Thursday, July 7, 2011

REVIEW: The Civilized World by Susi Wyss


A glorious literary debut set in Africa about five unforgettable women—two of them haunted by a shared tragedy—whose lives intersect in unexpected and sometimes explosive ways 

When Adjoa leaves Ghana to find work in the Ivory Coast, she hopes that one day she'll return home to open a beauty parlor. Her dream comes true, though not before she suffers a devastating loss—one that will haunt her for years, and one that also deeply affects Janice, an American aid worker who no longer feels she has a place to call home. But the bustling Precious Brother Salon is not just the "cleanest, friendliest, and most welcoming in the city." It's also where locals catch up on their gossip; where Comfort, an imperious busybody, can complain about her American daughter-in-law, Linda; and where Adjoa can get a fresh start on life—or so she thinks, until Janice moves to Ghana and unexpectedly stumbles upon the salon. 

At once deeply moving and utterly charming, The Civilized World follows five women as they face meddling mothers-in-law, unfaithful partners, and the lingering aftereffects of racism, only to learn that their cultural differences are outweighed by their common bond as women. With vibrant prose, Susi Wyss explores what it means to need forgiveness—and what it means to forgive.
  • Pub. Date: March 2011
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Format: Paperback, 256pp
  • ISBN-13: 9780805093629
  • ISBN: 0805093621
About the Author
from her website

Susi Wyss was born in Washington, D.C. to Swiss parents. When she turned seven, her family relocated to Abidjan, Ivory Coast for three years—a period that would have a lasting impact on her view of the world.

After graduating from Vassar College, Susi pursued a career in international health, hoping she could make a positive difference in places like the ones she’d seen as a child. She earned a master’s degree in public health from Boston University and joined the Peace Corps, working on a child survival project in the Central African Republic. For the next 16 years, she visited and worked in more than a dozen African countries, eventually living for another three years in Abidjan. It was during this second stint in the Ivory Coast that she began writing fiction, much of it inspired by people she’d met, stories she’d heard, and experiences she’d had in Africa.

Upon her return to the U.S., while continuing her work in international health, Susi earned a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. She subsequently took a two-year sabbatical to write The Civilized World, a novel-in-stories set in Africa that was published by Henry Holt in April 2011.

Since completing her debut book, Susi has been balancing her creative writing with her work as an editor at Jhpiego, a Baltimore-based international health organization. Her stories, including several from The Civilized World, have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Bellevue Literary Review, Bellingham Review, and The Massachusetts Review. She has served as an associate editor for the Potomac Review, and her writing has been recognized by awards from the Maryland State Arts Council, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.

For more information, read the author's personal reflections on the African countries where The Civilized World is set.

Contact Susi via email
Fan her on Goodreads
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Check out her website

Stories take place across Africa, including Ghana and Malawi, and one of the characters lives outside of Washington D.C.

My Thoughts
Adjoa had been going to Madame Janice's every week for the last three months, but she still couldn't put her finger on why her stomach clenched and her shoulders stiffened every time her twin brother, Kojo, drove her to the white woman's well-kept house.
This book is a collection of stories intertwined together by people and places. Adjoa is a young Ghana woman, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. Janice is a single American woman who has been working in Africa most of her adult life. Comfort is a widowed Ghanian woman with a son and new grandbaby in Washington D.C., and daughter-in-law Linda has her own issues. Ophelia is a young childless wife hoping and trying for a baby.

I loved this book. The characters and their different stages in their lives held my interest. This story followed the characters at different points in their lives over an 8-10 year period. Some of the characters were more likable than others, and I found that I liked different characters at different times, and was less fond of them at other times of their lives.

Much of this book really revolves around motherhood: desiring it, striving for it, achieving it or not. There is pain, the disillusionment that often comes with age, as you discover that life is not all milk and honey after all. There is friendship and love, and there is forgiveness.

The Cover: I like this cover. Very simple, it just depicts hair braided with fabric, which makes you think of the main central character Adjoa, who is a hair stylist.

Content Rating: A very clean book. I can't recall any vulgarity and only perhaps one brief sexual situation.

My final word: A beautiful, stirring melange of stories, I would strongly recommend this one to everyone.

Buy Now:

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10


I received a copy of this book for review from Henry Holt and Company, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

1 comment:

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have this in my tbr pile and really need to get to it as it has been there far too long. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it. I think the cover is striking as well.