BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim [in Shelf Awareness]

Already an internationally recognized, award-winning art historian and filmmaker, Nana Oforiatta Ayim makes her literary debut with The God Child, a compelling and ambitious novel. Through narrative jumps in time and place, as well as jarring disruptions in multiple languages (most notably, untranslated Twi and German, occasionally French), Oforiatta Ayim seems intent on keeping her readers in a state of unsettled flux. Her disrupted presentation vividly underscores young Maya’s shifting, peripatetic coming-of-age journey – from Maya’s Ghanaian origins and through multiple back-and-forth crossings between Germany and England, with returns to her homeland.

As a rare African immigrant living in a homogeneous unnamed German city in the 1980s, Maya is repeatedly warned by her parents: “You must always be better than them in everything you do, otherwise they will think you are lower.” She’s the “immaculately groomed” daughter of a respected doctor and his ostentatiously shopaholic, gregariously gorgeous wife, but her German fluency still surprises the locals. When Maya answers her best friend’s request to “tell me a story” with tales about the childhood of her princess mother and grandfather king, her attempt is deemed “stupid,” even as it’s true. Being labeled a “liar,” she wonders how she “would ever know what stories it would be all right to tell and when.”

Maya’s detached, othered existence finds reprieve when her mother’s godchild – her cousin Kojo – arrives from Ghana to become Maya’s brother, bringing with him secrets and divulgences about their extended – and extensive – royal heritage. Stability proves brief as her immediate family implodes when her father leaves, and her mother moves both children briefly to England, at least until circumstances return them each to separate German boarding schools. Eventual adulthood brings further distancing: Maya retreats to London; Maya’s mother and Kojo resettle permanently in Ghana. Both mother and Kojo attempt, through diverging paths, to reclaim the family’s scattered regal possessions and reestablish their birthright prominence. In the midst of attempting to assert her own agency, Maya bears witness to her unstable family and the uncertain future of their evolving country.

Through Maya’s disjointed experiences of wandering-searching-leaving-returning, Oforiatta Ayim adroitly navigates the lasting consequences of family dysfunction (instability), immigration (to be less than), colonial legacy (erasure), and political upheaval (indiscriminate destruction). Part parable, part history, part warning, The God Child is a resonating, intimate drama of family gone awry across a shrinking global stage.

Shelf Talker: Art historian and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta Ayim makes her affecting literary debut with The God Child, featuring the immigrant-child-to-global-citizen daughter of an ousted Ghanaian royal family.

Review: Shelf Awareness Pro, February 14, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020

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