Afterworld by Lois Walden
|Afterworld by Lois Walden
|Category: Literary Fiction
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson
|Summary: A family saga with a difference: it follows family members both sides of the life/death divide. Interesting, brave and, on the whole, it works well.
|Date: September 2013
|External links: Author's website
The Duvalier family owe their wealth to sugar cane although their gratitude is shown in varying degrees and various ways. From the patriarch William (who never recovered from being hit by a manhole cover) through his wife and children, down to Theodore, the lad who gained comfort (and a certain amount of secrecy) from travel, each has had a life. (Yes including their black servant, Rheta B.) Each also has a story to tell and, whether alive or in Afterworld, they're going to tell it.
American Lois Walden has done just about everything that a human can do with words. She's formed them into opera libretti, drama workshops for high school students, songs, sung them alongside Thelma Houston and Cece Peniston (in the gospel group Sisters of Mercy) and now, rather than pause for breath, Lois brings us her second novel. Lois' debut One More Stop (in 2010) was both raunchy and brave as it followed a drama teacher trying to heal the effects of a turbulent upbringing. Afterworld centres on a totally different subject, but the raunch and bravery remain.
This may be a family saga novel about a Louisiana sugar family but please don't imagine Lois to be an American Belva Plain. Not only do the Duvaliers have problems and issues, as they die and go to the 'after world' they remain in the story, watching (and eventually intervening) from on high.
Afterworld isn't a religious heaven (much to the disappointment of over-pious Lily) but a place ruled by a Gaia-type creator that has the ability to call people 'home' on whim whatever their beliefs or morals. Even Uncle Steve for whom love goes hand in hand with a daily prayer for forgiveness and Doreen, the one we've watched metamorphose from a promiscuous teenager to her dotage.
To begin with, if you're like me, that family tree Lois provides at the front is rather handy as each person is given a chapter of their own going back and forth in time. These chapters work best, packing the same punch as Ayana Mathis' The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. In fact later, when the narrative turns to third person I felt slightly detached at times. (Perhaps this was because that first part is so good?). Also the creator's rules appear to bend slightly during the commuting to and from Afterworld itself.
Having said that, any disengagement is temporary as the novel elicits mixed emotions, making us laugh, smile and shed tears. (Tissues may be required as Rheta B's story develops and we witness her paying a high price for trust.)
There are also adult themes such as drug use, rape and other forms of coupling disdained by society now and/or society then. However, although the themes are full-on, Lois writes with a sensitivity that encourages our sympathy rather than shock or alienation.
This is definitely an original take the saga genre right down to the sugar plantation itself speaking to us. In fact if it wasn't for me not being as absorbed by some of the second half, it would get a 5*. However, whatever you feel about Afterworld',' it'll definitely leave an impression which, in a way, is the purpose of all literature, even the blander stuff which, believe me, this isn't!
I'd like to thank Arcadia for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: As you can probably guess, we highly recommend The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis and The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha and Eric M B Becker (translator).
You can read more book reviews or buy Afterworld by Lois Walden at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Afterworld by Lois Walden at Amazon.com.
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