After living a luxurious life with a beautiful wife and raising two sons, Carlos now feels empty. Recently divorced and without a job, he does not know what future holds for him, but his past torments him. He cannot forget the crime(s) he committed one fateful day decades ago in Ghana.
Liz left Ghana in search of greener pastures and is presently a successful career woman in the USA. She escaped abject poverty, but is she free? No. She is trapped in a vicious cycle of supporting her needy siblings and “remains under the vice-grip power of her hoarding mother.”
The paths of Carlos and Liz cross in spectacular, unimaginable ways, and each is drawn back to the Black Volta River of Ghana, which is witness to the most dreadful day of both their lives. Can the River provide them salvation? Read Black Volta by Pete KJ to find out.
Where should I start?
Pete KJ’s Black Volta has every element to make it a remarkable novel.
I will try listing all of them but forgive me if words fail me to describe how good this novel is.
Firstly, the characters.
Pete has crafted true-to-life characters. Elizabeth or Liz is the dutiful daughter, a successful, industrious woman, working her ass off to fulfill the never-ending needs of her family back in Ghana.
Liz works hard for a family that is deep-rooted in patriarchy.
She works hard for a father, who did not love her as she was a girl.
She works hard for her siblings such as Magdi and Joseph, who are freeloaders, irresponsible beings and won’t lift a finger to bring food on the table.
And finally, she works hard for a mother who is a hoarder. But even more scarily, Liz’s Mumma is a manipulative woman with a vice-like grip on her. She upholds her Brigaare (a tribe in Ghana) values when convenient and would promptly abandon them as soon as her wishes (demands) are fulfilled.
Liz behaves as if she controls her family back in Ghana, but, in reality, it is the opposite. Their actions angered me …. a lot.
Liz’s actions compelled me to think how far should a child bend to a parent’s whims?
Carlos, on the other hand, is easy-going with an amiable disposition. He does not let his inner turmoil show on his face and maintains a cheery façade. As a white man in Ghana, he gets much leeway and help from the locals, but internally, he is always questioning whether his past misdeeds make him a deserving candidate for such grace. Further, he is tired of living a flashy life and wants a deeper engagement. Liz’s controlling nature serves as the perfect foil to the easy-going nature of “man-boy” Carlos.
Last but not the least, Ghana. Pete has described Ghana, its people, its cities, its roads, and its myriad other things so vividly that it can safely be assumed as the third pivotal character in this book. By the time, I reached 30% of the book, I was salivating for jollof rice, fufu and goat light soap, and kelewele.
Secondly, the plot.
It is literary fiction combined with mystery, or mystery combined with literary fiction. No matter how you put it, one thing is for sure – you cannot put it down. What did Carlos do as a young man that still haunts him? What happened at the Black Volta? Why does he keep having the same dream where he is drowning? Why is Liz so indebted to her mother? What happened at the river, ages ago, that changed Liz’s life?
So many questions.
The author skillfully deflects the answers to these questions and when he gives the answers, you are stunned. The first 24% of the book is slow-paced, but the writing does not let you give up. You do not reach even half of the book when the author drops a bomb.
Just like that.
I did not see it coming …. at all. The bomb reveals only half of the answers. The other half is revealed at the end. But the wait is worth it.
Speaking about the writing
The language is straightforward, but it engaged my attention. At 453 pages, Black Volta is lengthy; however, Pete rewards me for my patience with a richly woven story that has elements of mystery, self-discovery, forgiveness, and redemption. Moreover, the author effortlessly weaves between the past and present to create a solid background for each of the characters which, in turn, propels the story forward. The vivid descriptions of the street life and the Ghanaian food and the realistic dialogues further enhance the beauty of the book.
The finale is satisfying.
Not in an explosive manner, but in a liberating way. I felt like a huge weight came off my shoulders when Liz stood up to her mother for the first time in her life. The mystery in Carlos’s life gets solved satisfyingly too.
Lastly, Black Volta itself.
The “deep, rich chocolate brown” river is omnipresent in the book. Pete describes the river’s ancient history and its current importance to the fabric of Ghana, while the story highlights its importance in the lives of the protagonists.
Pete KJ’s Black Volta is the classic example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”Tweet
Pete KJ’s Black Volta is the classic example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
With exceptionally well-developed characters, a rich story, and good writing, it should be in every literary fiction and mystery lover’s shelves. Scratch that. If you are a fan of a good story that does not need to be (and would not be) finished in one sitting but would rather grow on you, then read this book.
Get the book on Amazon.
“And in life we are all connected, and there is no such thing as an ending. Only there is more life.”From Black Volta by Pete KJ
Trigger warning: controlling/manipulative parent, two scenes of violence
I received a free copy from the author. This does not affect my opinion about the book. I opted to publish an honest review on my blog.
Liz’s photo from shutterstock | Photo of fufu from https://www.tasteatlas.com/ | Photo of jollof rice from https://buzzghana.com/ | Photo of kelewele from https://biscuitsandladles.com/ | Photo of the Black Volta River from https://www.ghanasafaritours.com/
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