197. Growing Yams in London by Sophia Acheampong

The proportion of Ghanaian writers, both at home and in the diaspora, are incomparable to countries like Nigeria, whose authors have become household names, names we throw about in every literary discussion, names like Achebe, Soyinka, Okri, Chimamanda, Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta and others. If there are few Ghanaians involved in the art of weaving words into novels, there are fewer - in fact, they could be counted on the fingers of one hand - whose writings are directed towards the youth or who dabble in the type of books commonly referred to as Young Adults. And I can count only one name: Nana Brew-Hammond whose Powder Necklace was reviewed here. Today, another check-box has been ticked and a new name added.

Sophia Acheampong's Growing Yams in London (Piccadilly Press, 2006; 220) is a Young Adult fiction about first and second generation Ghanaians in England working tirelessly to find a compromise between between the culture of their homeland and that of their adoptive country. The émigré parents having been born in their native countries have been instilled with a set of cultural systems that define what is right and what is wrong, the borders of conversation between children and adults, and the codes of conduct (or rules of behaviour). Pitched against the parents are the children who face different, and usually diametrically opposite, set of codes of conducts in a very liberal society that, comparatively, usually grants them more freedom. 

But the immigrants story - first generation, second generation, or even third generation - has been written from several perspectives: their inability to or difficulty to adapt or fit in (language, desires, likes, dislikes), the name-calling and taunts (here one can mention the race issue), the finding of what and where home is after one has live almost her entire life in a country different from her parents'. So what makes Sophia's story different from the others? What makes it worth the read? In Growing Yams in London (the title itself is attraction enough), the characters are not necessarily working to fit-in, they've already fitted in; they are not facing that dilemma of settling on where home is, they know and understand their dual status; and they are not being haunted by race, names or fighting or indulging in drugs. The children in this novel are your normal English children and faces the same or similar problems as all English children. To Makeeda and her friends, getting a boyfriend is the major challenge. And this is where the challenge is also for Makeeda's first generation emigres whose idea of boyfriend is different from their hers. To them it is and should be a no-go area but the latest crop of communication technology and gadgets means that new techniques of supervision is required and, if possible, a relenting of rules and redefining parenting.

But ... there is an issue of roots. However, Makeeda's plight is different; whereas her  parents won't impose this on her, she finds it within herself to learn more about herself. Hence, when a history assignment required them to write about a history person that inspires them she set out to use it to learn more about her roots. 

This story is funny, light and relatable and the issues raised are accurately youngish, the things an early teen girl in this era of technological age will worry about - jealous friends, boyfriends (or love), fashion, impressions, hurts, and fear of being referred to as a nerd - with the usual and adequate dose of trysts. All the elements of a good story were perfectly balanced in this story. Sophia rendered the story in a perfect language suitable for that age group she was working with. The dialogue is believable and the reader finds not the author in the read; all the reader finds are people living their lives off the pages of the story as he turns over the pages.

Sophia has a niche and she will do well to capitalise on this. This book is recommended. 
About the author: Sophia Acheampong is a British-born Ghanaian. She lives and works in North London and studied at Brunel University. Like Makeeda, she too is still learning about her culture.

When asked in an interview about the use of technology in her work Sophia says "When I was a teenager mobile phones and email were in their early stages. Everyone used landlines to communicate, wrote letters to friends abroad, and had a stack of phone cards for calling friends from a phone box. Now technology punctuates our existence, especially that of teenagers. I felt compelled to incorporate text messages and IM in Growing Yams in London as it was an essential part of Makeeda’s teenage experience." (Source)


  1. Your first paragraph made me so proud of my country Nigeria. Our writers, most of them veteran, are incredibly outstanding.
    I will add this to my to read list.

    Mary Okeke reviews

    1. That's irrefutable. And it has nothing to do with the population. It's because Nigerians write. All that is required is a people who write. We have lost ours.

  2. The book's title sure got my attention.

    It is possible that our Ghanaian writers have a different marketing strategy that keeps us from noticing them. This is one reason why I am thankful for your blog. You shed light on works that I would not easily come across.

    1. But at least we will get to know them if they write that much. Or?

  3. You have a point there about Nigerian writers. A great review, I should add. Hope you are doing great!


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