THE PLOT: ‘Rose and the Burma Sky’ by Rosanna Amaka is a historical novel set in south-east Nigeria, 1939. Obi has been in love with Rose since they were children. But when intelligent Rose leaves the village for school, Obi realizes he will need to become more than just a farmer to impress her. Obi signs up to join the British Army, attracted by the allure of regular wages and a smart uniform. But, as war in Europe is declared, he finds himself shipped out to fight with the African regiments in Burma.
RATING: This book has a great premise and characters but I just couldn’t get on board with the writing style. It’s written in first-person past-tense, with a reflective memoirish tone that made me feel distant from the action. It felt like I was viewing the characters from behind glass, with too much summary, foreshadowing and hindsight. The lack of scenes to establish the relationships up front and the confusing, non-linear order of the scenes within each chapter, meant it felt like the author was telling me about the characters rather than showing me what they were like. Although it picked up in the second half once Obi went to war, I would have loved this to be dual POV and I felt a bit let down that we never got Rose’s side of the story. Therefore, I’m giving it three stars.
GOOD BITS: The premise and hook is absolutely amazing and I thought this would be my favourite 2023 release. The setting and authorial intention to shine a light on African soldiers in WWII is so powerful and I wanted to love this book. The character dynamic hooked me as I think unrequited love is such a strong theme for a novel. To me, it seemed like Obi and Rose had a Forrest Gump/Jenny style relationship, which was very evocative. My favourite scenes were set in Burma towards the end of the book as I felt I was seeing the characters in action a lot more.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: My first stumbling block with this novel was the choice of first-person past-tense. It felt too reflective and led to a lot of foreshadowing and sentences with hindsight, which took away from the action of the novel. The narration style was like a character summarising their life, and I didn’t feel like I was living a story with the characters. This was compounded by a confusing, non-linear structure at a chapter level. In many chapters, the main character would summarise what they were doing, then have a flashback to the reason why they were doing it, then jump forward again. I would have preferred a typical action-reaction-consequence sequence to maintain suspense and pacing.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘At Night All Blood is Black’ by David Diop. In terms of the storytelling, it reminded me of ‘The Mountains Sing’ by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, which is another novel where I really admired the premise and authorial intention, but struggled with the style because it used a lot of summary and reported speech instead of active scenes. ‘The Mountains Sing’ was such a #bookstagram favourite so if you enjoyed that, then consider picking up this novel.
Thanks to DoubleDay for my #gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. ‘Rose and the Burma Sky’ will be published on 23rd February 2023 and is available to pre-order here.
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