Set in the city of Accra, Ghana during colonial rule, Cloth Girl (published in 2006 in the UK by Little Brown and Co.) is about how an affluent man’s desire changed the course of a young girl’s life. At the center of the story is Matilda, a young Ga girl of fourteen. One fateful day, she carries some important documents to give to give to her uncle, who works for an influential lawyer. While there, she catches the lawyer’s attention. Despite the fact that the lawyer is enough to be Matilda’s father, he decides that he must have her no matter what it takes, including marriage if need be. And this, notwithstanding, that the lawyer is already married with four children.
Robert Bannerman, the lawyer in question succeeds in marrying Matilda mainly because she comes from a poor home. Her family, in particular her greedy mother and her ambitious uncle, think more of the privileges they would get from being affiliated with a man as powerful as Robert and don’t put their daughter’s feelings or her youth into consideration.
Thus, Matilda, who is only a child herself, becomes an adult overnight so as to cope with the demands of motherhood and life in a polygamous home, where her husband merely uses her for his own selfish needs.
Elsewhere, Audrey Turton the wife of the assistant to the Governor is finding adjusting to the Gold coast a tedious chore and is looking for every opportunity to travel back to her beloved country. This coupled with the fact that she is later raped by two men lead to her unhappiness and eventually tension in her relationship with her husband.
Audrey and Matilda eventually meet and the two cannot help but wonder at the different views they both hold on similar issues – in a sense respresenting a juxtaposition of the differences between the Western and the African culture.
From my own perspective, the book is a good debut novel. The author portrays an in-depth understanding of African culture. She expresses quite clearly the powerlessness of a child in the taking of decisions that could make or mar him by his parents and close relatives. The author describes some of the norms of the African Society as opposed to what goes in the Western World. She also expresses her views about the colonialists without necessarily painting them in a bad light. The book also shows Matilda’s mother having to make hard decisions having to put her children into consideration first and thinking little about herself as Matilda does in the concluding pages of the story.