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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully rendered
A beautifully rendered novel, reminiscent in some ways of Andrea Levy's Small Island which won a few prestigious awards a few years ago. The scope here of Aminatta Forna's novel, though, is slightly larger, representing a range of women's voices, their individual life-stories often clamoring with one another to form a rich, mosaic depicting the various fates of a...
Published on October 9, 2006 by Q

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Not as clearly written as I would have liked. Interesting but not fluid.
Published 1 month ago by Joan Gordon


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully rendered, October 9, 2006
By 
Q (Portland, ME United States) - See all my reviews
A beautifully rendered novel, reminiscent in some ways of Andrea Levy's Small Island which won a few prestigious awards a few years ago. The scope here of Aminatta Forna's novel, though, is slightly larger, representing a range of women's voices, their individual life-stories often clamoring with one another to form a rich, mosaic depicting the various fates of a community of African women living through social and political changes. While the novel focuses on the women's personal stories, it does not by any means insulate itself from the ever-encroaching social, political and historical pressures exerted by Western imperialism, colonialism, as well as independence and the ensuing civil war.

Since Publishers Weekly and the Booklist provide a summary of the novel above, I won't repeat it here, but I would say that I disagree with Publishers' comment--that the novel here is really a collection of linked stories--because that is simply untrue. While each chapter is a first-person narration of one woman's story, they are not self-contained; they are simply not structured that way, and as a casual and critical reader of linked stories, I would say that, experientially, it doesn't read like that either. Moreover, to see this text as linked stories instead of a novel is perhaps to miss what I think is one of the novel's fundamental points: that these stories are inseparable from one another, the multiple voices not only building on each other, but also proving to be indispensible to the telling of this continuing collective history--or perhaps herstory--of Sierra Leone.

I would also contest the comparison the jacket cover makes between this book and Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. One of the many things I appreciated about this novel is precisely that it resists overly sentimentalized and/or utopian depictions of this community of women. To be sure, the novel dramatizes the struggles and defiance of women living under Sierra Leone's patriarchal culture, this novel does not devolve into tear-jerking melodrama, or reduce the problems to patriarchal oppression alone. Instead, it offers a range of subtle (and not-so-subtle, though never didactic) critques of not just African patriarchal culture and its practices, but also of the many guises of Western colonialism and its legacies, as well as of the power inequalities, struggles and hypocrisies among the women themselves, who, in many and various ways, contribute to the social and political problems addressed.

Overall, Ancestor Stones is a good, substantial, fluid read, the writing lyrical, but not overly so, with plenty of narrative tension, as well as critical complexities that challenge Western assumptions about Africa and African women, sometimes holding up a proverbial mirror to reflect back images of the West and Western attitudes towards African people. I would give this a 4.5, but since that's not an option, I've chosen to give it a 5 instead of a 4. Well worth the read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it to make them live on!, March 23, 2007
This is a fine example of how crucial a front cover can be for grabbing readers' attention. I, too, was attracted to "Ancestor Stones" by the colorful letters and graceful cover composition (Atlantic Monthly Press edition) in the first place. Rest assured, the promise made was kept!

I value novels that weave facts into the storyline and thus give me a better understanding of different cultures and mindsets. Along with the women's many personal triumphs and tragedies I learned a lot about the country's (assumed to be Sierra Leone) history, customs, social and cultural changes and, sadly, intense political upheaval. Ms Forna's beautifully crafted prose made me marvel at bygone village-life in serene, Eden-like surroundings, while later on I almost choked on the atrocities of civil war. Of course, given her writing talent she never needs to get graphic.

I don't give a full five stars because the book felt a little bit overconstructed with its prologue, epilogue and the four individually themed blocks that bind the chapters together. In addition, the chapters don't carry on the life-stories where they left off in the previous chapter. To know what had happened in between would have been interesting on the one hand and helpful on the other. I often needed to turn back the pages to remind me of the particular history of a protagonist.

However, I don't consider this a flaw. One just doesn't have to comprise this book as four comprehensive biographies, but rather pivotal periods in each woman's life, each opening a window into their world and times. In the end, I felt both uplifted and humbled by their courage and resilience to all kinds of adversity.

I will definitely get Ms Forna's memoir and hope that she will soon publish her next book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amahzing Book, August 1, 2008
This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Paperback)
As a guy, I first read the back cover review of the book, and said "chick book". But I gave it a chance. How wrong I was. It's an incredible 'recollection' of life in Africa through the 1900s, as told by the women of different generations who relate their stories.
This is all a revelation to me - how would a white boy living in the US have any clue to what daily life was like then and there?

But, it turns out to be absolutely fascinating. The author creates her stories 'visually' extremely well - you feel like you're right there, observing the scene or event that's being described. Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vision of storytelling in womens voices, February 17, 2008
By 
This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Paperback)
A great novel shows much and leaves more for the mind to unwind. Ancestor Stones does just that. I finished the last pages with tears on my face and questions left unanswered.

The bits of story left untold about the war and the safety of family members (Adama and her soon to be born child heading into the forbidden forests for example) serve to make this a stronger novel. I enjoy the fact that Forna leaves me with living stories, not cast off unnoteworthy letters and diaries as she puts it.

I will read her memoir and await further writing from Forna. The life stories she holds are vivid.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A New Type of Novel, August 17, 2013
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This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Kindle Edition)
I suppose this could be called 'faction' in that it combines fact with all the pleasures of a well-written novel but that categorization
does little to convey the wonderful language and images that together provide such insight into the lives we witness while reading the book. It's so far beyond it you can't reduce it to 'post-colonial' literature. It's a book that defies classification even as it draws you in and keeps you fascinated.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great!, April 2, 2013
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I bought the book as a birthday gift for a friend, and it arrived much earlier than expected, so I could send it right off.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Love it!!, March 25, 2013
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This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Paperback)
I really really enjoyed this novel. It was deep without being too heavy - which is no easy feat to accomplish.
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5.0 out of 5 stars tryumph of life against all obstacles, January 3, 2010
This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Paperback)
Abie comes from London to her home country in Africa to see Kholifa Estates, the coffee plantations in Rofathane, which used to belong to her grandfather. She remembers the place from her childhood and now she finds out that she inherited it. The past catches up with her while she walks among the neglected, overgrown bushes.

Abie's grandfather, Gibril Omaru Kholifa, had eleven wives, and it is through the voices of her four aunts, daughters of four wives, that she hears the family stories. The old aunts share with her their experience, honestly telling the fascinating and often painful secrets of their lives.

Asana, Mariama, Hawa and Serah are very different, but all of them are women from the African country, living in the difficult times, when twentieth-century Africa struggles with newly acquired independence from colonial powers and the traditional life must be confronted with progress. The political and social backgrounds directly influence the lives of the four women, and each of them finds her own path. Asana, the daughter of Namina, the first wife, is much older than Serah, the daughter of the tenth wife. This difference is reflected in their life experience: Asana cannot read or write, but she fights and achieves her independence, becoming the owner of a store. Serah is educated in Great Britain, dresses in the European style, participates in the political life, but suffers from unhappy relationship with the conservatively-minded husband. Both of them, however, as well as Hawa and Mariama, try to protest against the traditional treatment of women as disposable objects, which is deeply rooted in the society and difficult to erase. They all have strong will and are determined to survive as individuals.

The family history is an interesting, if not a very inventive pretext to depict the African country. Aminatta Forna is originally from Sierra Leone, so it is fair to assume that the nameless country in the novel is Sierra Leone too (perhaps it is obvious for those who know the recent history of Africa). Traditional stories are told by women, the guardians of history, who preserve both good and bad memories, passing them to the next generations as a wonderfully rich and detailed family saga.

The book is written in a very evocative way - the reader can see the colors, taste the food and feel the textures described in the women's stories. The language and style varies with each narrator. The prose has the fresh, palpable quality. Together with Abie, the reader is immersed in the life of the small African country, a community, and an extended family within it. The picture of chaos and desperation emerges, but together with it the universal optimism and energy of strong women who know how to live through the most difficult times.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely written novel, November 21, 2008
By 
D. Ogunyemi (Lagos/New York) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ancestor Stones (Paperback)
It's rare that I find a book so exquisite that I ration my reading so it's not over too soon. Aminatta Forna has written a beautifully written novel, nothing short of miraculous. It ranks easily among the best novels set in Africa within a generation (and perhaps further).

In a period in which African literature appears to be enjoying a renaissance, it constantly astounds me that such an outstanding novel (by any standards) seems to have been overlooked. Do yourself a favor and just leaf through the richly layered tapestry of testimony that makes up this extraordinary book. You'll be enchanted by the Stones.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lover of well-written literature, September 8, 2006
My eyes were first drawn to the subtle colors of the cover, then as I reached to retrieve the book from its place on the shelf, I was captivated by the title and then by the image on the cover; both are appropriate and evocative.

While I have just begun the novel, I was impressed with Forna's use of metaphors and similes which, for me, created vivid, and thought provoking images.

I look forward to reading a novel that from the first words draw the reader in, that take me on a journey for which I have paid less than $30.00, and only hope that after such an incredibly well-written prologue I am not disappointed.
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Ancestor Stones
Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna (Paperback - September 10, 2007)
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