamiliar thing in this book. Although the author sets the story in Ghana, and my guess is that it is in Accra, she does not explicitly mention any known town or place in Accra. Another set of unfamiliar things for me was the name of some of the characters (Jumeema, Oseyan, Yaran and Bentow). I may be unfamiliar to them because I am not Ga. Compare these to names of other characters such as Nmai, Lamile and Dokaile – it is pretty much easy to know that these are Ga people. I must add, though, that these do not take anything away from the book. Apart from the initial struggle to get my tongue around the names, as I read on, I got acclimatized. The author even makes it easier by using the monikers of these characters which are much easier to mention. Oseyan still comes out as Oneshan, in my head though. LOL.

Notwithstanding the unfamiliar things, there are so many other elements I could identify with in the book.: the use of the Ga language, fireside storytelling mixed with songs, traditional or community settings, counting times and seasons by festivals and market days among others. One striking similarity between the travel in between times in the book and other African literature, as mentioned above, is the person of the gatekeeper – someone who serves as a link between the two times has access to both and can communicate with people in both. In this case, it was Adja-munku.

The Shimmer in the Photo Album is themed around forgiveness, the repercussions of one’s action and second chances. This first book in the series has not exhausted all these themes for me in details and I am expectant of how they would play out in subsequent productions. I am also looking forward to what other themes will come up.

Lastly, I would talk about the author’s writing style and describe it with one word: fluid. It is difficult to put the book down after you have touched it. Her language is simple and she gets a plus for employing everyday colloquial terms, pidgin English and some local dialect. The humourous and witty side of the author is seen from the first page to the last. It hits you irresistibly from the first few paragraphs and continues on a crescendo till the back-cover page.

I recommend this book to all and sundry. It will be enjoyable for people of all age groups and levels of education. It could be a novel to relax with and an excellent teaching material for English Language and Literature teachers. 

Author: Golda Addo

Year of Publication: 2017

Number of pages: 119

Publisher: DAkpabli & Associates

Reviewer: Elikem M. Aflakpui