Winner of the McKitterick Prize 2012.
Adele is in a mess. On her own with her young son, struggling to cope with her job as a teacher, and stuck in a disastrous - and dangerous - affair, her life is unravelling. The sharp contrasts and certainties she experienced during the years she spent as a child in far-off Senegal have faded to a distant blur. Then, one night, when she looks in the bathroom mirror, she sees the face of Ellena, a girl she knew in those carefree days, staring back at her from the glass.
As the daughter of a nightwatchman in exile from the brutal conflict in Liberia, Ellena's childhood was far from the idyll of Adele's memories. Her mysterious appearance sets in motion a chain of events that takes Adele back to Africa, in the hope that she can make amends for a heartless act that broke the girls' friendship and damaged Ellena's family irrevocably.
Africa Junction artfully interweaves the stories of dramatically different lives and experiences - a Senegalese boy setting sail for Europe, a Welsh teenager running from Timbuktu, a young girl escaping from a life of slave labour in Mali - but at its heart is Adele and her quest.
From the rain-drenched streets of Britain to the sun-baked reds and yellows of Senegal and the violence of Liberia's civil war, Africa Junction follows one woman's attempt to draw the threads of her life together. Out of the quagmire of violence and hardship there emerges a tentative vision of common humanity and, ultimately, the possibility both of redemption and of love.
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Praise for Africa Junction
"Africa Junction takes the many threads that bind or separate its characters and weaves them into a compelling story. Baily opens a door onto the harsh, dazzling landscapes of Senegal and Mali, the anguish of children sold into slavery by their parents, the determination of a boy to find his sister, and the mystery of friendship between two girls whose lives soon tear them apart. Africa Junction beautifully expresses the search for survival, love and meaning that drives each one of Baily's characters."
author of The Lie
"Each chapter in Africa Junction can almost be read as a single story yet each feeds masterfully into the redemptive conclusion. … Baily entwines several African stories - a Senegalese boy setting sail for Europe, a Welsh teenager travelling to Timbuktu with her boyfriend, the violence of civil war in Liberia - to shed light on the life-questioning anguish of Adele, a single mother with one son, who needs to piece together her African childhood to make sense of her here and now in the UK.
The African writing is enchanting and frank and fresh, reminiscent of Salinger and Harper Lee. The heat and randomness of childhood are brought to life with honesty and humour, and all the complexity and crossfire of Africa is evoked in this warm-hearted and uplifting novel."
"Ostensibly, the protagonist in this forceful debut is single parent Adele, a teacher living in Devon, nostalgic for her 1970s expat childhood in Senegal, 'its white light tree-climbing days, and hot, black velvet nights'. Yet the first chapter of the novel describes the aftermath of a village massacre during the Liberian civil war. Baily's evocation is terrifyingly intense, focusing on the inert body of an old woman, 'bare black feet, baking in the sulphurous sun'. The astonishing landscapes of Mali, Liberia and Senegal over the last 30 years are compellingly crossed to trace the tale of Adele's African childhood friend Ellena and other parallel fates, depicting an exhausted, vibrant continent scoured by Aids and child trafficking."