Monday, March 04, 2013

230. Fathers & Daughters - An Anthology of Exploration by Ato Quayson (Editor)

Fathers & Daughters - An Anthology of Exploration  (Ayebia Clarke, 2008; 200) is a collection of essays, poems and short stories about the relationships between daughters and fathers told from the point of view of either the father or the daughter. There is that belief, true or otherwise, that a daughter's first love is the father. Yet, it is all too clear that in Africa, this father-daughter relationship has poorly been explored. Ato Quayson's book is the first book I have come across that donates its pages to such an important exploration. It is said that until the lion learns to speak, tales of the hunt will always favour the hunter. Thus, until fathers learn to tell their side of the stories, men's representation in African novels will always go against them.

The role of men in books like Nervous Conditions, So Long a Letter, Joys of Motherhood, Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Purple Hibiscus, Opening Spaces: African Women Writing and many others are nothing to write about. They are always abusive, neglectful, intolerant (sometimes caused by being polygamous), aggressive, and anything nefarious that one could think about. In fact, such was the representation of men that it has become a marketing tool - the more wicked the man in the novel, the faster the tears will flow and the quicker the books will fly off the shelf. This is not to say that there are no men with such traits. But men are not mono-dimensional as they are always portrait - usually by women - in novels to be. Is it therefore strange that Chimamanda Adichie - upon the publication of her first novel Purple Hibiscus - was pitied by an American reader who said he never knew men in Africa were that abusive? Yes, this is the extent to which such portrayals of men could lead to.  

However, what no one is writing about are the numerous men who struggle(d) to take their daughters to school, sometimes including the authors who adopt such writing template. Sometimes, you wonder if man is not a synonym for Devil. The ones who would pull heaven and earth to save their families are only talked about in non-print conversations. It becomes more glaring when one interviews some of these feminist activists who have made the lampooning of men their occupation. When asked whether their husbands support them, they almost always say yes and that 'they're different'. This 'different men' also need to be talked about; they need to be praised and celebrated to serve as models for others. On the other hand, the changing perception on the part of men on family and women has been left unexplored. Today, there are men who are not toeing the hardline of their fathers. Even most of these supposed hardline fathers, were 'hard' for the common good of the family. Most of them made the family's financial stability their objective to the detriment of being therefore the family and so are 'nefariously' written about.

Abena Busia's epistolary story about her father and her poem, together with Ayebia's story about her itinerant magistrate father, are examples of daughters who understood their fathers - the early generation dads. Whether this appreciation came later in life or not, it shows that the earlier generation of fathers was not entirely heartless as they are often portrayed. Leila Aboulela's Amulets & Fathers, which opens the collection, tells the story of a daughter who sets on a journey to avenge her father's death. It has an interesting twist to since and involves more than just the father.

This is the reason why I read Fathers & Daughters. Even then, there are some stories in this collection that put the survival of the father-daughter relationship on the shoulders of the daughter so that even in this collection, fathers are painted grey. In one of such stories Letter to a Lost Daughter by Harry Garuba, the daughter whose father had used all his resources to educate her to the highest level, so that she could become a doctor, against the grumblings and open protestations from other family members, closed all communication channels with her father because he do pester her to marry. Now, visiting her father's home to make preparation for his funeral, she discovers a letter from the father addressed to her, of which she was the author. In Zina Saro-Wiwa's His Eyes were Shining like a Child, a father who somewhat tormented and berated her daughter is transformed (or reincarnated) into a baby and suddenly appears at this old and unmarried daughter's front door. 

It's somewhat fascinating, this uneasiness between fathers and daughters. It perhaps stems from the fact that men, on the continent, are usually not supposed to show emotions and so this non-emotiveness is interpreted as 'wickedness' or 'hardiness', leading to hatred towards fathers, even by would-be fathers.

The contributions I enjoyed the most were by those men who expressed their feelings and, for once, talked for themselves in particular and men in genera; Simon Gikandi's A Voyage Round my Daughter is one of them. Gikandi's essay explored the role of women in Kikuyu culture and how a long-held matrilineal system became patrilineal. This was triggered when he took his children to visit his family, after numerous insistence and failures. According to Gikandi, he thought that it was the boys whom the family was eager to see but when this turned out to be wrong and that her daughter was the most sought after and on whom everybody totes, he was forced to analysed the situation. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza talks about bringing up her daughter and the happiness he got living with her in Memories of Birth and other Anectodes.

In all, this anthology is worth the read. It gives an African perspective on the father-daughter relationship; showing that it is not always true that fathers are insensitive and uncaring. it fills an important gap in African literature. It is recommended.

About author: Ato Quayson is professor of English and Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational studies at the University. He studied at the Universities of Ghana, and Cambridge where he earned his PhD in 1995. He is a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. His publications include Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (Oxford and Bloomington: James Currey and Indiana University Press), and Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Practice? (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). 

In 2008, he edited Fathers and Daughters (Aeybia Clarke Publishing), a collection of essays from fathers on their daughters and vice versa. (Source)


  1. Wow.. Nana.. I will definitely add this to my TBR.. I heard it first here. You are actually spot-on. I Have not yet come across emotional men in my African reading so far. At least, I cannot remember any now.
    Thanks for this review.

    1. I thought I was the only one who has observed that 'cut-and-paste' role fathers are always assigned.

  2. I would like to lay my hands on a copy of this book - like today.

  3. Wow, Nana, I should read this for two reasons. I knew Ato Quayson. Actually he and my husband were hall mates, Akuafo hall and were on friendly terms. he was also my Literature TA in first year at Legon.

    The second reason is that I do have a story of my own, of the relationship between my father and I that I should one day want to write about. Thank you for sharing


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