Rebecca Walker
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Buy *Ade* by Rebecca Walkeronline

Rebecca Walker
Little A/New Harvest
128 pages
October 2013
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Rebecca Walker's first novel, Ade, is a slender work. But in this petite volume, Walker has created an authentic, new coming-of-age voice: a college-age, biracial, part-Jewish woman navigating her first travels outside the U.S. And, her first intense love.

The narrator we come to know as Farida discovers both acceptance and invisibility while traveling with a school friend in Africa. Her decidedly less exotic friend, Miriam, doesn't have quite the same reaction to their first stop in Cairo.

After a lifetime of being the only copper-colored girl with brown eyes the shape of almonds, I was now one in a great mass of long lost reflections of myself. The language was different but the skin, the way we looked moving through the colors and contours of the world, was the same.
The young narrator recognizes that although she has had a sophisticated upbringing, complete with bicoastal homes, urban settings and divorced parents, she is clearly naïve—naive about travel, naive about safety, naive about love, naive about tribalism, naive about war, naive about sickness.
For the first few weeks of travel, it was as if I had been asleep for a thousand years. I had been all over America, but hadn't yet seen the bridges of Prague, the arches at Auschwitz, the ports of Gorée. I hadn't walked the streets of Paris at night, or wandered the enormous Buddhas at Angkor...All of these places live in me now, many years later, but then, before I met Adé, when I was still a child,...And then it was as if I had been dying of emptiness, so readily did the world bleed into me.
Her mother, a writer originally from the Deep South who fondly remembers her own travels to Africa, sets the stage for what is to follow. African art and political mementos are integral parts of Farida's childhood, and her mother seems to be revealing a probable future by her enthusiasm for her daughter’s trip.
Africa was a rich and looming place and my mother made me feel, through her words and actions, that it belonged to me. It held secrets, she said to me in her own, quiet way. Things I would never hear if I did not go myself.
After telling her mother about the blossoming love and hearing the happy acceptance, she realized: "I was meant to replicate her experience, but at the same time remake it to fit my own life. I was still constructing our mother-daughter house, but Adé and his island were pillars supporting the whole."

Narrative time moves quickly in this brief work, even when the travelers settle in for a month at a desert tea shop. Walker has received criticism for this lack of lingering, but I viewed it as sharp focus on what is the most important part of the story to our narrator. And, thus this book of fiction reads true to the voice of a young woman in today's world—brief summations from a generation used to describing their lives in compact emails, succinct texts and brief calls.

Farida and Miriam have differing views about the small village on an island off Kenya’s coast almost immediately. While Miriam experiences numerous relationships, it is here Farida becomes convinced that she has found a young man worth more than future travel, her friendship with Miriam, and even modern conveniences. Miriam and her reservations about Farida's plan of joining a Muslim Swahili family on the island are summarily dismissed. Walker explains Farida’s position quite eloquently: "The blend of anonymity and acknowledgment was exquisite. I was free, but protected."

Idyllic life on the island starts to tarnish with a trip to Nairobi for Adé’s passport. The simple life collides with the threatening behavior of President Moi's forces and the laws of nature in that part of the world. Our girl begins to see that even her American background might not protect her. "Dictatorship and secreted civil wars created a terrible isolation for the people who lived within their unfolding... Adé would not mistreat me, but I had not considered the state."

Walker is an accomplished writer of nonfiction, as evidenced by such talented phrasing:

And then the cavernous limestone gymnasium at the edge of campus was upon us, and we skimmed the wide, shallow steps until we were inside, enveloped by the gothic dark.
Together we limned the depths of normalcy, pushing the sharp edge of the envelope with our tongues.
Not surprisingly, Walker has written several memoirs. Ade reads much like pure remembrance.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Leslie Nichols Raith, 2014

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