Tag Archive: Review


A Man of the PeopleOdili Samalu narrates the story of a post-independent country, ruled by the People’s Organization Party (P.O.P), that is riddled with political bias and graft. Having become disillusioned with the present government due to unchecked corruption and inept ‘public servants’, he ironically finds himself in the good graces of one such politician – Chief the Honourable M. A. Nanga. Micah Nanga had risen from the post of a humble teacher at Anata Grammar School to become a Member of Parliament and subsequently, by means of shameless opportunism, the Minister of Culture. Nonetheless, he is the most affable politician one could ever come across.

No one can deny that Chief the Honourable M. A. Nanga, M.P., was the most approachable politician in the country. Whether you asked in the city or in his home village, Anata, they would tell you he was a man of the people.

Chief Nanga offers to help Odili obtain a scholarship to study a postgraduate course in England as he, Nanga, is a close friend of Chief Koko the Minister for Overseas Training. Nanga invites Odili to stay with him in his mansion at Bori, the capital city, where Odili’s eyes are opened to the opulent lifestyle their so-called ministers lead. He debates the phenomenon of rising from grass to grace as he enjoys the plush self-contained room he is ushered into:

We ignore man’s basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga has risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state.

A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation – as I saw it then lying on the bed – was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say ‘To hell with it’. We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded them­selves in. And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loudspeakers, that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase – the extension of our house – was even more important and called for new and original tactics; it required that all argument should cease and the whole people speak with one voice and that any more dissent and argument outside the door of the shelter would subvert and bring down the whole house.

And so they did by convincing the masses through initiatives like Our Home Made Stuff (OHMS) – a gigantic campaign to promote the consumption of locally made products, urging every patriot to support this great national effort which supposedly held the key to economic emancipation without which their hard-won political freedom was a mirage.

A fall-out between Odili and Chief Nanga after the latter has a night of intimacy with Elsie, Odili’s girlfriend, drives him to search for his long time friend and former classmate Maxwell Kulamo, a lawyer in Bori. That night, Odili is conscripted into the Common People’s Convention, a party Max and a few other disillusioned friends are starting to check the corrupt, mediocre politicians at the helm of state affairs.

With a sum of eight hundred pounds, Odili goes to his home village, Urua, to launch the party and contest for Chief Nanga’s seat in parliament. Max and the other founding members show up to convince the village people to vote for the C.P.C.

Max began by accusing the outgoing Government of all kinds of swindling and corruption. As he gave instance after instance of how some of our leaders who were ash-mouthed paupers five years ago had become near-millionaires under our very eyes, many in the audience laughed. But it was the laugh­ter of resignation to misfortune

The people’s myopic perspective on the issue is summed up by the defiant ex-Corporal or ‘Couple’ as the villagers called him.

The ex-policeman put it very well. ‘We know they are eating,’ he said, ‘but we are eating too. They are bringing us water and they promise to bring us electricity. We did not have those things before; that is why I say we are eating too.’

Odili becomes blatantly aware of the arduous task ahead when his political aspirations are met with one stumbling block after another. First, he is fired from his teaching job at the Anata Grammar School, then he is ostracized by the previously friendly Mama, Chief Nanga’s wife; he finds himself at odds with Edna, a young woman who his promised to Nanga with whom he, Odili is infatuated with, and is finally harassed by the misguided youth supporters of Nanga or the Nangavanga. Although he tries to stick to the ideals and tenets of political decorum, he finds himself more and more swayed to play dirty like his rival Chief Nanga.

As Boniface, Odili’s Chief of Security put it:

‘Look my frien I done tell you say if you no wan serious for this business, make you go rest for house. I done see say you want play too much gentleman for this matter … Dem tell you say na gentlemanity de give other people minister …? Anyway wetin be my concern there? Na you sabi.’

Odili’s father had quite an intriguing and somewhat axiomatic view of his son’s political aspirations:

My father’s attitude to my political activity intrigued me a lot. He was, as I think I have already indicated, the local chair­man of P.O.P. in our village, Urua, and so I expected that his house would not contain both of us. But I was quite wrong. He took the view (without expressing it in so many words) that the mainspring of political action was personal gain, a view which, I might say, was much more in line with the general feeling in the country than the high-minded thinking of fellows like Max and I. The only comment I remember my father making (at the beginning anyway) was when he asked if my ‘new’ party was ready to give me enough money to fight Nanga.

Against his better judgment, Odili decides to attend Chief Nanga’s inaugural campaign meeting in disguise, but is inevitably discovered and roughed up by the crowd.

Days later, he regains consciousness in the hospital and learns from his father that the charges leveled against him for ostensibly carrying dangerous weapons has been dropped. He remains in hospital on election day, the day that ended with Max Kulamo’s death.

The P.O.P. is re-elected without breaking a sweat, yet their victory is short-lived. The very thugs they hired to intimidate and subvert the will of their opponents refuse to be disbanded. It starts with Chief Nanga’s miscreants who go on a rampage as a demonstration of their displeasure at being dismissed. Other political thugs, after hearing of the success of the ‘Nanga rebellion’, also take to the streets and vent their spleen on innocent market women and passers-by.

Even though the Prime Minister assures the people and foreign investors that his government stands ‘as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar’, the military would have nothing to do with it. They stage a coup and lock up every member of the Government.

Some political commentators have said that it was the supreme cynicism of these transactions that inflamed the people and brought down the Government. That is sheer poppycock. The people themselves, as we have seen, had become even more cynical than their leaders and were apathetic into the bargain. ‘Let them eat.’ was the people’s opinion, ‘After all when white men used to do all the eating did we commit sui­cide?’ Of course not. And where is the all-powerful white man today? He came, he ate and he went. But we are still around. The important thing then is to stay alive; if you do you will outlive your present annoyance. The great thing, as the old people have told us, is reminiscence; and only those who sur­vive can have it. Besides, if you survive, who knows? It may be your turn to eat tomorrow. Your son may bring home your share.

No. the people had nothing to do with the fall of our Government. What happened was simply that unruly mobs and private armies having tasted blood and power during the election had got out of hand and ruined their masters and em­ployers. And they had no public reason whatever for doing it. Let’s make no mistake about that.

In this novel, Achebe paints a picture of how a country’s leadership can either make or break the nation depending on the agenda of the ruling class. In this case, the ruling party had no real agenda for the nation, but only for themselves. Even the wisdom of the politicians had been compromised, allowing the intoxication of political power to manipulate their advice to the younger generation.

Achebe’s vivid description of the intricacies of corruption in an increasingly impoverished country makes A Man of the People a case study of the politics of many African countries. He expounds, probably, reasons for the failure of some post-independence African governments and the cause of the rampant military coups in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

His usual style of using simple language and transliteration in dialogue makes it easy and enjoyable to read. For instance, he uses the word ‘eat’ several times in his narration. This does not mean the person is eating a meal, but is a direct translation from the Igbo language which means to spend or to enjoy wealth.

Due to his near-clairvoyance in writing this novel, he narrowly escaped confrontation with armed soldiers who apparently believed that this novel implicated him in Nigeria’s first military coup.

Of all the novels Achebe has written, this is my favourite. I really love the part about the cynicism of the people and their resignation to the ‘eating’ of government officials. After all, it might be the their turn to eat tomorrow and their son may bring home their share. This parochial mentality prevails to this very day.

For this month’s Reading Relay, I will give away three e-copies of Achebe’s Girls At War & Other Stories.

Please fill out the form below to have your chance at winning a copy.

Contest ends @ 11:59pm GMT on Monday the 27th January, 2014. Winners will be announced the following day.

GOOD LUCK!

This giveaway has no geographic limitations. Everyone is welcome to participate.

THIS READING RELAY IS CLOSED

The story of Umuofia continues…

Two generations after the protagonist’s tragic demise in Achebe’s timeless Things Fall Apart, the British Colonial Administration is deeply entrenched in Nigeria. The descendants of native tribesmen walk in the footsteps of both their ancestors and the strangers they now call their government.

Lagos has become the city of dreams where anyone who wants to be someone lives. From time to time, a war veteran in need of attention will amaze naïve villagers with stories about the big city.

‘There is no darkness there,’ he told his admiring listeners, ‘ because at night the electric shines like the sun, and people are always walking about, that is, those who want to walk. If you don’t want to walk you only have to wave your hand and a pleasure car stops for you.’

Little Obi Okonkwo drank in such stories without a doubt in his young mind.

For many years afterwards, Lagos was always associated with electric lights and motor-cars in Obi’s mind. Even after he had at last visited the city and spent a few days there before flying to the United Kingdom his views did not change very much.

But Obi returns from England to meet a very different Nigeria. Slums are springing up in Lagos and the people’s proclivity for bribery and corruption is insatiable. He is expected to pay back his scholarship to the Umuofia Progressive Union and support his family back in Umuofia from the meager salary he earns as a civil servant in Lagos. Meanwhile, he intends to marry his unwilling fiancée Clara, the young Nigerian nurse he met in England.

Obi’s expenditure inevitably exceeds his income and he finds himself in a quandary that borders on a conflict between the idealism he had learned in England and the temptation of accepting gifts and tokens from his fellow countrymen in exchange for favours.

Though Achebe’s No Longer At Ease is another masterpiece, its brilliance is overshadowed by its predecessor. The novel explores the cultural, sociological and economic divide that European influence brings to Africa. Family bonds begin to weaken. The ‘white man’s religion’ now competes with African traditional beliefs and technology like cars and electricity makes the cities more alluring to the younger generation who in having an affinity for Western culture, gradually forget theirs. Education suddenly becomes the yardstick of prominence instead of the customary titles bestowed on men. The literate are said to have ‘the white man’s power’.

… Obi heard his father talk with deep feeling about the mystery of the written word to an illiterate kinsman.

‘Our women made black patterns on their bodies with the juice of the uli tree. It was beautiful, but it soon faded. If it lasted two market weeks it lasted a long time. But sometimes our elders spoke about uli that never faded, although no one had ever seen it. We see it today in the writing of the white man. If you go to the native court and look at the books which clerks wrote twenty years ago or more, they are still as they wrote them. They do not say one thing today and another thing tomorrow, or one thing this year and another next year. Okoye in the book today cannot become Okonkwo tomorrow. In the Bible Pilate said: “What is written is written.” It is uli that never fades.’

Achebe is one of my favourite authors because of the versatility in his narration. He is able to blend excellent grammar with transliterations of his native Igbo dialect, making it easy for anyone who speaks a West African dialect to relate to such dialogue and at the same time whets the appetite of those who don’t for a better understanding of the language.

In this novel, he cleverly juxtaposes the benefits of European influence with its adverse effect on pre-colonial West African culture and family values as he paints a vivid picture of life during the Colonial era. Although No Longer At Ease is not as popular as the legendary Things Fall Apart, I think it is every bit a classic as the latter.

Elechi Amadi’s premier novel initiated me into the world of African Writers. I remember being so immersed in the story each time I picked up the book, I was oblivious to everything else.

In simple language, Amadi narrates the story of Ihuoma, the beauty of Omigwe, whose character and conduct are beyond reproach in Omokachi and all the neighbouring villages. Her near-perfect qualities make her a role model to her peers and the ideal wife for most men who wish to take one.

Yet her comeliness does not exempt her from the inevitable trials of life. Widowed too early in marriage for most women, she has to struggle against loneliness and the advances of men. Her equanimity in such trying moments makes the respect she commands soar even higher. But the price she pays to uphold her reputation seems to increase with passing time.

As her prestige mounted its maintenance became more trying. She became more sensitive to criticism and would go to any lengths to avoid it. The women adored her. Men were awestruck before her. She was becoming something of a phenomenon. But she alone knew her internal struggles. She knew she was not better than anyone else. She thought her virtues were the products of chance. As the days went by she began to loathe her so-called good manners. She became less delighted when people praised her. It was as if they were confining her to an ever-narrowing prison.

Amadi weaves a tale of beleaguered romance between Ihuoma and Ekwueme, her new suitor, in a society where every facet of human existence is governed by the mores of the people and the statutes of their gods.

Omokachi village life was known for its tradition, propriety and decorum. Excessive or fanatical feelings over anything were frowned upon and even described as crazy. Anyone who could not control his feelings was regarded as being unduly influenced by his agwu.

The author’s use of imagery, folklore and West African proverbs, interspersed with the occasional humor of witty Wodu Wakiri the Wag, makes The Concubine a mélange of spicy adages, anecdotes, allegories and amusement. His elaborate dissection of tribal customs makes this book not just another African novel, but an exposé on West African culture.

The plot flows from communal living and good-neighbourliness into a tributary of greed, jealousy, potions and encounters with the spirit world in an era when people had to wrestle with deities to secure their destiny.

When a farmer traverses the highlands and lowlands of the countryside in search of his lost calf, he returns to his village with an eagle chick.

He decides to keep the eagle among the chickens on the compound.

“The eagle is the king of the birds,” he said, “but we shall train it to be a chicken.”

So the eagle lived among the chickens, learning their ways.

One day, a friend comes over to visit the farmer…

The friend saw the bird among the chickens. “Hey! That’s not a chicken. It’s an eagle!”

The farmer smiled to him and said, “Of course it’s a chicken. Look – it walks like a chicken, it talks like a chicken, it eats like a chicken. It thinks like a chicken. Of course it’s a chicken.

Unconvinced, his friend sets out to prove to the farmer that the bird is indeed an eagle.

Fly, Eagle, Fly! is a Ghanaian fable originally told by educationist James Kwegyir Aggrey also known as “Aggrey of Africa” (October 18, 1875 – July 30, 1927). He was born during the colonial era when the greater part of modern Ghana was called the Gold Coast. Working as a pastor and educator, he toured the African continent and shared this story time and again to inspire confidence.

When Aggrey told this story, he used to end by saying,

“…don’t be content with the food of chickens! Stretch forth your wings and fly!”

At this, children would run excitedly around their playgrounds with arms outstretched like the wings of eagles.

This children’s book is an adaptation of Aggrey’s fable by Christopher Gregorowski. He wrote it for his dying daughter when he was working among the Xhosa-speaking people of Southern Africa as an Anglican Priest. He wanted it to help her understand that we are all born to be eagles that are lifted up by the might of the Spirit.

I bought a copy for my six-year-old nephew a while back, but ended up getting hooked to the story when I skimmed through it in the bookshop so I kept it for a reread to motivate myself (and yes, my nephew did get the book).

In its simplicity, the story continues to inspire me. It reminds me that I am not meant to scratch the ground and peck about like a chicken, but to soar with the rising sun to greater heights like an eagle.

   If nakedness promises you clothes, hear his name.

                                        –          an Akan proverb

How many drug addicts bought their first fix or smoke themselves?

How many alcoholics bought their first drink with their own money?

Which philanderer came up with the idea to chase women, all by himself?

You will find answers to these questions in Kwakye’s The Clothes of Nakedness.

In neighbourhoods riddled with poverty and unemployment, you will always find a wolf in sheep’s clothing who preys on the vulnerable. The enigma who stalks the ignorant ones who will do anything to earn a living; who exploits them in subtle ways until they are bound to him in servitude.

This was the man they called Mystique Mysterious. Male and female, child and adult, all referred to him by that name, in which they combined their respect for him, their fear of him, the fascination they felt for the unreachable person behind the shades

The Clothes of Nakedness is about the workings of this cryptic character, whose alleged sole agenda is to help the needy in poor neighbourhoods. He goes around offering jobs to the unemployed and hands out free cigarettes and rolls of marijuana to those who have never smoked them before. He buys free drinks for the depressed alcoholic to offer him solace in a bottle.

Mystique Mysterious sets his eyes on three new targets at Kill Me Quick and intends to reel them into his net by all means possible.

Gabriel Bukari the bendy one. Gabriel is depressed because he is unemployed. His loving wife, Fati, is the bread-winner of the family. She does not rub this in Gabriel’s face, but encourages and supports him anyway she can. Gabriel and Fati have a son called Baba. Gabriel loves his wife and son and will do anything for them. If only he had a job.

He was a gentle man and his friends believed him to be kind-hearted. But the unhappiness born of several months of unemployment had taken effect.

Kojo Ansah the quiet one. This teetotaller sits behind a glass of water at Kill Me Quick. He never orders a drink from the bar and has few words to say.

He was a man renowned for being deficient in expression and proficient in contemplation.

Kofi Ntim the opinionated one. He is also known as Philosopher Nonsense. Though he stands at barely five feet, he compensates for his challenges in height and physical appearance with balderdash and witty remarks. Kofi is not afraid to speak his mind and it is difficult to put him down.

Ever in high spirits, he was full of jokes and both sensible and senseless quips that he sometimes couched in philosophical terms.

Mystique identifies each man’s weakness and devices a scheme to exploit them. But will things go as planned?

In a battle of wits and intelligence, Kwakye reveals the evils that sprout out of poverty and illiteracy.

I enjoyed this novel particularly because Kwakye cleverly infuses humour in the story whilst he talks about distraught communities and broken homes. He addresses the spate of corruption in a developing country where the majority lack the education or requisite skills to qualify for a job interview.

What may seem like an unfortunate situation is interpreted as a ripe opportunity by those who gleefully manipulate ordinary people so they can continue to hold their sway over the masses.

BANQUO [Aside.]

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s 

In deepest consequence.

                                                                   MACBETH

                                                                   Act 1: Scene 3

It’s taken me so long to post this book review because I struggled to find the right words to summarise what I deem a message about the neglected and rejected in society. I cannot give a brief summary to this insightful novel, so here is my review of Amma Darko’s Faceless…

When Maa Tsuru tells Fofo that Baby T’s mutilated body has been found at Agbogbloshie, Fofo sets out to find justice for her sister’s murder. In a twist of fate, she runs into Kabria who works with a non-governmental organization called MUTE which functions as an interventionist and alternative library for every social, gender and child issue.

Kabria takes an interest in Fofo’s case and determines to find out what led to Baby T’s death. With the help of Sylv Po, the reporter from Harvest FM, they work their way into a syndicate led by Poison, the street lord, that trades in child prostitutes, drugs and is linked to all manner of street crime.

In one of the most hostile parts of Accra, Fofo’s story draws Kabria and her colleagues’ attention to the socioeconomic menace that comprises a community of drifters and hustlers in a slum called Sodom and Gomorrah, so named after the Biblical city that God destroyed because of its numerous sins.

Amma Darko’s quest to find out how Accra’s squalid Sodom and Gomorrah sprung up out of her old neighbourhood at Old Fadama led to a series of revelations that inspired Faceless, her third novel.

Although the author uses ficticious names, she narrates what can possibly be described as real-life events at venues that really exist. Agbogbloshie, Makola Market, Korle-Gonno, Kaneshie, Abossey-Okai, Abeka and the all-notorious Sodom and Gomorrah can really be found in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.

SOME IMAGES OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH

In making up the various characters and narrating their stories, Darko enlightens her reader about the information she amassed after nearly two years of research into street children, life in Sodom and Gomorrah,  Agbogbloshie and its environs.

Fofo would have spent the Sunday night into Monday dawn with her friends across the road at the squatters enclave in Sodom and Gomorrah watching adult films her fourteen years required her to stay away from, and drinking directly from bottles of akpeteshie, or at best, some slightly milder locally produced gin. Ultimately, she would have found herself waking up Monday morning beside one of her age group friends, both of them naked, hazy and disconcerted; and oblivious to what time during the night they had stripped off their clothes and what exactly they had done with their nakedness. Sucked into a life on the streets and reaching out to each new day with an ever-increasing hopelessness, such were the ways they employed to escape their pain.

Darko draws her audience’s attention to the AIDS prevention campaign versus the situation prevailing in such communities:

Sylv Po’s female studio guest was on and complaining about the AIDS prevention programme not driving home the message of abstinence and faithfulness with the same intensity as the use of condoms. Then she touched on the AIDS issue versus the street-children phenomenon…

“During a recent survey we conducted for a programme, all the girls we talked to out there were already sexually active. And we also established that, for many of them, rape was their first sexual experience. And I am talking about girls as young as seven. Many were child prostitutes. They had no idea at all about the extent of self-damage to themselves. Sex to them was just a convenient means of survival. Many were roaming about, oblivious to whether or not they were HIV positive, so…”

In the course of her narration, Darko compares and contrasts Kabria’s family life with that of Fofo and her street companions. She outlines the benefits of family planning, especially in communities where womanhood is proven by having many children and barrenness is abhorred, and mentions some old wives’ tales about the correlation between how a baby is born and its behavioral pattern.

Kabria is the backbone of her family. She multitasks as a mother, wife and social worker. Adade, Kabria’s architect husband, contents himself with his work, joining co-workers to drinking spots to release tension, and returning home for dinner. Their constant argument about Creamy, Kabria’s stubborn hand-me-down VW Beetle, does not get in the way of a stable marriage because Kabria handles the situation tactfully. Their children – Obea, Essie and Ottu – are all in school. Each child’s character is a force to reckon with, but their parents take care of their needs. In a chaotic, but stable environment, the family is able to get along.

What of Fofo and the other street-children? How did they end up on the streets in the first place?

Darko uses the story of Maa Tsuru’s curse to unravel the process of birth to street life.

When a teenage girl is betrayed by the young man who impregnated her, she rains curses on him and all his descendants as life drains out of her in giving birth to the baby who will later be known as Maa Tsuru. Maa Tsuru grows up labelled as a cursed person. People distance themselves from her in her family house, where she also resides. After having two sons and two daughters with Kwei, he abandons them. Fofo and Baby T’s older brothers leave as soon as they are able to fend for themselves.

Then a new man worms his way into Maa Tsuru’s bed and connives with Maami Broni, who promises to find work for  Baby T  through Mama Abidjan’s questionable recruitment agency, in exchange for periodic payments to feed Maa Tsuru’s new family. Fofo too is forced to leave home because there are two new mouths to feed.  Baby T is later found dead behind a hairdressing salon.

Fofo’s best friend, Odarley, share’s a similar story. Odarley’s mother also has a new husband and children she’d had by him. She resents Odarley because her father abandoned them and constantly accuses her daughter of stealing from her.  So she drives Odarley out to live on the streets.

Then there is the story of the innocent boy who ran away from home to escape the constant abuse of a drunken stepfather. He ended up as a messenger in a brothel, worked his way up by bullying, raping and murdering and is now known as Poison the street lord.

A boy and a girl of about Fofo’s age and making their home on the streets of Accra like her were once asked by a reporter from one of the private FM stations during a survey about their most passionate dreams…

“My dream,” began the boy, “is to be able to go home one day to visit my mother and see a look of joy on her face at the sight of me. I want to be able to sleep beside her. I wish her to tell me she was happy I came to visit her. Whenever I visit her, she doesn’t let me stay long before she asks me politely to leave. She never has a smile for me. She is always in a hurry to see my back. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that maybe she never has a smile for me because the man she made me with that is my father probably also never had a smile for her too. One day she said to me, ‘Go. You do not belong here.’ If I don’t belong to where she is, where do I belong? But I know that it is not just that she doesn’t want to see me. She worries about the food that she has. It is never enough. So she worries that it may not suffice for her two new children if I joined. The ones she has with the man who is their father and who is her new husband. He hates to see my face. I often wonder what it is I remind him of so much.”

The girl said, “One day a kind woman I met at a centre made me very happy. Before I went there, I knew that by all means she would give me food. But this woman gave me more. She hugged me. I was dirty. I smelled bad. But she hugged me. That night I slept well. I had a good dream. Sometimes I wish to be hugged even if I am smelling of the streets.”

In an introductory essay by Kofi Anyidoho, Amma Darko is described as a major female Ghanaian writer whose works are akin to the likes of Efua T. Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. Both her first and second novels, Beyond the Horizon and The Housemaid, focus on the plight of women and young girls in a merciless world dominated by greedy, irresponsible and often cruel men in their life. Faceless adds up to the other two novels to form what Anyidoho calls an important trilogy. Her stories revolve around feminism and abused women and children in society.

In using what I call simple ‘Ghanaian English’ to narrate the epic tale in Faceless, she gives her reader a feel of Ghanaian urban culture and idiosyncratic transliterations Ghanaians use as we blend our native dialects with English. Her narrative style may be a bit unusual, but she puts her message across well.

Faceless is about the children who have been long forgotten in the rush for modernisation and development in most countries. These young people can be an immense asset to the economy, but are lost to the machinations of poverty and illiteracy, losing their identities in the process.

In writing this book, Amma Darko reminds us…

The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.

                                                         – John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

 

If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.

– Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey (1875-1927)

Since my last book review was on feminism, I thought it prudent to continue with the subject.

The Joys of Motherhood is a compendium of primary care-giving.  Drawing from her experiences as a single mother of five, Emecheta sculpts the quintessential West African mother out of the words in this novel.

Set in the early twentieth century, the story revolves around Nnu Ego, a true royal of Ogboli – one of the villages that made up the town of Ibuza. She is the daughter of Nwokocha Agbadi, the wealthy chief of Ogboli and of his untamed mistress Ona, daughter of Obi Umunna, another local chief of Ibuza.

Overjoyed at the sight of his new daughter, Agbadi…

…bent down and peeped at the day-old child wrapped and kept warm by the fireside and remarked: ‘This child is priceless, more than twenty bags of cowries. I think that should really be her name, because she is a beauty and she is mine. Yes, “Nnu Ego”: twenty bags of cowries.’

Nnu Ego was the apple of her parent’s eyes.

About three years after her daughter is born, Ona becomes pregnant again and goes into premature labour. She senses her imminent death  as she gives birth and asks Agbadi to give Nnu Ego the same freedom her father Obi Umunna gave her.

‘… see that however much you love our daughter Nnu  Ego you allow her to have a life of her own,  a husband if she wants one.  Allow her to be a woman.’

But Agbadi marries her off to Amatokwu when she is sixteen. The marriage ends, however, after Nnu Ego endures the emotional and psychological trauma of childlessness.

The real drama begins when she travels from Ibuza to Lagos to become the wife of Nnaife, laundryman of the Meers. Nnu Ego learns to adapt to urban life where her husband is a white man’s servant and participates in a strange worship called Christianity. In Ibuza, chores like cleaning a household, washing and cooking are exclusive to women, but this is not so in urban Nigeria. It is the ‘woman-made men’ who do such domestic duties for the white man.

When  Nnu Ego confides in Cordelia, wife of Ubani the cook, she laughs at her moanings about Nnaife and says,

‘You want a husband who has time to ask you if you wish to eat rice, or drink corn pap with honey? Forget it. Men here are too busy being white men’s servants to be men. We women mind the home. Not our husbands. Their manhood has been taken away from them. The shame of it is they don’t know it. All they see is the money, shining white man’s money.’

Emecheta defines womanhood and the evolving role of women in an era of polygamy, male-dominance and colonialist oppression. If a West African woman was subject to her husband’s will in all matters, what of one who was married to the servant of a white man?

‘They are all slaves, including us. If their masters treat them badly, they take it out on us. The only difference is that they are given some pay for their work, instead of having been bought.

In a roller-coaster ride of bearing child after child for Nnaife, who loses one job after another and is at some point sent off by the British government to fight in the Second World War, Nnu Ego juggles the responsibilities of motherhood, bread-winner and obedient wife.

After much drama, discourse and dissension, Nnu Ego separates from Nnaife and moves back to Ibuza a ripe old woman who has seen life in the big city. She keeps going on and on about her sons abroad until…

… one night, Nnu Ego lay down by the roadside, thinking that she had arrived home. She died quietly there, with no child to hold her hand and no friend to talk to her. She had never really made any friends, so busy had she been building up her joys as a mother.

As I imbibed the last chapter of the story, I was awash with a mixture of anger and disappointment. After reading chapter after chapter of Nnu Ego’s struggles with loneliness, poverty and marital abuse, I expected a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending to the story. I was angry that the protagonist did not reap from the toil and hardship she had endured as she invested all her life’s work into the well-being of her children.

On the other hand, Emecheta reminds us of the glaring reality of what it means to be a mother in most parts of the world. Although Nnu Ego is a West African mother, many women around the world can relate to her story.

I suppose ‘the joys of motherhood’ for Nnu Ego, as is the case of most mothers,  was watching her children grow up strong and healthy, having provided for their basic needs. In an era when having children was a married woman’s pride, Nnu Ego had proven her critics wrong by bearing male and female children for her husband.

Nevertheless, the story speaks to the joys, not the perks, of motherhood.

Even though I am unable to exhaustively address the complex sociological issues Emecheta discusses in this novel, I review this book in honour of mothers around the world.

Esi decides to leave Oko because he is not supportive of her profession since she excels at her well-paid job and puts that before him and their marriage. She also resents Oko’s constant demand for another child when she thinks their daughter is enough and wants to concentrate on her profession. Oko on the other hand thinks Esi is selfish for putting her work before him and their only daughter, Ogyaanowa, and for refusing to have another child for him. The distance between the couple lengthens after six years of marriage. Oko feels emasculated by his profession as a teacher as compared to Esi’s prominent job as a data analyst with the government’s statistical bureau.

After the usual arguing one morning, Oko crosses the line.

… Oko flung the bedcloth away from him, sat up, pulled her down, and moved on her. Esi started to protest. But he went on doing what he had determined to do all morning. He squeezed her breast repeatedly, thrust his tongue into her mouth, forced her unwilling legs apart, entered her , plunging in and out of her, thrashing to the left, to the right, pounding and just pounding away. Then it was all over. Breathing like a marathon runner at the end of a particularly grueling race, he got off her, and fell heavily back on his side of the bed. He tried to draw the bedcloth to cover both of them again.

Esi lethargically sits in her office about half an hour later feeling unclean. As she thought about it…

It all came to her then. That what she had gone through with Oko was marital rape.

Her analysis of this disturbing phenomenon  leads to a rather puzzling epiphany. She could not think of any native African word or expression for marital rape.

‘And, dear lady colleague, how would you describe “marital rape” in Akan?’

‘Igbo?… Yoruba?’

‘Wolof?… or Temne?’

‘Kikuyu?… or Ki-Swahili?’

‘Chi-Shona?’

‘Zulu?… or Xhosa?’

Or…

Oko’s treachery is the coup de grâce that ends their marriage.

Esi’s best friend, Opokuya has a different marriage. Opokuya is a nurse and Kubi is a civil servant, but neither puts work before family.

Opokuya had decided she wanted four children and upon consulting with her husband Kubi, they had had all four.

To the contrary, Opokuya and Kubi settle their differences quietly. Kubi is sensitive to Opokuya’s moods and Opokuya respects Kubi’s position as the head of the family. Although she is not happy that Kubi monopolizes the only car they share, she does not press the issue unduly.

Ama Ata Aidoo speaks to the issue of societal discrimination against independent, single, professional women in Africa. She expounds on the age-old problem of such women being constantly misconstrued as wanting to be ‘men’ since they will not acquiesce to the expectations of some of their fellow women to heed the beck and call of the male society. This includes having a well-rounded body for bearing children.

This obsolete paradigm is well adhered to by Esi’s mother.

The poor woman shared the popularly held belief that a young woman who is too tall, too thin and has a flat tummy and a flat behind has a slim chance of bearing children. The longer she waits after puberty, the slimmer those chances get!

Esi is further perplexed by Nana, her grandmother,  as she advises Esi about love in marriage.

‘Love?… Love?… Love is not safe, my Lady Silk, love is dangerous. It is deceitfully sweet like the wine from a fresh palm tree at dawn. Love is fine for singing about and love songs are good to listen to, sometimes even to dance to. But when we need to count on human strength, and when we have to count pennies for food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs, love is nothing. Ah my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves.’

A. A. Aidoo does well to compare two very different relationships – that of Esi and Oko’s with Opokuya’s marriage to Kubi.

Esi ends up falling for the suave Ali Kondey, who pursues her without feeling any remorse about neglecting Fusena, his wife. Esi has high hopes for this relationship because of Ali’s sensitivity and constant attention, but this turns out to be short-lived. The romance meanders to an unforeseen predicament.

Although Changes is another enlightening novel about the struggles of women living in male-dominated societies, I found it difficult to follow Aidoo’s narration of the story. Her frequent interjections with history, sociology, culture, et cetera interrupted the flow of the story. It took me longer to read Changes because I had to adjust to Aidoo’s unique style of writing since I was so used to other authors’ various styles of writing.

I am also at a loss as to why this novel is dubbed a love story. I am not sure which of the relationships in the book is the love story.

Nonetheless, the novel made me appreciate feminism and the need to pay particular attention to women’s global fight for equality. All in all, Changes is truly  an eye-opener to feminism.

STUFF AND NONSENSE

I loved the idea of holding a blog-along dedicated to poetry, so I decided to join Regular Rumination and many other bloggers for the Read More/Blog More Poetry: A Monthly Event!

Stuff And Nonsense by Gordon Bailey (to read more about him, click here) is an anthology for everyone. It’s easy to read (because most of the poems are short), full of humour and is ideal for those who wish to do a bit of light reading during their leisure.

If you have a voracious appetite for poetry, take some time off from the serious literature and read a bit of Stuff And Nonsense. You’ll exercise your lungs for a while, but please be careful not to let your sides split.

Are you among those who try to read a poem every now and then, but remain completely at sea no matter how many times you go over it? Give this book a try. You are guaranteed to have a paradigm shift about poetry.

Have you no interest at all in poetry? Then don’t think of this anthology as a collection of poems. Think of it as a collection of stuff and nonsense.

A few poems from the book:

DING

Ding Dong bell,

Puss is in the well;

We’ve put some disinfectant down

To camouflage the smell.

LOVE POEM

I held her tight,

That special night.

We kissed – a real humdinger!

I ran my hand

Through her mass of hair

And a squirrel bit my finger.

TONGUE TWISTER

I bought a pair of shoes today

But I shall have to return them –

The tongue keeps twisting

And this makes me walk with a lisp.

CHRISTMAS/SACRED

or

CHRIST/MASSACRED

Where do I draw the line?

NOTHING NEW

I was told there was nothing new

Under the sun.

So,

I looked above the sun!

MARY HAD A LITTLE…

Mary had a little lamb,

She taught it the guitar;

It now plays in a bleat group

At the local Coffee Baaaa!

THE ATHEIST

He looked at me

straight in the eye,

polished his spectacles,

and, without even a smile,

said,

‘I am an atheist,

thank God!’

A MAN…

A man knocked on our door last night

with a beard;

We didn’t hear him.

STUFF AND NONSENSE – A collection of Verse and Worse.

Make time to guffaw.

The story of Umuofia continues…

Two generations after the protagonist’s tragic demise in Achebe’s timeless Things Fall Apart, the British Colonial Administration is deeply entrenched in Nigeria. The descendants of native tribesmen walk in the footsteps of both their ancestors and the strangers they now call their government.

Lagos has become the city of dreams where anyone who wants to be someone lives. From time to time, a war veteran in need of attention will amaze naïve villagers with stories about the big city.

‘There is no darkness there,’ he told his admiring listeners, ‘ because at night the electric shines like the sun, and people are always walking about, that is, those who want to walk. If you don’t want to walk you only have to wave your hand and a pleasure car stops for you.’

Little Obi Okonkwo drank in such stories without a doubt in his young mind.

For many years afterwards, Lagos was always associated with electric lights and motor-cars in Obi’s mind. Even after he had at last visited the city and spent a few days there before flying to the United Kingdom his views did not change very much.

But Obi returns from England to meet a very different Nigeria. Slums are springing up in Lagos and the people’s proclivity for bribery and corruption is insatiable. He is expected to pay back his scholarship to the Umuofia Progressive Union and support his family back in Umuofia from the meager salary he earns as a civil servant in Lagos. Meanwhile, he intends to marry his unwilling fiancée Clara, the young Nigerian nurse he met in England.

Obi’s expenditure inevitably exceeds his income and he finds himself in a quandary that borders on a conflict between the idealism he had learned in England and the temptation of accepting gifts and tokens from his fellow countrymen in exchange for favours.

Though Achebe’s No Longer At Ease is another masterpiece, its brilliance is overshadowed by its predecessor. The novel explores the cultural, sociological and economic divide that European influence brings to Africa. Family bonds begin to weaken. The ‘white man’s religion’ now competes with African traditional beliefs and technology like cars and electricity makes the cities more alluring to the younger generation who in having an affinity for Western culture, gradually forget theirs. Education suddenly becomes the yardstick of prominence instead of the customary titles bestowed on men. The literate are said to have ‘the white man’s power’.

… Obi heard his father talk with deep feeling about the mystery of the written word to an illiterate kinsman.

‘Our women made black patterns on their bodies with the juice of the uli tree. It was beautiful, but it soon faded. If it lasted two market weeks it lasted a long time. But sometimes our elders spoke about uli that never faded, although no one had ever seen it. We see it today in the writing of the white man. If you go to the native court and look at the books which clerks wrote twenty years ago or more, they are still as they wrote them. They do not say one thing today and another thing tomorrow, or one thing this year and another next year. Okoye in the book today cannot become Okonkwo tomorrow. In the Bible Pilate said: “What is written is written.” It is uli that never fades.’

Achebe is one of my favourite authors because of the versatility in his narration. He is able to blend excellent grammar with transliterations of his native Igbo dialect, making it easy for anyone who speaks a West African dialect to relate to such dialogue and at the same time whets the appetite of those who don’t for a better understanding of the language.

In this novel, he cleverly juxtaposes the benefits of European influence with its adverse effect on pre-colonial West African culture and family values as he paints a vivid picture of life during the Colonial era. Although No Longer At Ease  is not as popular as the legendary Things Fall Apart, I think it is every bit a classic as the latter.

%d bloggers like this: