Monday, August 31, 2009

An Interview with Author Martin Egblewogbe

Martin is the Author of "Mr Happy and the Hammer of God", which is a collection of short stories. He is also coordinating the Talk Party, a poetry reading at Nubuke Foundation located at East Legon, and also presently working on the Ghana Poetry Project. Martin is a man of many parts and has been able to fuse all these parts into the arts, for it is in art alone where one can dump all his diverse talents. This is my first interview and I am glad that it was with Martin. Martin keeps a website kpokplomaja where a lot of issues ranging from articles, essays, poetry, books are discussed.

#1: Can you tell us something about yourself, your background both in literature and outside of it?

OK. I live in Accra, my hobbies are still photography and collecting coffee mugs; I am interested in astronomy; I love to be engaged by philosophy; I write poetry and short stories, I am involved in advocacy for Ghanaian writing -- that's how come I'm involved with the Ghana Poetry Project, The Talk Party, and others. Long ago I hated sleeping, but I've now given up.

#2: You are a Physicist, as I understand, how did you come to be so attached to the literary arts and what challenges have you faced so far? Is there anyone who motivated you?

Well, I'm more of a physics student -- writing though is a serious hobby. My father was a writer -- so I cannot escape the fact of his influence, but I guess the larger impact came from all the books that were living in our house with us as we grew up (my siblings and myself, that is). And I think like playing with words and meanings, in general. And I like telling stories.

#3: How long have you been writing (literary)?

Oops -- Ages? I believe that my first serious attempt at a story, which ended with the glorious line ("...and he COLAPASED and died"), was written when I was eight or nine years old. Long ago.

#4: What inspires or motivates you to write and what do you intend to achieve or accomplish with your writings (poetry, stories, essays, etc)?

Different stuff motivates writing in different genres. Things long thought about usually generate short stories or novellas -- things due to sudden events -- bereavements, etc. usually yield poetry. What do I intend to accomplish?
  1. Some of the works are written just to help me see through situations in clear and stable light -- if I transpose actual events (over which I have little control) into a story (over which I perhaps have much control), then manipulating parameters etc. etc. I can see better.
  2. Some of the writings are simply to tell a story imagined -- and hope others find it fun.
  3. Some of the stories are to present ideas -- maybe generate thinking and arguments and rebuffs...
  4. and I guess just to have fun with words.
#5: Having read your novel "Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God" I must say I am deeply impressed by your writings, choice of words (diction), and the depth of your writings. Is this your first novel? What difficulties did you encounter whilst putting these stories together and finally getting it published?

Thank you. Well, not my first publication. I've short stories and poems in other books (see, for example: Face To Face: Poems and Short Stories about a Virus). Some of the works in "Mr Happy and the Hammer of God" have been published earlier, elsewhere. Getting published -- methinks that in general the publishing industry in Ghana is rather barren and not yielding much fruit -- but things happen. There are books out there -- by Ghanaians, published in Ghana, etc.

#6: I realised that your writings deal mostly with the metaphysical, the surreal and are very philosophical. Why are you interested in these subjects? Besides, almost all the stories in the collection borders on the pursuit of happiness. Any reason for this? Is it based on any personal experience?

Not all my writings are on such topics or themes. For this collection I put together stories that were similar, and which were based on a common thread of "the happiness thing". For a long time in the past I thought deeply about what happiness was all about, and some of the thoughts led to these stories, which try to suggest that happiness is not really the point of our living. (Not to say that it is unimportant -- only rather pointless). -- OK, let's argue about this...

#7: Even the names you choose for your characters (those that you choose to name) sound mysterious. You would agree with me that names like Dervi, Bubu, Subu, Mhan, Dobo, Jjork are a bit mysterious. How do you come up with such names and is there any reason for these names or what are they meant to signify?

I suppose such names are to firm up the sense of other-worldliness. But there are some that have slightly deeper meaning. Dervi is a few letters short of "Dervish" -- in a sense, he is an imperfect attempt at a holy man of some sort...

#8: I also realised that sometimes your characters remain nameless, making them mysterious. This was so in "To-morrow", "Coffee at the Hilltop Cafe", "Pharmaceutical Interventions", "Down Wind", why did you choose to keep them nameless?

This was an attempt to give less a handle to the characters in the stories and to coax the mind towards the story itself; in some of these stories (for example, "Down Wind" and "Pharmaceutical Intervention"), the "idea" in the story is itself a character in the story -- so the name somewhat distracts and therefore I did not give the characters names...

#9: With the exception of "Pharmaceutical Interventions", which is obvious, almost all your characters are male. Do you have any special attachments to this sex? Are you a male chauvinist?

I guess I do have special attachments to this sex ... I am male... (laugh). Chauvinist? Oh well. I'll leave that to others to decide ...

#10: Which authors did you read when growing up and which of them are your all time favourites or have inspired you in your writings?

Hard to give an accurate list. But maybe the following might give a rough idea... All time favourites? Beckett. Kafka. Dostoevsky. Thomas Mann. Ibsen. Shaw. Mark Twain. Orwell. Tennessee Williams. Gore Vidal. Enough. Africa? Ngugi. Soyinka. Dennis Brutus. Ghanaian? Bill Marshall. Atukwei Okai.

#11: What is your view of the Arts in general (literary and visual) in Ghana (problems, achievements etc)? Is there any hope for the future, especially these days when children prefer playing video games to reading a book?

Hmm... that's a really big one. In a word, it's disappointing. From where I sit, I see little public interest in the Arts. Besides, people tend to see the arts as entertainment -- there is an aspect of entertainment, but the arts are actually much more serious -- to quote Joyce, "Art is the affirmation of the spirit of man ..." It's depressing, really, to see this. But there's always hope for the future though...

#12: Are you working on any projects that we should be aware of?

Mainly the Ghana Poetry Project -- which has spawned interesting things like an upcoming anthology, and contributed to the Talk Party sessions at the Nubuke Foundation...

#13: Anything else to tell us, those of us with the intention to publish our works?

No, nothing really. I want to hear from you instead.

#14: Thank you for your time.

Thank you Nana. I must also congratulate you for this great idea of running a blog of book reviews.

Read my review of Martin's 'Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God' here...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

13. Zeroing in on Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God

Title: Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God*
Author: Martin Egblewogbe
Genre: Novel
Publishers: Self Publication (Printed in Ghana)
Pages: 126
Year: 2008
Country: Ghana

Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God is a collection of short stories by Martin Egblewogbe. Written in different narrative styles ranging from an omniscient narrator to a first person narrator, the stories describe everyday affairs of life such as adultery, abortion, and unusual events such as ones thoughts or musings at the point of death, the life of a neurotic and a psychotic and man's place in the universe. If the title seems surreal, the stories are no less. The collection is divided into two parts. The first part consists of seven stories and the second part consist of three. 

"Pharmaceutical Intervention" tells of the guilt and mental suffering of a young girl who aborted a pregnancy in order to save face in the society. "Down Wind" is about a man who has committed a crime but does not know the crime he has committed and the reader is also not told of the crime and whether the man is really innocent as he claims to be. "Small Changes within the Dynamic" tells of a young man who married a particular lady against the advice and wishes of family and friends. He was later to catch her, unashamedly and proudly, cheating on him after he has made her the heir to his properties. "Twilight" presents the thoughts of a man at the point of death. "Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God", the longest of the short stories, tells the story of a young man who was threatened with a demon by his auntie whilst a boy and was later to find out throughout the stages of his life that the demon has a physical representation that just don't go away whether you are a devout Christian or somewhere on the continuum between an Agnostic and an Atheist. "Three Conversations with Ayuba" depicts the hopelessness of a neurotic man who sought the help of a phantasmogorical man, Ayuba, for the solutions to his problems.

The narrative is poetic and one common theme that runs through all the stories in this collection is the pursuit of happiness or the hopelessness of man. The author explores the human mind and makes nonsense of our everyday quest and makes complex and understandable issues we gloss over or hardly ever think about, for how often do we think about the cause of someone's madness and even if we do, how often do we not associate it drugs? Though the stories are short, they are neither straightforward nor their ends easily predictable. Rather than 'inventing the wheel' as most first time novelists do, Martin's short stories are different from any other story I have read in terms of content and presentation. It deeply explores the mind and the metaphysical with such a passion and intensity that other storytellers lack. With this style I believe Martin is in a league of his own. If this book had had the necessary publicity I believe it would have made waves even more than what similar books (other collection of short stories) are making.

Whereas some authors are at home when describing morbid scenes and others are able to turn the worst debauchery into a longing activity, Martin is at home with the metaphysical and the ease with which he does this needs to be appreciated. He easily weaves his way in and out of his characters' mind carrying the reader smoothly along. As a Physicist it is no wonder that Martin writes in this manner. After all, both the metaphysical and the laws of physics are only perceived when they are expressed. How many of us have seen gravity, except when it expresses itself through a falling object.

However, I think most of these short stories could have been expanded because sometimes they end suddenly and leaves the reader asking for more; wanting to know what happened or would happen. Besides, if you are one of those whose mind sometimes slips from the story at hand no matter how short a time or how interesting the story is, then you are in for a disappointment because before you would regain your consciousness the story would have ended. Yet, keeping the stories 'too' short could be an advantage as it continues in your mind, telling you that even though life is short, it doesn't end, it revolves.

I recommend this short story anthology to anyone. With its fresh stories, those who want to cultivate the reading habit can start with this.
Read my interview with Martin Egblewogbe by clicking here
*Update: This book has been republished by Ayebia-Clarke in 2012

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

12. Hanging Out with Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters

Title: Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters
Author: Kojo Laing
Genre: Novel (Sci-Fi?)
Publishers: Woeli Publishing Services
Pages: 366
Year: 2006
Country: Ghana

Set in the 'weird' year of 1986 in Gold Coast City, Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters is a novel that borders on Science Fiction with Gothic representations. It tells the story of an Anglican bishop (Bishop Roko) who is deeply involved in genetic engineering with shark sperms with the ultimate aim of causing a general mutation of the human race to "free all the truths locked up in the different cultures, to free all the divinity locked up in different religions, and to free and learn from the most complex ethical beings of the universe. ..." However, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are both against but are unable to prevent this from happening. The Archbishop's outfit was even carrying out a different research but one that would lead to the mutation of the rich folks first and then after a thousand years the poor too would undergo their own mutation. In the end a war ensued and the Bishop won and was able to carry out his experiments.

The narrative is non-standard with the author forming his own words such as 'theodicides' (the killing of god), 'crucificionado' from crucifix and aficionado and mixing it with certain Ghanaian languages especially Akan. It also has some Ghanianisms in it such as the 'aaa' and 'ooo' added to sentences for emphasis. Sometimes I wondered if I were a foreigner reading this novel would I have been able to distinguish which words are new to me and which are not English all. The characters in this novel are Gothic in description, similar to Mervyn Peak's Gormenghast, for how can you imagine a Bishop whose mouth is so wide that it could hide sharks and tractors whilst anothers mouth is so small that words had to compete to come out and a Pope (with two heads: one invisible and the other visible) who throws punches through the mouthpiece of a telephone? These comic descriptions of characters in the story is bound to excite and elicit some laughter from the reader even if the novel in general is too 'heavy'.

The story is not told by an omniscient narrator nor by a first person who plays a major part of the story but by a narrator who 'threads' on the periphery of events and plays a moderate role in the events. This allowed the story to carry some level of suspense to the end as the reader is not certain what would happen to the protagonist, Big Bishop Roko Yam, nor his opponents, Jimmy Beal, ZigZag Zala and the Pope.

The story uses dark humour to question certain basic attitudes of ours such as a city "whose self-respect in the Lord soared without the preceding achievement to merit it ... " and who "were busy with 'all-nights' and early morning chanting when they hadn't rearranged their heads first"; Or even put out questions such as "Who is God? Where was he? Under which circumstances would I see, touch, hear or smell him? Why did he keep himself mysterious? (surely the universe is big enough to promote divine certainty). Shouldn't something as big as God be so easy and simple to understand? In using his son to communicate with humanity, was God using an intermediary in the true but reversed African sense? Why didn't the Almighty send his grandfather instead of his son? ..." These question begged to be answered but were not.

However, I have a few problems with the novel:
  1. The narrative is too complicated with a heavy use of symbology making it difficult to understand;
  2. The whole novel could have benefitted from a more detailed editing to tie up some loose endings. Whole sections of chapters are found to have been repeated in other chapters making reading tedious and boring. Besides, some of the descriptions were excessive. For instance, at every turn of the page one is bound to read a description of Bishop Roko Yam's mouth;
  3. Though the publisher explained why the non-English words were not italicised I still believe that such words should have been italicised to make it easy for the non-speaker readers to identify it and refer to the glossary for its meaning. Leaving them as he did makes it difficult to differentiate between a new word and a foreign word.
Reading a 366 page novel (especially with such small font size) with difficult descriptions and representations made me feel that I was wasting my time but at the same time I could not abandon it. May be it requires a second reading to grasp fully what Kojo Laing was talking about in its entirety and this being my first reading of him I did not know the style of his writing until this encounter.

I still would recommend this book to serious readers--the faint-hearted ones would give up. A copy could be obtained from the Legon Bookshop at about 12 Ghana Cedis (at the time of writing).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Africa's Top 10 Long-Serving Heads of State

On Tuesday June 16, 2009, in the 17944 issue of the Daily Graphic, a list of Africa's top 10 'old men' was published. This followed the demise of the longest serving African president, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who had, until his (un)fortunate demise, been in power for 42 years. Already, I have discussed the issue of 'Dynasty-sation of Africa's Autocracies and Democracies' on this blog. So whilst waiting for another book review (the book I am currently reading is so surreal that I just don't know how to review it), I decided to reproduce this list whilst adding few details to them.

10. President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia (21 years): He was born on 3rd September 1936 and has been in power since 7th November 1987. He was appointed Prime Minister by President Habib Bourguiba on October 1, 1987. However, after being in power for 5 weeks he had the President declared unfit for the duties of the office and assumed the position of a president in what has been referred to as medico-legal coup.

9. President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso (21 years): Blaise Campaore was born on February 3, 1951 and has been in power since October 15, 1987. He took power in a bloody coup that led to the death of his predecessor Thomas Sankara. He described his death as an 'accident' but this claim has been widely disputed. In November 13, 2005 President Campaore was re-elected as president defeating other opposition candidates and winning over 80% of the total vote cast.

8. King Mswati III of Swaziland (23 years): King Mswati was introduced as Crown Prince in September 1983 and was crowned as King on April 25, 1986 at 18 years and 6 days old. He remains as Africa's last absolute monarch with the power to choose a Prime Minister and other governmental and traditional positions.

7. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (23 years): Yoweri Museveni was born c. 1944 and has been president since 29th January 1986. He was involved in a war that deposed Idi Amin, ending his rule in 1975 and in the rebellion that led to the demise of Milton Obote in 1985. After years in the bush fighting rebellion, ex-army officer Yoweri Museveni led his National Resistance Army into Kampala in January 1986 to seize power. He toppled Basilio Okello, who had himself overthrown Milton Obote in a military coup six months earlier. Museveni has won three elections but only last time, in 2006, were candidates allowed to run on party-political basis.

6. President Paul Biya of Cameroun (26 years): Paul Biya was born on 13th February 1933 and has been in power since 6th November 1982. In November 1982, Cameroun's first post-independence leader, Ahmadou Ahidjo, formally resigned due to ill-health, and handed the presidency to his Prime Minister, Paul Biya. Since then Paul Biya has won five elections.

5. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (27 years): Hosni Mubarak was born on 4th May 1928. He was appointed vice president in 1975 and assumed the presidency on 14th October 1981 after the assassination of President Sadat by Islamist militants in a referendum. In the last election he won 88 percent of the vote.

4. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (29 years): Mugabe was born on 21st February 1924 and has been the head of government since 1980: as Prime Minister from 1980-1987; and as the first executive head of state since 1987. The world cheered when, after leading a long guerrilla war, Robert Mugabe led his Zanu Party to victory at the elections in February 1980, after Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain. He is no longer a favourite global figure and the opposition has accused him of destroying his country in a bid to stay in power. He is now sharing power, but remains the president.

3. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola (almost 30 years): Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed power on the death of Angola's first president, Agostinho Neto, in September 1979. But for much of the time after that, he ruled only over half of the country, as his MPLA fought a civil war against UNITA. Now, with the war over, and UNITA crushed at last year's parliamentary elections, he is being called on to hold an election for the presidency. No firm date has been set yet.

2. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (30 years): Obiang Nguema was born on June 5, 1942 and has been in power since August 3, 1979 after deposing Francisco Macias, his uncle, in a bloody coup. In the last election of 2002 he won 97 percent of the total vote cast.

1. President Muammar Al-Gaddafi of Libya (almost 40 years): Muammar Al-Gaddafi born on June 7, 1942 led a coup by young army officers in September 1, 1969; then set about establishing his own political system, as laid out in his Green Book. He deposed King Idris I and placed the King's nephew the Crowned Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi under house arrest; they abolished the monarchy and claimed Libya an Arab Republic.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

11. Fragments by Ayi Kwei Armah

Title: Fragments:
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Publishers: Per Ankh
Genre: Novel
Pages: 286
Year: 1969 (this edition 2006)

Works of art are intended to inform, educate, elucidate, portray, uncover, and/or challenge a society's way of doing things. It can even go ahead to propose newer ways of doing things and stir a revolution. Any work of art could perform any of these functions. However, Ayi Kwei Armah's works have consistently challenged our collective actions and thoughts as a society. In Two Thousand Seasons, he clearly demonstrated his displeasure by showing clearly our complicity in the enslavement of ourselves coming from our greed and our diametrically opposed stance to 'the way'. In that novel he referred us as Ostentatious Cripples, and those who went into the service of the White Predators as Askaris or Zombies. In Fragments, Ayi Kwei Armah once again tackles the mindset of a society. A society that has lost its focus in life; one that consistently puts materiality above morality; one that has sold its core values in return for flashes of enjoyment, even if those flashes lead to corruption and rot in the society.

Baako, being a been-to (a person who had come from abroad), is expected to act as one: to live in a huge mansion, drive big cars, and shower gifts on his family members. Yet, Baako, a pragmatist, has a divergent opinion. His coming back home was with trepidation as to what he would discover or uncover, what he would do with himself and the expectations of the people around him. His point of entry into the country presented him with the collision course he would be on with the forces that drive the notions and thoughts of people, for it wasn't long that the sister of a friend he had met whilst enplaned to Ghana, told him that he does not look like a 'been-to'. Furthermore, in less than 24-hrs later, a lady friend of his friend and his mother, at different places, asked to be wheeled out when his car arrives. Here, Ayi Kwei Armah clearly depicts the mentality of the people without being direct, for both had presumed that Baako has a car, which would soon arrive; because every been-to has a car.

Yet, Baako had his values; values he held in high esteem such as prompt response to issues, priority settings, and efficiency. And these are the very things that the civil service within which he was finally employed did not do. Ocran, Baako's art teacher, explained to Baako, when he complained:

"Nothing works in this country ... The place is run by this so-called elite of pompous asses trained to do nothing. Nothing works ... It isn't even that things are slow. Nothing works. ..."

Unable to handle his growing frustration, the demands from his family, the diametrically opposing views (his and society's), Baako finally cracks and is bundled and dumped at a psychiatric hospital.

The clash between cultures and generations also came not as a surprise. Naana (his grandmother) and Juana (a psychiatrist and a psychologist) understood Baako, whilst Efua (his mother) and Araba (his sister) wanted him to be a real been-to. Yet, Naana, Baako's grandmother, belongs to the old generation and therefore Baako scarcely talks to her or takes her words seriously. Besides, her conversations are always embedded in the spiritual realm. Juana had her own set of problems, yet she was the one Baako could confide in.

In Fragments, the maternal inheritance system as practised by the Akan ethic group comes alive, as Baako's father, whether dead or alive was not mentioned. Besides, Kwesi, was also a passing character. According to Naana, "A father is only a husband, and husbands come and go; they are passing winds bearing seed. They change, they disappear entirely, and they are replaced. ..."

Imperceptibly, the writings of Ayi Kwei Armah are similar to that of Stephen King, not in content but in the boldness with which he tackles any subject and make it come alive, the boldness with which he fearlessly experiments, the boldness with which he pens down his narratives. Yet, the description of the processes leading to Baako's psychotic condition reminded me of King's Roadwork. The passion, the clarity of events, the resistance to society's norms and the breakdown make you wonder if Armah had been in such a condition before. This plot in the hands of some novelists might end up a boring piece.

Like a classical piece or an opera performance, Armah's works are to be loved or loathed. However, relatively I seemed to have enjoyed 'Two Thousand Seasons' much more than I did enjoy this. This may be because I delved into Fragments, with the heavy narrative of TTS in mind, as only one book separates these two readings. I would recommend this book to anybody who wishes to know society's 'stated' expectations and all those who just love to read.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

10. Unexpected Joy at Dawn: My Reading

Title: Unexpected Joy At Dawn
Author: Alex Agyei-Agyiri
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Sub-Saharan Publishers
Pages: 331
Year: 2004
Country: Ghana

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

9. My Two Thousand Seasons Encounter With Ayi Kwei Armah

Title: Two Thousand Seasons
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Per Ankh
Pages: 317
ISBN: 2-911928-03-2
Year: 1973 (this edition 2000)
Country: Ghana

Two Thousand Seasons is Ayi Kwei Armah's bold attempt at recreating the 'lost' history of Africa. It starts from before the beginning where Africans were following The Way and ends at the point where Africans were or are fighting slavery, yet it does not end there at all. This is a story that shreds long-held belief systems into tatters. Institutions and what had always been referred to, wrongly though according Armah's Narrative, as Tradition - such as the Chieftaincy institution and the inequality against women - do not stand up to Armah's critical observation and construct. In Armah's novel women are held esteem and were the ones who planned and executed the fall of the Arab invasion and also fought side by side with men, and in some situations surpassed them, both in numbers and in strength, when the plan to destroy the destroyers was implemented. The story was set in some years before and during the slave trade. Before the coming of the destroyers, there were no chiefs or kings but rather caretakers carefully selected from any family and thus any individual who has been initiated and has shown enough beauty of mind, and character could become a caretaker. Armah describes Koranche, the king, as 'an empty, strutting fool, suffered to strut this way only because of thin social conventions.' Lands were not something that were cut up and owned by people and no one bows to anybody or owns anybody. In effect the ownership of property was communal. Christianity and Islam are both rebuffed and laughed at in the novel: '... It is the white men's wish to take us from our way--ah, we ourselves are so far already from our way--to move us on their road; to void us of our soul and put their spirit, the worship of their creature god, in us. ... They say it will be reward enough when we have lost our way completely, lost even our names; when you will call your brother not Olu but John, not Kofi but Paul; and our sisters would no longer be Ama, Naita, Idawa and Ningome but creatures called Cecilia, Esther, Mary, Elizabeth and Christina. ...'

The story did not take place in a given country, though it's about the slave trade, but in towns such as Anoa, Poano, Edina and the rest. The people are Africans, and are neither Ghanaians nor Nigerians for Soyinka, Oko, Nandi, Ndlela, Dovi, Kimathi, Umeme, Chi and many others were all denizens of Anoa. Thus, Africa, in the novel, is an entity without borders and so were its people who followed the way of reciprocity.

Anoa, the first to bear such name, prophesied the coming of a destruction, one that would persist for two thousand seasons and one that would take us from the way onto a path not known before. Hence, the coming of the people of the desert and those of the sea--the predators, the destroyers, the ostentatious cripples--and their hold over the people of Anoa was an event that was no surprise but it was the attitude towards them that was surprising.

What remains clear in the novel is the people's complicity in the events that destroyed them and took them away from the way, for there were individuals like Otumfur whose paunch thrives on flattery and so would say anything that would get to the head of the king. There were also greed-filled people like Edusei and Koranche whose eyes and heart are far from the way and in their laziness of mind and body want to live on others, make slaves of them and fill their bellies from their sweat and so worked for the Destroyers. Besides, the people were also filled with 'foolish generosity', one that do not follow the way of reciprocity. Another angle of the people's complicity in their enslavement had to do with their own ignorant and standoffish attitude that made them think that the deeds and demands of these predators would not stand the test of time and so did nothing, that like a disease, it would heal itself.

The people of Anoa became zombis and askaris working for these white destroyers, the predators, the slave masters. However, hope was kept alive at every turn of event as people, like Isanusi, who know the way decided to hold on to it and teach others who were eager to learn. There were people whose love for the way goes beyond the gratification of the self and such people were always willing to take Anoa back to the way, and even though they never fully succeeded, more importantly was the fact that they never despaired, they never were discouraged and they never gave up.

The narration of the story is unique. The narrator of the story is not an omniscient one, but one that surpasses time. The narrator is part of the people but a phantom part whose identity was never revealed. He/She was there when Anoa prophesied the coming of the destruction, was there when the Arabs fled to the deserts, was there at the crossing of 'bogland' to Edina, was there at the coming of the people from the sea, was there when the plot to destroy the destroyers was hatched and executed. There is less conversation in the story and every action is rather told by this narrator. In fact, the prologue and the first chapter seemed impregnable at first reading. However, the reader finds his/her rhythm and understanding from the second chapter. The novel uses a lot of symbols and it requires an individual to dig deep to comprehend what is being said. Armah, has a way with words. For instance he describes the clothes that was used to bribe the chief Koranche as 'clothes of colors bright to fascinate children's eyes set in adults head'... Such description and turn of phrase abound in this narrative and there are many statements that could stand on their own and make interesting quotes.

However, since Armah wanted to portray Africa and the African way as the way for our liberation, I was slightly shocked that at certain points he went in for the anglicized spellings of names, for instance Koranche instead of Korankye. This decision may have come as a result of not trying to portray a particular tribe or ethnic group in the novel but to use a blanket spelling for all names. To me this does not detracts from the novel. The novel is a masterpiece, one that I can read and read and learn something new every time. My recommendation is not to read this once. There are times when you lose track of the narrative and reading requires much attention.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Africa's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (Creative Writing)

To mark the beginning of the 21st Century, and encouraged by Professor Ali Mazrui, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) launched the international compilation of "Africa's 100 Best Books." Nominations were sought throughout the African continent and internationally. A comprehensive list of all nominations was published by ZIBF.

Definition of an African: Only books written by Africans were eligible. After extensive discussion and debate the ZIBF for the purpose of the project defined an African as: "someone either born in Africa or who became a citizen of an African country."

Nominations were made on the basis that the book has had a powerful, important or affecting influence on the nominator, as an individual, or on society.

The List for Creative Writing (in alphabetical Order)

1. Abnudi, Abd al-Rahman (Egypt)--al-Mawt 'ala al-asfalt
2. Achebe, Chinua (Nigeria)--Arrow of God
3. Achebe, Chinua (Nigeria)--Things Fall Apart
4. Aidoo, Ama Atta (Ghana)--Anowa
5. Almeida, Germano (Cape Verde)--O testamento do Sr. Napumonceno da Silva Araujo
6. Armah, Ayi Kwei (Ghana)--The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
7. Ba, Amadou Hampate (Mali)--L'etrange destin de Wangrin
8. Ba, Mariama (Senegal)--Une si longue lettre
9. Ben Jelloun, Tahar (Morocco)--La nuit sacree
10. Beti, Mongo (Cameroon)--Le pauvre Christ de Bomba
11. Brink, Andre (South Africa)--A Dry White Season
12. Bugul, Ken (Senegal)--Riwan, ou le chemin de sable
13. Cheney-Coker, Syl (Sierra Leone)--The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar
14. Chraibi, Driss (Morocco)--Le Passe Simple
15. Coetzee, J.M. (South Africa)--Life and Times of Michael K
16. Couto, Mia (Mozambique)--Terra sonambula
17. Craveirinha, Jose (Mozambique)--Karingana ua Karingana
18. Dadie, Bernard (Cote d'Ivoire)--Climbie
19. Dangarembga, Tsitsi (Zimbabwe)--Nervous Conditions
20. Dib, Mohammed (Algeria)--Algerie, La grande maison, L'incendie, Le meitier a tisser
21. Diop, Birago (Senegal)--Les contes d'Amadou Koumba
22. Diop, Boubacar Boris (Senegal)--Murambi ou le livre des ossements
23. Djebar, Assia (Algeria)--L'amour, la fantasia
24. Emecheta, Buchi (Nigeria)--The Joys of Motherhood
25. Fangunwa, Daniel O. (Nigeria)--Ogboju ode ninu igbo irunmale
26. Farah, Nuruddin (Somalia)--Maps
27. Fugard, Athol (South Africa)--The Blood Knot
28. Ghitani, Jamal al- (Egypt)--Zanyi Barakat
29. Gordimer, Nadine (South African)--Burgher's Daughter
30. Head, Bessie (South Africa)--A Question of Power
31. Honwana, Bernardo (Mozambique)--Nos motamos o cao tinhoso
32. Hove, Chenjerai (Zimbabwe)--Bones
33. Isegawa, Moses (Uganda)--Abessijnse Kronieken
34. Jordan, Archibald Campbell (South Africa)--Ingqumbo yeminyanya
35. Joubert, Elsa (South Africa)--Die Swerdjare van Poppie Nongena
36. Kane, Cheikh Hamidou (Senegal)--L'aventure ambigue
37. Khosa, Ungulani Ba Ka (Mozambique)--Ualalapi
38. Kourouma, Ahmadou (Cote d'Ivoire)--Le soileils des independances
39. Laye Camara (Guinea)--L'enfant noir
40. Magona, Sindiwe (South Africa)--Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night
41. Mahfouz, Naguib (Egypt)--The Cairo Trilogy
42. Marechera, Dambudzo (Zimbabwe)--House of Hunger
43. Mofolo, Thomas (Lesotho)--Chaka
44. Monenembo, Tierno (Guinea)--Un attieke pour Elgass
45. Mutwa, Vusamazulu Credo (South Africa)--Indaba, My Children
46. Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya)--Caitaana Mutharaba-ini
47. Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya)--A Grain of Wheat
48. Niane, Djibril Tamsir (Senegal)--Soundjata ou l'epopee mandingue
49. Nyembezi, Sibusiso (South Africa)--Inkinnsela yase Mgungundlovu
50. Okibgo, Christopher (Nigeria)--Labyrinths
51. Okri, Ben (Nigeria)--The Famished Road
52. Oyono, Ferdinand (Cameroon)--Le vieux negre et la medille
53. P'Bitek, Okot (Uganda)--Song of Lawino
54. Pepetela (Angola)--A geracao da utopia
55. Saadwai, Nawal El (Egypt)--Woman at the Point Zero
56. Salih El Tayyib (Sudan)--Season of Migration to the North
57. Sassine, Williams (Guinea)--Le jeune homme de sable
58. Sembene, Ousmane (Senegal)--Les bouts des bois de Dieu
59. Senghor, Leopold Sedar (Senegal)--Ouevre poetique
60. Serote, Mongane (South Africans)--Third World Express
61. Shabaan, Robert Bin (Tanzania)--Utenzi wa vita vya uhuru
62. Sony Labou Tansi (Congo)--La vie et demie
63. Sow Fall, Aminata (Senegal)--La greve des battus
64. Soyinka, Wole (Nigeria)--Death and the King's Horsemen
65. Tchicaya, U Tam'si (Congo)--Le mauvais sang - feu de brousse - a trise-coeur
66. Tutuola, Amos (Nigeria)--The Palm-Wine Drinkard
67. Vera, Yvonne (Zimbabwe)--Butterfly Burning
68. Viejra, Jose Luandino (Angola)--Nos os do Makulusu
69. Vilakezi, B.W. (South Africa)--Amal'e Zulu
70. Yacine, Kateb (Algeria)--Nedjma

Country (No. of Different Writers)*
South Africa (12)
Senegal (9)
Nigeria (7)
Egypt (4)
Mozambique (4)
Zimbabwe (4)
Algeria (3)
Gunea (3)
Angola (2)
Cameroon (2)
Congo (2)
Cote d'Ivoire (2)
Ghana (2)
Morocco (2)
Uganda (2)
Cape Verde (1)
Lesotho (1)
Kenya (1)
Mali (1)
Sierra Leone (1)
Somalia (1)
Sudan (1)
Tanzania (1)

* When an author's name appear twice, it is counted as one.
The other categories making up the top 100 are Literature for Children (4) and Scholarship/non-fiction (26). Read the full list here.

Question: How many of these have you read? Was it good? Give us your opinion on the book.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The ICC, Bush, Blair, Botha and African Leaders--What You Should Know

I am someone who is passionate about the sufferance of a people or an individual and no matter how dire the circumstances may be or how much it may cost, I believe that human lives must be saved. Thus, saving lives should first our actions and be second to none. Hence, it is only with happiness and glad in my heart when the International Criminal Court was established in The Hague. I was even more glad when Ghana ratified the bill establishing this court implying that whoever commits human atrocities, wherever in the world, and finds his/her way into the country, Ghana has the obligation to arrest this individual and hand him over to the ICC to be trialed. What a philosophy! What a way to prevent rogues and arrogant people from snatching lives from people and fleeing from their actions with impunity. I was even more glad when Professor Kunyehia, a Ghanaian female lawyer, was called up to be one of the court's first prosecutors.

However, just after Ghana ratified this bill, after accepting that we would hand over every military and civilian who commits human rights atrocities to the ICC, there came America, the Great Nation on earth to bully us to succumb to their quest. The Non-Surrender treaty was signed between America and several countries including Ghana. The implication being that when any American citizen commits any human rights atrocities and comes to Ghana, Ghana, as a country would not hand him over to the ICC but would hand him over to the authorities in America. Where lies our faith, our loyalty and our integrity. As a country, we back-stabbed the ICC. Thus, an ordinary American citizen who has committed human rights atrocities became even more important than an African head of state who has committed same crime--some animals being more equal than others.

Hence, is it a wonder that upon all the 2,889 communications or referrals or alerts that the ICC has received, the ones it has worked on are on Africans: Taylor, Al-Bashir and Habre. Are you shocked? According to Palayiwa (in the May 2009 edition of New African): By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had received 2,889 communications...about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations in just four cases: Uganda, DR Congo. the Central African Republic and Sudan/Darfur--all in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest had been issued, all against Africans. Does Africa has monopoly over human rights abuses? Why hasn't those human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) called for the arrest of George Bush and Tony Blair after waging an 'illegal war' (according to Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations). And do you ever think they would be brought to book? According to Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Secretary, the ICC is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States (New African, May & July, 2009). Hence, do not be deceived by the propagandists who say that the fact that Bush and Blair has not been arrested does not mean that Taylor and Bashir could not be. It is only the moron or the pathetically gullible ignoramus who would swallow this excuse without realising the hook attached to the line.

We would all understand this if we know that Dr John Laughland wrote in August 2000 that the ICC is just another excuse for superpower bullying. The Court will be another example in the over-globalised world of an institution that lends legitimacy to the Great Power bullying of weaker nations (The Times, 29 August, 2009 in New African May 2009). Who is bringing the Germans to book for decimating the Herero and Nama in Namibia between 1904-1908? Let's not as Africans remain stooges and begin to think that we are the inventors of atrocities and that it is embedded in our genes hence, it requires some folks with their knowledge of exorcism to uproot it from our beings. By the way was P. W. Botha the staunch advocate of South Africa's apartheid rule ever brought to book? He was forgiven for his crimes and no complain about impunity was ever raised by any human rights group. Or is not a crime if it is perpetrated by whites against blacks? F. W. de Klerk was even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize even though it was clear that the return to a unified government wasn't purely his doing but rather an inevitable end that the struggle of South Africa must come to.

Also, it is very clear from all these that impunity becomes a word for the numerous puppet human rights NGOs when it is by blacks who don't sing Western praises or who have lost their voices and fallen out of favour with their Western puppet-master. If not why haven't those same NGOs talked about the impunity in "DR Congo where the wars waged by Rwanda and Uganda between 1996 and 2003 on behalf of America and Western interests have led to an estimated five million deaths in Congo" (NA, July 2009).

This is why I speak vehemently against those Africans who see Africans as only corrupt and wicked; that's why I speak against other bloggers who want to tell us that the only reason why the International Organisations and NGOs call for investigation into matters is because they 'love' us and have our interest at heart. Let's not deceive ourselves and others; let's not be consumed by their hypocrisy...and until America and Britain are charged for their crimes against humanity in Iraq, no other work by the ICC would convince me of their neutrality, of their independence. David Crane, the American former prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone said after arresting Taylor that: My intent was to humble and humiliate Charles Taylor before his peers, the leaders of Africa and to serve notice to Taylor and others that the days of impunity in Africa are over (NA May, 2009). What a statement! What about the state of impunity in Iraq and Palestine! Are some group of people more human than others? And have Africans come to accept this state of being lesser humans? Have we? Let's face it, could this be said of any American or Western leader?

I heard the ICC wants to intervene in the Kenyan crises. Funny! Is the Kenyan crises the same as the Iraqi crises? Can't Kenyans deal with their own problems? This is a new face of colonialism and just as our forefathers were fooled, if we do not take care before we would realise they would have turned over our judicial system to such an extent that they would have jurisdiction over every crime committed anywhere in Africa. What then becomes of a country if its judiciary is controlled by hands unknown to the people? Three hundred years ago, they came in ships with guns and gun powders and chains to take away the men and women of Africa. Three hundred years later, they have come with pens and laws and words for the final push into oblivion. Once they had our minds making us blind of our selves, of our capabilities, now they want our heads to make us lose ourselves. Africans Beware of the ICC and its selective justice.

A people losing sight of origins are dead. A people deaf to purposes are lost. Under fertile rain, in scorching sunshine there is no difference: their bodies are mere corpses, awaiting final burial--Ayi Kwei Armah (Two Thousand Seasons, 1973 & 2000, Per Ankh)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

8. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Fafarina
Pages: 435
ISBN: 978-073-149-x
Year: 2006

Half of a Yellow is the second of Adichie's books. The story presents the struggles, the heartbreaks, the loss, the unity, the hopes and disappointments of a family and a people during the Biafran war of 1967-1970. Olanna and her sister Kainene had just arrived in Nigeria after their academic sojourn in the United Kingdom with great expectations: one to join her 'revolutionary lover' and become a lecturer at the university and the other to takeover the family business, respectively. However, just before they could settle down and realise their dreams, the coup that would start a series of massacres and later lead to secession and its concomitant warfare, occurred.

The overthrow of the Hausa government by the Igbo-led military resulted in dissension amongst the Hausa population of the military. This is because there was a general feeling among the Igbos that the Hausas were given the major positions in the government, whereas the Hausas also felt the Igbos wanted to rule every aspect of Nigerian life after they have with their strong business acumen taken control Nigeria's commerce. To make matters worst the BBC also described the coup as an 'Igbo coup'. Consequently, a second coup became inevitable and the Igbo-led military under Major Nzeogwu was overthrown by an Hausa-led military coup under Gowon. After the coup all Igbo soldiers were ferreted out, arrested and killed, leading to a widespread anger in the larger society between the Igbos and the Hausas. This led, first to the massacre of Igbos in the northern Hausa states, then to secession and the creation of the Biafra state as an independent country for Igbos, and then finally to a full-blown war.

However, Half of a Yellow Sun is more than a story of the Nigerian civil war. It is a story about the life of a people in the midst of war. For instance, as the war progressed the difference between the predicaments of an ordinary houseboy such as Ugwu, university professors such as Professors Odenigbo, Okeoma, Ezeka and co, the rich such as Kainene and Olanna and the poor such as Ugwu's family became smaller and smaller till it tapers to and converges at a point where everybody has to eat the same kind of 'invented' and 'derived' food, drink the same kind of water, live in the same type of bullet-riddled houses. The difference between the privileged and the under-privileged is lost or confined to a part of the mind that refuses to divulge such scenes and events that make such distinction stark, lest they swindle faint hearts into unnecessary jollity. In the course of time, life's everyday activities such as drinking tap-water, eating thrice or twice in a day, free movement, using perfumed soap in bathing became lost in the memory of a time forgone. This is seen in the reaction of Olanna when she was gifted with such items as perfumed soap, powdered milk and tin fish, items she could easily have afforded before, but which have now been labelled as luxury items.

Besides, during the war, when everybody seemed to be living on rented life and death was loitering everywhere, Kainene found life so precious that grave misdeeds became petty and forgivable. Such was the feeling that Kainene, after witnessing the decapitation of one of her 'houseboys'-Ikejide-by a shrapnel, quickly patched-up issues with Olanna. Dreams were dashed, hopes lost and lives forever changed. Richard comes to Nigeria from the UK after learning of the Igbo-Ukwu art and to write a book but later falls in love with Kainene. He learns the Igbo language and commits to the course of Biafra, but both of these lovers were to be lost at the war's ending.

Adichie maintained the tempo and suspense of her book by the way she structured the sections of the novel. The book is divided into four parts: Early Sixties, Late Sixties, Early Sixties and Late Sixties. This way the suspense was maintained by supplying the precursor to certain actions and decisions, earlier taken, at a later period. For instance, by the second part, Kainene and Olanna were not getting along but the cause of this alienation and estrangement between the sisters were never revealed until the third part. The narrative is refreshingly innovative and superior. For Adichie, who was born way after the war has ended, to tackle the civil war and make you feel it with all your five senses and more, shows the extent to which she had studied and understands her subject. As one reads the story, one begins to feel as if he/she is an extension of the character's feelings. You smell what they smell with their nose and taste what they do taste with their tongue. The events of the novel comes alive at every turn of the page, locking you in your own Biafran thoughts. Adichie follows no one. Adichie is herself. One of the new generations of African writers poised to topple the established Achebes.

Another tool that makes Half of a Yellow Sun so beautiful a novel is the portrayal of reality and the making of events as they should be or as they usually are rather than embellishing it with the 'living-happily-ever-after' nonsense that pervades most works of fiction. Adichie never over indulges and gives you what it is that life has to offer. Life has never always been fair, if not how could we accept that it was only towards the end of the civil war that Kainene went missing, never to be found (dead or alive) even after her parents had placed several adverts in almost every newspaper.

The novel continues in your mind even after you have read the last word of the last sentence because there are many questions that remained unanswered. For instance, what happens to Richard? How would Odenigbo and Olanna handle his drunkenness and her withdrawn psychological state? What about Ugwu? Would he continue schooling? Would Kainene ever be found? Or would we ever know what happened to her?

This is a book I would recommend to fans of the classic novels and those of popular fiction. Adichie's novel is a must for everyone who is a reader and you would not be disappointed. However, it is disappointing that getting a copy of the book in Ghana is very difficult. One sure source though, is the Legon bookshop.

ImageNations' Rating: 6.0 out of 6.0

Read my review of 'Purple Hibiscus', also by the author.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Drunk Chromosomes of a Drunk...(From the Manuscript, BLACK PATHOLOGY)

On the fertile foopath
to the weedy farm
he fell...

(Sun and Moon at a twilight reunion)

...and died not
...and the conceived son
from the drunk communion
was not a toad-cow...

The mirror
reflects the contents of the mind...
The soul
harbours the deeds of the body...

The crab
surely begets a crab
You sow what you reaped
the farming season before...

Then he saw no heavens
...but a vast emptiness
He felt his feet suspend in space
the Lotus-Eater cum Palm-Wine Gulper
He sang songs of lamentations
beneath the palm-wine seller's shed

He tossed
Balanced himself
Broke his neck

His son has a bottle in his back pocket
a stoic man to succeed his father
...and he has his father's Drunk Chromosomes
He is his father
moulted into prime youthfulness
to continue plying his trade
and be the gods' embodiment of advice

copyright 2005 by Nana Fredua-Agyeman

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