Belinda’s Book Nook Review: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Hello everyone! My first book review of 2018 is also for the Literary Voyage Around the World Reading challenge.  I am trying a different format. Let me know if you like it.

“The wall is the thing which separates them, but it is also their means of communications.” – Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Title: The Woman Next Door
Author: Yewande Omotoso
Copyright: February 7, 2017
Genre: fiction
Format: book
Pages: 278

This quote above is at the very beginning of the book and it really captures the essence of the main characters Hortensia and Marion’s relationship. So I found it fitting to include in this review.

I first heard about this book on a Podcast and thought it would be a wonderful book to read and include in my reading challenge selections. This is a newly published book but lucky for me, my library had a copy available so you know I had to snatch it up.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact that they are both over eighty.

But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together.

My Thoughts:

I immediately was pulled into the story of these two women, one black, Hortensia and one white, Marion and their difficult relationship. Both had successful careers and they met when Hortensia attended one of the community committee meetings which had been started by Marion. Although Marion took the meetings very seriously, Hortensia saw them as very exclusionary and attended by right and often to “put the ladies in their place”.

The book demonstrated some of the residuals of apartheid through the relationship of the two woman. Much of their initial hate for one another came from preconceived ideas they had about each other. Because they initially never took the time to get to know each other, their past histories dominated the way they related to each other rather than truth. For Marion, she feigned innocence to the history and racial bias but Hortensia quickly and frequently reminded her which led to a very cynical relationship.

As the story progresses, I was able to learn more about each woman’s background from childhood to adulthood and it laid the foundation for their present beliefs and personalities. I love when stories do this because it reminds us that there is depth to consider before judgment. I could have easily hated both characters but the back stories provided the bridge to understanding.

This book is about love, loss, race, relationships, friendship, and history. But the author, Omotoso does include some very important issues into the story which I like because it gave me an opportunity to learn more about the South African history.  It has peaked my interest regarding the topic of land reform and the Land Claims Commision.

The Land Reform Processes focused on three areas: restitution, land tenure reform and land redistribution. Restitution, where the government compensates (monetary) individuals who had been forcefully removed, has been very unsuccessful and the policy has now shifted to redistribution with secure land tenure. Land tenure reform is a system of recognizing people’s right to own land and therefore control of the land. – wikipedia

Omotoso incorporates the Land Reform Process into the story when a family makes a claim regarding the development in which the ladies live. So the community commission led by Marion decide to investigate.  In addition to that claim, there is also a descendant of a former slave who lived in slave quarters on the land where Hortensia’s property lies. Under apartheid, the land was taken from them. They wanted to bury their grandmother’s ashes under a Silver Tree which they identified with specific markings that occupy a place on Hortensia’s property.

Silver Tree in South Africa

Marion begins to question her previously held beliefs when she takes the time to go to the library and read up on the topic. I think it provided a pivotal moment for a shift if ever so slightly of her character.

Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (1856-1957) was regarded as one of the best of the Old South Africa masters. – wiki

Both hide secrets from each other and one that Marion can’t think of revealing to Hortensia is that her husband squandered their money before his death and left her in debt. So much so she will have to sell her house. However, she has a very valuable art piece by Pierneef that she could sell to help her situation.  I googled and found a lovely image of one of his works for you to see (above). This is the beauty of reading books, they allow me to grow and learn about so many things. I find it fun to go online and find things to help bring the story to life.

A bit about the author…

photo from the web

Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados in 1980 to a Barbadian mother and Nigerian father. They moved within a year of her birth to Nigeria and in 1992 they then moved to South Africa. Her debut novel is called Bom Boy and was published in 2011 and won the 2012 South African Literary Awards (SALA).

South African flag

I really enjoyed this book. This book also qualifies for my Literary Voyage Around the World Reading challenge. Since the setting is in South Africa I will use it for that country. I give it three butterflies!


Belinda’s Book Nook Review: Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Title: Unbowed: A Memoir
Author: Wangari Maathai
Copyright: September 4, 2007
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Format: book Pages: 368

I first saw this book at my local library and checked it out. I once again did what I have been doing lately and kept renewing it to the libraries limit and then hijacked the book for a few additional days while I waited for the book to arrive in the mail (I had to own a copy after I started reading it.) I’m not proud of holding on to books late but this bookworm had to do what she had to do!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

My Thoughts:

This book is such a very important read and even more so as we approach Earth day and the ‘March for Science’ across the country. I liked the way she told her story. She provided the readers with her background by going back to her childhood growing up and working the land with her family. Her story demonstrates how you don’t need to have a fancy education or be wealthy to make a difference in the world. One quote from her book sums it up:

“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them, even more, respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us to do what we can to protect it. As I told the forresters and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”   – Wangari Maathai

Although Wangari was able to pursue her education at a time that most girls were not in Kenya, she points out that her idea did not require her degree, it just helped the process. For her ideas for planting trees took hold and people began to help realize her dreams.  I love that although she received her degree in the United States, she didn’t choose the path to try to stay here, she chose to go back home and help her country. She ended up starting the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in response to her observation of the decimation of the local trees in her country and the negative effects it had on the land and the people of Kenya. She realized that the British colonists were cutting down vast amounts of trees for lumber to sell and that it had a tragic effect on the land. It compromised the integrity of the soil and caused droughts.  The Kenyan women told her of streams drying up, their food supply diminishing and as a result of the logging, they had to walk even farther to find wood for fencing. So Wangari proposed that the women take the seedlings and plant them to grow more trees.

The story is so amazing. It talks about her eventual marriage and the demise of their union and her on-going struggle with the Kenyan government, who saw her efforts as a threat.  Many times, I couldn’t believe how brave she was to keep pursuing her dream.  She endured imprisonment and death threats but continued her very important work. Did I also mention that she won the Noble Peace Prize in 2004? Yes, she was that amazing.

Wangari Maathai is someone we should all learn about because it is so relevant everywhere, not just in Kenya. In the photo above I am holding up the picture book version of her story that I read to Apollo. It was breathtakingly stunning and held it’s own in keeping up with all of the many important facts of Wangari’s story.

I leave you with one more amazing quote from the book:

“A tree… tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance.”

I highly recommend this book and I give it 4 1/2 butterflies for not only delivering a great story and message but concluding with ways to help. As I too will leave you with the link to The Green Belt Movement so that you can see the great work that continues even after her death.

Happy reading friends!



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