A Marriage of Convenience
Kwabena Opoku is a Ghanaian scientist who has lived in the U.S. for twelve years. He’s seeking permanent residency so that he can continue his important prosthetics research, but is afraid of being blackballed by the INS and forced to leave the country (because of the malicious actions of a former colleague whom he outed as a cheat). His answer is to find someone to marry so that he can attain his green card. Tamara Fontaine, who has had the worst year of her life, was left at the altar and wiped out of all her savings by a slick con man, and she’s holding off bankruptcy by a thread. The payment Kwabena offers to be his temporary wife is a lifeline she can’t pass up. This is the base plot to A Marriage of Convenience.
At the outset, I didn’t understand why such a prominent and acclaimed scientist would have to resort to such illicit measures to procure his permanency. How is it that one man who holds a well-known grudge against Kwabena, could be the reason why the Immigration and Naturalization Service would discount twelve years of important research? Kwabena decided on this path of a marriage of convenience based on a rumor that maybe this guy would succeed in convincing the powers that be that his visa should not be renewed. It was far-fetched for me, and I didn’t like the idea of the scam. But, once I accepted it as “fact”, I settled into his relationship with Tamara, one which went from convenience to love, and really enjoyed their story.
Tamara is really at her lowest at the novel’s opening. She rushed into marriage with a con man as she was anxious to do away with her twenty-six year old virginity – and could not pass up the idea of a handsome man like Jared falling in love with her two hundred and twenty pound self. In preparation for their married life together, she splurged on a luxury home, funded by the exorbitant salary she earned as an IT employee, and on an expensive wedding. She also made all of her personal bank accounts joint to show love and solidarity with her soon-to-be husband. Of course, on the day of her wedding she finds out she is husband-less, money-less, man-less and then a few months later when recession hits, job-less. Her mortgage is overdue, her credit card balance is astronomical and the companies are threatening to call in the collectors. The only thing she could do to go lower is to sell herself for money. And then, she does that too.
So it’s a desperate man and woman who begin a new life together, and at first they are constantly at loggerheads. Tamara is bitter and discontent with her life. The weight she’d dropped off right before her wedding to reach below two hundred pounds has been put back on and then some, and she can’t seem to find another job. In contrast, Kwabena is very good looking, very sociable and appears to have a lot of girl friends…and girlfriends. They can’t seem to find anything in common until one day when they meet in the kitchen and really start to talk. Their relationship blossoms from there and it was very romantic.
Not exactly a svelte person myself, I always find it a romantic read when you have someone fall in love with a person who is not at society’s standard of beauty. And unlike some other “plus size” reads, Tamara’s weight is not soft-pedaled. We hear of her double chin and her love handles and her unfortunate obsession with diet pills. I understood Tamara’s weakness when it came to self-love as I’ve been there before, but I couldn’t connect with her willingness to have the whole world know that she was a virgin at twenty-six. The woman says at one point: “Pregnant? I’ve never had sex a day in my life!” She harps on it a lot, but I think this is a personal issue and as a bystander I’d get annoyed when she proffered this bit of information. It’s none of my business and I don’t care.
In spite of this, Tamara’s behavior just cemented that fact that I was reading about two flawed but real people – something I always appreciate. It was also refreshing to read about a hero who was not American but who was also not a “stereotypical” foreigner. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about African society to notice any rank stereotypes but I was impressed with how natural the Ghanaian aspects to Kwabena’s life fit into the story.
Before I began reading, I didn’t have high hopes for the story. The author’s name is Jewel Amethyst and I was just about snobby enough to turn up my nose at this. But she can call her name Ruby Sapphire next time and I’ll give her another read. This is her debut full length novel and I’m hoping it can only get better.