Excerpt from Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Daughter in Exile

A Novel

by Bisi Adjapon

Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon X
Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 400 pages

    Jan 30, 2024, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Sesa Wo Suban
Change Your Character

May 2007

After the trial, I'll no longer be a woman without a country. I'll either live legally in America or be deported back to Ghana within six months. I welcome either choice. I'm weary of peripheral living.

I've never voted in my life. When I was growing up in Ghana, the voting age was twenty-one. By the time they changed it to eighteen, I had already left. In America, I pay taxes but can't vote. I'm a skeleton of a resident without the flesh of belonging.

I've been up since three a.m.

The letter my mother wrote a week ago lies unfolded on my bedside table. I've read it so many times that even when I close my eyes, I can still see the looping cursive swimming before me:

February 9, 2007

My dear Akua,

It is a pity that you have not seen fit to write to me, your mother, for such a long time. I hope you are doing well.

As for me, I am nearing the end of my life. Now my hair has hoary streaks. I am afraid you may never see me again. I don't know if you hold the nuggets of wisdom I tried to impart to you through those Adinkra symbols of our Akan people, but I cling to the hope that you're living a good life.

I pray that the almighty God takes care of you and keeps you safe when I am no longer here.

Your loving mother,

S. D.

Ten years. That's how long I've been away from home. Akua is what my family called me because I was a girl born on Wednesday. I used to hate it. What scant appreciation I had for our culture then.

I hated my Western name too: Olivia. My mother's obsession with the name felt like a nutmeg grater on my skin. I didn't care that it had belonged to her childhood best friend who died. My parents had given the name to my big sister who had died at age three or six, no one is sure exactly when. When I was born, they affixed the same name to me, which left me feeling that I was supposed to be a replacement for my dead sister. I felt no connection to her, no sense I'd been on earth before. The whole business kept me awake at night. I imagined my sister's ghost hissing, "You're not me!"

From the moment I entered university, I called myself Lola, a Nigerian name I loved. The idea that Yoruba names are shaven from sentences appealed to me. Lola derives from Omolola, which means the child is wealth, which made me feel precious. This fueled a letter from Mama about how I had hurt her, how much Olivia meant to her. Now in America, I yearn to hear her call me Akua, Olivia. Anything. Just to hear her voice. This was my response to her letter:

My dear Mama,

I'm so sorry for my silence. I know you think I've forgotten you, but I haven't. How could I forget the woman I trusted not to drown me when our car drifted off the road and ended up in the sea?

You've always insisted that, at age three, I was too young to remember, that someone must have told me. Mama, to this day, the scene swirls in my mind. I was sprawled on the backseat when the sound of men shouting and water splashing jolted me out of sleep. We were in water. Darkness covered us. Shadowy men surrounded the car, grunting, pushing, pushing. The water was so vast I couldn't tell where the sky ended and where the sea began. Somehow, I knew to be quiet as you hunched over, twisting and wrestling with the steering wheel. Right. Left. Like the windshield wipers. I didn't understand how you ended up in the driver's seat and why Dadda was slumped beside you, never to get up again.

The men pushed until the car turned around and we faced the sand, silhouettes of coconut trees rising to meet us. Then we were no longer rocking in water but on the steady sand. That's when you crumpled onto Dadda, shaking him, telling him to wake up, the scream ripping from inside me.

I don't know how, but you got us home.

You got us through the funeral. You got me through life. Because of you, I never felt the urge to dive under a blanket and remain there forever. You see, Mama, you are my safety.

Yes, I think of the Adinkra symbols, now more than ever. Do you remember when I came home from university after skipping Christmas and Easter? You pointed to the San kↄ fa swan symbol hanging on the wall and said, "Why do you think she arches her neck all the way back to pick up the egg she laid and left behind? That's because she realized it's the source of future life, the continuation of she. She doesn't fly forward while looking back like foreigners think. No. San kↄ fa. It simply means Return to take it. Her feet are grounded for a reason. Never forget where you come from or you will be lost." I used to snort and roll my eyes, but how well I understand, now that an ocean separates me from home. Oh, to be the San kↄ fa swan, reach over my back and pick up what I left behind! I live for that day.

Your daughter always,


Also known as Olivia

My hands tremble. I brush down my gray skirt suit. Breathe, I tell myself. I pick up my purse and sling it over my shoulder, car keys in hand. It's time to face the judge.

Excerpted from Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon. Copyright © 2023 by Bisi Adjapon. Excerpted by permission of HarperVia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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