Living astride two cultures, exploitation and the quest for happiness. These are some of the themes in the novels of the internationally acclaimed Ghanaian novelist.
The hall in the German city of Cologne is filled with people who have come to see and listen to one woman. The 57 -year-old author from Ghana Amma Darko.
Her braided hair and colorful blouse gives a young and cheerful impression as she keenly listens to an actor reading from her fifth novel which bears the title "Faceless." It is about the street life of Fofo, a 14 -year-old girl in the slums of Ghana's capital Accra. The main theme of the story is the vicious cycle of poverty and violence that drives children to streets and women to prostitution.
The novel was published in 2003.
Four years later, "Faceless" was the inspiration behind the award-winning documentary "Roaming Around."
Amma Darko told the Cologne audience she discovered her talent for writing in the mid-1970s. "In my time writing was not acknowledged as something someone does, so if you were a writer and had a passion for it, you did it in private for fear of being laughed at," the novelist said.
The reluctance to talk about her passion for writing changed when Amma Darko began studying at the University of Kumasi. She met a professor who encouraged her to keep on writing. However, she graduated in sociology. You could not study creative writing in Ghana in those days, she explained.
Life in Germany
After acquiring her sociology degree, Darko worked as a technical consultant. She then took a weighty decision. She was going to emigrate - to Germany! "I had the drive for adventure and wanted to simply break out," Darko said, adding that "I was restless. I think the whole country was restless. Everybody was going away."
The political upheaval in Ghana was at least partly to blame. In 13 years, the country went through five military coups.
On 4 June, 1979, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings seized power as chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). He had three previous leaders of military coups executed - Lieutenant General Fred Akuffo, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and Lieutenant General Akwasi Afrifa.
Many people left Ghana because they did not feel safe. With the help of a pen pal Amma Darko obtained a visa for Germany and moved to the city of Hildesheim in 1981.
"If I had not come to Germany, I would not have developed my writing," Darko told DW in an interview. "I was able to focus, it takes a lot of passion and determination especially if you have never published before."
Despite her prolific output, Amma Darko found it hard to get her works published. She couldn't find a publisher.
The cover from the novel 'Beyond the horizon' (in German 'Der verkaufte Traum') which became an instant success
But with the help of temporary jobs, she managed to stay afloat until her return to Ghana in 1987.
From then on, it was success. In 1991, Darko's first novel, "Beyond the horizon," was first published in German under the title "Der verkaufte Traum". It is about a Ghanaian woman who follows her husband to Germany, believing she will earn money and win happiness. Instead, she is exploited by her husband and forced into prostitution. It became Germany's best-selling novel by a black African writer.
"The book came out at a time when migration, prostitution and exploitation was a hot topic," Darko said.
The book helped Darko to establish herself internationally. Since then, she has published five more novels. In 2008 she won "Ghana's Book Award", the country's highest literary accolade. "Faceless" is on the curriculum of many schools in West Africa.
Darko is just about to complete her latest book "Between two worlds." It also set in Ghana and Germany. "Whenever I bring out a new book, I go on tour," she explains with a smile. "Germany is my second home."