Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Civilized World by Susi Wyss
Goodreads: A glorious literary debut set in Africa about five unforgettable women—two of them haunted by a shared tragedy—whose lives intersect in unexpected and sometimes explosive ways
When Adjoa leaves Ghana to find work in the Ivory Coast, she hopes that one day she'll return home to open a beauty parlor. Her dream comes true, though not before she suffers a devastating loss—one that will haunt her for years, and one that also deeply affects Janice, an American aid worker who no longer feels she has a place to call home. But the bustling Precious Brother Salon is not just the "cleanest, friendliest, and most welcoming in the city." It's also where locals catch up on their gossip; where Comfort, an imperious busybody, can complain about her American daughter-in-law, Linda; and where Adjoa can get a fresh start on life—or so she thinks, until Janice moves to Ghana and unexpectedly stumbles upon the salon.
At once deeply moving and utterly charming, The Civilized World follows five women as they face meddling mothers-in-law, unfaithful partners, and the lingering aftereffects of racism, only to learn that their cultural differences are outweighed by their common bond as women. With vibrant prose, Susi Wyss explores what it means to need forgiveness—and what it means to forgive.
My Take: I am wavering between 4 and 4.5 stars. This is a beautifully written book that is presented in a number of short stories that can stand alone but when told together, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Each story gives a snapshot of the women and their struggles and concerns of that time. The stories are written chronologically and the characters weave themselves throughout the book and between the pages of the other characters' stories. The author gives a vivid and colorful snapshot littered with visual symbolism like butterflies, beauty products, and African landscape.
My personal favorite featured Comfort as she visited her son and new grandchild. Comfort's African culture directly clashes with her American daughter-in-law while her son, Peter, finds himself pulled in both directions. Like the other stories, the conflicts are not overstated. The reader is given the benefit of the doubt is left to connect the dots and intelligently predict possible outcomes, although closure is provided.
Excellent book. Loved it.