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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Memoir that Beguiles, 11 Dec. 2006
This review is from: The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Memoir (Paperback)
Aminatta Forna's memoir is more than just an autobiography. It is simultaneously a poignant and moving true tale of her family's past and also an empassioned account of modern West African political history.

Aminatta is the youngest of three children of a father from Sierra Leone who trained in medicine in Aberdeen, Scotland, and a Scottish mother. Her story takes in the movements of her family from her birth in Aberdeen and the family's move to Sierra Leone, and works through the developments when her father, a dedicated and altrusitic doctor, is drawn into the political process in an attempt to bring democracy to his country, which has moved from colonialism to uni-party politics from autocrats and dictators. The desperate corruption of despots and the quashing of political dissent are drawn with shocking candour and palpable emotion.

Along the way, Forna paints a vivid picture of a vast continent teeming with beautiful natural life - barren, dust-laden expanses of land, rural Africans living a life similar to that led by their ancestors centuries ago, and wildlife such as ants and snakes teeming across the dry parched land. She paints fascinating pictures of rural village life and ancient traditions such as chieftancy elections and the hierarchies of multiple wives.

Forna writes well and expresses with potency the feelings and thoughts of a young girl watching her father. There are funny anecdotes from her youth as well as moving and traumatic ones, and she captures the innocence of childhood with ease.

The stories from the days when her father practised medicine for long hours in his clinic are fascinating because of the contrast with our own western practice, and his dedication to helping others comes through clearly.

The passages dealing with the life Forna's parents led in Aberdeen before moving to Sierra Leone have echoes of Andrea Levy's Small Island, with the same shaming examples of racism and ignorance such as No Blacks notices up in rooms up for rent. Yet, as with Levy, this is expressed without rancour or bitterness and balanced by accounts of others who greeted them with affection and tolerance.

This must have been a difficult book to write as re-living some of the dreadful tragedies must have been harrowing. But Forna manages to keep the mood from becoming maudlin, interspersing the grittier tales with sweet stories from her youth. An excellent example of the political made personal, this book is a must for anyone wanting to learn more about recent African history.

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