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Title: The Kaya Girl
Author: Mamle Wolo
Binding: Paperback
Genre: Young-Adult Fiction
Publisher: Techmate Publishers Ltd, Ghana
Pages: 182
Publication Date:  2012

Reason for reading: Bought it at the recently held Yari Yari Conference on Women Writers of African descent I attended. The author is also known to me.

What would a privileged girl from a rich and educated family have in common with a poor girl from the Northern part of Ghana who has the ignoble job of carrying loads and luggage of customers for a living? Two young girls, aged fourteen from differing cultures, aspirations and outlooks meet and instantly a bond so profound, deep and beautiful is created between them that spans the test of time and their loyalty to each other.

Faiza, the indomitable heroine, proves that the Kayayoo or Kaya-girl can have a future, in this case, as a medical doctor. Her strong and fearless spirit, bright outlook to life, humour and maturity that belies her years are great assets that the author explores to the full in bringing out this significant fact. That it is not where you are born or the circumstances of your background, but what you make of yourself and the opportunities presented that matter.

Faiza’s foil, Abena, from the privileged home, loves Faiza for her courage, freedom and for just being  different from her. Their relationship is based on mutual respect, and much curiosity about each other’s background. Perhaps, the most significant aspect of this beautiful relationship is Faiza’s first lesson from Abena, on the revolution of the earth, an inspiration that serves as a catalyst for the transformation of her life.

Mamle Wolo’s The Kaya Girl does not champion the cause of the downtrodden in the Ghanaian society. What the author does with her story  is to highlight the beauty, potential and humanness of the Kayayoo (load carrier or porter) who come down south to the metropolitan cities of Accra and Kumasi to seek greener pastures. The only profession available to them is to be porters, carting loads of the everyday Ghanaian who goes shopping in the cities. These girls have no relatives and nowhere to sleep. They survive by their instincts and sheer determination and will power. Some migrate to escape forced marriages and some come down to make money to buy much-needed items to set them up in future marriages. Yet some make money to help their poor relatives up north.

The author uses the story within the story approach to draw attention to the issue of forced marriages in the country. This she does so well, through Faiza as she narrates the story of her cousin, Asana, weaving and telling it in a vivacious manner as only a teen-girl can, and yet with so much candor and feeling.

The Kaya-Girl is a wonderful story, simple and told with much warmth, and humour. The characters are well-rounded, authentic, full of life and gaiety. I could identity with the two girls alternatively as I read and that is a good thing. Even the older ones Like Auntie Lydia, Abena’s rich Makola trader aunt comes across as stern but fun with a soft heart.

Celebrating The Kaya Girl will be to celebrate the new, young and emerging Ghanaian writers who are revolutionizing the creative writing process in diverse genres, young adult fiction among them. Some time back, I was lamenting the fact that YA books were just not available in Ghana. I eat my words. The Kaya Girl and other YA books like The Mystery of the Haunted House and The Twelfth Heart to name but a few are fine testaments to this.

The Kaya Girl comes highly recommended to all who love YA fiction and adults wanting to know about Ghana.

About the Author

Martina Odonkor (writes under the pseudonym Mamle Wolo) a writer of Ghanaian and German parentage, was born and raised in Ghana until the age of 14 when she moved to the United Kingdom. She completed her secondary schooling there, after which she studied at the University of Cambridge, where she obtained her BA and MA in Modern Languages and her MPhil in Latin-American Studies. She returned to Ghana in 1992 where she has since been resident and works as a freelance consultant in development issues. She took up fiction writing in the late 1990s and has since written numerous short stories under the name Mamle Kabu, all of which have been published in various anthologies and journals in Africa, the UK and the US. One of these is “The End of Skill”, which was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2009.

Mamle also won the first prize in the 2011 Burt Award for African Literature, with her story ‘The Kaya Girl’.

She is a co-director of the Writers’ Project of Ghana and combines her work and writing with the raising of her two lovely children.

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