Book Review: Long Train to the Redeeming Sin: Stories about African Women
by Kola Boof
Book Reviewed by Jacqueline Jones LaMon
One of the magical qualities of reading is that we are transported from who we
are and all that we know to be true into other realms. We are introduced to
other patterns of thought and reality. What we take for granted in our everyday
existence may no longer be the standard in the world created by an author. We
often acknowledge this shift in perspective in the genres of Fantasy and Science
Fiction, but it takes place all good writing. This shift in perspective is
particularly apparent in the stories included in Kola Boof’s Long Train to the
Redeeming Sin, a compilation of short stories and poems that is a treasured
Kola Boof is a Sudanese-American woman, an African woman writer, who writes boldly about the oppressions faced by the women of Africa. Her writing style is reminiscent of ancient allegories and folk tales, and provides a beautiful veil for the hideous description of abuse and demoralization enacted against the women in her stories. Boof writes with the hissing anger of a coiled snake, poised to strike at each turn of the page.
This is dangerous writing, in its rawest form.
I felt myself being seduced by the beauty of the language. Never before had I read so many positively luscious descriptions of African skin and African hair and African features. The standard and attitude is pervasive throughout all of Long Train to the Redeeming Sin: of course we are beautiful; of course this is good…this is how our parents were…this is how our children are. But this self love and acceptance is not the main point Boof is trying to make here. The beauty and wonder of the African image is the accepted given. And what an enriching lesson these images are for us and for our children. What beautiful affirmations of what we should already know and accept as truth.
As I read through the stories and occasional poems, I was able to sit back and relax knowing that I was not the target of her anger and frustration. It appeared that she was making a statement concerning the role of the African man and the part that Islamic traditions played in the oppression of women in this culture. Now I better understand why her previous works provoked an international outpouring of anger and controversy.
Not being from the culture depicted in Boof’s stories, I empathized, but still felt somewhat distanced from the world of which she spoke. Until I read "Black America Diva Girl." As an African American woman, I have never understood how the choices or decisions I made in my life had a direct impact on my African sisters. In this story, Boof shows us how African American women’s’ tendencies to embrace European standards of beauty have permeated African cultures, diluting what we have always looked to as our foundation of pride. Know for a fact that there are no barriers between "us" and "them". When any woman suffers all of us will suffer in reflexive response. If our African brothers no longer consider African women to be beautiful without embracing European enhancements, as Boof implies, then where can we ever go to know that we are home?
Long Train to the Redeeming Sin is not an easy read. This book will make you think and reevaluate all that you consider to be truth, all that you consider to be standard in your life. Almost every page contains a paradigm shift from what we have been taught and accept to be real. If you are looking for a dose of light fiction that affirms the status quo, this is not the choice. But if you are seeking a new window into yourself and the world around you, this small volume of short stories can be as illuminating as any self-help book on the market. Just be prepared to do the work. Because ready or not, here comes Kola Boof.
review reffers to an earlier edition of Long Train