Ola Mustapha’s debut novel, Other Names, Other Places, is a captivating coming-of-age tale that follows Nesrine, a Tunisian immigrant living in the UK. Written in the second person, the story unfolds as a heartfelt conversation between Nesrine (also known as Nessie) and Mrs. Brown, a family friend and former neighbor from years ago. Through this conversation, Nessie recounts her entire life, immersing the reader in her evocative narrative.
The title and cover of the novel are just as intriguing as the story itself. From the outset, Mustapha’s melancholic prose transports us to Nessie’s past, exploring her formative years. She comes from a dysfunctional family with a distant father, an aloof mother, and an older sister, leaving Nessie without any close bonds within her household.
As the narrative progresses, Nessie gradually unveils fragmented pieces of her memory, attempting to reconstruct her past. We witness her journey through different stages of life, from childhood to adulthood, as she becomes an expatriate in Tokyo. Mustapha candidly portrays Nessie’s struggles as an immigrant child who struggles to fit in.
Skillfully navigating through various themes such as family dynamics, immigrant challenges, parental expectations, and infidelity, Mustapha presents this multi-layered story in the form of a journal. She adeptly reveals subtle details throughout the narrative, holding the reader’s attention as they traverse three countries: the UK, Tunisia, and Japan. The cultural differences between these settings are vividly depicted.
If you enjoy slow-paced, coming-of-age stories that revolve around complex relationships, I recommend picking up Other Names, Other Places.
Wordsopedia Rating 3.5/5
|Title: Other Names, Other Places
|Author: Ola Mustapha
|Publisher: Fairlight Books
|Publication date: August 15, 2023
|No. of Pages: 304
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About the author
Ola Mustapha was born in London and spent part of her childhood living in Egypt before returning to England. She studied economics and Japanese at university and then moved to Japan, where she taught English for several years. She now lives in London and works as an editor.