Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories is the third collection of short stories by celebrated Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo. Published by Ayebia Clarke in 2012, eleven of the twelve stories are narrated by women and are about every day concerns relating to age, class, colour and identity. But Ms Aidoo delves into the psyche of the women, most of them strong-willed, well-educated and assertive, to show the devastating impact of these seemingly ordinary concerns. Some of the stories are based in Ghana, others in the west and still others move backwards and forwards between the two areas.
‘Diplomatic Pounds’, after which the collection is named, and ‘Mixed Messages’ are a candid look into women’s preoccupation with weight issues. The women struggle to cope with the perceptions of weight in a western setting. The author offers differing but interesting insights into this age-old problem. In ‘Diplomatic Pounds’, the central character and daughter of a diplomat cannot resist the delicacies on offer at the numerous diplomatic functions the family must attend during the different overseas postings. Her mother’s disapproval turns the woman into an obsessive weight watcher. In the end, her mother can only fret at the impact of this rising problem on the family’s standing in the diplomatic community. While the tone is serious in ‘Diplomatic Pounds’ it is more humorous in ‘Mixed Messages’, where friendship meetings between six black girls based in the west invariably come to focus on weight issues. The Ghanaian girl who is buxom and considered a catch in her homeland, is confused by the reaction her proportions invoke in the west. So she struggles to squeeze her body into corsets and body definers. In both stories, however, the weight obsession has serious consequences.
The loneliness and restiveness of old age are well depicted in ‘New Lessons’. A retiree can’t find the peace she craves in everyday things and places. Even a visit to Ghana, her homeland does not do the trick and she is left with the feeling that she can never go back. By chance, she finds the perfect retreat in the west, where she can relax while also retaining her freedom and anonymity. This story and ‘Funny Less’ do a good job of depicting the disconnection many overseas Africans feel with their homeland.
In ‘No Nuts’ a woman who has just attended the funeral of a much-loved friend, attempts to explain to another friend how she thought the death occurred. The author uses the monologue format to effectively depict the pain, anguish and regret on the part of the narrator. The issue of colour is an important consideration in ‘Outfoxed’ and ‘Rain’ where both central characters are considered “too black”. ‘One or Two Bourgeois Concerns’ delves into the insecurities of marriage while ‘Did You Ever’ and ‘Funny Less’ explore the varying values placed on boy and girl children in the different regions of Ghana and the dilemmas faced by parents considered to have children of the wrong sex.
On the whole, an insightful and in depth look at how seemingly ordinary issues can have a surprising impact on women’s lives. There is something for everyone to relate to and ponder on.