Title:     Not Without Flowers
Author: Amma Darko
Binding: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 367
Publication Date: 2007

Publishers: Sub-Saharan Publishers

Reasons for Reading: From my TBR

In attempting to write this review I will be as brief as possible and try not to give spoilers. I have come to realise, reading other reviews that mine tend to be lengthy with lots of spoilers. 🙂 I do talk a lot and cannot stop once I am on familiar turf. Anyway, once I have cleared that out of the way I will plunge right in.

Imagine a world or a garden full of beautiful flowers of all types and shades where you bathe in the evoking beauty and pleasure everyday, cherishing the sensuous smells and aesthetic value to your simple but elegant home, where you make a home for your loving husband and children. Then you wake up one morning and hearing voices urging you with cacophonic urgency to slash all the lovely plants, you obey and whack, hack and slash through the stems, killing all the flowers, letting out blood, yes blood till you are spent, your mind a whirring decline into madness. That is what Amma Darko’s Not Without Flowers seeks to portray in a dramatic and symbolic way. Beauty in marriage suddenly evaporating, dying, a corpse of a marriage where nothing but a carcass of  bitterness, disappointment, madness, suicide and revenge remain as ashes.

Aggie’s marriage to Idan, her childhood sweetheart is all that she hoped it would be, except that it is a childless one. And when Idan ‘accidentally’ meets Randa an attractive and cold university student who seduces him with a passion that only reminds him of his youth and fuels his guilt over his affair and childlessness, a chain of events sets in leading to unearth Aggie’s past life as a student prostitute and the unwitting part she played in the suicide of Randa’s father and madness of her mother. Nemesis comes knocking at Aggie’s door in a whirlwind that sweeps Aggie, her husband and her polygamous parents, as well Randa and her two older siblings and her young lover along in a vortex of pain, betrayal, and the shocking truth of living with HIV/AIDS.

From the beginning of the novel, Amma Darko creates a masterful suspense with her intricate plot and characters. Intriguing, baffling and shady sub plots are all woven together sending me on a seat gripping marathon as I craved for the ultimate picture to unravel. At the end of the novel, I was stunned, unable to come to terms with the grief of Ma, as she watched helplessly as Aggie a. k. a. Flower, destroys the very loving fabric of her marriage, albeit a complacent one. Here Amma Darko spares no effort in portraying a young Aggie on the prowl, confidently sexy in her ability and power to ensnare a middle-aged man, Pa, for monetary gains. Having unmanned him literally and figuratively, she scorns him and bankrupt, he commits suicide.

In dealing with the various themes in Not Without Flower, the author employs poignant dramatic devices which highlights thorny issues such as HIV/AIDS in a polygamous marriage in an urban setting, juxtaposing this with the rural setting of Aggie’s mother whose relationship with her childless rival is close-knit with support coming from both sides. Aggie treats all two mothers equally and never refers to her stepmother as such. The use of flashback adequately sends the reader back and forth revealing and clarifying past events of an otherwise convoluted plot and heightening emotions in a roller-coaster way.

Infidelity is another theme that runs throughout the novel. Almost all the major characters and a few minor ones are unfaithful to their respective partners. Lies and deceits abound as these characters try to make meaning of their current predicaments which they find themselves in as a result of their initial lies. Nothing is as it seems. Closely linked to this is an important power-relation explored in the ‘sugar-daddies’ and ‘chicken-soups’ or ‘good-time girls’ syndrome, something that is on the increase in cosmopolitan cities in the country. The harm that this relation does to wives forms the central topic of the novel. The narration also seems to explicitly explore the harm done by women to other women. Darko seems committed to investigate the problems women encounter in modern Ghana.

Ma’s madness as a result of her husband’s infidelity and suicide is a true reflection on the statistics and causes of mental problems afflicting Ghanaian women in contemporary times. That her children seek un-orthodox treatment for her in a prayer camp is a sad and unfortunate indictment on their desperation as well as prevailing situations in the country.

The author also employs the surreal, making use of superstitions, premonitions that foretell the future, dreams that come to pass, traditional lore and customs; she superbly blends this with the comic prophecies of Prophet Abednego, the not so latest example and manifestations of socio-economic and religious deficiencies in the country, to create an effective mysterious atmosphere in the novel.

I did not like some of the characters though I could understand why they took certain decisions and behaved the way they did. At some point I felt like putting the book away as I could not bear the pain of Ma and could not stand the game played by Randa and her sister Cora.

All in all, Amma Darko’s writing is a force to reckon with. Her use of language is confident, interspersed with much Ghanaian humour, using the Ghanaian English liberally. She knows her people, her setting and her play with different genres, investigative, suspense, mystery and romance works out smoothly and beautifully in the end.

I recommend this novel to all lovers of Ghanaian (African) literature.

About the Author:

Amma Darko is one of the most significant contemporary Ghanaian literary writers.She is the author of four previous novels: Faceless (Sub-Saharan, 2003), The Housemaid (Heinemann, 1999), Beyond the Horizon (Heinemann, 1995) and Not Without Flowers (Sub-Saharan,2007). http://www.africanbookscollective.com

Amma Darko, May 2004