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Review of "Grow Where They Fall" by Michael Donkor: Exploring Sexual Education Through Fiction
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in novels Review of “Grow Where They Fall” by Michael Donkor: Exploring Sexual Education Through Fiction

‘Our People. Scattered to your four winds … They land, but do they grow where they fall?” This “half-dreamy, half-sad” question, addressed by a Ghanaian father to his son Kwame, haunts Michael Donkor’s second novel. It casts doubt on the promised land of dream and opportunity that drives so many diasporic narratives: one where first-generation immigrants sweat and save, so that the second generation enjoys a better education and life.

Kwame, a gay English teacher at a state school in London, values education as the key to his identity. His job provides a stable and satisfying existence, supported by his parents and colleagues. He shares a flat with a close friend who works as a sommelier. As the child of working-class immigrants, Kwame is well aware of his parents’ sacrifices and takes pride in his cultural background. Although he experiences racist microaggressions, he is a compassionate and dedicated teacher. Despite his successes, he feels something is missing in his life- a romantic connection with men. For the past eight months, he has refrained from using Grindr. Can he continue to grow as a Black gay man without indulging in sexual relationships? Kwame often turns down advances gracefully, but this habit may also be holding him back.

The novel’s story is told through two different time periods. It begins in 1997, when a 10-year-old boy named Kwame meets his 22-year-old cousin from Ghana, Yaw, who is charming and charismatic. The story then jumps to 2018, where Kwame is now an adult and prioritizing work over relationships. The structure of the book is informative and full of suspense, but also carries some risk. The two timelines must work together, like cutting a cake into equal halves, so that the past and present are intertwined and not treated as separate entities. The author, Donkor, delves into young Kwame’s admiration of Yaw, giving plenty of detail but occasionally becoming too lengthy. Yaw is depicted as someone who does not let the attention of others go to his head, and is not seen as a god among men. However, idealization rarely leads to a happy ending, and the author expertly holds back a tragic secret until the end.

In the middle of the novel, the author, Donkor, presents a sharp and sarcastic description of the young character, Kwame, being educated about the slave trade by a white teacher. Kwame is shocked to learn that black people were forced onto ships and taken away as slaves. He is confused as to why his family never mentioned this to him. At the same time, the older Kwame is drawn to the new black head, Marcus, and fantasizes about intimate interactions with him. The tension between the two characters is both humorous and believable, and it highlights the central questions in Kwame’s life. Why is he more attracted to white men, possibly because of his brother Yaw? What about Marcus both fascinates and frightens him? And what is the reason behind his close relationship with his teasing and privileged white flatmate?

Donkor’s novel delves into the topic of sexual abstinence and examines the significance and insignificance of sex. The book portrays every sensual experience – browsing through Grindr profiles, engaging in anonymous hook-ups and friends with benefits, or simply fantasizing – with a balanced mix of enthusiasm and confusion. Kwame, the protagonist, reflects on his limited sexual encounters with Black men, and experiences a strong sense of intimacy coupled with a feeling of emptiness – leaving him unsettled rather than satisfied.

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The school serves as a microcosm of society and is the heart and soul of the novel. Additionally, Donkor, who is a teacher himself, offers criticism through Kwame regarding the “Assessment Objectives and Grade Boundaries,” the depletion of public funds by successive Tory governments, and the inequity present in the British education system. One student remarks, “The only parts of my [essay] plan you like are the ones you told us to include.” On the other hand, another student later cites Virginia Woolf’s diary, which states, “I create beautiful caverns behind my characters…that embodies exactly what I desire: humanity, humor, and depth.” Although Donkor’s novel is more tightly structured compared to Woolf’s stream of consciousness style, it still presents an abundance of humanity, humor, and depth.

Source: theguardian.com