Wednesday, September 30, 2009

20. African Trilogy (2): No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe

Title: No Longer At Ease
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Novel (Life, Transition)
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 154
Year: 1960 (this edition, 2008)
Country: Nigeria

No Longer At Ease is the second book in a series of books, which have come to be called the African Trilogy. It was set in Lagos, Nigeria within the period prior to independence. In this novel, Chinua Achebe merges the traditional with the modern, creating a story that tells of the genesis of corruption and the culture of demand. The plot deals with how the culture of expectation leads to corruption and decadence of the individual and the institutions they work for. This story is similar to Ayi Kwei Armah's Fragments and fits a quote in Amu Djoleto's novel The Strange Man: "Convention and conformity are the foundation stones of decadence".

Obi Okonkwo, son of Isaac Okonkwo (or Nwoye) and grandson of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, had come home after a four-year academic sojourn in Britain and is expected to do great things because he now occupies an European position in the Civil Service. A lot is expected from Obi by his people (from Iguedo in Umuafia) from whose financial contribution his school fees was paid, from his family where he is the only male child, from his peers who expect him to live up to the social class he has been elevated to and from the society that has created such an elite class for itself. However, Obi, uncomfortable with all these expectations, had a head-on collision with all these forces; but this clash of expectations, actions and realities was to come to nought when he realised that society wields more power in matters of values and expectations than the individual. So in adjusting to these expectations, Obi had to not only stop his crusade against corruption and bribery but also to ultimately become an active participant, albeit an unwilling one.

Are our actions a direct result of society's expectations? Do we reflect society's values? For even though Obi's actions, ab initio, was to be upright, he quickly realised that being upright does not pay the bills neither does it improve one's social status. Elitist life requires more than his salary can support, yet society wouldn't expect anything less and so he must top it up from other sources.

Furthermore, even though Isaac Okonkwo had become a Christian, an issue that caused his father to disown him, he found out that there are some customs that Christianity does not wash away, as he silently rejected Obi's fiancée because she was an osu, or one set aside for the gods.

Whereas Things Fall Apart tells of Okonkwo's inability to adjust to the coming of the Europeans the their Christianity, No Longer At Ease tells of Obi Okonkwo's inability to adjust to elitist life in Lagos, leading to his fall. Chinua Achebe vividly portrays the transition of society's values and expectations from the traditional Iguedo to modern Lagos. However, one needs not to have read Things Fall Apart to understand No Longer At Ease. Each novel can be read as a stand alone and would not disappoint. The novel was narrated retrospectively and in this way the suspense was kept throughout till the end when, for instance, the cause and how Okonkwo fell is revealed to the reader.

To me this is an interesting story but not as much as its kin. It tells the story unidirectionally, thus it is not as multi-dimensional as the first and the characters are almost one-sided. However, this could not be a fault as it tells of the fall of a man, and no other. I would recommend this novel to all lovers of African Literature.

ImageNations' Rating: 5.0 out of 6.0.

Please take a second to vote for your favourite book of the quarter. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Concierge of the Dewy Garden

At the meeting of my poetry reading club, The Talk Party, a consensus was reached that poetry should not necessarily be indirect and there is nothing profane in poetry. As a result I have decided to post a poem I wrote so many years ago but which I have scarcely taken out for people to read. Here I am posting it for the first time on blogspot and for the second time on any social site.

Rooted at the intersection
Of the double flapping doors
At the entrance strewn with the nectar
Of sweet-scented straggling roses
Is the Concierge of the Dewy Garden of Even

Shivering, yet supinely erect
The sensuous concierge ushers in
In grumbles and murmurs
And in deluge of fast-paced paroxysms
The Adonis of this florid flexuous
Gothic sepulchral catacomb
Which had singularly caused
The downfall of greater nations
And chosen men of greater faith

Slipping past the concierge
In lecherous arrogance,
Through the gooey squirting nectar
Frictionless, but fitting fully and firmly
Into nature’s much much adored
Yet illogical jigsaw puzzle,
Surveying and exploring with
Great speed and admiration
Every lateral, dorsal, ventral
Proximal and distal convoluted sluices

Sowing the primordial seed of need
In a maelstrom of nervous implosions
Then leaving it to germinate, bloom
And fruit within the hidden dewy garden
And harvested at time’s third end through
The conspiratorial concierge of the dewy garden

copyright 2004 by Nana Fredua-Agyeman

Friday, September 25, 2009

19. African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Novel (Traditional, Historical)
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 166
Year: 1958
Country: Nigeria

Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart is one of the most widely read African novel. It is the first of Achebe's body of work and also the first book of what is usually referred to as the African Trilogy. Other novels in this trilogy are: No Longer At Ease and Arrow of God.

Set in Umuafia in the 1930s or so, Things Fall Apart, tells the story of the rise and fall of Okonkwo. Okonkwo was widely known throughout the nine villages of Umuafia for his warring prowess, where he is famed for having brought home five heads from all his wars and for his wrestling prowess for having thrown down the Cat. He was also industrious and rich, had three wives and many children, had large yam farms and had taken three of the four available titles in Umuafia.

However, Okonkwo's bravery, belligerence and industriousness was fuelled by his fear of inheriting his father's known weaknesses. As a result Okonkwo lacked self-restraint and he perceived violence as the key to every problem and these made him even weaker, for he paid heed to no advice and considered anyone who spoke against war or violence as a woman in a man's skin. After going against counsel and participating in the death of Ikemefuna, a young lad who had come to stay with him and had come to know him as his father, Okonkwo's weakness became clear, for his participation was solely based on the fear of being described as weak by his age-group.

Things came to worse when his son Nwoye (later Isaac Okonkwo) left his father's compound to join the colonialist religion, Christianity. He was cut off from the family and Okonkwo's hatred against the new religion that has become established in his village increased. Later, he was to murder one of the court's men and realising that none of the people of Umuafia supported him, committed suicide. Thus, upon all his bravery, fame and riches he was buried in a way similar to his father, a burial devoid of decent funeral.

This is an interesting novel that tells of the effects of the coming of the Europeans (or specifically the British) and their imposition of their form of government and religion on the Igbo community of Nigeria. It also gives an elucidation on the traditions of the Igbo people of Umuafia, which was hardly understood by the Europeans who thought of their (Umuafians) actions as savagery and primitive. Finally, it shows how a people's religion and tradition were gradually eroded and absorbed by another religion and tradition, which was even more difficult to understand by the people, just because the colonisers never understood the colonised and hence considered their actions primitive and inhumane. Logically, this has been the downfall of Africa's religion to the extent that today most portrayal of the African religion is in the negative sense even by Africans themselves.
This novel together with his Arrow of God was voted into Africa's Top 100 books of the 20th Century. Achebe is one of two authors to have two of their works on this list.

As I have said before, this is a widely read novel. However, I would recommend it to anyone who loves to read, for it is Achebe who popularised modern African Literature in English. The book is available at both the University of Ghana's bookshop and Silverbird at different prices.
PS: This is also on the list of 100 books I am preparing, which I intend to read, together with other novels as they become available, over the next 5 years. In all I have read three books on this list.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Burt Award for African Literature

This blog is dedicated to supporting African Literature. As a result I try to bring to my readers anything related to promoting Literature and reading in Africa. Hence, as I was reading through Wednesday 23rd September 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic, the largest selling newspaper in Ghana, I came across an advert which I think should be posted on this blog and should be encouraged.

BURT AWARD FOR AFRICAN LITERATURE: CODE and the Ghana Book Trust have the pleasure to invite Ghanaian authors to take part in a writing competition to produce engaging and educational stories for the youth (12-15 years old) that will be published through the Burt Award.

The Burt Award for African Literature is a newly created award programme that honours and supports the writing and publication of excellent young adult literature and for Africans. The Programme recognises outstanding authors and ensures publication of their work by local publishers.

The award is sponsored by CODE, a Canadian NGO, with generous support from Canadian patron Bill Burt. The award is restricted to authors who are citizens and resident in Ghana:

  • 1st Gold: GHC 16,000
  • 2nd Silver: GHC 8,000
  • 3rd Bronze: GHC 4,000
  1. The story should be original and written in English;
  2. Demonstrate a solid command of the English language, a clear, cohesive language and proper sentence structure, vocabulary and punctuation;
  3. Reflect modern realities and indicate some of the social problems which are facing adolescents and young adults in Ghana today;
  4. Be of strong literary merit, including engaging characters with whom young readers can identify and a protagonist who overcomes challenges or obstacles in a positive way;
  5. Be a well-developed plot with a good flow of events and pacing;
  6. Having an excellent story telling style;
  7. Deploy dialogue to make it lively and allow for dramatisation;
  8. Have the potential to evolve into a book series. A sequel would be welcome.
The manuscript should be between 80-120 pages and should be in chapter form. It should be type-written, double spaced. Times New Roman font size 12. The manuscript should be electronically sent to by 31st May, 2010 by 4.00 pm. See the Tanzania Burt Awards here...

Source: Daily Graphic, Wednesday September 23, 2009. No.18028.

PS: Read the winner here

Sunday, September 20, 2009

18. The Changing 'Joys of Motherhood'

Title: The Joys of Motherhood
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Genre: Historical Novel
Publishers: Heinenemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 254
ISBN: 978-0435-913540
Year: First Published in 1979 (this edition 2008)
Country: Nigeria

The Joys of Motherhood is a story set in Lagos, Nigeria, between the 1930s and the period leading up to independence in the 60s. It recounts the metamorphosis of the joys attached to motherhood from the traditional period to the period of colonisation. Before the European influence leading to western-type of education, the joys of a mother is to have many children and many sons who would look after her at old age when her bones would no longer permit her to farm. Children were prized possessions and the choice between seeking wealth and raising children were mutually exclusive events. It was common to be poor in wealth but rich in children and any woman who had such was considered with high esteem, whereas any woman who is unable to conceive is treated with discontent and faces rejection by her husband; same as a woman who bear only daughters. However, this changed with the European influence, when children must go to school and work and possibly live far away from their parents, having nothing to do with farming.

Nnu Ego began as a barren woman and after her divorce and her subsequent marriage to Nnaife, she began to bear children, sons and daughters. So involved was she with her children's upbringing and the sons' education that she neglected all other social interactions with her age-groups, such that in middle age she was left with no friend, becoming lonely. Besides, her children, being brilliant sought education both in Nigeria and abroad. The latter meant that her children were not with her at old-age, especially her sons. This caused her great pains leading to a change in her constitution such that at Ibuza, her hometown about four days away from Lagos, people considered her a mad woman.

Emecheta's story, though set in the 1930s, still has relevance in our present society. Should we allow  traditions to change? Should we go with the flow? Or should we resist change? Nnu Ego resisted change and she was overwhelmed by the consequences, however, her junior wife, Adaku, saw the changes that is creeping into the system, took advantage of it and succeeded; even Nnu Ego's daughter, Kehinde, rejected the husband her father had looked for for her. All these led to the cracks in the traditional family and finally its breakdown.

The story is a classic and it is no wonder that it was voted into Africa's Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. Buchi Emecheta wrote it as it should be. It is a very interesting story that needs to be read. One can learn a lot from this novel.

This is a highly recommended book and has been used by various students of literature, hence I can't over-recommend it. If you want to know the set up of the Nigerian family home or even the West African family home, get a copy of Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood.

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

PS: This novel together with The Trial by Franz Kafka are on a list of 100 books I am preparing. I intend to read these novels over a period of say 5 years. I would post this list when it is finished. I would not blog Kafka's novel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Baobab Prize

The Baobab Prize is an annual international literary award established to encourage the writing of African Literature for young children. Its mission is to identify the African literary giants of the next generation and produce classic African stories that will be appreciated for years to come. The competition is opened to African citizens of all ages. Entries should be in English and should not have been previously published in part or in full and it should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words.

The prizes fall into three categories:
  1. the best story written for readers aged 8-11 years
  2. the best story written for readers aged 12-15 years
  3. Rising star prize (given to a writer below 18 years of age)
The award was instituted in 2008 and has therefore had only one set of previous winners. These are:
  • The Baobab Prize for a work of fiction aimed at readers aged 8-11 years: Lorato and her Wire Car by Lauri Kubutsile, Botswana;
  • The Baobab Prize for a work of fiction aimed at readers aged 12-15 years: Mr. Goop by Ivor W. Hartman, Zimbabwe; and 
  • The Baobab Prize Rising Star write: Strange Visitors that took her life away by Aisha Kibwana, Kenya.
The Baobab Prize for 2009 was launched on July 31 2009 and the deadline for submission is April 15, 2010.

Note: This informatory link was made available to me by another blogger MightyAfrican.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

17. Dimples on the Sand by Henry Ajumeze

Title: Dimples on the Sand
Author: Henry Ajumeze
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Hybun Publications International
Pages: 81
ISBN: 978-978-900-836-0
Year: 2009
Country: Nigeria

Dimples on the Sand is a collection of 36 poems by Henry Ajumeze. The collection is divided into five parts. For convenience sake I have tried to put the parts of the book into different subject matter. However, this should not be seen as a straight jacket categorisation, for it is easy to find a subject in more than one part. Thus, the reader could also name the parts according to how best he decides to group them.

Part One celebrates the Poet's father and his people, the people of Anioma commonly referred to as the Delta Igbos. Poems such as 'In the beginning, was Anioma', and 'My Anioma' celebrate the land and the people of Anioma, whereas 'Okanga', and 'To my father, flutist of all time' celebrate his father. It is clear that some of the poems here could be performed on stage accompanied by the Okanga and Akpele instruments. Putting all these poems together in one part shows clearly that the poet sees no difference between the land or his people and his father, the flutist. This is so in African culture where the land and the people are one. This becomes even more significant if the inheritance system is patrilineal. In the latter poem, the poet seems to be seeking direction from his dead father, seems to be looking for the way to self-realisation; to be one with his people. This comes out clear with lines such as:
"The Rumba drums
are lost in our head full of jazz and reggae
But the winds from your nostril
rediscover the cadence of a dying echo..." (P. 16)
Most of the poems are in the first person with the poet playing a significant role. It shows how much the Poet is attached to the activities.

Part Two of the collection is dedicated to a loved one, yet the poems speak more than that. There are numerous nuances in this cadence. Some of the featured titles include 'Night opens my mind', 'I will remember you', 'I stood in the middle of the empty flat', 'Dead Drunk' and many others. In these remembrance poems, the poet sound lonely, as in:
"I stand livid
in the crossroad
of metaphors; I become one
with grief..." (Night opens my mind, P. 22)
And yet there are those where he converses with his beloved even whilst he takes his bath:
"...'Ah, I should have been a dancer, not a poet!'
'And you are neither!'..." (P. 33)
Part Three celebrates a great son of the Ogoni people of the Delta State of Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a human right activist, a poet, a novelist and a defender of the people who was killed by firing squad during the Sani Abacha regime when he spoke against the treatment by Shell BP. In 'Battered Earth', Ajumeze writes
"I would follow you to Ogoni
across battered earth, oil-soaked landscape
I'd trudge along the corridors of pidgin
in the broken pages of verse
and un-cued lines of faithless proscenium..." (P. 43)
Other poems celebrating this great son of the Ogoni people are: "Behind the iron bars', 'Morning after the protest', 'The trial', and many others. In 'The trial', the poet describes the trial as:
"... a rehearsed farce
in the theatre of a darkling plain..."
 However, hope is kept alive in the 'Morning after the protest' where
"...the rioters linger, still
humming the bestial slogan of a defeated tribe..." (P. 46)
The Fourth part deals with the general political landscape of Nigeria. It has interesting poems such as 'Dance softly, Baba', 'Season of Peace', 'Oil and blood', 'Raped homeland' and many others. It is no wonder that this part has the largest number of poems. However, since you cannot takeout Ken's demise from the general politics of Nigeria which is immersed in oil and bloodshed, there are some poems that address KSW such as 'The fire blasts'
"Now Ken,
only your soul
will remember our lintel..." (P. 69)
No collection of poems that describes the politics of Nigeria, and for that matter of most African countries, would be complete if there is no poem that addresses the frequent seizure of power by the military. Ajumeze addresses this with poems such as 'Now that coup is no more treason'. In 'Storms gather' the poet shows that thought the use of military power can be used to quell any upheavals from the governed it is no solution for upheavals can arise from places beyond the reach and might of the military.

The last part (Five) deals with dedications to Niyi Osundare in 'Beyond midlife' and the Poet's daughter in 'Flanked by lullabies'.

The Poet's voice is unique and refreshing. His write cuts through emotions and whereas he is serious with his work he provides avenues for laughter. Thus, mixing laughter with seriousness is one of the hallmarks of Ajumeze's poetry. In one breath he would be dealing with a serious issue and in the next breath he is making you laugh whilst still tackling the subject at hand. In this way, the poem sticks into your mind. This is so in 'Dance softly, Baba', where he was admonishing a sitting president against the deeds of a past president. In this he writes
"...He must have bleated
Like a he-goat
Ran helter-skelter
In the crevices of Aso Rock...
He must have run naked
The pumpkin flag of our nation hoisted between his legs
Flapping savagely, cursed with libido
Death in pursuit..." (P. 60)
In 'This Plateau, brother', the poet shows that the human life is pathetic, hence it is unnecessary to allow religious intolerance to destroy us, for when it does governors, politicians, all become
"... refugees who must wait
neither for the Armageddon
nor the clarion call for curfew!" (P. 62)
According to Niyi Osundare, whom the poet writes about in 'Beyond midlife', there is no choice for the African poet but be political. This statement best describes Ajumeze's poems for even when he is talking about his beloved in 'Night open my mind' he infuses it with the moral decadence (and the corruption of public officials whose duty it is to enforce the law) that has suffused the Nigerian, and probably the African, life. For in this piece of remembrance he writes:
"...No, report
No report?
But if you drop some money, then..."
It is from this celebratory love poem that the title of the book was derived:
"Whence you walked, behind are cicatrix of warmth
that belie demise, every footprint like a dimple in the sand
that my wish for eternity of laughter
when I hurled you from that village infested with bitterness
would be fulfilled once our souls met in Isu..." (P. 29)
This is a collection of poems of humanity and life and aims to do exactly what Niyi Osundare said "to utter is to alter". Poetry is one aspect of the literary art that is gradually losing its focus and at the same time gradually losing its appeal. Yet, if readers could find themselves in the poem, could laugh with the poem, could quote from the poem, could associate with the poem on different levels, then that poem has succeed and the Poet has achieved his aim. With these Ajumeze has achieved his aim and more.

I would recommend this book to every lover of the Art. A copy could be obtained from the Nubuke Foundation located at No. 7 Adamafio Close, East Legon, or behind Mensvic Grand Hotel. Copies could also be obtained from Silverbird.

Since this is a collection of poems, its ratings should not be compared with other novels, yet even novels are sometimes incomparable as there are different sub-genres.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Epiphany: A Poem from My Manuscript "Black Pathology"

You came from nowhere
at the night of a thousand gods
when in frustration of deserted Muses
I sat under my bed's dust
and wrung my inkless pen
around a naive housefly's hands
and invited him to play
I was eager to write
on a plain white paper
to fill my heavens
with countless palm trees

In eagerness of lost lambs
and talking drums
I pulled up the drawbridge
and opened the doorway
to my heart's hideaway
and there beyond a gossamer of fossil veil
shrouded in a mystery
of an eight-legged eight-eyed spider
was your vanished face
carved from the lonely river
speaking to me
to the depths of my heart's spirit
to the lengths of my mind's soul
drawing from the unctuous well...
There you stood
with bright eyes burning blue--
the lost lamb in lonely wanderings
wearing the scratches of countless foxes
yet you stood still
with your withering soul
cast in a shell of shamelessness
your drooping eyes piercing the wells of my mind
scooping to the last atom
the contents of my lost soul
searching and finding it
that which I sold to a devil two long ago nights
because you were not there to save me

Beyond the space between
you stood...
...standing still
...stooping low
...shaking wild
perching on the space within
covering the space beneath my empty mind
hollow as an undeveloped coconut
yet filled with your thoughts
like a brooding bird
or a hibernating snake
coiled over and over a million fold
and in its ramblings and entanglements
spat your black marble face to the surface
of the choked flotsam of my mind's wreckage

My empty mind, eager to fill...
The space beneath
The space within
The space between
shut the double door
(that ancient door)
to my ancestral home
and clasped you between the sheets of my petals
opening and widening...
widening and closing...
as a hungry butterfly with atrophied proboscis

Roaming within the walls
you were trapped
but still the gossamer covers your face
that vacant face of fear and death
sucking me into you
and in oneness of time and space
The space beneath..
The space within...
The space between...
dissolved into nothingness
and you lived in me
and I in you
and there you were no more
for I was there
and there I was no more
for you were there...
and like forever we hovered on the air above...

copyright 2006 by Nana Fredua-Agyeman

Friday, September 11, 2009

16. The Thing Around Your Neck

Title: The Thing Around Your Neck
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Fafarina
Pages: 218
ISBN: 978-978-48012-3-2
Year: 2009
Country: Nigeria

Ms Adichie's third novel, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a collection of twelve short stories set in Nigeria, America, or Cape Town  and sometimes switching between Nigeria and America .Though the stories are not linked, a common theme runs through, the life of Nigerians. More detailed subject matter includes religious fanaticism (a clash between Christians and Nigerians), interaction between traditional religion and Christianity, and marriage life.

Set in Kano, Northern Nigeria, 'Private Experience' tells the story of religious intolerance existing between the Igbo Christians and the Hausa Muslims in Northern Nigeria. However, amidst  the bloodshed, two women, one Igbo and one Hausa, worked in cooperation to ensure their survival. Thus, whilst the bigger picture shows lack of restraint amongst these two religious groups, on an individual level, people seem to see beyond religion and are more willing to help one another. This was also seen in her second novel 'Half of a Yellow Sun' where Olanna was saved by her Muslim ex-fiance. Adichie's main character in 'Ghosts' resembles the characteristics of her biological father. First, she named this character James Nwoye which is close to her biological father's name: James Nwoye Adichie. Second, James Nwoye was a professor in Mathematics, whereas as James Nwoye Adichie was the first Professor of Statistics in Nigeria. The story tells the life of two university lecturers after the Biafran war. The story could easily have been an extension of Half of a Yellow Sun for some of the description in this story fits those in the latter story such as the desecration of lecturers bungalows and the death of Christopher Okigbo during the Biafra war. This story has both facts and fiction. In reality Chris Okigbo died whilst fighting for the Biafran war. Chris took on the character of Okeoma in Half of a Yellow Sun. There were more than one ghosts in 'Ghosts' and this indicates the depths of Adichie's writings.

In 'On Monday of Last Week' and 'The Shivering', Adichie shows the life of Nigerian immigrants in America. How they strife to survive and still pretend to be making it; how they struggle to obtain working permit and green card; how they react to the cultural shock. Similarly, in "Arrangers of Marriage" Chinaza  was to experience no joy in a marriage of convenience when she travelled to America with his new husband, Udenwa, who rather want's to be called 'Dave', claiming that for one to progress in America, one has be like the Americans. Chinaza never called her husband by his name always referring to him as 'my new husband' as if there was an old one. This shows the chasm between them. In her eagerness to leave she complained to an African American, who has taken on a Swahilian name. She was shocked when Nia told her that she had 'fucked' her husband several times. She had come to Nia, after discovering that her husband is married to a white lady, as a means of obtaining a green card. Thus, in 'Arrangers of Marriage', there were two arranged marriages involving one man: one to get a green card and the other to get a Nigerian wife. In 'The Shivering' and 'Jumping Monkey Hill', Adichie expertly touched on a taboo subject, one that is gradually strangling Africans but one which they prefer not to talk about--gay or homosexuality.

The title story 'The Thing Around Your Neck' also tells of the struggles a lady who had won an American visa lottery had to go through whilst in America. From the near rape by her uncle, whom she isn't related to by blood, to her work in restaurants, she finds out that the America she reads is different from the America she sees. After finding love and establishing herself, she received a letter from her mother informing her about the death of her father five months ago. This story is really touching. The last story in the collection is the 'Headstrong Historian.' This story touches on or continues from Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'. It tells the story of the colonisation of a village and how a young woman was able to keep her head up even when all others, including her father and brother, were deeply swallowed by the whiteman's God. Whilst in school she read The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger (this is the novel written by the District Commissioner in Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart') and later in life, after she became a Historian by twist of fate, she wrote Pacifying with Bullets: A Reclaimed History of Southern Nigeria. She later changed her name from Grace to Afamefuna, a name given her by her equally headstrong grandmother.

Though each of these stories is unique, it is always clear that Ms. Adichie's stories always deals with Nigeria's past and present. The Biafra war, the numerous coup d'état, and the religious crisis have always featured  strongly in or served as the background to Adichie's stories. As a daughter of a university professor, it is understandable her fascination with campus life, justifying the ubiquity of University of Nigeria Nsukka in Adichie's stories such as it did in 'Cell One' and 'Ghosts'. Adichie's character formation and development is second to none. She is really a master storyteller.

This is an interesting collection but one which cannot be compared with Purple Hibiscus or Half of a Yellow Sun. However, I highly recommend this novel to all of Adichie's fans and to every individual who loves stories.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The 10th Caine Prize (2009)

The Caine Prize for African Writing is named in memory of the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker Plc. The prize is awarded to a short story by an African writer published in English, whether in Africa or elsewhere. The short story should have between 3,000 and 10,000 words. For the sake of this award an African writer is taken to mean "someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or whose parents are Africans, and whose work has reflected African sensibilities."
The First Prize was awarded in 2000, at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2000. This year's (2009) short list included:
  1. Mamle Kabu (Ghana) The End of Skill from "Dreams, Miracles and Jazz"; published by Picador Africa, Johannesburg, 2008;
  2. Parselelo Kantai (Kenya) You Wreck Her from the St. Petersburg Review, NY 2008;
  3. Alistair Morgan (South Africa) Icebergs from The Paris Review no. 183, NY 2008;
  4. E.C. Osondu (Nigeria) Waiting from, Octover 2008;
  5. Mukoma wa Ngugi (Kenya) How Kamau wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile from "Wasafiri" No. 54, Summer 2008.
The Award was won by Nigeria's E.C. Osondu for Waiting from, October 2008. Click here for more on this award.

Monday, September 07, 2009

15. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda's debut novel, Purple Hibiscus (Farafina, 2003; 298), was published three years before the much-acclaimed and award-winning Half of a Yellow Sun. It won The Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Hurston-Wright Legacy award and was short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and long-listed for the Booker Prize of 2003.

Set in Enugu and Nsukka, in Nigeria, 'Purple Hibiscus' is a story by fifteen year-old Kambili whose life and the life of her immediate family members (brother and mother) are imprisoned by a father, referred to only as Papa, whose attachment to the doctrines of the Catholic faith and to Western Culture is so strong and entrenched that it borders on insanity at best. Papa expects absolute obeisance and subservience without questions. His demand for perfections ranges from academics, where he would not accept a second position when there is a first position, to religion, where he considers the Igbo language as not good enough for the celebration of Mass.

Papa's wrath for the slightest infractions such as a question, a poorly covered hair or even spending one more minute than what he had approved of on his father's compound expresses itself in heavy slaps, booting, whippings, and scalding. To him, he does all these in the name of 'love' and in the interest of the offender so that he or she avoids hellfire. His anger is so strong and irrational that he once beats his wife, whose face is almost always swollen with dark circles around the eyes, till she miscarried and Kambili till she almost died.

However, Papa is generous and it is this generosity that made him take the title Omelora (The One Who Does For The Community). During Christmas he fetes the whole village of Abba and gives only a paltry sum of money to his father (because he is a heathen who wouldn't leave his gods to serve the Whiteman's God). So hard-hearted is Papa that when his father died he refused to attend the funeral and only gave money to his sister, Ifeoma, to organise the funeral, yet his respects transcends reverends and Igwes.

Yet, like Okonkwo in Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Papa's hardness cracked when he faced real challenge from Jaja and Kambila after they had visited their Auntie, Ifeoma, at Nsukka and had for once laughed unrestrained and enjoyed the beauties of life that were not possible in their father's plush mansion. Ifeoma's children Obiora, Amaka and Chima had the liberty to ask questions, challenge elders and above all laugh freely. It is this freedom to laugh, talk, ask questions, hold conversations and live freely without following prepared schedules that made Kambili and Jaja realised how much weird and timid they are. Back at Enugu, things started to fall apart when they started to rebel and Jaja refused, for once, to attend Mass. Subtly, everybody became fed up with Papa's harsh and neurotic behaviour.

The story was also set in a period when the military has taken control over Nigeria and there were rampant arrests and intimidation of individuals who speak against the military government. It was this outspokenness that led to the death of Ade Coker, Papa's editor at the Standard. Similarly, Aunt Ifeoma had similar brushes with the authorities leading to the termination of her appointment at the university, yet both of these characters handled their situations differently. Whilst Ifeoma took pragmatic steps to move on in life, Papa only cowed.

This is a silent narration of events in Kambili's life; silent because a large chunk of Kambili's statements were thoughts that were never spoken because of her timidity and her upbringing to only accept and not to question. In the end, there was the optimism that the rain would soon come down, portending that better days are to come.

Comparatively I enjoyed reading this novel a bit more than I enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun, perhaps because the subject matter (religious fanaticism) is one that I am passionate about. Ms Adichie makes words come alive and the effortlessness with which she seems to do this is mind-boggling. Right from the first word, first sentence and first page, she captures the imagination of the reader and carries him or her along till she ends the prose. The details of her description, such as the pressure exerted by the wings of a grasshopper, makes you wonder if she has being in such position before. I had to rush to the office loo (sorry for this) to complete the last ninety pages. I fully agree with Chinua Achebe when he wrote that "... Adichie came almost fully made."

I would recommend this novel to all fans of the old and new writers for Adichie cuts across generations and periods. Her writing style is so unique that presently, I guess she has no peer.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

14. "Kwame Nkrumah: Vision and Tragedy" by David Rooney

Title: Kwame Nkrumah: Vision and Tragedy
Author: David Rooney
Genre: Non-Fiction (Political)
Publishers: Sub-Sahran Publishers
Pages: 338
Year: 1988 (this edition, 2007)
Country: Britain

The activities marking the centenary celebration of Ghana's first president Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah would be launched next week, in addition to this, and as part of the celebration, his birthday (September 21) has been declared a national holiday by the present government (see the September 4, 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic: Nkrumah's birthday declared a holiday). However, how many Ghanaians truly know the man, Nkrumah, apart from being the person who won Ghana its independence. Most of us born way after the Nkrumah era (1950 to say 1970) know little of this son of Africa who has being both deified and demonised in one breath, whilst being labelled as a "great African and not a great Ghanaian" by academicians such as Professor Ali Mazrui.

David Rooney's book gives an account of Nkrumah right from his birthplace at Nkroful to Achimota, London, Lincoln University, back to Ghana, and finally Guinea where he lived after the coup of February 24, 1966. It also provides certain events that would hardly be heard in stories concerning Nkrumah especially the chapters titled 'Socialist State', 'Foreign Policy' and 'Denouement'. This criticisms border on Nkrumah's ideologies concerning the creation of scientific socialism for Ghana and a union government for Africa. His lofty ideas of rapidly transforming Ghana and taking the masses out of poverty influenced by the advice of great development economists such as Kaldor, Bognar, Lewis, Killick etc swayed him more and the events leading to the murder of Lumumba by CIA agents and the Belgians and the attempts on his own life entrenched his socialist leanings the more. His lofty ideas, including rapid industrialisation, translated into huge social investments such as the state farms, tomato factory, meat factory, shoe factory etc, which were more than not a failure.

He however, became isolated when his vision for a union government for Africa faced stern opposition from the other African countries who had by then also gained independence from their colonial masters. To achieve his aim, which perhaps was more of an obsession to the point of being psychotic, he lent lots of money out to various African nations to fight the imperialists and colonialism. This, together with his indifference to financial matters, led to the deterioration of the economy, thus annoying the already incensed populace. But surrounded by sycophants and praise-singers, Nkrumah virtually lived in a world of his own ignorant of the true state of the economy and the anger of the people. Besides, after the several coup attempts on his life, he became almost schizophrenic and using the Preventive Detention Act, which existed in colonial times, put behind bars any person who exhibited a modicum of opposition. This made him more unpopular amongst Ghanaians. Also, this Act was abused and misused by the die-hard Marxists who surrounded him and he was personally blamed as the president.

Yet above all these Nkrumah was the leader who commune with world leaders and mediate in conflict situations amongst countries, though he was alleged to have exhibited subversive tendencies, especially against countries that were against his idea of the union government.

What is not to be forgotten is the organisational power he brought to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the political party headed by JB Danquah that invited him to join and be the party's secretary. Prior to his assumption of this role, the UGCC had no flag, no offices, and did not operate in the northern territories. It was through the hard work of Nkrumah that made sure that all these were done, thus paving the way for his popularity when he finally broke off from the UGCC to form the Convention People's Party (CPP). Also, Nkrumah discouraged all kinds of political groupings around tribe, or class thus the Northern People's Party (NPP) (mainly for the Northerners) and the National Liberation Movement (formed from the UGCC) (mainly for the Ashantis) were discouraged.

Since this is the first book of Nkrumah that I have read I cannot challenge its content or stamp it as the ultimate truth, for the man is as enigmatic as the stories surrounding him. He is described as having ideas in different watertight compartments of his mind. However, certain points are worthy to note, and perhaps could be contested:
  1. With the penchant of succeeding governments publishing defamatory articles about past governments, it is difficult to accept every point raised in this book as the ultimate truth without questioning the source. For instance most of the sources of the information used in the book after Nkrumah came from the military government's report, which is of dubious motive and of questionable integrity; 
  2. The book alleged that most of the books authored by Nkrumah were instead written by other people. This needs to be verified; 
  3. Reading this book shows that Nkrumah played no major role in the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and had it not been Emperor Haillie Selassie's intervention Nkrumah would not have signed on to it; 
  4. Subtly the book hardly pointed out any specific success Nkrumah chalked both abroad or on the continent. Every action Nkrumah took was seen by the author as self-gratulatory and a failure; 
  5. The book never really chastised the colonialist in Ghana and across the continent. It made me wonder why then were we agitating for independence, if all were rosy. In fact, with the exception of the February 28, 1948 shooting of the soldiers, everything about the colonial masters seemed okay; 
  6. Finally, the book claimed that though the CIA knew about the coup and all the leaders involved in it, 'it did not set the coup in motion or took part in it', though Danquah was deemed to have been on the payroll of the CIA.
The story also suggested that perhaps, Nkrumah grappling with the failure of his decisions and lacking the capacity to handle it or perhaps knowing that he has come to the end of his 'political tether', allowed the coup to happen as he insisted on travelling to Hanoi when all the coup indicators were red and several advisors have told him not to leave the country. Besides, the coup occurred just two days after his departure.

However, all in all, this book would give you an account of Nkrumah with more details than you would get in popular stories. Its veracity can be verified by the reader later.

Note also that over fifty years on, Africa is still struggling with unity and an African High Command. The latter being one of Osagyefo's inchoate ideas for which he fiercely fought. This is a book that is to be read by all Ghanaians and everyone who wants to know more about the man, Nkrumah. However, I believe it would only be fair, as in all cases of studies, to read other accounts of the man.

As an aside, do you know that the word awam, which has come to mean deception, is actually an acronym from the Nkrumah era? It represents the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM) run by the Syrians and the Lebanese, which were accused of cheating the populace by increasing prices.

Rating this book would be a bit difficult since it is not a novel and is based on giving facts, which cannot be verified now. Besides, rating based on the style and type of narration would not also be fair. However, I would rate it based on its readability.
Read my poem on and for Kwame Nkrumah here

Friday, September 04, 2009

"I am, and I will always be the President of all the People of Gabon"--Ben Ali Bongo

Is this a self-fulfilling prophecy, a threat or a statement of peace? These are the words of the newly elected president of Gabon, Ali Ben Bongo, son of the late president Omar Bongo, who ruled for 42 years. I have already discussed this issue together with other pressing political issues on the continent with respect to the gradual transition of democracies and autocracies to dynasties. Read my comments here under the heading 'Dynasty-sation of Africa's Democracies and Autocracies'.

This morning, the Daily Graphic, Ghana's leading daily newspaper, has reported on its 'Inside Africa' page the riots that has unfortunately marked the aftermath of the Gabon election. It is a pity and sad to know that greed has taken over the very fabric of our being. Omar Bongo, is alleged to have enriched himself with his country's oil revenues, and as a result and before his untimely death, was being investigated or facing trial with Denis Sassou-Nguesso (of the Republic of Congo)and Teodoro Obiang Nguema (of Equatorial Guinea) (Daily Graphic, May 7, 2009). Yet, his son went on to stand for an election and won by 42 percent (BBC as reported in the Daily Graphic of Sept 4, 2009). According to DG:

"Officials said Ali Ben Bongo, whose father Omar Bongo ruled for four decades won the election with 42 percent of the vote. But his critics say the poll was fixed to ensure a dynastic succession..."

My fears, my prophecies have been fulfilled, though I wish it were not. And as a victory speech Ali Bongo stated:

"As far as I am concerned, I am and I will always be the president of all the people of Gabon...I am and I will always be at the service of all, without exclusion"

Is he preparing himself to also last for four decades and if possible surpass his father? I am becoming wary of such bold and emphatic speeches devoid of vision and action.

However, I wonder how 11 opposition candidates were planning to unseat such a dynastic family whose influence reaches the top echelons of French politics, even though some stepped down? Were they also there to fill their paunches or to serve the common man, for is it not in unity lies strength. With 42 percent it means that the opposition had about 58 percent (barring rejected votes), which is enough to have unseated him had they shown more maturity in coming together to form one strong opposition. What were they thinking? Was Omar Bongo buried in a golden casket or in one of his allegedly acquired numerous vehicles? A clear case of the nothingness of materiality. Next time let the opposition come together with a common purpose and they shall break the dynastic jinx that is engulfing Gabon and Africa as a whole.

Forgive me, this is an extempore writing.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Drunken Dreams

I dream of you
in my drunken desert dreams
I dream of you
in my wireless wawa awakenings
I dream drunken dreams
at the point of my awakening
I dream meeting you
at the point of my phoenix transformation

Ancient of Days
the Beautiful One
conceived not by the seed of man
nor in the womb of the venerable woman
it is you I drunkenly dream of in my dreams

lead me by hand
take me to your altar of knowledge
fit my feet on The Path
yet leave me a human
but cut me into pieces
suck out the wormwood and the poisonwood and the log-wood
and all the wooden nerves and the mechanical processors
re-arrange me to my primaeval innocence

I dream drunkenly of you
in my sea-dry dreamy dreams
leading me into the Sun
to see the face of me and my creator
to transfigure me into innocence
and from the ashes
I would awake refreshed, emboldened
steep in the ways of The Path
and lead them to you...

Copyright 2009 by Nana Fredua-Agyeman

Notes: Wrote this title in my notebook without Atukwei Okai's Oblogo Concerto in mind but later I realised that it has unconsciously influenced the title.

This piece was written after reading Ayi Kwei Armah's Review of his book The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (which I have not yet read) in the August/September 2009 issue of the New African.
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