Morayo Da Silva, a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, lives in hip San Francisco. On the cusp of seventy-five, she is in good health and makes the most of it, enjoying road trips in her vintage Porsche, chatting to strangers, and recollecting characters from her favorite novels. Then she has a fall and her independence crumbles. Without the support of family, she relies on friends and chance encounters. As Morayo recounts her story, moving seamlessly between past and present, we meet Dawud, a charming Palestinian shopkeeper, Sage, a feisty, homeless Grateful Dead devotee, and Antonio, the poet whom Morayo desired more than her ambassador husband. A subtle story about aging, friendship, and loss, this is also a nuanced study of the erotic yearnings of an older woman.
The title “Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun” intrigues me. I wonder what it means.
I love this short novel which is narrated by Dr. Morayo Da Silva. We witness her interactions with her neighbors and strangers in the streets of San-Francisco where she stayed alone. She has very interesting friends. Some you would not even expect.
I believe Sarah Ladipo Manyika set out to break our stereotypes of what is an old person? How should they be? How should they live? We are expected to see certain things when we speak of old age, especially for women. However, Dr. Morayo shatters all those silly ideas. She is thinking about getting a tattoo for her 75th birthday. She bought a Porsche with her retirement money. She has all kinds of friends – young, old, Asian, white, gay… People my age would say she is living her best life. I like how this novel challenges me on so many levels. Why shouldn’t she live her best life? She is old, not dead.
Why shouldn’t she live her best life?
One of the best chapters of the book, for me anyway, is when the homeless woman Dr. Morayo met earlier speaks. She is not named. I imagine this is intentional. I was not expecting what she said. Again, this book breaks my stereotypes about homeless people. It was brilliant. She is humanized. I empathized with her. I saw myself in her. I could be her.
The diversity of character is amazing for such a short novel. This novel qualifies as African literature so you would not expect to see an Indian woman and her marital issues discussed or a white homeless woman somewhere in the US, I think she is white, her race was never mentioned. There is an Arab family as well somewhere in the story. What is African literature anyway? Should writers of African descent only write about African characters? That is a debate for another day.
The author takes us through an old age home where Dr. Morayo is forced to stay temporarily after a very unfortunate accident. She meets a mixed old couple – a black man and his white wife. Pearl, the wife, has Alzheimer, and, is a permanent resident. Her husband visits her daily. We go through his challenges. I was very sad for him. As a caregiver for a sick family member, you give up so much to support them. It is expected in our society. Nobody talks about their sufferings. It is beautifully put in this novel. Dr. Morayo herself is very affected by her presence in the home. Old people who used to be so active and energetic must defer to other people for almost everything. It is a very difficult experience for them. The author makes us feel their pain and mourns the loss of their former lives.
The protagonist is thinking back on her life, but not in a linear fashion. We discover it piece by piece as the book progress. Scenes from her marriage with the ambassador, an older Nigerian man, are peppered throughout the text. We also get a glimpse of their courtship, his betrayal and her affair with her husband’s younger friend. She is not remorseful about the affair. She is lonely, having divorced her husband several years before. She is having erotic dreams not about her ex-husband, but about her lover. You would not expect a 75-year-old to have erotic dreams and own up to them.
There is the time when you discover the challenges older people face especially when they live alone.
You will think a lot about old age, about how you treat old people in general. You will also rethink friendship. The novel is short, but it packs so much. Other themes, you will find here and there, are rape and interracial marriage.
I enjoy this book a lot and I will read her other novel (in)dependence as soon as I can.