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by Aminatta Forna
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna is a beautiful, thoughtful piece of work to be read and savored. The protagonist, Albie, has moved from Sierra Leone with her family to settle in the UK. She receives a letter from Sierra Leone informing her that her grandfather's coffee plantation is now hers and is waiting for her. Compelled by her curiosity, she travels back to Africa to find out more.

Her journey takes her into the lives of her family. She sits at the feet of four of her paternal aunts, hearing their stories as they relive their lives through the decades. Polygamy is the order of the day in this society, so the aunts share a father, but each has a different mother. This is an oral storytelling society, so the women are skilled in spinning tales that captivate and paint a distinctive picture of life in Africa. References to the sun and the wind, the grass and the trees, the moon and the shadows abound, and hold intrinsic value for these people. When they declare that, "the air was heavy and wrapped itself around" them, and "the shadows were short and black black black", or refer to the "steely-grey light of the morning", we see how close they are to nature and how its aura has a bearing on their daily lives.

Forna's luxurious writing makes the reader feel present in Africa: You can hear the trader calling his wares in the marketplace; sense the twittering birds hiding in trees from the warm afternoon sun; and watch the clear river water running as the women bathe and revel in its coolness. I love the wisdom and the spirit of these women who forge lives for themselves, without complaint. They take control and shape their own destinies; and, in the telling, they seem to share their disappointments and triumphs with equal vigor. Their stories span almost ninety years—from the 1920s to the present in Sierra Leone—and provide an outline of the country's social and political history as the four characters face the challenges of being women in a male-dominated society and coping with colonisation, subsequent independence, voting for the first time, new and corrupt political leaders, and civil war.

Each woman's narrative is unique, with a few subtle overlaps between stories. I would have enjoyed seeing the individuals, as sisters, interact even more in their stories. Forna is an outstanding writer and this is an accomplished novel. Read it!