Summary and book reviews of Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna

Ancestor Stones

A Novel

By Aminatta Forna

Ancestor Stones
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2006,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2007,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

From the author of The Devil That Danced on the Water - a timeless portrait of the lives of a family of independent, spirited African women over the last century of dramatic cultural change

Aminatta Forna’s The Devil That Danced on the Water was rapturously acclaimed, a moving and gorgeously written memoir that garnered inter­national attention. Now she has seamlessly turned her hand to fiction and delivers a novel that is lush and beautiful, a touching and intimate portrait of several generations of African women.

In Ancestor Stones, a young woman from West Africa, who has lived in England for many years and is married to a British man, returns to visit her family after years of civil war. Her four aunts have decided to leave her the family coffee plantation, as she is the last person in the family with the means to revive its fortunes. And on this trip home she is given an unprecedented look into the lives of the women in her family as her aunts Mary, Hawa, Asana, and Serah— women who were mysterious and a bit intimidating to her younger self—begin to tell her their stories. They are timeless tales of rivalrous co-wives, patriarchal society, and old religions challenged by Islamic and Christian incursions; they are modern stories of European-owned mining companies, the repressive influence of mission schools, corrupt elections, and the postcolonial African elite. Through their voices a family history interwoven with the history of a country emerges—one of a society both ancient and modern, of a family of strong women refusing to live as second-class citizens.

In her debut foray into fiction, Forna has created a powerful, sensuously written novel that, through the lives of women, beautifully captures Africa’s past and present, and the legacy that her daughters take with them wherever they live. It is a wonderful achievement that recalls The God of Small Things and The Joy Luck Club, and establishes Forna as a gifted novelist.

London, July 2003.

IT BEGAN WITH A LETTER, as stories sometimes do. A letter that arrived one day three winters ago, bearing a stamp with a black and white kingfisher, the damp chill of the outside air, and the postmark of a place from which no letter had arrived for a decade or more. A country that seemed to have disappeared, returned to an earlier time, like the great unfilled spaces on old maps here once map makers drew illustrations of mythical beasts and untold riches. But of course the truth is this story began centuries ago, when horsemen descended to the plains from a lost kingdom called Futa Djallon, long before Europe’s map makers turned their minds to the niggling problem of how to fill those blank spaces.

A story comes to mind. A story I have known for years, it seems, though I have no memory now of who is was who told it to me.

Five hundred years ago, a caravel flying the colours of the King of Portugal rounded the curve of the continent. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In speaking of her marriage, Asana states “I learned about women—how we are made into the women we become, how we shape ourselves, how we shape each other” (p. 107). Using this quote as a springboard, begin your discussion by considering the central role of women in the patriarchal society portrayed in the novel. Is their crucial role something of a paradox? What are some of the specific roles that women undertake? Throughout the novel we learn much about the complex hierarchical system of marriage. How do the women support each other and how do they undermine one another? Note that the word “Ores” means both co-wife and rival.
  2. At the beginning of the novel Abie returns to her childhood ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Forna's first novel is told through the alternating stories of four strong women that, in combination, powerfully capture the social and political history of the small West African country of Sierra Leone through at least 60 troubled years.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Though it's a stretch to call this a novel (each chapter is a self-contained story), Forna's work sheds light on the history of a long-struggling nation.

Kirkus Reviews

[Forna] creates, through the voices of these wizened creatures, a richly patterned mosaic of African culture and history. Gorgeous and dreamlike.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)

Vivid, graceful prose…Tender, haunting novel.

Evening Standard (UK)

A literary diamond, a bloody ruby, leaving the reader elbow-deep in a treasure trove and heady with guilty delight at what has been discovered….staggering first novel…she has rekindled the dying embers of a much more precious art – that of listening.

Daily Telegraph (UK)

A writer of startling talent...The book leaves an impression of immense joyfulness, a sense of delight and wonder. Conveying the human spirit’s irrepressible love of life is the triumph of this magical book

Reader Reviews
Elizabeth

Voices from Africa
A beautifully told story of Sierra Leone through the voices of four daughters in the Kholifa clan (same father, all different mothers) spanning from 1926 to 2003. Describes a nearly lost way of life, the tragedy of civil war, and the unbreakable ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Sierra Leone
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about 5.3 million on the west coast of Africa (map) bordered by Guinea and Liberia (For more about Liberia visit The Darling at BookBrowse and click the "BookBrowse Says" link). The life expectancy of men is 39 years and women 42 years. The name is an adaptation of the Portuguese, "serra leoa" (lion mountains).

During the 18th century it was an important center for the slave trade. In the late 18th century, British abolitionists and the Sierra Leone Company founded Freetown as a home for Black Britons* and in 1808 the country became the first British colony in Africa; by 1821 Freetown was the seat of government for all...

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