Title: The Association of Foreign Spouses
Author: Marilyn Heward Mills
After having recently read Ghana Must Go, The Association of Foreign Spouses, a book based in Ghana, transported me right back to this country which holds a special place in my heart. Reading it was like reliving my years there, without the themes of domestic abuse and isolation, but with memories about the awkwardness of being a foreigner.
Marilyn Mills has crafted a story about the lives of four friends: all foreign, all brought to Ghana by following the men in their lives, and all carving out their lives as friends and sisters-in-arms in a country that reminds them everyday of their foreignness.
The characters in the book could have been any of the women I met during my time in Ghana – from varying walks of life, with varying nationalities, and of different socio-economic backgrounds.
There is Eve, an English woman married to Alfred and raising her three children, whilst managing a comfortable, if not close, relationship with her mother-in-law. Dahlia, a Jamaican-born English, who quit her law studies, married for love and moved to Ghana, only to spent most her married life as a battered woman. Yelena, who is Russian, is a single mother of twin boys, running a hair salon in Ghana, and determined to have her boys acknowledged by their father and his family – despite him already being married to someone else. Margrit, German, is the only one of the four who has a more stable marriage, but who like the other three wears her foreignness like armour.
I enjoyed Mills’s book – her descriptions of Ghana and it’s oppressive heat; its dry harmattan season; its tropical rains; the smells; cacophony of sounds; the friendly people and their idiosyncrasies. However I felt that all four of her characters deliberately isolated themselves in their foreignness. Despite the years all of them had spent in Ghana, they all appear to present themselves as foreign in a foreign country, and not as women married to Ghanaians, raising Ghanaian children and immersed in the culture. There is a sense of them whingeing about how things don’t work in Ghana, or the ineptness, or indifference of Ghanaians to effect change in their country.
This was probably what made the book real for me, for I have encountered the same type of people – the disillusioned expats – quick to point out how well things work in their country of origin, expecting the country to change around them, and them not change in order to acclimatise.
Mills balances the historical drama of Ghana in the 1980s; the political instability; the disappointment of the older generation in post-colonial Ghana – expressed through Eve’s mother-in-law who had lived lived through British rule, and a despondency in the post-independence generation to the continually changing regimes. It gives some insight into what Ghana must have been like in those early years of its independence.
I am curious about Mills’s first book, Cloth Girl, which garnered better reviews.