The Association of Foreign Spouses is Marilyn Heward Mills second novel after her debut Cloth Girl. I was very excited to read this novel, as it was after seeing this in the bookstore that led me to purchase Cloth Girl. Plus it is set in Ghana, at a turbulent point of its history, when coups formed part of everyday life. Great, I thought, a Ghananian version of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Family drama set against the backdrop of political uncertainty. And more importantly, a chance to find out more about a relatively recent history that a lot of Ghananians still find difficult to discuss openly. Happy days! However, this humble reviewer is sad to report that the Association of Foreign Spouses did not live up to expectation.
Eva is an English woman married to Alfred, a Ghananian architect. Having swapped the English countryside and the bright lights of London, she makes a home for herself and her three young children in Accra despite the inconveniences of the water and/or electricity being shut off on a regular basis and interfering in-laws popping in for extended stays, oh and the odd political coup. Her life is made easier by her three close friends, Margrit, Yelena and Dahlia who are also ‘foreign spouses’ trying to adapt to the tropical climate, the customs of their husbands’ people, and the demands of raising a family. Together, they form a close-knit bond and encourage each other through the ups and downs.
This is pretty sums up the novel, as the women’s relationships take precedence over the increasingly violent political situation, which seems to take a back-seat most of the time. I thought this was a shame, as Heward-Mills missed an opportunity to give more of an insight into Ghana, other than oppressive heat and poverty. I know the story was being told from the the point of view of ‘outsiders’ but surely they’d lived long enough in Ghana to see that there is more than what meets the eye. More could have been said about the hopes and dreams of a nation after independence and why perhaps these were not realised. In fairness, at times these were touched upon but annoyingly gave way to some domestic crisis in Alfred and Eva’s marriage, or someone else’s. At other times, the plot seemed quite disjointed, like it hadn’t been edited properly or the author was in a rush to finish and get it over with. I clearly remember coming to the end of one rather dramatic chapter, thinking that one of the major was missing presumed dead, only for him to turn up a few pages on without so much of a blink and a passing mention to all the drama that had passed previously. Weird.
I could go on, but there’s really no need. The Association of Foreign Spouses is an ok novel, it had good moments. But I think it could have been better written and could well have been the labour of love that Half of a Yellow Sun turned out to be, had the author carried out a bit more research and avoided going overboard with the ‘chick-lit’ and the constant whining about the oppressive heat and interfering in-laws.