Friday, October 26, 2018

The Gambia: Reading the Ceiling, by Dayo Forster

On her eighteenth birthday, Ayodele has a decision to make. She has decided to do The Deed. But which one of four possible men will she do it with? The ramifications of this decision will lead to different futures for her. "Reading the Ceiling" follows three possible stories for Ayodele, introducing the reader to the range of experience of modern African women.

While there are commonalities between the three different stories, each has very different outcomes. In one, Ayodele studies in England, and returns to work in the Gambia. In another, she travels the world, working in development in Mali and elsewhere. In a third, she stays in the Gambia as a single mother without tertiary education, raising her son, but eventually finding well paid employment and making a successful life for herself.

When my children were younger they sometimes read books in a series called "Choose Your Own Adventure". Every page or so, the reader was faced with two choices: "if you do this, turn to page 72. If you do that, turn to page 43". Although written in the first person, not the second person, this novel reminded me a little of those books. Eventually I realised that the reason was that both are written in the present tense. This gives an immediacy to the narration, and also elevates action above feelings, although feelings do play a part too. At any rate, I found it an engrossing read, and was absorbed in wondering as each story drew to a close, how the next alternative would work out differently for Ayodele.

Dayo Forster was born in Banjul, the capital of Gambia. Like her heroine in two of the stories, she left Gambia to study at the age of 18, because at that time there were no universities in the Gambia. Reading the Ceiling was published by Simon and Schuster, UK in 2007 at which time she was living in Kenya.It was shortlisted for Best First Book in the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-Africa Region.

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