Book Review: The Deep Blue Between

The newest addition to my Goodreads ‘read it’ list this week was The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attar. This is a YA book, that NetGalley kindly gifted to me a few months ago, set across the Golden Coast of West Africa and a post-colonised Brazil. Unbeknown to many, Brazil was “home” to more enslaved African citizens than any other country in the world. It is with this as a backdrop that Attar narrates the lives of two twins that have been separated by slave traders, aged 10. For those reading a variety of non-fiction titles on the atrocities of slavery at the moment, I believe this title is the perfect book to complement both your learning and your empathetic understanding. There aren’t a lot of young adult books within the African literary space (yet), so, this book will certainly be making waves when it’s released in October.

Told from two perspectives, The Deep Blue Between follows the lives of twins Hassana and Husseina who are separated by slave traders in the middle of the night. Their village is sadly raided and their mother is brutally killed. Despite the newfound distance between them, however, they are still connected through one another’s dreams. While Hassana eventually finds refuge with Christian missionaries in Abetifi, Ghana, Husseina is saved by Yaya, a Candomblé leader who takes her to Salvador, Brazil, to practice their faith. All the while, the fourth of the anglo-ashanti wars that took place in the Ashanti region of Ghana is taking place, and the remnants of the British colonial rule have instigated land disputes across the coast. Hassana takes action to fight for those she loves, while searching for her sister.

I think this title’s discussion on faith, family and identity in the aftermath of colonialism is incredibly educative. In particular, the faith Candomblé – with its soul-guiding deities and enchanting dance ceremonies – fascinated me. From what I gathered, this is a religion that emerged among Afro-Brazilian communities amid the Atlantic slave trade during the 16th to 19th centuries. It combined the traditional religions brought to Brazil by enslaved West and Central Africans, with the Roman Catholic teachings of the Portuguese colonialists controlling the area at the time. Through this book, this dark era of history came to life and illustrated the complexities that have been faced in post-colonised cities. All the while, the subtle nuances that slowly unfold between Hassana and Husseina in response to this environment is interesting to experience as a reader. Indeed, although they are twins – often thought of as sacred in many West African faiths – they are unfortunately forced to grow as individuals. While, at times, their journeys are difficult to read, the ongoing narrative attempts to explore their pursuits of discovering who they are without the other. This book, at its core, questions whether familial bonds can endure even the most dramatic of changes.

Although the dual narrative works pretty well for the most part, it does slow down the plot substantially. I believe that Attar has understandably focused far more on this title’s historical accuracy than the actual narrative itself. This is logical provided the justice one wants to give a tale such as this. However, characters do lead plot and, unfortunately, the motivations of these characters weren’t always as focussed as I wished them to be. I often lost sight of where each girl was headed. As such, while the backdrop was frequently very immersive (and impressive) this cramming in of historical mise-en-scene, for me, detracted away from the progression of the central plot arc and, ultimately, the emotiveness of the twin’s reunion. This being said, I understand that there are times when a sense of place comes paramount to any kind of plot device. So, although the pace was a little slow for me, I did respect the attention to detail when representing the young girls’ environments and era.

Released 15th October 2020, Pushkin Press

Essentially, I believe that putting ourselves in the shoes of those afflicted – via the likes of literature – is vital to forming a deeper comprehension of the atrocities that were faced by slaves across the world. While neither the central plot drive nor the pace were quite what I anticipated reading this book’s blurb, the literary journey was still incredibly compelling. I have learnt that sometimes it is better to appreciate the many lessons a book has to teach you than to pursuit any need for narrative urgency. After all, the lives of those suffering cannot (and should not) be narrated so swiftly.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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