“After I married learned a lot. I did not learn so much about men – after all, Osman Iscandari was not all men. Rather I learned about myself. I learned about women – how we shape ourselves, how we shape each other.”
The first book I read by Aminatta Forna was The Memory of Love which I loved but I love Ancestor Stones more. Normally, the first book I read by an author remains my favourite but Ancestor Stones is so powerful and wise that I just want to reread it all over again today.
Ancestor Stones is set in an unnamed place in West Africa, although Forma has since confirmed that it is indeed Sierra Leone, the country in which she was born. The novel is narrated by four women, Asana, Mary, Hawa and Serah, within the Kholifa family whose mothers are all married to the patriarch Gibril; a man rich enough to have 11 wives. It is simply the story of women: of loss, friendship, desire, and motherhood set within a culture slowly destroyed by misogyny, racism, colonialism, independence and civil war. These ‘simple’ stories, much maligned by male literary critics, are never simple but the reality of women’s lived experience is always dismissed as irrelevant in the face if men’s lives.
I knew I was going to love this one a few pages in when I read this (referring to arrival of Portuguese soldiers near Cape Verde islands):
The sailors saw what they took to be nature’s abundance and stole from the women’s gardens. They thought they had found Eden, and perhaps they had. But it was an Eden created not by the hand of God, but the hands of women.
Women’s work is consistently devalued and elided from history. When men aren’t taking personal ownership for our work, they are attributing it work to God.
I believe, with all my heart, that women are the keeper of stories:
“For the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from fire or floods or war. In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told. Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.
And it is women’s work, this guarding of stories, like the tending of gardens.”
We create beauty and we remember beauty. We pass on our stories. After all, what is the much maligned toddler group but a way for women to gather and tell our stories to the only people who will listen: other women.