The Door of No Return uses beautifully modulated verse to communicate the humanity of the Ashanti people and the horrors of the African slave trade.
The Door of No Return by Kwami Alexander. Little, Brown, 2022, 398 pages
Reading level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-15
The Life Before
Kofi Offin is not a champion wrestler like his brother Kwasi, but he can swim like a fish. As grandson of the village storyteller and son of its head gold digger, he holds some status in his Ashanti village. His cousin Kofi thinks nothing of that—only a week older, but bigger and stronger, he’s the bane of younger Kofi’s life. Otherwise things are pretty good, especially now that the boys are old enough to take special notice of the girls, and one particular girl, the beautiful Ama, is taking special notice of him. School is a pain, especially after the teacher, Mr. Goodluck Kwaku Phillip, returned from missionary school insisting that all the boys in the village should learn the King’s English and how to read it. Kofi could do without knowledge of the King’s English; the one thing he would like to know is why his parents and all the elders insist he stay away from the River Offin after dark.
The Life After
A cloud steals into his life after an accidental homicide committed by Kwasi. Both brothers are caught up in a vengeance plot that sets Kofi’s feet on a path to the coast, to a fortress on the beach and a stockade guarded by the “wonderfuls” who will herd him and other prisoners onto a wooden ship bound for a destination unknown.
This “was a hard story to write,” admits the author, and going into the second half it’s a hard story to read. “They [the whites] do not respect/ our traditions/ our heroic past/ the power of women/ the wisdom of elders/ and spiders/ the joy of peace.” If African youngsters of this time knew nothing of Western culture but what they saw in the slave trade, this is how they would think. This treatment of a sad chapter in history is more nuanced than some, accurately depicting the Africans who captured and sold their own people in return for favors and gold. Kofi himself has some knowledge of Western culture, even some appreciation for Shakespeare, but Western cruelty crushes the good for him. The verse narration captures both light moments and heavy ones with understated pathos. A tough read, but worthwhile.
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Worldview/moral value: 4
Artistic/literary value: 5
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Also at Redeemed Reader:
Reviews: Other verse novels by Kwame Alexander: The Crossover (starred review), Rebound, Swing and Solo, Becoming Muhammed Ali.
Reflection: ‘A Story, A Story’: Thinking through African Mythology.
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