MAGIC DOLL Book Review — Dolly Dearest

As an object, this tall, turquoise hardcover, with a lively drawing of its young narrator on the cover, invites curiosity and touch. This is perhaps especially appropriate for a book about another curious object: a Ghanaian statuette of fertility and protection. The lines, patterns, colors and composition of the illustrations by Élodie Nouhen evoke place with acute specificity that feels intimate and familiar, in this review team’s opinion. In grocery bags, cooking utensils, chickens, jungle leaves, bananas and clothing patterns, we see what home feels and looks like to Adjoa, a young West African girl who has a doll named Akua’ba (Dolly to her family) for an older sister.

Adjoa relates how her mother longed for a child, watched her friends grow round and then bear children, while her stomach remained flat and empty. This brings great sorrow and pain to our young couple. Eventually Kwame, Adjoa’s father, recommends that Mom see a carver to make her a doll to love, and so Dolly comes into their home. Mom treats Dolly as a real baby, carrying her everywhere on her back, talking to her and loving her. In time, Dolly does her work and Adjoa is born. Her birth doesn’t end Mom’s daily connection to Dolly either. Adjoa is the second child of the family, and Dolly maintains her special relationship with Mom. The story concludes with the news that mom’s belly is once again round like a balloon, another blessing granted by Dolly’s love.

The Magic Doll takes us on a journey

The back pages of the book include a picture of a real Akua’ba fertility statuette. A hard wooden shape with a disc like head. It is not much like a baby doll as generally understood in North America. The younger half of this review team thought she looked nothing like a doll. The older half of this review team struggled with the concept that the doll would continue to maintain the place of honor in a family with living children, but that is one of the things about this book that so appeals.

The evocative language and images present people with different habits than our own, for whom a day like any other means scorching heat, blue skies and a sun “like the yolk of an egg in a frying pan.” It gives an opportunity to travel to a distant village and learn about the people who live there with a feeling of intimacy of their daily lives and habits. In a time where travel anywhere is not recommended, this book provided a small hint of what we might experience if we make it to West Africa.


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For more information and to purchase this title, visit the Prestel Publishing webpage for The Magic Doll

Images courtesy of THE MAGIC DOLL Book

nell voss
Nell Voss and Sylvia Holstein

About the Author: Nell Voss and Sylvia Holstein

Why have we ceded so much of our lives and our space to the automobile? 

Nell Voss can think of many better uses for urban space. She spends most of her free time imagining cities with forests instead of traffic corridors and vegetable gardens instead of parking lots. She’s also spent a large part of the last fifteen years writing (plays, screenplays, novels and reviews), or directing (plays, films, her child’s schedule). She lives in Chicago where she loves to watch plays, read novels, grow food and spend as much of the summer at the beach as she possibly can.

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