THIS month the Literati discussed The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi. The central character of the book is Maja, the adult daughter of black Cuban migrants to London. Her parents, her brother, her lover and her best friend all figure in the book, along with her memories and impressions of Cuba.
The main theme of the book seems to concern Maja’s issues about who she is and where she belongs, especially now that she is pregnant; she has a sense of dislocation between a half-remembered Cuba and the London around her.
There are several questions of confused identity raised in this book: Maja is Cuban but not Hispanic; black but not African; her boyfriend Aaron is both white and Ghanaian; her Mami is a Catholic but also a follower of Santeria. The book appealed most strongly to a member of the group who had experience of childhood in one country and adulthood in another.
Many group members found this book to be beautifully written in the details, in a lyrical style, but quite impressionistic; everyone found that the disjointed narrative made this a difficult read. It was hard to piece together any overarching structure to the book. Maja’s pregnancy was a thread that could be held onto, but even then it proved hard to follow.
In general the group was disappointed not to connect better with this book, as the concept seemed interesting; all agreed that it probably was a book that needed to be read carefully, then carefully read again for understanding. Only one member really enjoyed the book, with its glimpses of another culture; unfortunately, most could not fully engage with the characters or story.
As a group the Literati rated this book 4.1/10.
This book is available for borrowing from Libraries in Pembrokeshire; a small reservation fee may be required if it is not at your branch, or if all copies are out on loan.
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