Ekow Duker

Dying in New York

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Dying in New York Summary

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Ekow Duker’s novel Dying in New York (2014) follows Lerato, a young black South African girl who lives in a suburb of Johannesburg. Though on the outside Lerato’s life seems comfortable and complete, she is the victim of her father’s frequent physical and sexual abuse. The novel is narrated by Lerato, who dreams of dying in far-off New York City to escape the pain, abuse, and secrecy of her parents.

The story begins as Lerato imagines her death in New York City. She has never been to New York or traveled beyond the confines of her suburb outside Johannesburg, South Africa, but she imagines a life for herself elsewhere—or, at least, a death for herself far from the confines of the cage-like room her parents have constructed for her.

Lerato is a young black girl from a middle-class family. Her life, on the outside, seems comfortable and normal, despite a “delicate condition” that her parents claim keeps her from going to school and spending time outside with other children. Lerato only leaves the house to see her psychiatrist, Dr. Sydney Malema. Though Lerato’s parents use Dr. Malema’s diagnosis of acute depression to keep Lerato from the world, nobody knows that Dr. Malema is also Lerato’s uncle.

It is quickly evident that Lerato is being brutally abused by her family. Her father is physically and sexually abusive; he has been sexually assaulting Lerato since she was 10 years old. Though her mother is not aware of the sexual abuse, she is complicit in Lerato’s physical abuse, maintaining the web of lies that keeps Lerato chained to her bedroom wall day in and day out. Lerato describes moments of rebellion, like biting her father’s private parts and trying to communicate with girls out the window as they walk home from the local Mission School.

The novel floats back and forth between Lerato’s recollections of her horrific childhood and present-day sessions in a psychiatrist’s office overlooking Hudson Bay in New York. Some recollections include the concern of Sister Daniella, an American teacher and nun who comes to the house to check on Lerato after nine months of absence from school. Lerato’s mother and father insist that Sister Daniella cannot visit Lerato or send a school social worker to meet with her because it would go against the family’s “traditional customs” around the treatment of mental illness. Sister Daniella is skeptical, but gives up and leaves the house after being shouted at by Mr. Malema.

As Lerato tells her story, she moves from a horrific childhood into a story of prostitution and abuse that follows her into adulthood. The story eventually takes her to New York, the home of her attempted savior Sister Daniella, where she tries to process what happened to her and how to move forward.

Ekow Duker is an African author, investment banker, and former oil field engineer. Educated in Ghana, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, he has traveled all over the world for his work in oil field engineering. He now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa where he works in data analytics. His first novel was White Wahalla, and he has subsequently published Dying in New York, Yellowbone, and The God Who Made Mistakes.