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‘In Every Mirror She’s Black’ is Lola Akinmade Akerstrom’s debut novel and follows the lives of three black women, who for various reasons find themselves living in Sweden. Each chapter cycles through their individual points of view. I had both its digital and audiobook editions.
Kemi is a marketing executive who desires change in her life. She is offered a new job in Sweden with plenty of incentives and so relocates there from the USA. Yet will her life experience be different there?
Brittany-Rae was a model in her 20s, though now in her late 30s is working as a flight attendant. As she interacts with the super-rich she envies their privilege. She then has the opportunity to enter that world through her relationship with a wealthy Swedish man. It seems to be the answer to her dreams but at what price?
Somalian refugee Muna has been granted asylum in Sweden following a treacherous journey during which members of her family died. She is struggling to adjust. Will she ever feel that she belongs?
Businessman Jonny Von Lundin features in each of these women’s lives. He hires Kemi for his Stockholm based Marketing company to bring more diversity and inclusion to its campaigns; he courts Brittany-Rae, and Muna is initially housed in a hostel funded by Jonny and later works as a cleaner at Von Lundin Marketing.
So each of these three women are in search of a new start and find themselves in Stockholm, a city that prides itself on its egalitarianism and openness. However, they find instead silent racism, fetishisation and tokenism – and another society that seeks to put them in a box.
While there is the link of Jonny and his company the author keeps her three protagonists apart except for brief interactions. She writes that this was “my goal of presenting each of them as individuals and not the bearers of a nonexistent homogenous Black culture.”
The novel includes a conversation with the author about the novel and a reading group guide. I do feel that this is a novel likely to appeal to book groups given its accessibility and the scope for discussion.
With respect to the audiobook, Sara Powell and Rosemarie Akwafo were both excellent readers, bringing the characters of the novel vividly to life. This was my first audiobook experience of both actors, though I was aware of Sara Powell’s television work. Her voice is very rich and mature. While this was Rosemarie Akwafo’s first audiobook project, I was impressed by the beauty and clarity of her voice. I felt that both did well with the accents required by the narrative.
I was pleased that the audiobook edition included the author’s note and the important message about the availability of support groups.
Overall, I felt that ‘In Every Mirror She’s Black’ was a fantastic debut. It held my attention throughout and was well written and thought-provoking.
There was a lot in this book about the difficulties of living in Sweden from 3 different black and female perspectives but it was very repetitive. There was a huge amount about 2 of those women's dependence on men, for their own feelings of self worth. There was also a lot about their strong sexual feelings, again, repetitive. I found the 2, more successful, women (Kemi and Brittany-Rae) irritating - and while I found Muna, the refugee, more sympathetic I still felt exasperated when she kept thinking about how she should be patient and wait for information in her relationships with fellow sisters and then promptly pushed her nose into their private business. The Swedish element, the neurotic and probably autistic rich boy and his uptight family, the kindly woman looking after the helpless Muna and the business associates in Kemi's Swedish workplace all seemed like cardboard characters to me. (slightly Shades of Grey about Brittany and her rich boyfriend too). My negative feelings about this book may have been strengthened by the fact that I'm really not very interested in business dealings and competitiveness in offices. I was more interested in the prejudice shown against the black women but annoyed by the repetition. On the other hand, I couldn't help sympathizing with Kemi's dress problem while at the same time getting bored with endless descriptions of clothing and lip gloss colours. I guess this book would be fine for some people but not for me.
Definitely didn't expect that ending at all. This book is about three black women in Sweden. One is a Somalian refugee seeking asylum, one is African - American with Jamaican roots, and the last is a naturalised Nigerian-American that moved to Sweden to work in this very successful marketing company.
It touched on isolation (especially amongst refugees), loneliness, sexism, fetishism, love, infatuation, racism, ... This book is very layered and I'm still reeling.
It also touched on loss, grief, ... The ending really shookkk me.
People tend to think of Scandinavia as a perfect place. Though fiction, this book portrays the reality of living in Sweden as someone who doesn't fit the very specific mould extrenely well. I really appreciated the cultural insights that carried the story so well, often more than some of the strange twists and turns of events. The book may focus on black women, yet I felt it spoke more about seeing everyone as individuals, not as a stereotype of who they seem to be.
This book was packed full of action from beginning to end. I only wish the ending had been more conclusive, that is of course if there isn't going to be another book in the series. I would have liked to know what happened to main characters after their lives took a turn.
I couldn't put this book down. Lola clearly understands the complexities of being a black woman. I enjoyed the fact that she spoke out for the immigrants without a happy ending. Those who make it are far and few between, but we celebrate them to encourage others. I highly recommend this book.
Lola articulates the law of cause and effect so strongly, showing how karmic ties bind us and we can be caught in a vicious circle giving us the need to carry out our human revolution. I am glad that Kemi's character does that at the end therefore breaking the vicious cycle.