Taking on questions of race, sexual identity or class in a work of barely 200 pages would be an ambitious project for any writer. Asali Solomon’s second novel, The Days of Afrekete, tackles all three with insight, wit and grace—a tribute to her considerable talent.
At the core of the novel, whose title refers to a character in Audre Lorde’s Zami, is the story of Liselle Belmont and Selena Octave, two Black women who meet at Bryn Mawr College in the 1990s and enter into a brief, intense relationship; each ascribes the fault for its end to the other. Even at a distance of some 20 years, it’s clear that neither woman has been able to shed the memory of their four months as lovers, scenes of which Solomon sketches in vivid, economical flashbacks.
As their college years recede, Liselle’s and Selena’s lives proceed in opposite directions. Selena undergoes a series of psychiatric hospitalizations and moves through a succession of downwardly mobile jobs. Liselle, in contrast, marries Winn Anderson, a white lawyer from a wealthy Connecticut family whose primary campaign against an incumbent Black state representative has ended in defeat, a disappointment compounded by Winn’s entanglement with an unscrupulous real estate developer that has made him the subject of an FBI investigation.
Most of the novel’s present-day action unfolds at a dinner party hosted by Liselle and Winn at their 150-year-old home in an upscale neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia. The racially mixed gathering, intended to thank Winn’s core supporters, subtly dissects Liselle’s profound unease over the state of her marriage alongside her almost comical discomfort in the presence of Xochitl, the highly educated daughter of Liselle’s Latina cleaning woman.
Solomon doesn’t offer a tidy resolution to the story, but her novel doesn’t demand one. The Days of Afrekete’s strength lies in its well-drawn characters and its realistic portrait of how old desires sometimes refuse to remain buried.