Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Where Bones Dance: An English Girlhood, an African War by Nina Newington

"I lived in Nigeria from when I was seven until I was ten but, before writing this book, I had almost no conscious memory of that time, or indeed of the first twelve years of my life. The first time I wrote about Nigeria the story startled me with its immediacy. It came from an unknown place inside myself." The University of Wisconsin Press, publisher of Where Bones Dance, assigns the following marketing descriptors on the back of the dust jacket: Fiction / Autobiography / Africa / Lesbian Interest. So, is it fiction or is it true? The author says: "I gave myself, in writing the book, complete permission to lie."

Newington's memories are vividly evocative of Nigeria as seen through the eyes of a White colonialist child. She uses the name 'Anna' in the book. Her father was a British diplomat, observing the civil war as it began in the late 1960s. Her best friend is Helen, daughter of a Korean-American spy. The first time Anna visits Helen's home, she tells her, "My name is Jake. I'm a marine." Helen says, "My name is Dave. It's a code name. I'm a spy." Anna's emerging lesbian self can be glimpsed in her interactions with Helen, as well as in her adamant statements that she will never marry.

Candid, gritty and compelling, the narrative is a collection of memory fragments - sometimes dreamlike, even nightmarish. Anna's relationship with her mother is troubled and dark. Disturbing incidents are dropped liked grenades between descriptions of kite-flying at the seaside and traditional Igbo tales recounted by Christine, a domestic employee.

For other stories of White girlhoods in Africa, try Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller); The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver); Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (Robin Scott); and Rainbow's End (Lauren St. John).

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