What is Read It. Read It!?
Read It. Read It! is an AKADi Magazine segment aimed at book lovers. Our goal is to get you reading more books by Ghanaian authors, poets, illustrators or books about Ghana.
We want you to share your thoughts on these books and hopefully, instead of us urging you to Read It. You’ll be telling us you’ve Read It!
In this episode, we’re reviewing 'Maame' by British-Ghanaian writer Jessica George, who studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield. She went on to work at a literary agency and a theatre, she secured a job in the editorial department of a publishing house.
'Maame' as published as a lead hardback in 2023 by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by St Martin’s Press in the US. It has been an instant New York Times Bestseller, and according to the Evening Standard , she has secured a seven-figure advance deal from a US publisher (also for two books), and plans are mooted for an on-screen adaptation with Universal Studios.
What is this book about
‘Maame’ is a coming-of-age novel that explores hard-hitting themes tied to relationships, mental health, discrimination, and culture viewed through the lens of 24/25-year-old south Londoner called Madeleine (Maddie) Wright.
Despite being the youngest in her family, Maddie is the primary carer for her ailing dad, who lives with Parkinson’s. Maddie’s mum spends most of her time in Ghana and her brother James always has an excuse not to visit the house.
At such a young age, we – the reader – feel the weight of Maddie’s responsibilities right from the start. Maddie pays the bills, cooks and feeds her dad, puts him to bed, gives him his medication and consults with his doctor when she’s concerned that he’s not well. She is the one that has to organise her limited and rather drab social life around her dad’s care.
Raised in a household where family matters remain private, Maddie cannot bring herself to share her worries with her friends or even tell some of them about her dad’s condition and her mum’s absence. The response from her mum is that we don’t tell strangers our business - it’s our culture. Where have I heard that before.
It’s no wonder that Maddie is struggling to navigate through her feelings. When her peers are having boyfriends, going on dates, partying and doing what most 20-somethings do, she is not.
On top of that, Maddie is stuck in a job with a toxic work culture and a highly-strung boss that she doesn’t particularly like (the job – that is but maybe the boss too!).
What I liked
Intense right? It is. And yet this book is so relatable, so hopeful and familiar (bus 250!, Croydon!). We watch Maddie grow, make mistakes, learn from them and as she starts to find her place, her voice and experience those modern-day rites of passage – from the first ‘real’ boyfriend, the experimentation with drink and something a little harder, to experiencing the party scene – we see her evolve.
I initially thought this book‘s appeal was strictly for the young ones among us. Jessica really taps into Millennial and GenZ cultural markers with Maddie’s reliance on consulting Google for what seems like random and intimate things to embedding WhatsApp texts into this book. But I realised that in every generation, this transition from child to adulthood is one that we can all relate to.
Sister mums that are expected to raise their siblings only by dint of the fact that they are the eldest, or children that become the primary carer for their sick parents, are likely to resonate with this book.
This book is a tribute to them but also holds up a mirror to society and how sometimes poorly supported these young people are.
Tied in with that is this tension between Western and ethnic cultures. The name Maame, which in Ghana is esteemed and associated with the matriarch, a good reliable, strong and resourceful woman rather confines and limits Maddie in her world.
Jessica packs in so many relevant issues without it feeling contrived. One of my favourite examples is her treatment of casual racism. For those of us who navigate the tight rope between either calling it out or letting it go, Jessica does it for us by highlighting why these casual comments ARE racist by simply recording them in this book without us having to HAVE THAT TALK.
Grief, bereavement and mental health are also gritty topics that I felt Jessica handles so authoritatively, making the book an education to read.
What I found challenging
It’s an emotionally heavy book that left me reflecting a lot. If you’re not in a good space, it might have an impact on you. I did initially find Maddie’s mum hard to stomach, particularly at the beginning and I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster journey with Maddie. But there is enough of the lighter aspects of the book to balance the tougher parts.
My one gripe would be one of Jessica’s Twi translations – Nantie yie. From my understanding, the meaning is ‘walk well’ and is used as a farewell for visitors who are leaving or for the departed. It doesn’t mean ‘let’s go’.
What question would you like to ask the author
You’ve been quite open in existing interviews about your personal experience of losing your dad, who had Parkinson’s. What safeguards did you put in place to protect your emotional wellbeing when writing this book, particularly at the risk of retraumatising yourself?
If you’ve read this book, tell us what you thought in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch out for our next review, until next time on Read It. Read It!, we invite you to seek out books by Ghanaian authors, poets, illustrators or books about Ghana; we encourage you to share your thoughts and hopefully, instead of us urging you to Read It. You’ll be telling us you’ve Read It!