When I was in university, I met a girl from Guyana. Her grandparents were of three different races, none of them white, and that established in my mind Guyana's identity as a multi-racial society. So when I launched #WeReadDiverseBooks and NetGalley offered a book by Guyanese author Sharon Maas, it seemed like a natural place to begin. And in matters of diversity, I was well-served.
The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q is a multi-generational story of Dorothea Quint, her daughter Rika (Frederika), and grand-daughter Inky (Inca). We skip back and forth through the decades, discovering the loves and dramas of the three women, in colonial British Guyana, post-colonial Guyana, and modern London. And neither drama nor love are lacking, in any of the time periods. And when Dorothea - now an old woman and a legend in Guyana for her political past - arrives to live with her daughter in London, Inky begins to learn for the first time of the roots her mother had turned her back on, and Rika is forced to come to terms with the mother she fled decades earlier. The catalyst for the modern drama is a rare and very valuable stamp that Dorothea has brought with her. A family heirloom, she is looking for someone worthy to bequeath it to. It takes us most of the book to discover the source of the enduring conflict between Dorothea and Rika.
All three women are strong characters, although strikingly different from each other. Interestingly enough, each era is seen through the eyes of the woman who is young at the time, giving this multi-generational story an almost YA feel to it. Adolescence is also the age when people are most likely to make foolish or rash decisions and we get a close-up of the thought processes behind those decisions for a good part of the book. Self-delusion and the price we pay for our delusions is an important and almost constant theme. But each woman, complete with her foolish and rash decisions, is portrayed sympathetically, even as they square off against each other.
I did find that Maas's story tilted a little more toward melodrama than suits my tastes. There was also a tendency to tell me about the swirling teenage emotions rather than make me sympathize with them. Knowing a character's every thought is not as effective for creating sympathy as making the reader come to the same conclusions, feel the same emotions.
However, if you are fond of family dramas that span generations, continents, and cultures, you will find this to be a worthwhile read. I found the shift in attitudes toward gender and ethnicity across generations and cultures to be particularly interesting.
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy from NetGalley for the purposes of review. I do not get paid for this or any other review.