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


  1. It sounds touchy to me, really touchy...I love anything that has scrappings of history. It is only in the knowledge of our past that we can plot for the future.

  2. yep...knowing the past is important. I agree 100%. The tagging of Africans as Aliens is one of the most stupid things to emanate from African countries, aside the wars. How can one tag another as an alien....? is he an ET?

  3. i'm yet to finish this book. i've suspended reading it till further notice.

    but yes, some of the charaterizations don't seem real at all. Mama's flight from Lagos to Accra for example has this situation where she discovers on her own on the flight that she was sitting by the 'emergency' door. there was no sign of the author being deliberate about that 'discovery' and makes me wonder whether the author doesn't realise the 'unprofessional' picture he painted of the crew therefore. one expects that as part of flight regulations, anyone sitting by the emergency door would be instructed on what to do in case of any emergency. it's standard practice.

    other 'minor' bits like Marshak introducing herself 'twice' to Nii without need put me off till later.

    but not that you say the ending is more interesting than the beginning i'd try and end it soon.

  4. Novisi this is so true. In fact, I also started and 'dropped' it to read other novels. I didn't even recognised your observations. This would be my all-time best. However, it gets to a point where it becomes interesting.

  5. I happen to be a fast reader but it took me some time to finish reading this particular novel.Although the novel is insightful, it was too "wordy" and contained so many repetitions. there were also serious problems with certain pronouns whereby instead of "she", it is "he" that is written. All in all it is a great book and i think he did quite a good job since am told this is the first book he has written.

  6. Caroline...thanks for your comments. Thus, at least I wasn't bias in my review. If it was his first novel, fair enough. Didn't know then.

  7. isaiah adds....

    in fact the book is insightful and entertaining but let me comfess, i struggled to finish.

    his books are too voluminous why?

  8. I don't know man! I have read only one of his novels and cannot say he they are wordy. As for entertaining, i don't think they are very entertaining. His latest book RUBBLES is also voluminous.

  9. am surprise about your review nana. You are claiming the author could have left issues about the economic conditions of the country out. This is strange and disingenuous because, why do authors write? The essence of writing is to expose or inform the general public about the cultural, political, economic situations about a country. This is a way for other people who do not come from that country to understand the people and learn something. Novels are not just for entertainment but to inform, Take a look at the European authors, you will notice their work exposes what the country’s economic, political and cultural circumstances are at a particular point in time. That is why when one pick up a book form those countries one can tell what the people at the time were and how they were living. I am very surprise at your blog as this is my first time of seeing your blog i was expecting you to be more realistic and informatory. When i read the book, I did not know much about the country Ghana but it gave me an insight into the country and what its assets were. Please encourage your people to express more of such information and this will help. Such books will stand the test of time as is very informatory.

  10. @Anonymous:
    I am shocked at the content of your comments but I welcome it. Such thoughts make a man grow. I still believe that the author could have left out or even reduced the level of use of economic jargons. Nobody reads novels to learn of economics. If it comes naturally during the writing fair enough. But to delve into foreign reserves and so on distorts the plot as it did. The plot of the novel was affected. I am not paid to provide information I am here to review books and in reviewing a book you don't give too much to spoil the taste of future readers. I expressed my thoughts and if you think novels are the source of learning about a country I respect your opinion but I don't think so.

    If you read 'Half of a Yellow Sun' by Chimamanda Adichie, it tells of the Biafran war in Nigeria, which was very political but the politics took a background role and it was not even deeply talked about than the characters and the plot of the novel. In Unexpected Joy at Dawn you have whole pages and pages of economic history elaborating the Structural Adjustments Programs etc. I know people who stopped reading this book halfway through. Thus, I am not the only one who is 'disingenuous'. In fact I have readers who have accused me of supplying too much information.

    and you think you know more about Ghana from this novel? That is not true. Nobody in Ghana would see a dead body and just move away and go and ease himself at another point.

    Why am I not being realistic? Becuase I didn't like this novel and I thought it should have been written in a different way? That makes me unrealistic? Can you let me know the reality you want to read about? to say things I don't believe in?

    European authors don't use pages and pages discussing the economic history of their countries. as for standing the test of time...I don't think this book will. If I want the economic history of Ghana I would purchase an academic book purposely meant for that and I would not rely on an author's skewed observation of events. If I read the book 'American Psycho' would it tell me that all American teenagers are serial killers?


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