#BookReview The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka @RandomTTours

Book of Echoes BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Doubleday for my digital review copy.

The Book of Echoes PBAbout the Book

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 haunting, lyrical words, one unforgettable message resonates: love, hope and unity will heal us all.

Shortlisted for the HWA Crown Debut Award
Shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize
Shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award

Format: Paperback (384 pages) Publisher: Black Swan
Publication date: 1st July 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

My first thought when reading the opening pages of this book was ‘Wait a minute, I thought it was set in the 1980s not the beginning of the 19th century?’.  I’ll confess my second thought was ‘What an earth is going on here?’. In fact, the opening pages are the reader’s introduction to the book’s (omniscient) narrator, the spirit of a long dead African woman uprooted from her village and sent as a slave to a sugar plantation in Jamaica. There was a lyrical, dreamlike quality to this section and her subsequent commentaries on the events she witnesses are rendered with a wisdom born of centuries spent observing human nature.

As well as serving as the book’s narrator, she also provides a link between events of the past and those in Brixton from the 1980s onwards. Drawing upon the echoes of the book’s title, she makes comparisons between the Brixton riots and the slave revolt she witnessed two hundred years earlier in Jamaica. As she observes, ‘I understand what being under siege can do to a person… I know it echoes inside them, that recognition of freedom being taken away as that baton of pain is passed on.’ Indeed, the idea that, depressingly, nothing much has changed when it comes to the treatment of black people is one the book frequently illustrates.

That mention of a baton is just one of a number of instances of its use as a metaphor for the concept of certain attitudes and character traits being passed between generations. For example, we learn that Michael’s reluctance to become a father is born out a fear of passing on the mental instability of his brother, Simon, or the lack of commitment of his father. And the hard-working attitude of Michael’s sister, Marcia, is also attributed to the legacy of earlier generations: ‘But the truth of it was in the blood, that desire, that wanting to heal, handed down from an ancestor who foraged in the bush, searching for plants to heal, who sat upon a ship in sheer despair heading to the new world, that baton of survival successfully passed on.’

The book switches, in several chapter-long chunks, between the experiences of Michael growing up in Brixton and of Ngozi, first in Nigeria and then in London. There are also brief interludes in which the reader learns a little of the harrowing story of the spirit narrator, including how she came to meet her fellow spirit, the man she calls Wind.

Michael is a complex character. On the one hand, his devotion to his sister Marcia and his determination, following the death of their mother, to find a way to continue funding Marcia’s education, is heartwarming. It’s this that leads him into risky and illegal ventures alongside his friend, Devon. On the other hand, Michael is promiscuous and has a surprising and rather unsettling attitude towards forming relationships with black women, as if he’s consciously trying to deny his own heritage. I found Ngozi a much easier character to like. Her story is particularly compelling as she searches for a way to fund her own education and support her family in Nigeria. Despite one setback after another, she retains her determination to achieve a better life for herself.

Both Ngozi and Michael experience personal loss, are forced to take on responsibilities at an early age, and witness scenes they cannot easily forget. The convergence of their two storylines when it finally occurs – have patience, dear reader – may not be unexpected, trailed as it is in the book description, but illustrates one of the other themes in the book, that of turning points. These turning points include chance encounters, decisions taken or choices made – the forks in the road, as it were – that determine future life courses.

The author creates a great sense of place whether that’s the bustling streets of Lagos, described as a city that ‘comes at you in surround sound’, or daily life in the community of south London. The latter includes a recognition of the contribution of the Windrush generation, exemplified by Michael’s Aunt Eliza and Uncle Fred. The rhythm of Nigerian speech, including use of vernacular words and phrases, is also much in evidence.

Usually the inclusion of an element of magical realism in a book would make me nervous but the way the author has used it, along with the book’s blend of historical and contemporary fiction, made The Book of Echoes a story which really lingers in the memory.

In three words: Colourful, imaginative, immersive

Try something similar: From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

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Rosanna Amaka Author picAbout the Author

Rosanna Amaka began writing The Book of Echoes twenty years ago to give voice to the Brixton community in which she grew up. Her community was fast disappearing – as a result of gentrification, emigration back to the Caribbean and Africa, or simply with the passing away of the older generation. Its depiction of unimaginable pain redeemed by love and hope was also inspired by a wish to understand the impact of history on present-day lives. Rosanna Amaka lives in South London. This is her first novel.

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7 thoughts on “#BookReview The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka @RandomTTours

  1. Sounds interesting, but being dyslexic I sometimes have a problem reading local vernacular words and phrases. Is it mostly that or more of a smattering that’s easy to understand?


      1. I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks either but I have found it useful in a few cases where a book has a non-traditional structure (prose/free verse as in the Walter Scott Prize winning The Long Take) or uses a lot of dialect.

        Liked by 1 person

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