Sisters struggle in Stockholm


Sisters struggle in Stockholm

LINZA DE JAGER climbed out of her safe, white comfort zone and read about characters who look and think differently from her. It was an insightful experience that she recommends.


EVERYTHING is Not Enough caught me off guard. It's a book that seems deceptively light. Lola Akinmade Åkerström follows the lives of three black female immigrants in Stockholm. There's the wealthy Brittany, the ex-sex worker Yasmiin and the marketing hotshot Kemi. The women have nothing in common except that they are going through a difficult time.

The character of Yasmiin, a Somali, resonated with me the most. When we meet her, life seems bleak. She has just heard that a friend tried to take her own life. This raises ghosts from Yasmiin's past, as they met shortly after Yasmiin turned her back on sex work. She still can't escape its after-effect, though: she is haunted by the memories of men who bought her for less than the price of a shrimp sandwich. What will her boyfriend Yagiz's reaction be if he hears about this? Yagiz sells khat and kebabs and takes steroid pills that change his personality. Still, he supports her efforts to find work. When she gets a job at a hair salon, she seizes the opportunity faster than you can say “Mogadishu".

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Brittany was a flight attendant and model until her marriage to tycoon Jonny von Lundin. Now she spends her life in a gilded cage, suffocated by Jonny's obsessive attention. When her toxic mother-in-law sends her a picture of one of Jonny's exes, she discovers that she strongly resembles the woman. It's the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. However, separating from the aristocratic Von Lundin and getting custody of her child won't be easy. Brittany begins to investigate her husband's past and discovers that the ex who looked like her disappeared after a date with Jonny. Did he kill her?

At first, I struggled with Brittany's character because she's too pretty, too rich, too much Jonny's sex doll and too little her own person. Take this scene:

“Please don’t leave me,” he whispers against her skin before tightening his grip. He wraps her long legs around his waist. Brittany gasps, blinking to fully catch her breath.

And a little further on:

So when Jonny begins his pounding rhythm, Brittany concedes this round.

This type of scene occurs less often, thank goodness, because Brittany rediscovers herself and reveals a dark secret. 

The marketing hotshot Kemi is a delight. She is as subtle as a grater and impossible to find boring. Kemi excelled in her work in America, causing the advertising firm where she now works to headhunt her. However, it was only to make the company look diverse, she discovers. Perhaps it is frustration that makes her jump into bed with a married colleague. The consequences of this form a huge Swedish snowball that threatens Kemi's comfortable existence.

The three women meet but they're not going to form a cosy circle of friends. They are too different. Brittany doesn't like Kemi and the feeling is mutual. Yasmiin, the poorest of the three, is also the most objective. It helps that she gives the other two women a makeover in the salon. It's in this setting that her star shines, and when she's not busy doing hair and painting faces, she uploads photos of celebrity clients to Instagram.

The book caught me off guard. Most characters I read about are white and similar to me. This time, I had to crawl out of my comfortable little box and see life through the eyes of black women. And it was worth it, because looking through someone else's eyes opens windows in your head.

The Nigerian-born Åkerström says she wants readers to step into black women's shoes. Before she started writing fiction, she made a name for herself as a travel and photo journalist, and it's probably this background that enables her to make Stockholm come alive for the reader.

The book takes you into the luxurious lives of the Swedish super-rich and their private islands but also into the hair salon of an Iraqi woman, where no white person ever sets foot.

There is ambition and pathos and love in the book, as well as the greater tragedies that make people flee their country to a place that seems liberal. A place like Stockholm. The book is a rich dish with many ingredients. Enjoy.

Who, what where and how much?

Everything is Not Enough by Lola Akinmade Åkerström was published by Head of Zeus and costs R430 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦ 

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