Title: Cloth Girl
Author: Marilyn Heward Mills
Published by: Cassava Republic Press
Year of Publication: 2008
Fourteen – year old Matilda Lamptey’s life changes forever when the suave and sophisticated Gold Coast lawyer Robert Bannerman decides to take her as his second wife. With her childhood snatched away, Matilda finds herself trapped in a jealous household, and finds herself constantly out-manoeuvred by Julie, Bannerman’s first wife.
At the same time, we follow the story of Audrey, the wife of the assistant to the Governor in the Colonial Office. Her life has also been turned around as she faces the tedium of daily life and the unbearable heat.
Cloth Girl is a lucid account of life in colonial West Africa, told through the eyes of two very different women. Marilyn Heward Mills’ first novel is full of expressive prose and a compelling read.
I feel this story should have been tagged “the pursuit of happiness”. It really is about what it takes to be a woman in a world dominated by men; it is a tale of the struggles of women in a time when women’s choices were dictated more by their “duties” to their families than by their own aspirations in life. It takes us on a journey of what it feels to have your power wrested from you by people who should know better.
The story is set in 1930 British West Africa and the author does an amazing job transporting you to the colonial era. She paints a picture in every scene and no detail is too small, she manages to show us the same thing from different perspectives through the eyes of her characters. I particularly love the attention paid to the traditional ceremonies in this book and its all there: weddings, naming ceremonies, burials etc. There is so much emphasis on Ghanaian culture that after a day with this book I have to remind myself that I am Nigerian.
There is a lot to be said about the many rich and colorful characters in this book. There’s Matilda, a teenager who finds herself thrust into a role she had not even started to dream about and how she goes from despair to acceptance to trying to make the most with the hand she has been dealt and, just like many women, struggle to find her own identity outside her role as wife and mother. Audrey, a woman who doesn’t realize that nobody was placed on this planet with the key to her happiness, refuses to take responsibility for her life and finds a way to blame everybody and everything for her lack of vision. Patience, the “smart” friend and one of my favorites, she is not a dreamer, is well aware of her reality and is ready to grab opportunities that may come her way; If there’s one gripe I have with this book, it’s that she doesn’t get enough attention ( in my opinion…).
In all, this book is obviously a labor of love. It is rich in history, cultural and religious references and it’s difficult to believe that this is a first novel, which makes me excited to find more books by the Author. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good work of fiction and has an interest in African culture.
Have you read this book? Please let me know what you thought about it in the comments.
‘You have to distinguish between life and your husband. He is not your life. You have your own life for which you alone are responsible.’ – Aunty Dede
‘And if all fails, you must simply do things afraid. After all, you will not die just because you are afraid.’ - Patience
Buy the Book: Cassava Republic
Published by Temilade Adebiyi