What should we cling to, and when is it time to let go?’
Hold is the debut novel from Michael Donkor and has just been published by Fourth Estate. Moving between Ghana and London, Hold is described as ‘an intimate, moving, powerful coming-of-age novel’, telling the story of Belinda, a young Ghanaian who finds herself living in London, so utterly different from her life as a housegirl in Ghana.
I received my copy from Harper Collins Ireland in return for my unbiased and voluntary review.
Please do read on for my thoughts…
About the Book:
Belinda knows how to follow the rules. As a housegirl, she has learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi.
Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven-years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.
Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive South-London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.
So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, and must leave Mary to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is thrilling, and tries to impose order on her unsettling new world.
As the Brixton summer turns to Autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tightly threaten to seep out.
Hold has a really striking cover which would light up any bookcase or coffee table and it is a book I really wanted to love. It was another of my recent holiday reads but it has taken me until now to process a review, as I found it difficult to unscramble my thoughts into a few coherent sentences without sounding a little over-critical in my words.
Hold tells the story of Belinda, a housegirl employed in a big house in Kumasi, Ghana. Belinda enjoys the life she has there, working for ‘Aunty and Uncle’. She has eleven-year old Mary at her side, a young, sassy but lovable girl, whom Belinda has taken under her wing.
Unexpectedly an opportunity arises for Belinda to travel to London to move in with a friend of Aunty’s. But this move entails a slightly different role for Belinda. She is not to fill a housegirl position, but instead that of the role of companion for a teenage girl, Amma, who is having issues and is struggling within her family unit. Amma’s parents are unable to get through to her and they feel that someone like Belinda, a girl with a sensible attitude and a solid view on life will be just what Amma needs.
Belinda originally came from a village where life was very different indeed. She had quite a harsh childhood and witnessed some activities that no child should ever be exposed to. Aunty and Uncle have looked after Belinda in recent years and she trusts that this adventure they are encouraging her to take is for the best.
Belinda is completely overwhelmed by London – the noises, the colour, the traffic, the people – all so very different.
‘Flat late summer heat hung from Belinda’s shoulders. The sky was bored, the traffic was angry. Everything around them beeped or screamed. People on bikes turned around to swear at people in cars.Three striped white vans with swirling blue lights moaned. Buses bent around corners like sick caterpillars… Belinda knew what crowds were like..But it was so different when so many of the rushing faces of the crowd were white.’
Belinda does her best to settle into her new home, but it is obvious to her, from the beginning, that Amma wants nothing to do with her. Amma is angry with life. She rebels against her parents and, in Belinda’s eyes, Amma’s behaviour is unfathomable. Amma has it all. She has her own bedroom in this beautiful house. She has parents, who, although very busy, clearly love her. She is lucky to have excellent educational facilities at her fingertips. But Amma is not happy.
Hold is the story of the relationship between Amma and Belinda but it is also a story of a young girl leaving her native country for a supposedly greater opportunity. Belinda is the catalyst that the family needs, but for Belinda the move is tough. She misses Aunty and Uncle, but most of all she misses young Mary.
Hold is a coming-of-age novel. It is the story of a friendship unfolding and about learning to forgive, both yourself and others. One of my difficulties with the book was the scattered use of the Twi dialect. There is a glossary in the opening pages explaining various Twi terms and expressions that would be beneficial for some readers, but it didn’t really work for me. I really enjoyed the relationship between Belinda and Mary, but I felt a disconnect with Belinda and Amma. Unfortunately this did have an impact on my reaction to the story.
Michael Donkor most definitely raises many topical societal issues in Hold, relating to culture, sexuality and one’s place in the world, all extremely important subjects. Hold is a passionate debut, with Michael Donkor’s Ghanaian heritage very evident throughout, but unfortunately Hold just missed the mark for me
Please do let me know your thoughts…
Purchase Link ~ Hold
Michael Donkor was born in London, to Ghanaian parents. He studied English at Wadham College, Oxford, undertook a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and now teaches English Literature to secondary school students. Many of the issues in this novel are close to his heart, and his writing won him a place on the Writers’ Centre Norwich Inspires Scheme in 2014, where he received a year’s mentoring from Daniel Hahn.
Twitter ~ @MichaelDonkor