Not just another immigrant tale: A review of Bisi Adjapon’s “Daughter in Exile” — Olukorede S Yishau
Bisi Adjapon proudly wears three citizenship caps: She is Ghanaian, Nigerian and American. These three powerful countries find voice in her latest novel, Daughter in Exile, released on January 31st, 2023 by HarperVia in America.
Set in contemporary America, Senegal, and Ghana, Adjapon’s second novel, on one hand, seems to be screaming against any form of segregation in a world where one’s skin colour isn’t the determinant of whether or not one is good or bad; a man is a man and a race is a race. You can be white and be bad or good and you can be brown and be bad or good.
On the other hand, it asserts that our lives intersect no matter how much we try to run away from one another. But, the bigger picture seems to be about womanhood and the never-say-die spirit.
Adjapon established her storytelling prowess in her debut, Teller of Secrets, a gripping tale of girlhood, secrets, and perfidies. In this sophomore outing, Adjapon’s hand is steadier as she takes on giant monsters, theme-wise. Following the life of a 21-year-old, the author weaves an intricate tale about Lola, a lady who has Ghanaian, English, and Nigerian names but allows her Yoruba (Nigerian) name to beat the others into submission.
The author begins the novel with a cliffhanger; by evoking Lola’s imminent appearance before a judge, she creates an atmosphere of ominous tension in restrained and moving language. With perfect details, she brings alive even passing moments.
After evoking the tension, she properly introduces Lola who lives in Dakar and works with the Thai embassy. Her life in the Senegalese capital looks good. She is young, vivacious, with a good career to boot. Then, love, that feeling words can’t really capture, happens to her when Armand, a Marine with roots in America, sweeps her off her feet.
America beckons and Lola obeys but she soon finds out that wishes aren’t horses so beggars can’t ride. What unfolds before her eyes in America are things she couldn’t have dreamt up. Hers is a tale of many humiliations.
Adjapon’s novel is about a number of things, with migration and race taking positions of pride (or is it shame). In the first few pages of the novel, the author leaves us with no doubt that racism is an issue that should neither be trivialised nor glossed over.
The novel lays New York bare. Without the razzmatazz of Manhattan, we see its challenge with homeless people. Seeing someone sleeping in a bathroom is one of the shocks the protagonist has in New York.
It also strips the artifice off America, with Lola wondering: “Why didn’t Americans tell the truth about how hard life was in America?”
We also see how growing up in Africa and America are poles apart. In Africa, children are taught that only prostitutes and bush people chew gum noisily. In America, there is nothing to it. We see racism and we see what is undoubtedly black-on-black prejudice; or how best to describe a family with Haitian roots rejecting an African?
We are also treated to the role of the Church in the life of immigrants. The author subtly examines faith, the belief in the existence of God, and sundry matters.
The ignorance of many an American about Africa, how they assume the worst of the continent, how they wonder how we’re able to speak English, how they assume Africa is a country, and such ridiculous notions also get some space.
In this book, Ghanaian-cum-African culture, especially mother-daughter relationships, loom large. Despite her independence, Lola remains her mother’s daughter with constant communication in the form of letters and even in her subconscious, she considers what her mother will say about her decisions. Ultimately, she is her adamant self who wants to prove to her mother that she has come of age and can make the best out of her life.
The novel shows that for Africans at a certain point, you will realise that no matter how long you live in America, you will always be Ghanaian, Nigerian, or wherever you’re from.
The book touches on how we bear our Africaness into exile, while examining the complex concept called marriage.
The author succeeds in making every chapter something to look forward to; a reader is likely to keep wondering what trouble is coming next for the protagonist, whose life seems to be one-day-one-trouble from the moment she steps on American soil.
This is a novel laced with many thought-provoking statements.
Daughter in Exile is riveting, heartbreaking, and crazily paced; it highlights humanity’s cultural divide and that which binds us as human beings. It illustrates the impossibilities of the immigrant experience in America and is a deft exploration of motherhood and love from the perspective of a young woman hellbent on creating her world on her terms.
With this book, Adjapon unveils the indomitability of the human spirit. Despite Lola’s harrowing experiences, the author’s smooth delivery makes her pains enjoyable to the reader.
This is a beautifully written book about family, home, and humanity and a mini-biography of Almighty America. It is a roller coaster that will make for a good cinematic adaptation.
Told in vivid, easy-to-access language, this book uses the first-person point of view to tell a very personal tale. It will give you a bear hug that lasts far beyond the embrace.
In a nutshell, Bisi Adjapon has told a compelling story that challenges decades of alternative truths about what womanhood should be. She weaves love, race, relationships, and humanity into this book and the result is a striking portrait of a woman intent on defeating a system designed to wear her down and consign her to peripheral living.
–Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales