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Contributor: Ayo Awoyungbo
Behind Beyond the Horizon

Beyond the Horizon marks Amma Darko's d?but as a novelist and, according to the synopsis, it is a "gripping and provocative story of the plight of African women in Europe and the false hopes of those they leave behind." I have to agree.

The story focuses on the plight of African women in the Diaspora. In a nutshell, it is about a girl named Mara who leaves her village in Ghana, with all its privations, and travels to Germany to join her husband. Unbeknownst to her, he has married a German woman in order to regularise his stay. He tricks her into prostitution and blackmails her into staying a prostitute, in the process shattering all her illusions about men, Europe and life in general. It is a tragic and cautionary tale.

If the first six chapters of the book are anything to go by, Mara, the protagonist, was in a condition of extreme hardship even before she left for Germany. Life in Africa, rural or urban can be hard, harder than life in Europe. There is nothing romantic about poverty when you are born into it, live it and die in it. This is the reality for many rural African women. Indeed, many of them are betrayed by the bright lights of the African cities and are led into prostitution in these places. One does not have to travel to Europe to work in a Brothel. The na?ve and innocent village girl is, in 1995, an anachronism. While there is no denying the fact that some African women are lured to Europe "without knowing the score", more often than not, they have an idea of why they are going there. There are unbelievable numbers of African prostitutes working in Italy, France and Germany and, like those women used as traffickers in the drug trade, not all of them were tricked into the trade.

Don't get me wrong, - I am not unsympathetic towards Mara and her real life African sisters from whom Ms Darko drew her inspiration for the story. African women - indeed all Africans - in Europe, whether legally or illegally often have to struggle to survive. Ms Darko herself did menial jobs when she was in Germany notwithstanding her academic qualifications (She graduated from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi in 1980). The point is that life is about choices and the novel seems to imply that Mara was compelled to stay in Germany as a prostitute. She was ingenious enough to escape from her original pimp and could have got out of prostitution even if she could not have returned to Ghana. In the story, she is drugged and gang raped while her husband videotapes the proceedings. He then "forces" her to remain a prostitute by threatening to send this video to her people in Ghana.

While the luring of Mara into prostitution by her husband is lamentable, one finds it hard to accept her reasons for remaining a prostitute when she had the opportunity to get out. The fact that those who remain in Africa have false hopes and unrealistic expectations riding on the economic adventurers in Europe is no justification for engaging in prostitution or drug smuggling. Instead of bowing to the pressure of grasping relatives, it is better to try and enlighten them about the harsh realities of life in Europe. Every penny earned is worked for. Ask Mara. The failure of the likes of Mara to tell their people as it really is makes them equally responsible for the plight of those gullible Africans who continue to come to Europe to be led into prostitution. But then, this is no longer an issue. Prostitution amongst Africans in Europe is now so widespread that even the remotest African communities can no longer pretend that they do not know what happens when their young daughters "go to work" in Europe. The arguments used by writers like Ms Darko for the entrapment of African women in Europe can no longer hold in today's Africa. The innocence and na?vety of the villagers is long gone.

All said, Beyond the Horizon is, admittedly, well written and quite enlightening. It is highly recommended and, at ?5.99, it should not stop you from sending money to your relatives/parents/siblings in Ghana/Nigeria/Jamaica or wherever it is you have roots. But don't deceive them. Tell them what it's really like over here.
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