Review: The Book of Echoes

THE PLOT: The Book of Echoes is narrated by a woman who died during the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1800’s. Since her murder she has wandered the earth looking for her children. She tells the story of her descendants starting in the 1980’s with Michael, a British-Jamaican boy who lives in Brixton, and Ngozi, an Igbo girl from a small village in Nigeria. The novel follows Michael and Ngozi as they fight their (relative) poverty, as well as exploring the legacy of African oppression that has led to the impoverishment of the descendants of slaves.

OVERALL RATING: At first, I wasn’t wholly convinced by this novel but I enjoyed it more and more as the story developed. I’d give it (a generous) four stars because the plot is engaging and the theme is personally appealing to me. The writing-style isn’t my favourite but it’s been a long time since I read a book with an internal omniscient narrator. Although I didn’t like it, I’m impressed with how the author, Rosanna Amaka, experimented with the narrator and I think she pulled it off.

GOOD BITS: I preferred Michael’s storyline to Ngozi’s because it had more gritty realism. The author’s depiction of Brixton (where I sit writing this review) drew me in and I could immediately recognize the individual streets and places mentioned. The family dynamics were the most interesting part for me and this storyline reminded me of an Ancient Greek play because the central focus was how each of the characters negotiated the aftermath of serious trauma that broke the family unit.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: Ngozi’s storyline was interesting but it didn’t feel original. I think I’ve read similar characters – girls who grow up very poor in the village and are sent to the city to be a house girl, then get badly treated and fight to attain status and wealth– and there wasn’t anything new or interesting about her personality. However, it was a nice, easy read and her progression through life was entertaining. Her story became slightly more unique after she reached Lagos, although elements towards the end were a bit implausible.

OVERALL: It took a while for me to get into the novel but I’d recommend it. The plot, theme and setting are well imagined. For someone less familiar with stories of black oppression, it would be very enlightening and informative. The novel was slightly let down by the narrator and characters. The internal omniscient narrator felt a bit over-written and I didn’t truly connect with the characters – in particular Ngozi felt like a stereotype rather than a real person.