Lola Akinmade Akerstrom
This book had a lot of potential but I felt the execution was somewhat lacking. For me, the main issue was the character development. There are three main characters and I really only felt that I knew one of them by the end of the book. Also, although it is not essential for characters to be likeable, some sort of understanding of where they are coming from does enhance the reading experience. Again, I really only felt any kind of empathy with one of the characters - as for the other two, I didn't really care what happened to them which impacted on my enjoyment of the book.
For the first forty pages or so, I enjoyed this novel. I've always been a sucker for novels that blend multiple storylines, so the focus on three different women of colour as they adapt to life in Sweden was fascinating. The characters were interesting, the setting was original, and I was excited to see how the novel developed. Unfortunately, however, the story as a whole felt quite flat to me. Firstly, the novel was so overly-critical of Sweden that I felt I couldn't enjoy the setting at all. These women all (with one possible exception) chose to build their lives in Sweden, and they face considerable opposition, yet the novel also refuses to place any blame on them for their lack of integration. Two of the main characters don't bother to learn Swedish, for example, and yet their isolation is blamed fully on the unfriendly locals. Similarly, the novel's treatment of racism lacks any originality or nuance. For example, the characters consistently refer to other women of colour as "sisters" and try to connect with each other, but when a white person suggests that two black women might like to be friends, that's branded as completely racist. Another significant plot point is a white man having a fetish for black women, which is obviously problematic, but yet the black woman who falls in love with him is completely aware of this fetish and she still marries him. The novel deals with many of the same issues as SUCH A FUN AGE, but without any of the complexity of that novel. My biggest frustration with this story, however, was just how ridiculous the romantic plot lines were. While all the women were strong and intelligent, their romantic choices were completely inexplicable. One of them meets a guy on an airplane and, despite the fact that they have zero chemistry, leaves her long-term boyfriend and gets married to the new guy. Another one is a high-powered executive who's dating life sounds like she's a teenager. And the final one loves a guy so much that she refuses to say anything about him, as that would betray his confidence even though he's dead. Overall, I really like what this novel is trying to do. Focussing on three different women and their (slightly) overlapping stories does paint a picture of what it's like to be a black woman in Scandinavia. The utter lack of any nuance in the novel, however, makes the story feel like an anti-Swedish rant, rather than an insightful exploration of the experience of women of colour. Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4392645287?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
You can tell this is a first novel and I'd be interested to read more from the author. A bold attempt at storytelling from three main perspectives, Black women who are immigrants to Sweden but beyond that have little in common. Tenuously linked by another lead character, a white Swedish businessman from a wealthy, privileged background. At the end I still felt I didn't really know the characters. With two of them I'm not bothered by that as I don't care enough, but the third deserves more attention. Character development is somewhat lacking therefore, and there's too much Telling not Showing the reader. I kept waiting for separate strands to come together but, disappointingly, they don't, though there is one place the women briefly meet. As for the ending, it is rushed, unsatisfying, clearly intended to shock but left me, again, wanting something more developed. Parts of the book I did like. Particularly Muna's story. She's by far the most interesting and sympathetic of the three women. The other two are unlikeable, annoying, shallow and self absorbed by contrast, making questionable decisions, compared with 18 year old Muna from Somalia, who has lost her whole family and been granted asylum in a majority white country where racism and anti migrant feeling are on the rise. This is an issue led novel, clearly written from a position of personal experience, backed by research, for eg daily life in a centre for asylum seekers waiting to hear whether they can stay in Sweden. What jarred with me is its romance novel aspects, at odds with the serious subjects tackled by the story, represented by the three women. Tacked on too, as if everything else isn't enough, autism is used to define the white male character who links together the three women. Yet I found the book enjoyable enough. I like to be challenged and taken out of my comfort zone. I was interested to read about the different experiences of the women reflecting their very different backgrounds, education, status etc. We are used to having Sweden held up as a shining example of equality and fairness. Reality does not always match that image, particularly depending on the colour of your skin, your privilege or lack of. This was a Book Group choice, another book I would never have picked up otherwise.
The book revolves around three women from very different backgrounds who are in search of a new start and find themselves in Stockholm. The story was absolutely captivating and had me drawn in from the first few pages. The only negative was the ending, it was very rushed and I was left a little deflated as to how things worked out for two of the characters.
I enjoyed this book and it was an easy read. The racial issues it raised were interesting and obviously stemmed from the author's experience of living in Sweden. It would appear that there are specific issues peculiar to Swedish culture which affect both attitudes and actions, but it was taken as read that the reader understood them so they were not explained - I would have been interested to know more about this side of things as I was a little in the dark. The main problem I had with the book was that it didn't really tie up all the loose ends and appeared to finish rather abruptly - I like a book with all the loose ends tied up. This made me wonder what the point of it all was as there didn't seem to be any real conclusions, resolutions or solutions.
I couldn't put this book down. And the ending! Poor Muna - I did not see this coming. Thought provoking and insightful, the author did an excellent job of putting you in her character's shoes. Each of the three stories was worthy of a stand alone book. I would love to know what happened next next in the lives of the two remaining characters.
I liked the way the 3 main female characters interlinked as the book progressed and the fact that each character came from a totally different background yet their lives cross in so many ways and is affected by class, country and the need for belonging. The ending to me seemed slightly rushed by the author.