Akosua and Osman

Akosua and Osman Book Cover Akosua and Osman
Manu Herbstein
Fiction / YA / High School
Techmate Publishers, Accra, Ghana
130 pp.

Akosua Annan is a confident and fiercely intelligent student at a posh Cape Coast school. There she comes under the influence of a charismatic feminist teacher. Osman Said's background is very different. Upon the death of his parents, a police sergeant and an unschooled market trader, immigrants to Accra from the North, he is adopted by a retired school teacher, Hajia Zainab. After a spell as an apprentice in an auto workshop, he returns to school. There, finding the teaching inadequate, he becomes an avid reader and educates himself.
Akosua and Osman are thrown together by chance in the course of a school visit to the slave dungeon at the Cape Coast Castle. Their paths cross again as finalists in the national debating competition where the subject is "The problem of poverty in Ghana is insoluble." They meet for the third time as students at the University of Ghana and as we leave them, it looks as if their relationship might develop into something permanent.
This novel tells a story of these two young people from these disparate backgounds brought together as if by an unseen hand; in a process that teaches us about our history or common humanity despite ethnic differences, the need to pursue our ambitions, the strength of human sexuality, and the need for self-discipline and above all the power of love. "Publisher

Akosua and Osman is the story of two young adults navigating social, academic and family life in high school in Ghana. The story is told through Akosua in every other chapter and Osman through the alternating chapters. Akosua begins and ends the book, which is key because strong female voices are central to the stories of both Osman and Akosua. Osman is born into a poor Muslim family and later loses both of his parents. He is separated from his sister, who must move to the distant north with an uncle she has never met, while he is adopted by a female, middle-class retired school principal and stays in the city. Osman works as an apprentice mechanic until he can get into school. While in school he supplements his subpar education by studying outside of class and reading often. Akosua is born into a highly educated, middle class family and attends a prestigious boarding school for girls. She is mentored by a feminist teacher who nurtures her love of literary arts. Akosua and Osman’s lives intersect during a school field trip to Cape Coast Castle. In a slave dungeon, they meet one another in an intense, awkward moment. Years later their paths cross again when they are finalists in a national debate competition. The debate topic is “the problem of poverty in Ghana is insoluble.” Akosua argues for and Osman argues against.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fast read and full of interesting secondary characters like Akosua’s school mates, Osman’s work mates at the mechanic shop, and their parents. Their stories were realistic and portrayed one of the best things about Ghana- the secondary school system, which was promoted by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and prominent Pan-Africanist. Entrance to schools is based on merit and young people often travel to schools outside their region. They end up living with classmates from all over the country with a variety of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Some say this is one of the reasons ethnic groups in Ghana do not have fierce hatred toward one another and have maintained a healthy democracy. They see themselves as sisters and brothers who ate, bathed, played and studied together during those school years. We get to know the characters through their different class, religious and ethnic backgrounds. We watch them move in and out of different social circles- Osman visits a church for the first time, Akosua visits a friend in the hospital.

Another interesting feature of the story is how Akosua and Osman receive sex education. Teen readers should reflect on their own experiences receiving sex ed and think about the pros and cons of different approaches.

I loved the strong female characters and the focus on literary arts as an academic discipline for young Africans. I thought the ending was too abrupt and it felt out of place.  The Glossary and Map at the end of the book were very helpful. Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Anastasia Shown, MSW, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice

Published in Africa Access Review (June 21, 2017)

Copyright 2017 Africa Access

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