These covers imply that Eddie is a much younger boy than the 20-year old man who becomes Eddie Signwriter. Nothing in the book describes a childhood learning art so I don’t like either cover for this book–one was on the library’s audiobook, the other on the print version, both of which I enjoyed. Eddie finds that he’s a skilled artist, enabling him to work anywhere he goes. The story takes him from Botswana to Ghana, Senegal, and to Paris. What is he escaping? Who really loves him and on whom can he depend? Can he ever face his family again? Where is home?
Opening like a murder mystery, we are slowly told Eddie’s story from different angles, his father’s presence and mostly absence in his life, his place in the family dynamic. There’s a love story here as well as a sense that Eddie is overcoming being labeled “naughty” since birth. Could he just be a normal boy trying to grow up, a victim of circumstances and the manipulation of others? Any shame brought upon him seems to stem from older adults’ perceptions and flaws, of events he becomes engulfed in from which he becomes exiled. Perhaps it is this childhood-inflicted shame that explains the cover illustration.
Eddie’s real name is Kwasi Edward Michael Dankwa. His parents are from Ghana but he lived apart from his mother for many years in Botswana where his father is a professor. As he is coming of age, his parents decide that he must live in Ghana in order to learn what it means to be Ghanaian, making him a foreigner in both countries. His father’s former classmate is a teacher and administrator at a private school and admits Eddie who soon hooks up with the beautiful niece of the teacher’s friend, a prominent local businesswoman, Nana Oforiwaa. Following an unfortunate incident that takes Nana Oforiwaa’s life, even though Eddie is not directly responsible he is blamed because it is believed that Nana Oforiwaa would not have died if she hadn’t been looking for the young romantic couple who had stolen off together as they often did.
Schwartzman introduces a procession of remarkable characters over the course of the story. I love the character of Festus Ankrah, Eddie’s uncle who becomes Eddie’s savior by empathizing with him and championing his redemption. Eddie Signwriter is a very intriguing novel. I did not want to put it down or stop listening to the audiobook in which actor Kevin Kenerly artfully and articulately brings the characters and plot to life with a marvelous accent. Lyrical depictions of characters, scenery, and the environment of the African landscape as well as the immigrant existence in the Paris underground are remarkably written in a poetic yet uncomplicated style. This is a first novel for Schwartzman who previously published works of poetry.
Check the WRL catalog for Eddie Signwriter.