Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize

Synopsis:

27971013Morayo Da Silva, a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, lives in hip San Francisco. On the cusp of seventy-five, she is in good health and makes the most of it, enjoying road trips in her vintage Porsche, chatting to strangers, and recollecting characters from her favourite novels. Then she has a fall and her independence crumbles. Without the support of family, she relies on friends and chance encounters. As Morayo recounts her story, moving seamlessly between past and present, we meet Dawud, a charming Palestinian shopkeeper, Sage, a feisty, homeless Grateful Dead devotee, and Antonio, the poet whom Morayo desired more than her ambassador husband.

A subtle story about ageing, friendship and loss, this is also a nuanced study of the erotic yearnings of an older woman.

Review:

When I grow old I would love to be like Morayo – living on her own but not lonely, with a history but not tied too tightly to her past.  It’s her birthday, a time she does something “new and daring”, and this year it’s going to be getting a tattoo.  (Last year she went scuba diving.)  But Morayo suffers a fall and things change quickly for her.

The narrator shifts from chapter to chapter, letting us observe characters from both inside and without.  It’s a nice device but doesn’t stretch the novel form as much as I was hoping from a Goldsmiths candidate.  The value here is that the subject matter – a combination of aging, friendship, and race – is rarely covered this well.  Morayo is Nigerian, but she’s been living in the US for decades so it’s not an “immigrant narrative”.  Yes, she’s old, but there’s more to the story than watching her memory fade.  The people in Morayo’s neighborhood are diverse and lovingly developed despite the low page count.  If Manyika wrote a modern Tales of the City following these characters I would gobble it up.

While Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is very good I think its comparatively tame structure may put it behind other books on the shortlist. Even so I’m glad it’s here – recognizing work by people of color matters and it’s a full, satisfying read.


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