05 Oct / The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon [in Shelf Awareness]
What happens in The Days of Afrekete, the second novel by Asali Solomon (Disgruntled), takes just an evening: Liselle Belmont prepares for and hosts a dinner party to thank her husband Winn’s loyal supporters, despite a failed political campaign. But Solomon deftly expands the defining event with backstories enhanced with sharp insights on race, class, privilege, shifting identities. Her cutting humor especially stings.
Liselle – “Liesl was a character in The Sound of Music. It’s Liselle” – and Winn have been married for almost 15 years. She’s West Philadelphia Black, he’s Connecticut white; they met in New York but settled in Philadelphia. At Bryn Mawr, Liselle was known as “The Wolf” among the undergrad lesbians, but she eventually chose marriage to Winn. She’s been teaching history at a private school, but is taking a break, ostensibly to help Winn’s run for state representative. Liselle’s mother especially disdains the “Win-Winn” campaign, acerbically living up to her truth-telling name, Verity: “You want to know if you should throw a party to thank these people who had nothing better to do with their money and time than to help you delude yourselves?”
Yes, indeed, “delusion” is all too real in Liselle’s home. Xochitl (whose name Liselle can’t pronounce) arrives to serve the gathering, replacing Liselle’s usual help; aging bad-kneed Jimena has sent her Ph.D. student/immigrant rights activist daughter instead. Liselle won’t allow teen son Patrice to stay home and shuttles him off to the house of “forced-family friends.” Patrice’s slammed-door exit, however, confirms Liselle’s intention to protect her only child. Winn seems clueless, but Liselle is expecting a surprise guest: amidst the innocuous dinner conversation, “Liselle found herself wondering if the FBI used handcuffs and what she would say to Patrice as his father was led away.” Meanwhile, another uninvited someone is en route.
Solomon, an English and creative writing professor at Haverford College – ready with well-aimed jabs and nods at academia – chooses her native Philadelphia as background as she did with her previous two titles. Her obvious familiarity with the setting grounds Liselle as she moves effortlessly through neighborhoods and situations, code-switching to adapt to her surroundings. Solomon’s writing is a showcase of incisive exactness: “She felt her ever twoness as the Black mistress of a tiny plantation”; “He was unfailingly polite but not thoughtful”; “There was so much lying all the time, particularly when you got together with people who were not Black”; “a 3-D Black person trying to fit into a 2-D box.” In a brilliant collage, Solomon’s skillful sentences, paragraphs, chapters coalesce into formidable storytelling.
Shelf Talker: A dinner party hosted by the Black wife of a white would-be politician becomes a scathing examination of race, privilege, and identity in Asali Solomon’s penetrating sophomore novel.