Even When Your Voice Shakes
There’s the gift of writing and then there’s the gift of storytelling. One is lucky to possess either of them but the person who possesses both is blessed. Ruby Yayra Goka is one of the blessed ones. Her ability to take up relevant tropes in society and present them through the life of a 16 year old against the backdrop of two diametrically opposite spaces, is one for the books.
Even When Your Voice Shakes is a deeply moving and heartbreaking story of Naa Amerley Amartefio, a 16 year old girl from a small beach village at Teshie in Accra Ghana. At 16, she bears the responsibilities of a parent, fending for her three younger sisters in the absence of her father and depressed mother. At the brink of squalour, she agrees to take a househelp job with a supposed distant relative in a plush part of town in hopes of earning money for her sisters’ education and to train toward her dream to become a fashion designer. Unfortunately, this decision changes the course of her life forever.
The protagonist is mature, brutally honest, and does not shy away from making her dreams and desires known. At 16, she knows not to pine or beg or cry over a man–she would rather spend time taking care of those who matter, her family. The sisters, although living in poverty, find pockets of joy in various things including literature, animal care and fashion.
What Even When Your Voice Shakes does well is depict sweet relationships among sisters, friends and lovers. Also, Goka does an excellent job covering hard hitting thematic issues that plague society. The novel serves as a mirror, exposing misogynist stereotypes surrounding rape in the community. First, it shows how society uses victim-blaming as a weapon not only to shield sexual perpetrators but also to serve as a morality check for girls. Secondly, it exposes power structures that permit the affluent to pay their way out the consequences of their unconscionable actions. It questions why others determine when and how to regard human life as valuable. The language is a breeze which allows the plot to unravel at a tasteful pace. The dialogue and descriptions of the social relations in Teshie and the more affluent Leggon provide a wealth of material for in-depth spatial analysis of the two communities. Goka pens some of the best writing I have read from a Ghanaian author in a while.
Yet I have qualms about the how the story ends. Everything that follows the climax seems rushed. This is a book that addresses a topic which continues to plague communities globally. As such, it needed more pages to flesh out the events that followed the abuse and how justice was served. I believe that Yayra’s intention was to censor some details to protect young readers and also to prevent readers who have suffered such abuse from reliving their trauma. However, the plot begs for details which the denouement fails to provide resulting in an ending that comes off as abrupt. In the end readers do not get a sense of Naa‘s voice shaking in the midst of her circumstances, particularly as the revelation of the perpetrator does not come as a shock to other characters.
Additionally, the story ends with a total change in career paths which I didn’t particularly appreciate. At the risk of giving too much content away, I would say that one does not have to necessarily change career paths in order to advocate for justice for others. Justice can be provided in many forms and in various capacities. I would have loved to have seen Amerley maintain her original career path whilst being actively involved in activism in one way or the other.
All in all, it is a good read and a pleasant introduction to Yayra Goka for those who may not know her or her writing style. I rate this 4 stars and would highly recommend it.
Elizabeth Abena Osei, MA
University of Ghana
Published in Africa Access Review (May 6, 2022)
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