Before delving into this review, I want to clarify that I will primarily focus on the romantic aspects rather than the historical implications. You can find my thoughts on other themes better in my review on Goodreads.
PS: Spoilers ahead
The author Rosanna Amaka is of Afro-Caribbean heritage and draws on this mixed heritage as well as the specific experiences of Africans who through forced and voluntary migration found themselves on different continents fighting to defend their humanity even as they fought for the causes of their adopted countries. Rose and The Burma Sky is her second novel and features a Nigerian protagonist, Obi.
The book adopts an intriguing narrative approach by beginning with what appears to be the end. This storytelling technique effectively portrays the thoughts of a man reflecting on his life’s final moments.
The initial chapters meticulously delve into Obi’s childhood, providing insights into his mother’s role in the Aba women’s riot, which tragically cost her life. We learn about the dynamics of family and social classes during the early colonial era. Obi’s friendships are explored, as well as his infatuation with ‘sweet Rose.’ While some may argue that too much time is spent on every thought and feeling, I interpreted it as the ramblings of a dying man.
Obi’s love for Rose blossoms from a young age, possibly stemming from a profound sense of grief. It begins as a connection grounded in childhood friendship but develops into something much deeper.
It is often said in jest that many men seek partners resembling their mothers. The author presents a similar scenario to us. Obi’s infatuation with Rose is closely tied to his perception of her as a reflection or even a reincarnation of his mother. This perception is reinforced by his naivety. Rose, like his mother, who was one of his father’s wives, is portrayed as strong, determined, and intelligent. In pre-independent Nigeria, these women were leaders in their communities, yet confined to the role of housewives. Obi places Rose on a pedestal, without considering her own dreams, hopes, or ambitions.
Everything Obi does is driven by a desire to “win” Rose, but he fails to truly consider what this victory would entail for either of them. Eventually, fate brings them together, providing an opportunity for him to learn a lesson. In a somewhat predictable yet stunning twist, he is not the only one who gains new insights.
We witness Obi join the army and go to war, both literally and metaphorically, in pursuit of Rose’s love. At this point, I must commend the author for skillfully maintaining my interest in historical fiction. Often, I lose engagement when a story fails to strike a balance between immersing the reader and describing the hardships of war. Rosana Amaka accomplishes this brilliantly, gradually transitioning from Obi’s naive infatuation to his personal growth, while still interweaving his motivations into relevant situations.
However, I must admit that I found the Black Panther-esque ancestral plane elements a bit perplexing. Nonetheless, I attribute it to the madness of war and appreciate that it wasn’t excessively exaggerated.
Obi returns home as a changed man, still driven by his obsession in some way, but without true closure. It is at this point that he must truly discover his identity and, for the first time, consciously choose the kind of man he wants to be. He mends relationships, forges new connections, and gains a deeper understanding not only of himself but also of manhood.
The book concludes on a note that may not be the most uplifting, but it offers a sense of closure that deserves appreciation, regardless of how tokenistic it may seem.
There’s a wealth of content to explore within this book, not because it’s complicated or intricate, but because it evokes strong emotions and raises questions about love, obsession, friendship, and all the fascinating lines that dance around them.
“Rose and the Burma Sky” is more than a tale depicting the harsh treatment of Africans during colonialism, the tumultuous period around World War II, and the aftermath that left many profoundly affected. It is undoubtedly more than a story of unrequited love. I believe it is a testament to the lengths individuals will go to, irrespective of their social class, cultural background, or even perceived mental acuity. It leaves one pondering whether there might be value in naivety and innocence.