Africa Junction by Ginny Baily

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Africa Junction by Ginny Baily

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A fascinating book based both in England and Senegal looking at how guilt and unfinished business can affect a life, years after the event. With its well observed insights into different cultures and life experiences, this is a gem of a debut novel that will stay with you for longer than it takes to read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099552727

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Adele has made a mess of her life and she knows it. Working with the stresses of being a teacher as well as a single mother and having shrugged off a disastrous relationship, her life seems to be set on self-destruct. Part of the problem is that the past won't leave her alone. Adele is haunted by the memory of Ellena, a friend from her childhood in Senegal, Africa. With one unthinking, childish action, Adele inadvertently devastated Ellena's family so, in order to go forward, Adele must go back to the continent where it all began.

Africa Junction is the sort of book that hasn't just been very well written, it's also brilliantly compiled. This may seem an odd use of words, but there's no other phrase for it. Each chapter is like a mini-story in itself, the author's background as a short story writer and editor shining through. Some of the mini-stories don't seem to fit in with the bigger picture at first (not that this is a problem as they're all totally absorbing). Then, about half way in the penny drops. In the novel Ginny Baily writes about time being like pleats in fabric as, even when we're in the present, it folds onto our past and this is how the book has been written. Each chapter is indeed part of the same jigsaw; the puzzle has just been started at different points simultaneously. It sounds complicated but we're provided chapter titles that pin the action down to dates and locations, fending off any 'Yawot?!' moments that may accompany some writers' work. The best way of explaining it is that it's the same technique as used in Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad but with a closer relationship between the segments.

Jigsaws are nothing if they don't provide a rewarding picture and Ms Baily has that one covered too. The characters are brimful of interest and authenticity. Adele is trying to come to terms with a childhood divided between England and Africa with parents who meant well but had their own problems. Indeed author knows how to write from a child's perspective. Children lack the insight and interpretation that adults would apply which is how it should be and this is clearly visible in these childhood passages. In Africa Junction we're invited to be the mind of the adult, exploring why Adele's parents raised her almost aloof from the native culture. I know I've said it before and I'll more than likely repeat myself again, but this is a good thing: it's great to read a writer who credits us with intelligence.

The vignettes of Adele's African life as a child, aloof from local culture, reveal a lot about colonial attitudes that seemed to go on past independence. It's almost as if Adele over-compensated for this separation when she returned as an adult by submerging herself so completely that personal safety became irrelevant.

Meanwhile Ellena's father, George the night watchman, has physical struggles with which to contend. Senegal may have come to mean African sun and world music to many, but to him it means being dependant on white people in order for him to feed his family and it also means fighting; the fighting between the government and separatists. The unrest and violence doesn't shout from every page but exists as an undercurrent that surfaces from time to time, affecting characters and then receding, like the guerrillas themselves. In many people's cases the fear didn’t recede so easily and Ginny Baily has captured that background feeling of subtle menace.

Africa Junction has the potential of a modern classic, unlocking more meaning with each reading and, the cost of books being what it is, a novel that has plenty of wear in it is always welcome.

I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.

A fascinating book based in England and Senegal exploring the struggle to survive. It also looks at the effects on a life of guilt and unfinished business years after the event. With its well observed insights into different cultures and life experiences, this is a gem of a debut novel that will stay with you for longer than it takes to read.

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