Children of the Quicksands
The title of Efua Traore’s Children of the Quicksands sounds ominous. The word foreshadows harrowing events to come in this mythology-based adventure. The novel’s main character is Simi, a thirteen-year-old girl from the metropolitan city of Lagos, Nigeria. Her fractious parents are divorced. Dad has a new life with his girlfriend. Mom is busy building her career as a pharmacist. Simi’s friends are off to posh places for summer vacation but Mom sends Simi to her mother in the countryside. Simi has never heard of, let alone seen, this grandmother Mother calls “a heathen.” She lives in Ajao, a village in Western Nigeria without cell phone towers or electricity. As soon as Simi arrives, Grandmother tells Simi to call her iyanla, the Yoruba word for grandmother. Iyanla prefers Yoruba over English and is culture keeper of the old local ways. An herbalist and healer, Iyanla is highly respected in Ajao. As Simi also learns, Iyanla is a priestess to Oshun, goddess of rivers and protector of children.
The plot revolves around the disappearance of local children near a lake. Are these deaths accidental or as most locals believe, the work of an unhappy orisha. The very day Simi arrives in Ajao she is lured to the lake by a bird, sucked into red quicksand and finds herself in the underworld. She encounters some of the lost children before she is miraculously expelled from quicksand. Disoriented in time and space, Simi wonders, was this a dream or was I really there? Courageous and clever Simi unravels the mystery of the disappearance of the children. She is also the bridge that brings her mother and grandmother back together.
This is a wonderful middle-grade fantasy that explores bereavement, contested religious beliefs, and familial estrangement. The novel introduces Yoruba mythology wrapped in a positive view of village life. A cast of young and older characters round out the story adding color, zest and humor. Traore has created a valuable novel that addresses issues many adolescents face in contemporary times. Significant discussions can be generated from this book which apply not only to Nigeria.
Reviewed by Patricia Kuntz, Ph. D. and Brenda Randolph, M.A., M.L.S.
Published in Africa Access Review (January 24, 2023)
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