The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love historical fiction! However, sometimes historical fiction can be a bit heavy and overwhelming, especially when race, patriarchy, societal pressures, and class issues are involved. However, historical fiction has my heart, and I’m deeply moved by this genre in particular. The Teller of Secrets is no different.
This book was mighty, overwhelming, filled with societal issues, and toxic patriarchy in post-colonial Africa. When I read the last page of this book, all I could say was “wow!” I had stayed up all night to finish this book because I just couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want the story to end, and I could have read about Esi forever!
This book is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Esi, who is half Nigerian and Ghanian. Right away, when you meet Esi, you are intrigued at her curiosity, her determination, and her tenacity. She may be little, but she is fierce. She has an aggressive self-determination about being her own person, and not letting men, in particular, dictate what she can or cannot do. She believes at an early age that girls/women can do anything they put their hearts and mind to, and doesn’t need to shy away from hard work because she’s a female. She pushes back on hypocrisy, questioning the double standards that men live by in her country, and is aggressively self-determined to live her life on her terms.
I loved that Esi was a fully fleshed out character, who had flaws, who grew and matured, who didn’t always have the best examples or experiences, but persisted anyway to make the best of her situations. As the favorite daughter of her father, Esi is viewed as spoiled by her older siblings and often detested and treated badly by her sisters and stepmother. Her father dotes on her, and goes out of his way to ensure she doesn’t want for anything, which angers and provokes her sisters. Esi knows that she is treated differently, but tries to advocate for her sisters/people/anyone who is not given a fair shake, or treated appropriately. Despite growing up motherless, Esi wants to make her family proud, but also doesn’t want to compromise herself or her values for anyone. However, despite what she knows about herself and what she wants, she faces an uphill battle in the toxic patriarchal societies of Ghana and Nigeria.
As she comes into her own, she understands the complexities that come with being a young adult, being a woman, and also trying to make a name for herself when everything is telling her it’s pointless.
There were many themes expressed in this book that make for great discussion:
– Patriarchal hypocrisy
– Toxic masculinity
– Sexuality & exploration
– Family ties
– Culture & tradition
– Political unrest
– Gender equality
Adjapon creates this world in which Esi lives in such vivid pictures that I could imagine all the sights and sounds that Esi encountered. The way Adjapon writes, allows you to really sink into Esi, and her story, and allows you to feel what Esi feels. As a reader, I was frustrated at times with Esi and her decisions, but also rooting for her growth and maturity. I was saddened by the patriarchal toxicity she had to deal with in regards to the men in her life, to include her father. I was disappointed in the trajectory she took in certain situations she dealt with in her relationships she had with the men in her life. I was encouraged when she stood up for herself and how she pursued her education/dreams/aspirations/ideas despite having little to no support from her loved ones. I was furious at people who took advantage of her and her naiveté, and was desperate to see some retribution against them.
Reading books about growing up in Africa, especially as a young woman, seems to me to be harsh and violent. There is a delicate balance you have to portray at all times in order to be safe and well cared for. There is violence from the men and women in your family that you have to protect yourself from, and on top of all of that, you have to thrive in ways that doesn’t seem realistic because of the lack of support you have as a woman. You are expected to do all and be all to everyone at all times.
This book shares a host of complexities that women worldwide face on a regular basis, and Adjapon handled these topics with care and attention against the backdrop of political warfare and unrest in both Ghana and Nigeria. Very well done, and I can’t wait to read more from Bisi Adjapon in the future. Her coming of age story is most definitely welcomed in great company with books such as A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Makumbi and The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, which both have self-determined MCs who buck against the patriarchy in their own way.
I greatly enjoyed this debut novel, and Bisi Adjapon has gained a new fan! 4.5 stars.
TW: abortion, genital trauma, sexual partner abuse, execution style killing
Thank you to Harper Collins and the author Bisi Adjapon for this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon