Episode 32

I was thrilled to learn that Suzie Bangoura is as delightful in person as she is online. The book she recommended is from a Sierra Leonean author, and we had wonderful discussion about West African literature and what it’s like to belong to three countries.

Trigger warnings: this book discusses FGM (female genital mutilation.) 

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Host: Julie Strauss

Guest: Suzie Bangoura

Books discussed in this episode:

So the Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist
The Crown on Netflix
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes
Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola
Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Poor by Caleb Femi
Surge by Jay Bernard

Suzie recommends the Instagram account @booksandrhymes, “Joyfully bridging the gap between classic and contemporary African Literature.” Sarah Ozo-Irabor also has a wonderful podcast, also called Books & Rhymes, that pairs books and music. It’s well worth a listen!

Discussed in our Patreon Exclusive clip:

Cassava leaf stew
Jollof Rice

(Note: If you shop using my affiliate links, a portion of your purchase will go to me, at no extra expense to you. Thank you for supporting indie bookstores and for helping to keep the Best Book Ever Podcast in business!)

Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m so pleased to talk to Suzie Bangoura. Suzie is a Sierra Leonean-Ghanaian-British bookstagrammar based in the southwest of England. She loves sharing her current reads recommendations and what she calls way too many stacks of newly acquired books on Instagram, despite her self-imposed book buying bans. I am a huge fan of Susie’s vibrant Instagram account, especially her thoughtful book reviews and her hilarious reels. I’m so excited for you to hear Suzie tell me why “So The Path Does Not Die” by Patti Hollis is the Best Book Ever. 

Bookworms, one quick note before we start: the book we discuss today does deal with the topic of female genital mutilation. Though my conversation with Suzie is not at all graphic, I did want to let you know that we talk about it. If that’s a trigger point for you, you might want to skip this episode. 

Julie Strauss: Hi, Suzie, welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.

Suzie Bangoura: Hi, Julie, thank you so much for inviting me on. I’m so happy to be here. 

JS: I’m so happy to have you. I want to start right away with your bio, which I thought was so interesting. And here’s why: in your bio, you introduce yourself as a Sierra Leonean, Ghanaian, British Bookstagrammar. What struck me was that you begin with your heritage instead of with your job, as so many people do, or your relation to other people. So many people say, you know, student, wife, mother or gardener, this, that or something. You know what I’m saying? But you start right out with your heritage, which I thought was so interesting. Tell me why those titles come first for you. 

SB: I think as somebody that has grown up in three different countries, I’m very proud of my heritage and where I have come from. I was born in Sierra Leone, but I actually grew up in Guinea, which is where my dad is from. My mother was from Sierra Leone. My dad is from Guinea. I then grew up in in Guinea until I was about 12. And then I went back to Sierra Leone and for another four years before I then came over here to England, UK and have been here I think maybe 12 years. So I am although technically officially British, I still keep the other two. They are very much important to me. And I think it’s a way of always reminding myself where I come from and wanting to kind of always keep those two places that are so important and dear to me with me always. 
JS: Tell me about the role that reading played in your life growing up. Did you come from a family of readers? 

SB: Over here, my family is so big and multi-cultural, many different countries. So over here in the UK, my family based here, yes. Lots of us are readers and I always love when we get together and everybody has a book that they’re currently reading. And it’s quite it’s a joy. It’s a joyful thing for me whenever we get together and sometimes I’ve done it over the years, I’ll take a picture of all the books that we’re reading and share it with Bookstagram. But reading for me, it definitely started when I was in Sierra Leone. Maybe about, yeah, 13, 14. I have this clear memory of like we’ll be walking from like a friend’s house or from my house or friends or to visit another relative and I’ll be walking and reading. That’s where I’ll get that ability from. Because I was so sucked into this world. I’ve still maintained that ability.  Now, I don’t do it as often, but yeah, I clearly remember that. But then I got into school and I think you have loads of Bookstagrammers actually mention this: People that are bookworms that have done maybe degrees in English kind of kill their love for reading for a little bit. So that kind of happened to me. But when I first came over here, because I wasn’t in school. I think it took a while to get me into the school system over here. Reading was my sanctuary because I wasn’t doing anything else. And me and my stepmom, who I referred to as mom, were actually talking about it recently. And my sister was saying, like, how I used to be at the library all the time because I didn’t have any friends of my own. I was in a new country. Even though I had my dad over here, I was kind of getting to know another side of my family here. I started by reading my sister’s like books that she had around and then I’ll go introduce to the library. I think I was going into the library maybe two or three times a week. I think that reignited my love of reading again when I came over here and then more recently was probably when I did create my Bookstagram account, I think maybe about three years ago, I go back into it and I thought, oh, I’ll share in my books on my personal page.  And then one day, just randomly sort of discovered Bookstagram. And the rest is history. So, yeah, that’s kind of my history has been like with reading.

JS: In those days when you were going to the library all the time and finding that is your sanctuary, when you were in a new country, did you lean toward any particular genre? Or were you just picking up everything that came into your path? 

SB: Yeah, I think when because I started with my little sister’s book that she kind of had around. So I probably read lots of Y.A., probably younger than my age. Then I probably then moved on to I read a little paranormal romance because I like the idea of like fantasy and romance. Yeah, lots of paranormal romance actually lots. I have like favorite authors in that zone, and when I’m in a reading slump I pick up that book. It’s just so familiar. And so it has been on an interesting reading journey.  But I think it also with age as well. Because there’s some books now that are my favorite and read that probably five years ago I wouldn’t have picked up. I probably would have been like, oh no, that’s not my sort of book. Oh, no, I couldn’t read that. Some of those books are now my favorite kind of books to read, and some of it is older than my favorite authors to read. Instagram, or the Bookstagram side of it, has definitely helped widen my taste and in some way they helped change it as well.  When my friends there recommend a book, I automatically read it because I know them and I know well, if you like it, I’m going to like it. And if you’re following a wide range of bookstagrammers, your reading, I think, is going to change because you have this instinct. You know, I read your Bookstagram and when you like books, I think I have liked a lot of books that she’s liked. So I’m going to check this one out, even though I would not have come across my radar otherwise. And that’s an incredible thing that books diagram I think is doing in terms of widening everyone’s ranges. It’s not that without its own problems, but it’s one of the nicest little corners of the Internet. I feel like people are just so open and friendly and definitely it just it widens your taste. It gets you out of your comfort zone. You read books you never will have read. You read more stories. And which I just think reading far and wide is so important. You learn about different cultures, different ways of life, and you learn new things. And some books can teach you things and some books can be life changing. So it’s good to have this corner of the Internet of different people sharing what they’re reading. 

JS: So tell me, how did you come across this book that we’re discussing today, “So the Path Does Not Die?” 

SB: I was looking out for Sierra Leonean authors who I know don’t get as much sort of attention as some other parts of the African literature scene. So it could have been and then came across him and found this book. 

JS: Could you give a brief summary of the plot for our listeners who have not heard of this book? 

SB: The book is “So the Path Does Not Die” by Pede Hollist. And basically, it’s about Fina, who, after a broken initiation, it kind of follows her from that, her journey moving from that village to the city and then finding herself moving to the US and then sort of them making the decision to come back home. And it just beautifully explorers her journey, because everything kind of stems from that moment, from that broken initiation. She feels like everything, that kind of a journey or everything that’s gone wrong in her life or hasn’t gone to plan has to do with what happened on that fateful night. It’s the intercontinental story that deals with women of tradition versus, I don’t know, modern ideas. It’s also about making your own way, like choosing what path is right for you or choosing your own path apart from what is the normal.  And he obviously deals with race, and what I noticed today: it deals with tribalism as well, which for some reason I didn’t get the first time. And that is something that I’m aware of as well.

JS: You used the word initiation. Can we talk a little bit about this? Because I was so interested in this. Coming from the perspective of a white Western woman, I what that what initiation means is what the way we always say it here is female genital mutilation. I thought that was going to dominate the book. And it was so fascinating to me that it doesn’t. And it was also fascinating to me that Fina does not let anyone reduce her to that terminology. She has a very specific conversation with a very important person in her life where she says, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. This is not your culture. It turned around everything. It didn’t turn around everything I’ve always thought. But I do think very differently. It made me stop. I don’t I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. We have this reaction to this topic, and I think is very fascinating that you immediately used the word initiation. You use the word that she uses for it. That her family uses for it. 

SB: Yes. And I think I see as somebody who, obviously, grew up on the continent. I understand the other side of the conversation. But also, I grew up until I was – What age did I come over? 15. I had the different idea of this. In the context of this story and from me growing up like around it and be aware of it, I have a different idea. Those ideas are probably not the same now than what they were. But I completely understood as this little conversation that happened between her and another character. I really liked the conversation. I thought it was done really well, because it’s much more complex, especially for people that grew up on the continent. This topic is not that simple as I think, which is what the auto to kind of try to show via these two characters, because you have one person that is grown up in the Western world and has a very set and different idea and kind of a more or more simplistic kind of approach and understanding to it. And then you have somebody who come from the traditional side of things. And I also liked how she challenged the other character about, well, the male side of it as well.

JS: I love it when a book does that, when a book makes me stop and think, you don’t know.

SB: Yeah, exactly.

JS: You haven’t lived through it. And it just made me stop and think, I don’t know this story. And so this is something that I should not just say that I know the way it should be, which is what we are. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Another thing that I forgot to mention was it also deals with this relationship between Africans and African-Americans. I noticed that a bit more this second reading and there’s a history of this relationship and in the real world as well. But I liked how that was explored as well. We have Africans and then people from the Caribbean like and there’s this different relationship to each other. And I just love how that was explored. It felt like home. And this book really is about that, isn’t it? There’s a beautiful quote to be at home means knowing oneself and sharing myself with others. And yet for some people, because I feel like home is not necessarily just one place like you, you carry with you. And I feel like that quote kind of encompasses that that feeling. So, you know, it is really about all of them trying to find out, especially the kind of other main characters in the book where they belong and in this world, and how they go on about creating their own path. 

JS: Do you and your family get to travel back to Africa often?

SB: Actually, I haven’t been since for 12 years now, so I am desperate to be able to go hopefully in the next few years. But the thing is, if I go back, I have to visit two countries. I have family in both countries. I have my grandma and my aunties and uncles in in Guinea and I have my half siblings and my uncles and aunties in in Sierra Leone. So it would be a big trip for me, but I am desperate to go back. But it will be very interesting because let’s say I go back. By the time I will have been 15 years here, it will look completely different to because I left as a teenager and I’ll be going as a grown adult. I will probably be in my thirties. It will be a very interesting experience that I cannot wait to hopefully do soon. But yes, I am hoping to go soon and see family and and just be home. It’s amazing. Like I’ve been here for 12 years and this is home as well. I am British, but where I was born and grew up in the other country that I believe countries that I grew up in, I still very much think of them as home. I cannot separate the three. 

JS: It occurred to me as I was reading this: I don’t think I’ve ever read a Sierra Leonean author. I think all of the African literature I’ve read. Is it possible it’s all from Nigeria? 

SB: Nigerians. I love them. I love them. But yes, they dominate the literature scene. And they are amazing writers. And then after them, you’ve got the Caribbean, as well. I think that was another reason why I wanted to choose this book, because I was like, there’s other books that I think of as the “best” book ever. My mission was kind of like, I want to read more authors from my own countries. I want to try and share them and encourage people to seek out more than just the kind of literature that are dominating the scene. So, yeah, that was another reason why I chose it, because I was like, I doubt she would have read this. 

JS: No, I had never even heard of it. 

SB: And that was why I chose this book. It’s a very underrated book, but it is one that meant so much to me. It will be good to kind of revisit it and discuss it with somebody and give it a little bit of light that it deserves. Just it’s I think it’s just amazing discovering new authors and new works and reading about topics or situations. You would never, ever normally pick up, and I think for us as humans on a society, it’s just the best and I encourage more people to do it. I feel like you are better off for it. 

JS: OK, there’s one more thing I really want to talk to you about with regards to this book. Given that you are also a British woman in addition to all of your other identities, I think you appreciate this question on several levels. I have been watching The Crown. It just released over here in the United States. And I have been reading the newly released book called “H.R.H.”, which is an examination of the fashion choices of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, Kate Middleton and Megan Markle. This book is all about how every single thing they wear means something, or points to something else. So I’m watching that and also reading the book. And as I was reading “So the Path Does Not Die,” I could not help but notice all the talk about fashion. And I went to Wikipedia a million times to look up, What exactly does this particular outfit look like or what does this particular cloth looks like? I thought it was so interesting and focused so much on West African fashion. I was wondering if you noticed that and if it meant anything to you or if it was something you really enjoyed in the book as well?

SB: Oh, I definitely noticed that. I noticed that the first time around. And I remember when I was reading it the first time around, I was I can see there was this event that happened, not to give spoilers, I would just say it’s an event. I can see this event clearly in my mind. The imagery and everything. And obviously, when you’re familiar with it, it’s easier to kind of picture what he’s trying to convey. I remember that. I miss it. And it was it was taking me back to the sort of event that I’ve attended as a child. I miss it. I still have some of my traditional African clothes here with me, although I don’t wear them as often. And now and then my grandma in Guinea will send me some clothes. I really appreciated that. 

JS: Yeah. I don’t know anything about fashion, but I love what it means and what it signifies. The food, too. The food was the other thing. Oh, my God. 

JS: Yes, me too. I was like, I have like an Indian/African shop near us. And to be honest, this takes me back to when I first discovered that shop existed because I had been there for a few years. I think it was just after I moved out of home for the first time, I was living on my own and I discovered because I was like, you know, craving food from back home. I was like, oh, oh my gosh, you have cassava leaves here. They have plantain. I mean, and I think I remember I posted it on my Facebook because I was so happy and I was like, this is the best. And I was like, I need to cook some of this stuff. 

JS: It’s it’s really well done because none of these foods are part of my history at all. And I spent the entire book going, I need to learn how to make that. It really is a very joyful celebration, I thought. 

SB: It was nice to see. So much of the book is dealing with heavy stuff. So that was really nice to kind of have that. Or do I feel like, overall, the book is – I don’t know. I wouldn’t say, not joyful. In a way, I think because of how we end and sort of have how finding our own path because she does at the end of it, and I think, like the journey was easy for the kind of overall ending was, yeah, it was like it was a it was a nice one. 

JS: Suzie, will you tell me, what are you reading these days?

SB: Well, at the moment, I was reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” But I was reading in August, end of October. And I put it down because I was like – it’s fantastic, by the way. Nothing with the writing or anything. It’s incredible. I will be going back to pick it up and finish it. But I think with this year, I’ve been looking for kind of less emotionally taxing, especially around kind of coming towards the end of the year. And I just I want more books that just give me joy. And one of the books that I recently read and loved was Love in Colour. It’s a short story collection and it’s by Bolu Babalola. It was just it was a delight. It’s mythical tales from around the world retold. And it was just beautiful. I enjoyed that. And I think especially for all of us, like whatever gives you joy, like grab it and like don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If your usual books that you read is not doing it, pick up something else, bring you a little bit of joy, take some anxiety. I’ve read more poetry this year than ever. Maybe five or four or five, possibly, collections that I’ve read. And I hadn’t read poetry since back in school maybe when I was 18, 19, was probably the last time. I started off with “Questions for Ada,” which is a beautiful, beautiful collection of women. Huge healing joy. It’s also about children of the diaspora. And it was just it was like a healing collection. I think whenever you feeling a bit down, you need a bit of nourishment in the form of words. It’s a good one to just pick back up again and dive in. So that was beautiful. And then recently, I think just maybe last week I read two poetry collections. They kind of spoke to each other. I read “Poor” by Caleb Femi, which is a new collection. It just came out and it kind of like a poetry collection, but it’s got some photos in there as well. And that was beautiful. And I listened to him on a podcast and he recommended “Surge” by Jay Bernard, which I had on my shelf for like two years. It’s quite a slim collection. That one was just amazing as well. And they kind of spoke to each other. They speaking about people like what we refer to here as Counsel Estates, from the perspective of somebody that has actually lived in those tower blocks and how they’re treated and how they’re looked at from the outside world. And he just takes charge of the narrative. And I really like enjoy the collection and some of the poems in that was amazing. “Surge,” as well, kind of deals with the same thing. But it focuses on the in an incident that happened where people died, in a fire at a party. To this day it’s believed it was a racial attack, but the government did nothing about it. I think the writer went to archives and stuff and ended up writing this poetry collection that is mainly based around that. And some of the poems made me sob. There was a poem there, it’s the perspective of a dad that has lost the son and then it’s kind of the perspective of the dead child. And it was just heart wrenching to read. And I think it was even more sad when, you know, it’s like based on actual true events that have happened. And that was the same thing with Paul as well. Actually, he says lots of all of his poems are pretty much based on things that have happened. So they are a real, I don’t know, gut punch. They hit that much harder when you know this is not just somebody’s imagination, but based upon their own experiences or other people’s experiences that I’ve read about and then written about. Poetry collections have been a balm to the soul. 

JS: I love that you use the phrase that these two books are in conversation with each other. I’ve never heard that before, but that I love the notion that there’s sort of a communion, maybe not between the authors, but between the books themselves. 

SB: So I’ve already mentioned the Bookstagramm of @booksandrhyme. She does a podcast as well, and she does this IG lives and she always kind of recommends books and talk about books that are most of the time in conversation with each other. And it’s where that I’ve now got this idea. I like to look or to like to kind of see that. It kind of opened my eyes to the books that are in direct conversation with each other that are out there not by the same authors. They’re kind of talking about the same thing, but in completely different ways. And it’s a beautiful experience to kind of read both.

JS: This has been so wonderful. I knew it would be. I was so excited to talk to you. And I want to thank you for joining me today. Will you tell our listeners where they can find your wonderful reading account online?

SB: Yeah, before that, just thank you so much for asking me to be on. This is my first ever podcast.

JS: Wait, what? You’re a pro!

SB: I’ve enjoyed this conversation so much and it’s been a delight. You can find me on Instagram, @ASBthebookworm.

JS: It’s wonderful. It’s one of my very favorite book accounts to follow. I get so many ideas for you. So, thank you for joining me today and thank you so much for introducing me to this book.

SB: Thank you for having me. It’s been great. Love it.

Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, please go to our website, BestBookEverPodcast.com, or follow the podcast on Instagram @BestBookEverPodcast. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me everywhere @JulieWroteABook. Remember, when you’re doing your book shopping, please help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at Bookshop.com/BestBookEver.  Thanks for joining me today and I will see you at the library.

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