Cover Image: The Days of Afrekete

The Days of Afrekete

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Member Reviews

The story starts off on an interesting premise, in fact almost an intriguing premise, but doesn't quite know how to keep that promise, or that pace, for that matter.

Following the footsteps of recent chartbusters with similar characterizations, The Days of Afrekete tries hard, but never really too much, to carry the baton of gender and racial awareness, interspersed with social justice, and sprinkled with sexual libertarianism. IMHO, the problem here is not a shortage of ideas, but really a shortage of strong storyline, to carry such heavy-hitter subjects to the finish line.

Liselle and Selena are close friends, one-time lovers, who don't really know what to do with their lives, once they realize they are growing out of their teen years, and later on as they are growing out of their college years. Nothing unusual there, and yet there are glimpses of a searing flame, that becomes visible only intermittently and fleetingly when reading this novel. There are clear instances where the story could have been taken in a direction to become a tinderbox, or to have a blowout, or to at least have a strong confrontation - alas, none of the characters, especially the two somewhat- and sometimes-pretentious leads who seem to not have been given enough leeway to spread their wings and soar.

The blurb reference to an FBI angle is never really allowed to flesh out. That, if perhaps let flow out, could have been a good parallel anchor to the social satire that this story had the potential to become. As it is, the political plot elements seem futile, there only to be mocked at, and don't play into the storyline. Clearly, the main storyline is of the two young (and then not-so-young) women, but there too I felt there were not enough anchors to pull them to each other. Sure there are instances and glimpses, but didn't come across as compelling.

Overall, a good premise, with reasonably interesting characters, but not enough of a story.

Thanks to NetGalley and FSG for providing a digital eARC for this true review.
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Liselle and Selena were lovers at Bryn Mawr but their lives have been very different since,  Now, Liselle is preparing for a dinner party when she learns that her politician husband Winn may have committed crimes and she finds herself reflecting on their live, as well as her relationship with Selena.  Selena for her part has struggled with mental health.  She's actually the more increasing character but she gets a short shrift, I think in the novel.  I wanted to like this more than I did but I appreciated it for Solomon's writing and for the way she addressed a variety of topics.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  For fans of literary fiction.
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This was fantastic. Much like Solomon's earlier work 'Disgruntled' this captured what it feels like to be in a specific stage in life. While it's been too long since I read Mrs. Dalloway I could sense its echoes. Excellent.
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Overall, I enjoyed this! It was a little hard to get into—I didn’t care too much for the “dinner party” scene, to be honest, which took up the first third of the book approximately. Ultimately I think I don’t really care to read about the lives of people in politics, even if it’s tackled from a critical standpoint. So I was happy when we went from the dinner party to Liselle’s story for a good portion of the book. Then the sudden shift to Selena’s story was a little awkward, in my opinion. 

Also, this is another one of those books where despite reading about a certain character for pages and pages, I feel like I end up not really knowing anything about them as a person. It reads more like a bullet-point list of events that tells me very little about their character, their nature. The fact that the chapters were very short, each one corresponding to an important event in Liselle or Selina’s life or a specific moment during the night of the dinner party, contributed to that effect.

Solomon’s writing was really good—and I did truly enjoy “Liselle’s section”, which in fact happened to be most of the book. If we got to know her better, and if the book hadn’t focused as much on the party at the beginning (introducing all of those characters that we wouldn’t see much of in the end), I would have liked this a lot. This is all personal preference, and you should give it a try if the synopsis piques your interest.
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A book I could not put down.A story of two women who have a brief intense love affair.Years have passed and they are adults living their lives.I was drawn in by the story the beautiful writing by this wonderful author.#netgalley#fsg
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The host of a dinner party, Liselle, reminiscences about a very brief collegiate affair with Selena and pines for those blissful but emotionally packed days with the one she considers her true love.  The majority of the book is centered on Liselle’s preparation and suffering through this rather dismal party to address her husband’s lost political campaign with a few of his key (and very eccentric) donors and supporters.  

This is a character-driven novel and unfortunately, it did not work for me.  I was not captivated by the plot/story or interested in the characters -- it was one in which I kept reading only to get through the book to write a fair review.  Sadly, Liselle’s choices and “trials” just weren’t compelling enough for me to become vested in her story.  Selena seemed a tad bit more interesting, but the story was a bit lopsided in that more time was spent with Liselle early in the novel.  Selena’s story came much later and by then I was ready for the novel to end.  

Perhaps others will enjoy or appreciate this offering more than I did.  It’s not a “bad” story, it just wasn’t for me. 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to review.
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I’m judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

“Liselle’s forty-one years of research suggested that no matter how distant, abusive, judgemental, unloving and useless one’s mother was, one called her when things fell apart. One called one’s mother and told her things no one else knew, even if all she said in response was It is what it is/All I can do is pray for you/Just be glad you have a roof over your head/I told you so but you wouldn't listen/ Oh please, he was always like that. You make your choice/ You know my money is tied up in this house right now.”
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This wasn’t a bad read, it just was not fulfilling for me. 
This is a story about a woman, really 2 women, who have struggled with their identity all throughout their lives. They met and fell in love but then had a really bad breakup. It’s like they were meant fur each other but not at the time that they met.
But later in life they become each other’s anchors in a world that neither is truly happy with.
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A compelling, if somewhat disjointed, story of two women who had a short bit intense love affair in college and where their lives took them afterward.
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compulsively readable account of two women's love story: they met in college, but now in midlife, Liselle is a married society wife and Selena is struggling. As Liselle prepares for a change in fortune, she thinks back to what things might have been without her rich, white husband on her arm.
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A really witty book, only disappointing if you're comparing it to Solomon's first novel DISGRUNTLED (one of the best debuts of the last decade). Covering in June column
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Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. This wonderful book tells two stories. The first has Liselle, married with a teenage son, hosting a dinner party to thank the inner circle that worked for her husband Winn’s failed political campaign in there house in Philadelphia, fearing a knock on the front door after she has learned that her husband is under investigation by the FBI who have been looking into his conduct while on the campaign trail. The second story looks back to Liselle’s time in college where she was a lesbian and having one affair after another, until she meets Selena. Although they were only together for four intense months, the embers of that relationship will color the rest of their lives. This slim novel is such a potent look at race, sexuality, families and local politics.
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It's hard to know what to say about this book. It's an in-depth look at two women who were once everything to each other for a brief period. I quickly came to love Solomon's writing style and some of her sentences are pure gems, especially in the way she describes things and her adept use of adjectives. I loved learning about each character and their fears and hesitations in life. The ending of the book felt very abrupt to me, as if the author just decided, "okay, enough already. I'm done." But, on the other hand, I'm not sure where she could have taken it from that point.
I enjoyed reading it and didn't want it to end. Unusual book worth reading.
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Since race is such a popular subject these days and there are so many books about it, it has become abundantly clear that there is a right and wrong way to write about race. The Days of Afrekete gets it exactly right.  It features racial (and sexual and socioeconomic and class and income) diversity and definitely has a message, but never lets it overpower the actual story.   
      But first and foremost, for me this was a story about choices. We meet the protagonist, Liselle, at a party, thrown for a not so happy occasion of her spouse’s thwarted political ambitions, the situation that is compounded by the fact that he may also be under an FBI investigation. The progressive diverse cast of supporting characters are saying all the right things, but Liselle’s mind is drifting back in time, to her college years, to the woman she loved, to the strange turns her life has taken to bring her to the now she’s in.
      Back in her college days Liselle was a player, sleeping her way through attractive female coeds, but the one that really got her was Selena. Their brief affair left an indelible mark on Liselle’s soul. It might have been a personal high, after which life has slowly and strangely tumbled in unpredictable directions, ending up married to a man, a white man, no less.
      And then the novel pivots to show you what became of Selena in the intervening years. So really, it covers a lot for being just over 200 pages. And where it excels is at just showing how different life turns out from what one might have hoped or dreamed about and how far you can go from love to find yourself. 
    And then, of course, there’s the racial commentary, done cleverly and subtly. Because for all the difference it implies, it is only one of the many factors that go into relationships. Plus the author makes it work every which way, from Liselle’s biracial marriage to Liselle’s interactions with her Latina maid, it’s all in the nuances and it’s very well done. 
    I found the Liselle/Selena romance/connection to be somewhat underdone, it seemed abrupt and undeveloped for something that meant so much to both of them. But overall enjoyed reading it, the writing was really good, first rate character development too, it played like a well done A list cast indie drama. Lus it’s always nice when an author manages to tell a story succinctly. And to honor that, this review is getting wrapped up, so…Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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What drew my attention to The Days of Afrekete was the comparison to Sula, a novel that, even years after reading it, I still think about. Alas, The Days of Afrekete is not quite in the same league as Morrison's novel. Structure and story-wise The Days of Afrekete shares far more, if not too much, in common with Elif Shafak's Three Daughters of Eve. Like Shafak's novel The Days of Afrekete alternates between scenes set during the course of a dinner party and scenes exploring our main character's past, focusing in particular on her college experience. Both works are also characterized by an ironic tone, poking fun at the pretences of the upper/middle classes and highlighting just how hypocritical the characters they are writing of are. Alas, even if I wasn't a huge fan of Shafak's novel I still preferred her brand of satire to Asali Solomon's one.

Liselle Belmont, our novel's central character, is enjoying a life of relative wealth. She's married to and has a son with Winn, a white man whose political career has just taken a turn for the worst. An FBI agent has recently reached out to Liselle and implied that he has done something shady and may be prosecuted. Winn, seeming to be unaware that the FBI is onto him, decides to invite some of his friends/supporters over for dinner.
The narrative shows how adjusted Liselle has become to this lifestyle. She is incapable and or unwilling to pronounce correctly the name of her employee, Xochitl, who does things like welcoming the guests, serving the food, and cleaning after them. We also learn that although she had the opportunity to help Jimena, Xochit's mother who also works for her, she chooses not to.
As this awkward dinner unfolds, the narrative takes us back to Liselle's college years. At college she started dating women but soon found herself frustrated by the almost-exclusively white dating pool. She repeatedly promises herself that she will stop sleeping or entertaining in relationships with white girls. She then meets Selena, one of the few other Black students, and the two seem to be instantly drawn to each other. Their relationship doesn't end smoothly as Liselle has a rather crappy attitude and Selena is struggling with her mental health. We later learn of how Liselle met and started dating Winn.

The story portrays Winn and his guests in a rather unfavourable light, but it does so in a way that reduces them to rather one-dimensional caricatures. Lisette was mean, uncharitable, and selfish. Selena's character, especially her illness, was a tad problematic. She 'feels' things too much, so when she reads or sees stories about murder, slavery, cruelty, she is unable to distance herself from those events. Over the course of her adulthood, she is in and out of psychiatric wards and has only in recent times begun to lead a more 'adjusted' life.

While I did find the narrative amusing now and again, I felt nothing for Lisette or the other characters. It wasn’t necessarily because they were unlikable. After all, I just read and loved White Ivy, a novel that seems entirely populated by flawed, if not downright terrible, people. But the characters in The Days of Afrekete are just not as nuanced or compelling as the ones from White Ivy. Solomon's examination of class and privilege too struck me as somewhat banal compared to Susie Yang's one in White Ivy.
Sula does get a mention in this novel and the narrative does focus on the supposedly complex relationship between two Black women but other than that this novel is galaxies away from Morrison's one. Lisette and Selena's relationship feels rushed, so we never gain a picture of how they are together or what they feel for each other. Yet, during the dinner Lisette keeps thinking about her, making it sound as if she was 'the one' for her...to me it seemed that she never really liked Winn and that she only married him because of 'reasons'. Knowing that the guy is about to be arrested she is like 'well he sucks' and for 'reasons' she misses Selena.

Even if I were to judge this book on its own merit (without comparing it unfavourably to Sula, White Ivy, and Shafak's novel) I don't have many good things to say about it. As I wrote above, it was occasionally funny. We get on-point descriptions like: "He had the look of someone who had aged out of playing the rich jerk in an eighties teen movie".
But the characters were severely lacking in depth. Liselle's story was boring, I didn't really feel particularly sympathetic towards her, and I did not really care about the 'drama' with Winn or their awful dinner party.
We only get Selena's side of things towards the end of the story and by then I was ready to be done with this book.
The way Liselle's sexuality is portrayed frustrated me. She 'was' a lesbian but she's no longer one now because she is with Winn. I also didn't like the flashbacks that show how Winn pursued her even when he knew she was gay. And instead of turning him down, she decides to roll with it? I just didn't believe that she cared for him so I had a really hard time understanding why she marries this bland guy. Also, why are the only two sexualities in this novel 'gay' or 'straight'? Sexuality is not binary and I always find it irritating to come across stories in which a character had a 'gay' phase or 'used' to be gay. Being queer, bisexual, or pansexual is apparently not an option in these novels.

I wouldn't necessarily not recommend this novel as I recognise that some may find Liselle less irritating than I did. Just don't let that Sula comparison fool you.
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I... like it? I do. I think it's a good book with a solid story. But I was a little thrown by the ending, which seemed abrupt and incomplete. Maybe it was as complete as it needed to be. Wherever my issues on the ending end up landing, it won't take away the quality of the writing throughout.
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