When Efe and Sam meet in 1990s London, Efe is burdened by the expectations of her parents, who sent her to London from Ghana in hopes of a better future, while Sam is consumed by his studies in pursuit of a career in law. They come and go from each other, in ebbs and flows, but the spark of friendship eventually blossoms into love, and love leads to marriage. In many ways, Sam and Efe’s love is a classic case of opposites attract; Sam is a planner, striving with a quiet confidence to achieve the stable, structured life he has envisioned. Efe, uprooted as a young girl, is more instinctive, more tentative, striving to find her place and path, but throwing herself passionately into something once she knows it’s for her. Yet they do fall into a deep and strong love until Efe becomes pregnant, which is when their differences are finally put to the test. Sam is so blinded by his vision of the life he wants that he can’t see the woman struggling in front of him.
Appiah’s characters are so well developed; from our main couple to their family and friends, in particular the vibrant and bustling community life in Ghana. In Sam and Efe she has breathed such life into two great, very different characters that we come to know, and empathise with, so deeply; each carrying forward their own troubles and traumas from childhood into adulthood.
Set between London and Ghana, Rootless by Krystle Zara Appiah is a compulsive and heart wrenching read, exploring themes of self-discovery, identity and belonging; of being true to ourselves or meeting the expectations of others, and the compromises we make in relationships that we can or can’t survive; of the struggles and sacrifices of motherhood; of what happens when someone is pushed down a path they haven’t chosen; of broken families, and the effect our learned experience of family can have on how we parent; and of how others, be it partners, family or cultural community, can seek to influence and decide our lives for us. There are a lot of darker topics and some triggering themes explored, but they only serve to support what is ultimately such a beautifully written deep dive into some of the most essential and deeply human struggles of what it is to love, to seek to be true to ourselves, and to be a parent, a mother in particular.
The novel is formatted in such a way as to create tension and momentum, opening with a pivotal moment before going back in time to explore how things came to this point. The chapters are titled in a countdown fashion – six months before, four months before etc. – leading us dynamically towards some climatic event; what that event will be remains a mystery until the very last moment, with so many potential outcomes based on how the story is unfolding. There is a simplicity and authenticity to the writing style that allows the passion, vulnerability, frustration and heartache of its characters to emanate from the pages, coupled with a plot pace that keeps us gripped and invested until the end.
I absolutely loved this book. This is a story, filled with vibrant characters, that will capture and squeeze your heart at every page, and a stunning debut no less.
Rootless will be published by HarperCollins UK on March 16th 2023.
Krystle Zara Appiah is a British-Ghanaian writer, editor, and screenwriter, born and raised in London. She has a degree in literature and creative writing from the University of Kent. She was one of forty writers selected for the London Library’s Emerging Writers Programme. Rootless is her debut novel.