Published by Harper on February 3, 2015
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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The award-winning author of Voice of America paints a vivid, fully imagined portrait of an extraordinary African family and the house that holds them together
A powerful tale of family and community, This House Is Not for Sale brings to life an African neighborhood and one remarkable house, seen through the eyes of a young member of the household. The house lies in a town seemingly lost in time, full of colorful, larger-than-life characters; at the narrative’s heart are Grandpa, the family patriarch whose occasional cruelty is balanced by his willingness to open his doors to those in need, and the house itself, which becomes a character in its own right and takes on the scale of legend. From the decades-long rivalry between owners of two competing convenience stores to the man who convinces his neighbors to give up their earthly possessions to prepare for the end of the world, Osondu’s story captures a place beyond the reach of the outside world, full of superstitions and myths that sustain its people.
Osondu’s prose has the lightness and magic of fable, but his themes—poverty, disease, the arrival of civilization in an isolated community—are timeless and profound. At once full of joyful energy and quiet heartbreak, This House Is Not for Sale is an utterly original novel from a master storyteller.
This little novel (only 192 pages) reads like a connected set of vignettes, each chapter its own parable. At first I was swept away by the characters and Osondu’s lovely writing, but after a few chapters I started to feel disinterested. Worse, that feeling persisted through to the end of the novel.
All the elements that make me want to read more, that propel the novel forward in some way, seemed to be missing here. Or maybe not so much missing as scattered? Yes, this is a character-driven novel, but even those have something about them that keeps you turning the pages. Maybe it was a combination of things for me: I didn’t feel centered, the story didn’t feel cohesive, I struggled to read on. By the time I got to what would have been a “payoff” at the end, I had spent so long feeling apathetic I felt nothing at all.
This is exactly the kind of novel I go for, so I was disappointed that it didn’t work for me. Have any of you read this yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe it just hit me at the wrong time?