Ama Ata Aidoo is a writer who’s been on my TBR list for ages, but up until now, I’d never read any of her work. I ultimately decided to dip into her catalog by picking up No Sweetness Here and Other Stories, a collection of eleven short stories set in the 1970s. Since Ghana gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, little more than a decade before the period described in this book, many of the central themes revolve around class, postcolonialism, and the alarming pace of modernization.
I enjoyed most of the stories in the collection (though there were some I could have done without), but there were three I particularly liked. The first is “For Whom Things Did Not Change,” which mostly occurs in the form of a series of conversations between Kobina, a progressive young African staying at a government rest house, and Zigiru, an old servant at the rest house who insists on calling Kobina “master” even though Kobina doesn’t want him to. The conversations illuminate the changing power dynamics from race to class; before independence, it was mostly about white colonialists and the Ghanaians who served them. Since the British left, little changed for the working-class Ghanaians at the rest house, except now, their “masters” were wealthy Ghanaians. Kobina also muses about the cultural implications and gendered division of labor as a result of this change:
When a black man is with his wife who cooks and chores for him, he is a man. When he is with white folk for whom he cooks and chores, he is a woman. Dear Lord, what then is a black man who cooks and chores for black men?
Though the story remains relatively humorous throughout, the end leaves readers on a sober and pensive note.
Another story I really enjoyed was “The Message,” about a panicked mother traveling from her rural village to Cape Coast. She has received news that only child had some complications during birth and was “opened up” as a result. She’s not sure if her daughter is even alive. I can’t go into too much of the story without giving away major details (it is, after all, only about 8 pages long), but I was mesmerized.
Finally, I thought that the title story, “No Sweetness Here,” was perfect. Maama Ama is going through a divorce; her husband and his family constantly berate her and make her life miserable. She is confident about the divorce, but she does not want to lose her only child, her beloved young son, Kwesi. The events that occur on the day of the divorce lingered in my mind long after I finished the story.
I’m usually able to read through books quickly, but Aidoo made it impossible for me to do so. Her sentences are often simple and her descriptions are spare; nonetheless, her prose is steady and rhythmic, lulling readers into a delicious, slower pace. Whether she’s writing about something humorous, frenetic, or traumatic, the rhythm of this book allows readers to soak in subtle nuances. I’m curious to see if this style applies solely to this book because of the subject matter, or if it’s the way she usually writes. Either way, I’ll definitely be reading more by Aidoo in the future.
No Sweetness Here and Other Stories was published by The Feminist Press on December 1, 1995.