I’m reaching out to share news of the growing momentum behind breakout female literary voice Ayesha Harruna Attah’s new novel THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA (Trade Paperback Original; On-Sale: February 5th, 2019). Centered around the lives of two women during the scramble for Africa in pre-colonial Ghana, “Attah uses these protagonists to challenge prevailing ideas of religion, slavery, and gender roles in Africa at the time. Her view of domestic slavery and especially its consequences for women is one that has rarely been told.” [Library Journal]. Attah wrote this book because she is the descendant of a woman who was called ‘the slave’. She ended up in the Salaga slave market of northern Ghana and not much else is known about where she came from. This book is to allow her to speak through Ayesha of the family she lost, of the routes she was forced on, of the man she would marry; of the time when probably unknown to her, the country was just on the throes of being colonized. A lot has been written on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but less so on slavery within the continent of Africa, which has often been described as benign. This book is also an attempt to deconstruct ‘benign’ slavery, which to Ayesha was an oxymoron, and to piece together life on the continent before colonization. Attah did extensive background research for this novel, particularly relating to West African slavery’s connection to the emergence of slavery in the U.S. and is primed to discuss facts and themes relating to the transatlantic slave trade from before the point of transport from West Africa, her grandmother/family backstory and more. Attah will take part in a national tour, beginning with a launch event at THE AFRICA CENTER on 2/5 in conversation with Africa Center CEO, Uzodinma Iweala, Author of the acclaimed Beasts of No Nation & Speak No Evil. A poignant essay by Attah, tied to themes in the book, ran The New York Times recently. It touches on dreams, what it means to migrate and what is filtered from the past through to the present. Attah has always been drawn to the idea that a cuisine has the power to preserve a people’s identity and mirror the cultural, religious, and socio-economic tides of history. Just checking in to see if you have any plans for this one? Thanks for your time.
- Seattle, WA
- 2/20 – Seattle Public Library
“The strength of Attah’s novel is in these two fully realized women, who must navigate their own ever changing circumstances against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile political landscape, in which feuding royals are competing for power among themselves but also with the Germans and the British…On the whole it is a rich and nuanced portrayal… Attah is adept at leading readers across the varied terrain of 19th-century Ghana and handles heavy subjects with aplomb.
Two memorable women anchor this pleasingly complicated take on slavery, power, and freedom.”
“A 2016 Miles Morland Foundation Scholar whose Harmattan Rain was short-listed for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Attah here focuses on two women in precolonial Ghana who might be seen as enemies but together become stronger in their discovery of the other…Attah uses the essence of Ghana– its distinctive landscape and the particularities of its people– to demonstrate what this changing time must have felt like. It was, indeed, the end of a civilization…Analogous to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-winning Nervous Conditions…”
“Attah’s independent, female protagonists will engage readers in this heart-wrenching look at a system that devalued women’s potential, from the most highly regarded all the way down to the slaves. Aminah and Wurch defy odds because of their strength and intelligence, and readers won’t be able to help but wonder what they may have accomplished had they been untethered from society’s shackles . . . Attah’s striking imagery illustrates her love of the country and its people, but she also doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the slave trade . . . The dichotomy of The Hundred Wells of Salaga makes for an alluring story. It is at once horrific and resplendent. . .
This is a novel with the power to open eyes and hearts while filling minds with plenty of food for thought.”
More About THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA
Already drawing comparisons to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Toni Morrison’s Sula, and Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women, it’s a novel of great empathy and talent. In this exciting moment in publishing that’s ushering in a wave of voices who are sculpting characters, crafting narratives, and highlighting perspectives born from circumstances too rarely presented to a western readership, THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA spins unforgettable tale of two women steeped in an historical epoch unknown to many.
Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century. Set in pre-colonial Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. It offers a view of internal slavery in Africa and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people.
THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA deepens and expands upon a vibrant terrain of storytellers like NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, who seamlessly map the personal onto the political, and with great authority and literary skill, chronicle the lives of those straddling the fate of countries and colliding personal histories. The talented Loveis Wise, donned only the second African American female artist to design the cover of The New Yorker, oversaw the design for our beautiful original trade paperback edition.
More Praise for THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA
“A skillful portrayal of life in pre-colonial Ghana emphasises distinctions of religion, language and status…it complicates the idea of what “African history” is…Attah emphasises often overlooked distinctions of religion, language and status. Nor are the entwined fortunes of Aminah and Wurche presented in simple terms: the power that Wurche has over Aminah as her mistress muddies any sense of shared solidarity they might feel in a deeply patriarchal society. Attah skilfully portrays this volatile, doomed civilisation and has a careful eye for domestic and historical detail. The era is an interesting choice for a novel…
it is heartening to see a broader set of themes and periods tackled by this new generation of African writers.”
“An instant modern classic. Gave me the same feeling as when I finished reading Things Fall Apart; like something deep within me had shifted, and would never be the same again.”
—JJ Bola, author of No Place To Call Home
“The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a dazzling tale woven around two equally dazzling and spunky young women. Aminah and Wurche’s spirits triumph over even “domestic slavery”. … interesting youthful female characters do not fall from just anywhere, they are the embodiment of the essence of womanhood … this beautiful novel affirms the wholesomeness, however compromised, of the girls’ environment in their formative years. We welcome Ayesha’s The Hundred Wells of Salaga with ululation.”
—Ama Ata Aidoo, author of Our Sister Killjoy
“With this necessary examination of West African slavery as it was experienced in West Africa, Ayesha Harruna Attah presents not only a fresh perspective on the transatlantic human trade, but a nuanced exploration of the human heart. A mess of moral contradictions and inconvenient passions are par for the course in The Hundred Wells of Salaga, driving each character to unexpected detours and the story itself past predictable morals. There are no easy resolutions or neatly tied bows–only arrows amidst an arsenal of guns and ambitions urgently seeking their targets. With The Hundred Wells of Salaga,
Attah asserts the need to keep pressing toward freedom whatever the constraint or twist, until, or else, we die.”
—Nana Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace
“Ayesha’s prose is festive, reminiscent of the drumbeats of old, yet with a modern rhythm and pace at its core. Her sentences are firm, muscular, vibrant and well-structured, creating an imagery that stays with you long after you have finished reading the novel. Her ability to depict joyful scenes alongside heart-breaking ones is what makes the novel thrive and gives it its exceptional realism. Ayesha’s depiction of the lives of the characters and the description of the novel’s setting and atmosphere is so incisive the reader could almost hear the sounds of the horses and the market, smell the sweat and blood of the slave girl, and even feel as if he or she is walking the streets of Old Salaga. The novel is a rich tapestry of humanity in all its ugliest and glorious forms. This is feminist writing at its best, a homage to Queen Amina and Yaa Asantewaa, women whose gallantry defied the status females were relegated to in mid to late 19th century West Africa.”
—Mohammed Naseehu Ali, author of The Prophet of Zongo Street
“Ayesha Harruna Attah’s novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is an enchanting narrative that keeps the reader spellbound from beginning to end. Attah’s words are cowrie shells, each one in place in soulful sentences bursting with profound meaning. The characters are exquisite and infused with uncommon dignity; these are not just unthinking stick figures, but real, breathing, thinking people drawn from the tapestry of Africa’s rich history. Love oozes out of the pores of this gorgeous book. In its humanity, in the longing and hurts of its beautiful characters, the reader comes face to face with the beauty of our shared humanity as brave women walk tall, roaming the land.. You can feel the earth throb under your eyes’ feet. And Attah does it in gorgeous prose-poetry. This is a really good book.”
—Ikhide R. Ikheloa, cultural critic
“In The Hundred Wells of Salaga, Attah expertly juggles the grand, brutal scope of Ghana’s history with the mysteries of her family’s past. The result is a novel that’s as sweeping as it is intimate–a wholly immersive story that explores loss and dignity with wit, wisdom, and astounding compassion.”
—Grant Ginder, author of The People We Hate at the Wedding
“most anticipated novels of 2018”
—African Book Addict
More about Ayesha Harruna Attah
Born to two Ghanaian journalists, Ayesha grew up in Accra and was educated Columbia University and NYU. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Asymptote Magazine, and the Caine Prize Writers’ 2010 Anthology. Her debut novel, Harmattan Rain, (Per Ankh Publishers) was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2010. Her second novel, Saturday’s Shadows, was published in English (World Editions) and Dutch (De Geus) in 2015. Ayesha was awarded the 2016 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship for non-fiction and she currently lives in Senegal. Ayesha will also be featured in the forthcoming anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.
THE HUNDRED WELLS OF SALAGA: A NOVEL
By Ayesha Harruna Attah
Other Press Trade Paperback Original • ISBN: 978-159051-995-0
On-Sale Date: February 5th, 2019 • Price: $16.99