Edge of Here by Kelechi Okafor was our first ever book club pick and our September read for Shelf Interest Book Club.
Edge of Here is a post-modern fantasy book told from the lens of black womanhood in a parallel world where government surveillance and pandemic-prevention has gone a bit overboard. Kelechi Okafor is a multi-talented writer, actress, social commentator, presenter and now: author! Known for her punches of truth, quick-wit and strong sense of justice, Kelechi hosts the award-winning podcast: "Say Your Mind".
With varying levels of knowledge of Kelechi, our members gathered with her only 2 days after the official launch of Edge of Here and got to learn more about who she is and what she represents, it was clear that this book was an ode to black womanhood, Nigerian spirituality, love and being unapologetic. Throughout the book these themes were apparent in all 8 of her short-stories. Our community reviewers also picked up on other prominent themes such as generational trauma and ancestry; friendship; the burden of responsibility placed on black womanhood; loneliness; and fate vs free will!
At Kelechi’s Fane launch event at The Barbican Centre, she mentioned how the book was meant to portray multifaceted layers of black womanhood, and not the typical “good woman vs bad woman” dichotomy. This was very clear in Edge of Here as the black women protagonists were put in many compromising positions and did not always make the most moral choices. However they were described with enough depth for the audience to understand and relate without complete condemnation. There was always room for redemption. The protection, love and salvation that other black women offer to the black-woman-protagonists seems to be a running theme throughout the book. It’s refreshing to see that mothers, lovers, colleagues, and friends show an unconditional and soft care for the main characters.
This bestselling collection of short stories was noted to be an easy read by our community reviewers, with most of them stating that they always wanted to turnover to the next page, even during the uncomfortable parts – the writing style meant that the curiousity to learn more was always there. Kelechi’s writing style also leaves much to the imagination due to some stories ending at the climax, which was controversial amongst our reviewers. Some really enjoyed the open-endedness giving the reader space to imagine their fate if they were in the shoes of the characters, this was particularly appreciated in “The School Run” where Alicia connected with a man who would have otherwise been her true love in another dimension! The lack of tidy endings could also be a nod to the multiple possibilities that would be present in different realities and dimensions - a theme mentioned in the book! However, some reviewers were left longing for more and wanted to know the decisions that the protagonists would end up making - perhaps this leaves room for a sequel (?). A member also believed that some of the stories were heavy and would have been better fleshed out in their own full book.
The world-building aspect of Edge of Here was another factor that was enjoyed by our community reviewers, although each story was about different people under different circumstances, the world they were set in was the same. Perhaps at different times, but there was often a link. This continuity was valued as this allowed for a growing understanding of this universe. There was also intrigue around the fact that "Edge of Here" was mentioned in the book as a revolutionary organisation - very meta!
While the book was overall a great form of escapism, it brought us back to the very annoying-to-harsh realities of racism and misogynoir. From the comedically racist character of Caterina in “The Ally-Chip”, to the congregation of traumatically ignorant wedding guests in "Broom". The theme of empathy vs sympathy was apparent as a lot of well-meaning white people wanted to relate to the feelings of black people experiencing racism for their own gratification, whilst still remaining onlookers and perpetuators of this long-standing form of discrimination. Kelechi emphasised how learning about racism and sympathising with it was not enough or even necessarily helpful, in fact, this was entirely self-serving and still somehow ended up scapegoating black people! While the acknowledgement of the frustrating and blatantly hidden microaggressions resonated with many of our reviewers and it was relieving to feel seen by the author, this was a reality that some of our community reviewers could relate to a little bit too much, and some members found “Broom” to be too exasperating to regard as a form of escape.
Another underlying theme was the desperation and pervasiveness of the state and big organisations to commodify and weaponise all parts of the black experience, even the intangible: from one’s health, data, uterus, emotions, love, history, fear of disease and everything else. It exaggerates our current reality where we often see the black experience cheapened and extracted from for entertainment and image purposes. This nudges us to think of Henrietta Lacks whose cells have been used throughout history for the advancement of medicine without any permission.
Overall, the Shelf Interest Book Club review shows Edge of Here to be highly recommendable (4.6 stars), it is light enough to read before bed without inducing night sweats, but real enough to make you feel seen, inspired and hopeful, especially as a black woman. The book pushes boundaries, extrapolates from our current world, while reflecting Kelechi's beliefs and provoking thought in readers.
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