The Association of Foreign Spouses
Marriage to a handsome Ghanaian architect has brought Eva far from the quiet English countryside. He had made it sound heavenly: an easy, warm life, jovial people, exotic food, vibrant colours, a fascinating culture. The reality is quite different. The heat and humidity saps her energy; the general hardship drains her of vitality; the foreign culture still bewilders her. But Eva has her friends Dahlia, Yelena and Margrit all of them strangers in a foreign land, who through the years have relied on each other to fill the gaps left by distant relatives.
A sudden coup unnerves everyone, but for Dahlia things become more dangerous still. And as Eva's relationship with Alfred also unravels, the Association of Foreign Spouses discover that there are dark sides to their lives and that they must scheme and deceive to protect themselves and their families.
Set in Ghana in the turbulent eighties, The Association of Foreign Spouses is a story of love and friendship, betrayal and forgiveness. It is the story of a group of women who live in a land that at times defeats them, among people who often disappoint and baffle them. Through their trials and hardships, the women support each other, unified by their foreignness, their distance from home and the choices they have made, as ultimately they are wooed by this strange place that they come to call home.
Association of Foreign Spouses: inspiration
I usually start a story with a question. With Cloth Girl, I wondered what life would be like as the second wife to a much older man. That story is loosely based on the lives of my grandparents. My grandfather was already married when he married my grandmother and she was much younger than he was. The more I thought about those circumstances, the more curious I became about the wider relationships; the families of both wives, their children...
I started my second novel, The Association of Foreign Spouses, with another question. I grew up in Accra, Ghana, surrounded by foreign women, like my own mother, who had married Ghanaian men, moved to Ghana and then stayed there raising their half-Ghanaian children. Life was not easy for these women. Most of them had difficult marriages, mainly because of the immense cultural differences, and circumstances were exacerbated further by the hardship of life in a country that during my childhood often suffered political upheaval. There were endless shortages; of petrol, water, electricity I remember a long stretch when there was no flour and so bread became a luxury. I wanted to know why some or most of these women didn't leave it all behind. What made them stay when, I imagined at least, that they could have gone home to easier lives in Europe. I grew up around women who after twenty or thirty years in Ghana still talked of 'home', some cool, clean organised country, with almost reverential longing. Ghana in the '70s and '80s was certainly one of the hardest places in Africa to live.
Yet, even after a marriage had broken down, most of the women didn't leave with their children; they stayed in Ghana, and I wanted to know why. Why put up with the what seemed like interminable hardship? Answering this question, using fictional characters, lead to The Association of Foreign Spouses.
Although I did use some of the particularly traumatic events that I personally experienced as a child, the rest is made up. Once my characters come to life, they tell their own story and I would have found it hindrance to talk to the real foreign spouses. I prefer to make up the emotional stories, the difficulties, the solutions. Most of my research is done observing people, listening to the way they speak about completely unrelated subjects to those I am writing about. Everyone has a story to tell, and if you listen they will tell it to you. I do return to Ghana often, though. I find being there in the heat, with the dust, the flies, the mosquitoes, smelling fried plantain, eating Ghanaian food, is the inspiration that I need.
The challenge comes when I sit at my desk in London and try recreate a sense of the place. I am most delighted when a reader tells me that they could feel the heat, smell the food!