The Door of No Return

Written by Kwame Alexander
Review by Ann Lazim

Kwame Alexander is celebrated for his contemporary verse novels that explore the feelings of Black boys, their family relationships and friendships, and love of sport. In The Door of No Return, he has used his great skill with this literary form to create an historical novel set in 1860 among the Asante people in the country now known as Ghana.

The story is seen through the eyes of Kofi, who is on the cusp of manhood. He attends school where his teacher insists his students speak English in the classroom rather than Twi. This is not the only conflict in Kofi’s life – he and his cousin are rivals for the attention of the same girl, Ama, and then, following an accidental and violent death at a local festival, tragedy ensues, both at the hands of people from a rival village seeking revenge, and subsequently from ‘the men with no color’, referred to as the ‘wonderfuls’ who exploit and enslave his people.

While this is a tough tale in terms of the events that happen (and I concur with the publisher’s suggestion of a recommended age of 12+), there is a considerable amount of warmth in the telling, manifested in Kofi’s love for his brother Kwasi and his friend Ebo and in Ama’s gentle intelligence.

Kwame Alexander also writes about slavery and African American heritage in the picture book he created with Dare Coulter, published in the USA as An American Story and retitled Unspoken for the UK edition. Alexander asks how it is possible to tell ‘a story that starts in Africa and ends in horror’. He then proceeds to do so most eloquently, a story that is painful but also one of resilience, and one that must be told. In the unforgettable illustrations, Coulter has used a wide range of media, unusually incorporating sculptures.