Hold Review by Femi Omotade
Hold is the debut novel from Michael Donkor, an intimate coming-of-age story about sisterhood, belonging and identity.
If you are looking for a fast paced, plot driven novel then this may not be the book for you. This very well written story is character driven. It is centred on complex, multifaceted characters, particularly Amma and Belinda. They are two young women of the same heritage but with contrasting life experiences. In Hold, the author has given house girl, Belinda, a voice. Yet, importantly, the book does not focus on her plight as a domestic servant, showing that she has an identity outside of being a housemaid. This serves as a message for any house girl who has been solely defined by their role.
The main theme of this book is sexuality, which is reminiscent of the author’s experiences as he came out to his Ghanaian parents in his 20s. The story explores the cultural taboos around homosexuality, from subtle judgement to open condemnation and shame. It was interesting how Donkor managed to convincingly write this story from the perspective of women – something that not many male authors are able to execute well - which may owe to the fact that he is an English teacher at an all girls’ school. His position may have helped him access the female mind-set. In addition, the author’s Ghanaian heritage is evident throughout the book, which added to the semi-biographical feel of the novel. With liberal use of words from the Ghanaian dialect – Twi – the reader is given an insight into Ghana’s rich culture, from food to fashion to hairstyles.
The story did however feel a little directionless in some places. Apart from Amma’s secret, nothing really happened. There were no extreme highs and lows. I did not feel particularly moved. I needed more from the story for me to truly connect with it.
Despite the slow feel to the novel which made it difficult to engage with at times, it was refreshing to read about two young Black women without the story being focused on race or the ‘Black experience’. It was just two girls living and finding their way through life. Because not every ‘Black’ story has to be about race.