From Goodreads: In this stunning debut novella, Rebecca Walker turns her attention to the power of love and the limitations of the human heart. When Farida, a sophisticated college student, falls in love with Adé, a young Swahili man living on an idyllic island off the coast of Kenya, the two plan to marry and envision a simple life together—free of worldly possessions and concerns. But when Farida contracts malaria and finds herself caught in the middle of a civil war, reality crashes in around them. The lovers’ solitude is interrupted by a world in the throes of massive upheaval that threatens to tear them apart, along with all they cherish.
Haunting, exquisite, and certain to become a classic, Adé will stay with you long after you put it down. This is a timeless love story set perfectly, heartbreakingly, in our time.
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This is the first book I’ve read for Giraffe Day’s Around the World in 12 Books, picked to cover Africa. It’s a fairly short book, and it is well written, so it doesn’t take long to read.
I read the first half of the book with surprising detachment. It might have been because there is not much character development. We only get a broad outline of the narrator and her friend Miriam, with whom she travels to Africa. It is not until she meets Adé that we find out more details about her, the man with whom she falls in love, and the culture that he lives in.
Growing up privileged and well-educated in America, Farida (that is the Muslim name Adé gives the narrator) strongly believes in human rights, women’s equality, and freedom. She is also young and naïve. Some might find it odd that she so quickly agrees to cover up and adjust to the traditional role of women that’s predominant on the island where Adé lives, but I didn’t. Love and idealism can make you do things that might strike others as odd or out of character. Further, for the first time in her life, Farida feels like there’s a place where she belongs, a place that she can call home. This feeling has been missing from her life since her parents divorced. Feeling at home somewhere can be a powerful emotion. Farida explains that she has long discussions with Adé about religion and tradition and changes her behavior based on these talks. I wish we could have witnessed some of them, but I don’t think we need to in order to understand Farida’s decisions.
Reality starts to sink in when Adé and Farida travel to mainland Kenya to get a passport for Adé. The couple is exposed to prejudice, violence, and corruptness. While Adé has expected this, for Farida it is a wake-up call. She realizes that she might have viewed Africa with rose-colored classes—something she accused Miriam of doing when her friend decided to leave the island.
I could not imagine a day when Adé would turn against me, but I could, for the first time, imagine something far worse: death, imprisonment, or cruelty at the hands of a foreign government. Dictatorship and secreted civil wars created a terrible isolation for the people who lived within their unfolding. I saw a hideous and surreal picture of reality with no escape. Adé would not mistreat me, but I had not considered the state. And suddenly I felt less than I had yesterday, and far less than I had the week before. I was losing something. I was going dark.
To make matters worse, Farida gets seriously sick and has to deal not only with her illness but also with the lack of decent medical care. She finally has to admit that deep inside her she has always known that she could go back to America if life got too rough. In the end, she has to decide how much she is truly willing to give up.
Once the narrator has to deal with the harsh reality of what life in Africa would mean for her, the book got more interesting, and I felt much closer to the story. Interestingly, it was the last paragraph that really hit home for me. Yes, the ending is abrupt, and I would have liked to get more details about what happened to Farida and Adé. But leaving the love story open-ended in a way made it more interesting.