Immigrant Narrative Books

Museum of confusion: Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s ‘The God Child’

An insightful exploration of expatriate life, but the narrative lacks coherence

As a Ghanaian child in Germany, Maya has learned the painful truth that to be better than the people around her, she has to be like them so completely that they no longer notice the differences. This sense of otherness, which every migrant or expatriate is forced to come to terms with, is an underlying note in The God Child, Ghanaian writer, historian and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s debut novel.

Having spent her childhood in Germany and England, with only brief visits to Ghana during the holidays, Maya remains an outsider in every country, including the land of her parents. She remains separate from other migrants as she does not carry the “reek of illegality” like the men who stand huddled outside McDonald’s or the women who sit in Afroshops chatting in “mismatched syncopated chorus... like multicoloured species of exotic animals”.

Maya’s understanding of Ghana in her formative years is coloured by her mother’s stories of their motherland. Her beautiful and perfect but attention-seeking mother, who remains a prominent figure in the narrative, is a descendant of a royal family. Her father, a doctor, is a distant figure who packs his bags and leaves his family after a fight with her mother.

The arrival of Kojo, her mother’s godson from Ghana, adds an urgency to the narrative. He is a whirlwind ready to upend the ordered though confused life that Maya has constructed for herself. “He smelt like the insides of the trunks we kept clothes in for when we finally went home,” she recalls. Kojo, driven by the need to reclaim the family’s glory and re-draw Ghana’s history, draws Maya into his quest.

The bond between the two remains strong, even when they are separated in England and sent to different schools where they face the reality of colonial imperialism and racism every day.

As a young adult, Maya returns to Ghana where she is reunited with Kobo, who is trying to build a museum that will showcase the family’s history.

Through Maya and Kobo, Ayim untangles themes of family and cultural ties, expatriate life and colonial appropriation, but the novel loses some of its power in its disjointed narrative.

The God Child; Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Bloomsbury Publishing, ₹550

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 11:51:53 PM |

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