Author: Alex Agyei-Agyiri
Publisher: Sub-Saharan Publishers
Unexpected Joy at Dawn is a story of two siblings, Nii and Mama Orojo, during the 1983 deportation of Ghanaians from Nigeria under the Shehu Shagari government. Nii, who is a Nigerian by blood but a Ghanaian by birth, was left in Ghana by his parents as they made the tortuous journey to Nigeria when Ghana enacted the Aliens Compliance Order of 1969, which made every person living in Ghana without the required papers an alien. His name was changed to reflect the name of his adopted parents. After fourteen years of living in hardship in Ghana, which involves living in slums even though he was an Assistant Manager at a bank, taking on multiple jobs, not being able to bury a wife and being chased around by market women for purported 'fraud', he decided to go to Nigeria in search of his roots. Besides, he entertained the fears of being labelled an alien, due to the rising tensions in Ghana against Nigerians as a direct result of the predicament of Ghanaians in Nigeria. Thus, blackness and name alone do not grant citizenship or staying permit, one needs more than that.
After making the dangerous journey fraught with deaths, bribes, swindles and gun-point robbery, and making it to Nigeria, Nii realised that again, tribal marks, colour and a name do not also make him a Nigerian. More is required and it is the more which he lacks the most, such as the ability to speak a Nigerian language, how to speak like a Nigerian, and dress like one. Nii was exposed and every where he goes he is told 'omo Ghana abi'. He moved from being a slave in someone's cassava farm to living in slums, to deportations camps to being a building labourer. Eventually, he was tagged as an armed robber and it was then that fate smiled upon him.
Whereas Nii was in Nigeria in search of his roots, Mama Orojo had also come to Ghana searching for his brother. Mama Orojo, however, fell in love with a gold dealer who was a customer of Expense Bank, where Nii had worked as an Assistant Manager. It was in search of Nii, that they realised the enormity of the problem they had at hand including the burial of Nii's wife, Massa.
Finally, the two were to meet under very strange circumstances, after Nii had absconded from a deportation camp and was hiding in an uncompleted building. The people had taken them for armed robbers and were rushing on them when Mama Orojo and Joe, her gold dealer lover, saw Nii. Nii's problems did not end in Ghana, for even in Nigeria, whilst running away from the authorities in order to prove his citizenship he lost a lover, Marshak, and a friend, Aaron, with whom he crossed the border into Nigeria. He also met and lost a lot of friends in the rumpus at the camp.
The story is suspenseful and interesting, apart from the early pages where it seemed a bit dull and forced. It recalls the lives of individuals during a particular era of a nation's history. Ghana was under military rule and the whole economy was in shambles forcing people to leave to Nigeria, where the economy was deemed to be booming.
In narration, the author sometimes allowed his political inclination, real or perceived, to seep into the narrative. For instance, there was a long description of Ghana's economy, such as foreign reserves, decline in cocoa prices and others, which, if deleted, would have not taken anything away from the novel. Sometimes, the number of times the word 'revolution' appeared in one paragraph could easily put the reader off. These loose endings are found scattered across the narrative and could have been tightened or could have been embedded into conversations. Also, there are some actions, reactions or inactions that do not seem natural, such as Nii's inaction when he came into contact with a cloth-covered dead body or when Mama Orojo came to Ghana for the first time and did not look for Nii or when she did not flinch when the alias of a swindler who had sold her a fake gold on her plane crop up in a conversation with Joe, another gold dealer. Also, the conversation between two almost dying friends, Aaron and Nii, was too long and makes you wonder if individuals who are dying of thirst and hunger could really talk that much. Yet, that was when the suspense began to build. I definitely could not put the book down, literally and figuratively eating my way through to find out what really happened.
For those who are not conversant with the political and economic history of Ghana, especially one under the last military government, this book would be helpful, though it would not be a balance reportage.
ImageNations' Rating: 2.5 out of 6.0