Book Review / Ade by Rebecca Walker

 

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Escape is the ultimate fantasy. Most of us never realize it. For a privileged few, escape can be a luxury, usually defined in relative terms. Even if we can afford to get away from it all, reality, be it cultural or financial, has a way of dragging us back to the grind. This sad truth drives Rebecca Walker’s wise novel, Adé.

The novel’s narrator, Farida, recalls a travel journey with her college friend, Miriam. The trip becomes a cultural and personal reconciliation for Farida, whose identity is in flux. The deeper Farida gets into Africa – first Cairo, then the Sinai, then sub-Saharan Africa – the more comfortable she starts to feel. On a small island off the Kenyan coast, Farida meets a fisherman named Adé. He’s polite, attractive, and feels like destiny. And so, Farida decides to stay put.

Adé and Farida fall happily in love. When they plan to marry, difficulties arise. Adé’s traditions don’t jibe with the political reality of contemporary Kenya. Farida’s family is thousands of miles and cultural light years away.

Walker’s novel is spare and luminous. It’s a laconic condensation of modern day academe – issues of post-colonial theory, Orientalism, and critical race theory are all present and accounted for. But Adé is light and airy where academic theory would drag. (It’s no accident the novel begins with its characters at Yale.) Reading it is a vicarious disappearing. Adé tumbles from the familiar – a crisp New England fall day – into the exotic – the mangrove swamps around a remote fishing island – effortlessly. The story’s landmarks are cultural – the food, shelter, and conversations people around the world enjoy. It offers the hope that we can, should we choose, shed our cultural identities. If only it could be so easy.

Adé is Rebecca Walker’s first novel. She is best known for her memoirs Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love.

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