The Deep Blue Between: Author Interview with Ayesha Harruna Attah

The Deep Blue Between begins in 1890s West Africa when twin sisters Hassana and Husseina are torn apart by violence. After their separation, each girl finds freedom and new opportunities. But despite their very different lives and choices, the sisters remain linked by their dreams, and slowly they are drawn back together.

Today author Ayesha Harruna Attah joins us to discuss her writing process, creative decisions, and more! Read on to find free educator resources!

What motivated you to write the story of the twins Hassana and Husseina?

When I finished writing my third novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga, I couldn’t stop thinking of the twins who had been separated after a raid on their village. I wanted to find out more about their story and wondered, as many readers did, if the twins would ever see each other again.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I relied on the research I had done for my third novel, to write about life in West Africa in the 19th century. I then broadened my net across the ocean to include Afro-Brazilian lives and experiences in that same era. I had visited Bahia during a residency a few years before, so I went back to notes I’d taken then and to my collection of photos. I’d visited museums and taken photos I didn’t even realize would prove extremely useful for writing this book.

Why are twins a recurring theme in your work?

My last name Attah means twin and every generation has a set of twins. I am fascinated by the connection they have – just from watching my twin nephews. I have featured twins in many of my novels, but this was the first novel dedicated entirely to them.

What is the most surprising discovery you made about life in West Africa in the 19th century?

It was the movement of people from the Brazilian coast to West Africa and back and forth. In my imagination, I’d thought the movement was one-directional, but when I lived in Brazil, I learned that some people got passports and moved between the two coasts a few times in their lives, which eventually influenced architecture, belief, food on both sides of the Atlantic.

Your book tackles religion, why did you want to write about that?

I grew up in with a Christian mother and a Muslim father. Sometimes, I found that their beliefs clashed and I was filled with fears and questions – would my father end up in hell? I was a big reader and never found religion tackled in the books I read. I wrote this book for young people who might find themselves questioning, like I was. It doesn’t answer questions, but its aim is to show them they might not be alone in their thinking and in their quest.

Educator Resources

Download these free resources to engage readers beyond the text!

Praise for The Deep Blue Between

★”This sweeping story is rich in detail, and the settings are vividly evoked. . . . A successful exploration of rich cultural experiences and enduring familial connections.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

“[O]ffers a compelling view of West African history as a backdrop for a story of sibling bonding and coming of age. . . . Themes such as enslavement, religion, diversity, feminism, British colonization, and treatment of the mentally ill are candidly addressed and seamlessly woven into the complex, captivating story.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“This sweeping saga is a heartache of grief, loss, faith, and the life-altering consequences of slavery and colonization.” – Buzzfeed

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