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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Our Sister Killjoy

Ama Ata Aidoo

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Title: Our Sister Killjoy
Author: Ama Ata Aidoo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977
Length: 134 pages
Availability: Our Sister Killjoy - US
Our Sister Killjoy - UK
Our Sister Killjoy - Canada
  • or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-presented novel of an African in Europe

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Our Sister Killjoy is a novel about a Ghanaian student, Sissie. She is awarded a scholarship to travel to Europe -- a big deal in those times (the late 1960s). The Europeans are eager to impress (or "make good again") and wine and dine her as soon as they know she is going: as soon as the embassy found out she was the chosen one "they had come to the campus looking for her in a black Mercedes-Benz". The actions and words of others suggest: "that, somehow, going to Europe was altogether more like a dress rehearsal for a journey to paradise". Sissie isn't that easily convinced. She recognizes the opportunity, but doesn't overestimate it.
       Our Sister Killjoy is presented in four sections. The first, short one is titled: "Into a Bad Dream", as Sissie travels to Germany. Sissie is no naïve innocent. She is comfortable in her own skin, and only gradually over the course of her travels does it dawn on her that she is often the only black person in a given place. But she is not insecure about questions of race, and she is fairly adventurous, in contrast to most of the other foreigners she is grouped together with for her stay in Germany.
       In the long second section, "The Plums", a German woman, Marija Sommer, befriends her. Marija is a lonely young Hausfrau whose husband never appears to be home. She showers Sissie with gifts of food, and the two become companions of sorts. Marija, however, seems to fall in love with the exotic foreigner, while Sissie is at best amused by the power she wields over Marija. Sissie ultimately can not be the person Marija wants her to be, and the German woman is left behind, disappointed and bored.
       In the third section Sissie travels to London, a different sort of place -- and standing, as the old colonial home, in a different relationship to her native Ghana. "England is another thing", she finds. There are many more black people here, and most are miserable. It is a very foreign world for her.
       The fourth part is largely epistolary, as Sissie enters into almost a mock-dialogue with a lover, trying to convey her experiences and her attitude.
       The book is not presented in straightforward prose. Aside from the epistolary section -- itself unusual in form -- prose sections are interrupted by verse -- most of it simple, often little more than listings of words and observations.
       Aidoo's varied approaches are very effective. The prose-verse contrast works very well, as she displays a sure touch of how to alternate between the two, and it carries the narrative forward well. Many of the observations, both in the prose and the poetry, are also excellent -- striking lines of insight. The stories themselves work less well: Aidoo is at her best in brief observations and summing up encounters. The longer riffs -- about Marija and a section on Christiaan Barnard's heart transplants, among others -- are interesting but also seem to try to do too much with the material and eventually lose some of their focus.
       Our Sister Killjoy offers a different type of African encounter with Europe. Sissie is very sure of herself, and not concerned with adapting to please the white folk. She is a truly tourist, a stranger in strange lands who isn't preoccupied with her outsider-status but rather walks and talks confidently and takes what is important to her from the experience. She is even callous at times, knowing this is not her world and that she will soon leave it.
       Aidoo writes very well, and her presentation of the material is excellent, from the opening -- only a few words on each page -- to the prose-verse style employed throughout the book. The stories themselves progress unevenly, and the whole is not entirely satisfactory as a novel, advancing in jerks and focussing too closely on a few episodes and ignoring much else which would also be of interest. Still, well worthwhile.

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Our Sister Killjoy: Reviews: Ama Ata Aidoo: Other books by Ama Ata Aidoo under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo lived 1942 to 2023.

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