Grow Where They Fall by Michael Donkor - review by Ashani Lewis

Ashani Lewis

Old School Ties

Grow Where They Fall

By

Fig Tree 422pp £16.99
 

Michael Donkor’s second novel, Grow Where They Fall, is a clever braid of two periods in the life of Kwame Akromah. In one, ten-year-old Kwame manages his Ghanaian parents’ fraught marriage and high expectations while reckoning with new feelings brought on by the arrival of a charismatic distant cousin. Two decades later, Kwame, an openly gay man, teaches at a secondary school and navigates relationships old and new. Both are periods of upheaval, examined with equal closeness, and the rhythmic back and forth builds an expectation that the events of the first timeline will lead to revelations in the second. 

Much of the novel focuses on school life in south London, observed from Kwame’s perspective as pupil and teacher. It’s striking how little the classroom experience really changes across twenty years: different lingo, same anxieties. Some of the scenes portraying Kwame’s interactions with his students – influenced perhaps by Donkor’s own decade-plus of teaching – are insightful. Others are more heavy-handed. The chapters that focus on Kwame’s childhood exhibit Donkor’s powers of evocation, transporting the reader back to school assemblies. Kwame, for instance, uses his fingers ‘to spell out secret messages on the back of the person sitting in front of him’. 

Kwame’s increasing racial awareness is detailed with convincing and often devastating precision. ‘Why didn’t Marcel just speak to the officer politely?’ he wonders in an early passage. Later, after seeing a school display board about slavery, he recalibrates everything he knows: ‘That was a new word he’d learned

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