Ancestor Stones [Aminatta Forna]

Stories that started in one place and ended in another, worn smooth and polished as pebbles countless retellings

Reading Aminatta Forna is like reading a bar of Cadbury’s dairy milk, delicious. (Other chocolate bars are available).  Or if society calls me from afar and demands a more manly metaphor, it’s like reading a cold pint on a hot day.  You enjoy and saviour every mouthful, not wanting it to end and after there’s a warm happy appreciation of what you’ve just finished.

The shadows are solid, sharp, small.  A dog lifts it’s head.  A nose swings our way like a weathervane, marks our progress for a while and then is tucked back beneath a tail.

Ancestor stones tells the stories of four women, four aunts of Abie, daughters of four wives of a wealthy plantation owner.  Each one full of tales from various points of their lives, that together create a tapestry of customs, beliefs and everyday life of these women and a nation, going through profound changes.

For here the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from fire or floods or war.  In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told.  Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.

Written in the first person, but not to you the reader, to Abie, the listener.  Every now and then there are questions, accusations to the westernised young woman that remind you of Abie, as if she too is only just gaining insight into this world and it’s people, to which she belongs.  Abie’s voice is barely a whisper that bookends the stories of the four aunts.

As with The Memory of Love, it is Aminatta Forna’s beautiful, evocative and understated prose that carries the book along and brings the lives of the women, the plantation, and the country to life as each aunt recalls her past.

I started writing down my favourite bits as usual, but had to stop myself, I was almost writing every line

Here boulders are scattered across the sand, black pearls at a Tuareg woman’s throat.  It is morning, raining.  Drops of rain splash onto the water, as though on to a scalding pan.

The aunts are all individual, their lives take different paths until Abie returns to their life, lives that have changed irrecovably, as has their country, but those changes have not diminished their stories

As I watched, a single bat shifted, unfurled a wing and enfolded it’s body even more tightly. For a moment a single eye gleamed at me from within the darkness.


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