I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
The Book of Echoes was one of my most anticipated literary fiction books of the year. I went in with extremely high expectations. Read on to find out if they were met.
Trigger warning: Rape, racism
1981: England looks forward to a new decade. But on the streets of Brixton, it’s hard to hold onto your dreams, especially if you are a young black man. Racial tensions rumble, and now Michael Watson might land in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Thousands of miles away, village girl Ngozi abandons her orange stall for the chance to work as a maid. Alone in a big city, Ngozi’s fortunes turn dark and soon both her heart and hopes are shattered.
From dusty roads to gritty pavements, Ngozi and Michael’s journey towards a better life is strewn with heartache and injustice. When they finally collide, their lives will be transformed for ever.
This is the story of Michael and Ngozi, two people who live worlds apart but have a shared ancestor. Both characters have their own set of issues to deal with and they both need a lot of resilience and fortitude to escape the unimaginable pain they underwent in their individual childhood and adolescent years. Narrated by the voice of their ancestor who was an African slave, The Book of Echoes is a tale of generational trauma and the struggle against discrimination and how love and hope can help conquer all.
March really wasn’t the right time for me to read this book — my state of mind while in the midst of this global pandemic wasn’t really right to be reading such a serious book. But it’s a debut book and one that I was really looking forward to too. So I motored through despite having to put the book down on multiple occasions.
The Book of Echoes sets a meandering pace initially and it takes several chapters to get used to the main characters. The languid pacing is starkly contrasted by the pain Michael and Ngozi undergo within the first few pages. Michael’s stepmother is brutally murdered by his own brother, Ngozi’s discriminated against for being Osu and is also sent away to work as the domestic help for a rich family to support her own poverty-stricken one. The writing style just didn’t match the pain and misery the main characters were going through.
A quarter of the way into the book, it does pick up and get better at establishing a narrative. From this point on, it took me just a day to finish the book!
Amaka writes a powerful story about issues such as racial discrimination, poverty, transgenerational trauma in black families, and much more. She has a unique writing voice and vividly portrays the difficulties the African American community goes through. If it weren’t for my initial disappointment, her writing voice alone would have made me give this book 5 stars.
Look at this quote, for instance.
“These things are historical, it’s always historical, people don’t consciously choose a life of misery. It’s like coming in at the end of a movie and asking why doesn’t the guy on the floor just get up and walk out the cage when you’ve missed everything that went before, and the true point of what you’re seeing is that despite all this guy’s been through, he’s still alive, down on the floor, devastated, wounded, but still alive.”
Isn’t it the perfect response to a privileged person asking “why can’t they just snap out of it and sort themselves out”?
The Book of Echoes has its heart in the right place and tells a powerful story. The languid pacing maybe a let down for some readers, but it’s still worth it because of the strong narrative and the issues it talks about.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5