Wednesday, July 28, 2010

32. They and Us Killed Us, A Review of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Healers

Title: The Healers
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Per Ankh
Pages: 351
ISBN: 2-911928-04-0
Year of Publication: 1978 (this edition 2000)
Country: Ghana; Africa

Authors write for different reasons. To some writing has a therapeutic effect. Some write to express a personal opinion, some write toward an idea whereas others write from an idea. Others also write to project the views, aspirations and culture of a tribe. But Ayi Kwei Armah uses his writing to achieve a wider, larger objective of African unification.

PLOT: The period of the story is the nineteenth century when the colonialists are fighting the Asantes for control of the land and the Asantes are also fighting the Fantes to reclaim their land. The Healers tells of a young man, Densu, who was framed up for the murder of the heir apparent to Esuano's throne by his guardian Ababio, after the latter had unsuccessfully convinced the former to step up and claim the position. But Densu attracted by the work of Damfo, a healer decided to become a healer and so turned down his guardian's request and moved to the Eastern Forest where Damfo and his daughter Ajo, lives.

Meanwhile, at Cape Coast the colonialists had manipulated the chiefs and kings to provide the men required to fight the Asantes. The great battle that ensued saw fighters coming in from across the continent such as Dahomey, Hausas, Ada, Ga, Aneho, Akim, Ekuapem, Kru, Temne, Mande, Sussu and many others. Thus, whereas the Healers were working through inspiration to unite the continent, the British colonialist using manipulation had brought together soldiers to fight the Asantes. The kings of Asante also afraid of losing their position of power succumbed to the colonialist, thus leading to defeat and division. 

On the other hand, the kings of Asante blamed the healers for their decision and so sent soldiers, those who were to fight the whites, to ferret out the Healers and kill them.

The story is narrated by an omniscient narrator who showed himself or herself through emotional outburst such as an address to certain individual to surfeit him or her with words so that he or she could continue to narrate the story:
Ah, Fasseke, words fail the storyteller, Fasseke Belen Tigui, master of masters in the art of eloquence, lend me strength ... Send me words Mokopu Mofolo. Send me words of eloquence (page 63)
MY THOUGHTS: As an informal sequel to Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers tells of how for their crave for food to fill their paunch, drinks to glaze their eyes and pamper their nerves and silken clothes to lie upon, the so-called kings and chiefs of Africa plotted the continent's dis-unity. Thus, those who have taken oaths with the gods' swords and sworn upon the gods' names to serve the people became the served.

Ayi Kwei Armah exposes the causes of Africa's disunity: self-importance, the crave for power, lack of knowledge regarding origins and the smallness of the leaders' (kings and chiefs mainly) mind. If not for the love of power how then could Ababio frame his god-son, the orphan Densu, for the murder of the heir-apparent so that he, Ababio, would ascend to the throne at Esuano with ease? or the queen mother of Kumase work against the war strategy of Asamoa Nkwanta, the mighty warrior for the Asantes (the Osajefo), because she fears that should the war be won the latter would fight them for the throne at Kumase? According to the queen mother
the wisdom of a king lay in knowing at all times what to do to remain a king. If what should be done now was to yield a bit to the whites, better that than lose all power to an upstart general (page 331)
If not for the lack of knowledge regarding origins, how then could the Asantes see themselves different from the Fantes, the Akims, the Ekuapems and many others, when they are all Africans?

Though Armah discussed the causes of Africa's disunity, he does not drum only doom and does not pretend to have quick answers to the problem. According to him there are the Healers whose greatest work is to work towards the unification of Africa. To these Healers this scattering and individualism of Africans are but a temporary phase in the affairs of men and though they are persecuted by the kings and queens and chiefs of Africa they are not giving up. Slowly and carefully they believe they would realise this long-term objective.

Armah's penchant for writing on Africa's unification and recreating Africa's past does not blind him to certain inhuman practices accepted as tradition. In fact, he speaks vehemently against such acts and attributes them to selfishness, lust for power and ignorance.

Scaling up Armah's novel, it becomes easier to see these events in present-day Africa. How many times haven't Africans working to create the unity of the continent been killed: spiritually or physically? Think of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and many others. Think also of the author's own halleluya when he wrote his famous novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and his immediate crucifixion and fall from grace when he wrote Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers. Why? Because these two novels blame the whites and some ignoramuses of Africa for Africa's current predicament. Because these novels show how Africans can put the past aside and work towards the future, towards the goal of black unification. Because when such a unification is achieved these people of power would lose their positions and such positions would no longer be necessary. And this is what the Ostentatious Cripples and the Vultures are not prepared to hear or to have it heard. Yet, like Healers such as Damfo, Armah knows the final result of their small works may not be realised now or even in their lifetime; it may be realised centuries after we are all gone. The peaceful and the most enjoyable part is that IT SHALL COME TO PASS when the parts shall become whole.
Finally, Armah bemoans in this novel of how every affair of man is about competition, about victory and loss rather than about collaboration. Currently, if a company had to pollute rather than incur huge financial losses, it would pay its way to pollute even if such pollution would lead to the death of men and of things. In the media it is common to see TV crews fighting to cover a child dying of hunger than to see them actually helping the child. It is profit first, life last. Whatever would put money in the bank account would be highly competed for even if it would lead to the death of its victims. This is how capitalism has been defined today.

In reading The Healers you can see Armah in motion, moving to and working from Senegal and talking to the people of the continent, sowing the acorns of realisation and working tirelessly to ensuring that the healing of Africa's wound, the spiritual awakening of dead souls, that the path to origins would once again be found. I end with a beautiful quote from the book:

Let the error raise its own correction (Page 8)
I recommend this book to every individual. However, I say read Two Thousand Seasons before reading this. This is not just a novel, it is a text book, a book that inspires understanding, love, and begs for action.

In Ghana, a copy of this novel could be obtained from the University of Ghana's bookshop. Current issues are published by the author's publishing house PER ANKH, where copies could be obtained.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Throw Your Bookshelves Away, Here Comes the E-book

At the mention of a book, the first thing we think of is the cover page, the feel of the book in our hands, the smell of the book, the colour of the cover, the font size and then the contents. I loved books for these things. Anytime I purchase a book, I stroke the spine like I would do for a pet, though I have none and had I not married I could easily say that the most important thing in my life is a book, any book for that matter. I love books for what they are and I do not care whether it falls within my study area or not. In my bookshelf, I have books on history, literature, economics, accounting, agriculture and many others. The best present anyone could ever give me is a book and when I celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday and a friend of mine gave me a copy of 'Half of a Yellow Sun', a book a reader of ImageNations had recommended for me, the feeling was different and it is a feeling I would never forget.

However, these personal relationship one has with books are about to change with the emergence of e-readers and its increasing popularity. Amazon's Kindle, Apple's IPad, Sony's Reader Touch, Barns and Noble's Nook and many others, have all changed the face and phase of reading. Now, one can carry the whole of his library with him and at the press of a button retrieve, purchase and store countless books. This revolution however has its costs. But is this cost a cost to readers or to manufacturers. Amazon recently announced that the sales of its e-books have outstripped sales for its hard copies and the sales of its Kindle has not decreased but increased. Judging from this information and also from the current war of words and sues brewing between the traditional hard copy publishers and publishing agents such as Alex Wiley and authors themselves, where copyright issues concerning the e-books are being redefined, the e-books have come to really stay. It has been predicted that e-books would surpass the traditional hard copy books in five years and the industry is growing to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Many authors such as Binyavanga Wainaina of Kenya have warned African publishing houses to beware of this trend and follow suit. This phenomenon is not new. It is well established in the music industry where one can easily log on to sites such as ITunes and purchase mp3 copies of the songs one hears. In the music industry, it has shown to be a success and it is this same success that authors are waiting for.

So please reduce the size of your bookshelf, close down the library or better still throw the bookshelves out of the window... Get bigger memory external hard disks to store your books and create room space for yourself. But would this phenomenon be good for readers and bibliophiles in developing countries? Those to whom access to even hard copy books still remain a problem? There still are only about two bookshops with more than four shelves dedicated to literary books in Accra and book prices at one of these are way above normal, sometimes even higher than the dollar equivalent quoted at the back of the book. Would books still be considered an elite commodity? Or would the e-pub industry destroy this myth?

Advantages of the E-book
The advantage of e-books is that, they are easy to circulate and their cost is low. Their ease of circulation and low production cost mean that authors get a greater percentage from royalties (between 50 percent and 70 percent compared to the average 25 percent from traditional publishing houses). Again, with a high-memory e-reader one could store a lot of books into the reader creating spaces for other essential items when one is going to work or vacation. As already stated, bookshelves would become smaller and smaller and with time disappear altogether. Lovely e-books. But are these advantages greater than the disadvantages?

I believe that the e-readers and e-books would widen the gap between students and bibliophiles in the urban areas and rural areas.

E-readers require electricity to power them just as mobile phones do. Is every village in Africa connected to the national electrification grid? Most villages in Ghana, as I know them, are not connected to the national grid. In Nigeria lights go off and on like the way we flutter our eyes. We can read traditional books with candles and lanterns but what if you have exams and the lights have been off for say a day or two and your e-reader has rundown? Far-fetched? There has been numerous power scheduling in Ghana and students have to end up learning with candles. How would the e-book fare in this area? Some may argue that though mobile phones also require electricity to charge them, this has not prevented them from being used in rural areas. However, whereas people could leave their phones off or charge their phones in people's houses or with batteries, would these same people (perhaps students) be ready to leave their e-readers at these places when they need to read them? Solar chargers? May be!

The cost of reading a traditional book is the cost of only the book and perhaps your time, a common variable in every reading activity. However, to read an e-book one needs the e-reader and that e-book. Another point is that the e-book should be in a format that is compatible with the e-reader, else it cannot open. Sony's e-reader cost between US$ 250 and US$ 300, versions of IPad's e-reader sell for over US$ 700 and there is no e-reader that sells for less than US$ 100, used or brand new. Besides unlike the hard copies book (if you kept them from high and low PH liquids--water is okay as you can dry them after they fall in it,--fire and perhaps children--even if they tear it up you can mend it with a transparent tape), the e-reader can have all the problems associated with mobile phones: battery problems, screen loss and definitely it must not fall down. If you drop your IPad from a storey, know that you cannot read your story till you replace it.

E-books are easily be available from numerous outlets such as and Barnes and Noble, if one has ACCESS to the internet and a CREDIT CARD. Getting access to the internet is the first major problem. I, for instance, get access to the internet mostly when I am at work. When I go back home, where I was born and brought up and also where I stay, I barely get access to the net; whenever I travel to my working areas in the villages, internet access become a wish item. What then happens to the rural folks, if all our books became e-books?

Though I have internet access at work, I cannot purchase anything on the net as my bankers only provide me with a debit card. Sometimes those who provide credit cards do not provide the service overseas and in certain countries. Thus, with a Kindle, an internet access and a 'no-service' bank I still cannot use the e-book.

However, every article that I have read on the e-reader and on or about e-books point to the fact that it is the future. That the future of the book industry about to change drastically. What should we as Africans do in order to benefit from this change? Should there be a direct government interest and action or it should be left with private entrepreneurs?

This is only my thoughts and I would want us to keep this discussion going.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Reading and Citi Fm Literary Appreciation

The Reading of Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God by the Author
There is going to be a reading of Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God at the Niagara Plus Hotel, Osu behind Koala Shopping Centre on 28th July 2010 at 7pm.

Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God is an eclectic collection of short stories written by the Ghanaian Writer and Physicist, Mr. Martin Egblewogbe, co-founder of the Writers Project of Ghana, the Eha-Lakasa Poetry TalkParty held at the Nubuke Foundation, and host of the new and exciting literary appreciation program on Citi Fm 97.3 (which I would talk about in the next item).

As a Physicist, Martin as a strange way of penetrating into life and of coming out with essence of issues. Some of the titles in the book are Pharmaceutical Interventions, Small Changes in the Dynamic, Jjork, Three Conversations with Ayuba, Down Wind, and many others. These are just no collection of Short Stories. These are the best collection of short stories you would ever read. Martin once told me, during a discussion on which books to read, that if there are over six billion people on earth and 10% of these people are creative writers, then there would be 600,000,000 (six hundred million) writers. If we further assume that each creative writer writes and publishes just two books, there would be about 1.2 billion books to read. How many of these books would an avid reader read before he dies? It is thus important for one to read good books. Books that would poke you to reason and not books that makes one goes 'and so what?' And good stories is what Martin writes.

I have reviewed Martin's short story collection on this blog and you can click here to read my review and also click here to read my interview with the author. 

The interesting part is that I have five copies of Martin's books with me. It sells for GHCedis 10 a copy. If you get yourself a copy and attend the reading by the author, your copy would be autographed. You would also get a free drink in addition to the enjoyment you are guaranteed to have at the reading. So if you need a copy please send me a mail at freduagyeman(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Come let's support our literary writers. If you think writers have no place in society building and in shaping society or directing it onto a better path, try living as a writer in nation's whose rulership has been forcefully and fearfully taken over by military juntas. Writers and members of the arts the first group of individuals to be banned in any country with such military government. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer and human right activist was killed by hanging under the Abacha regime for writing about the devastation Shell Petroleum is causing in his native state of Rivers State, Wole Soyinka has been put to prison by several military governments. Think in earnest of these things and you would know the important role authors play in every country's development. Come let's develop the new to take over the old.

Literary Appreciation on Citi Fm 97.3
A new program has been launched on Citi Fm 97.3 by the Writers Project of Ghana (WPG). It started yesterday, Sunday 18th July 2010 and it would be running on every Sunday at 8:30 to 9:30 pm.

The first show featured writers such as, Kojo Laing, author of Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters, Novisi Dzitre, a member of the Eha-Lakasa TalkParty and a Poet, and Crystal Tettey, a Poet, Performer, and an Author . So tune in to Citi Fm 97.3 this and every Sunday at the specified time and listen to authors discuss literature in Ghana and the world over.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Acquisitions and Other News

News Item One: AmaZulu by Walton Golightly
I have got myself a copy of Walton Golightly's first novel, AmaZulu. I have not read any review of this novel before. I bought it because a friend of mine, Obed Sarpong, has a copy. 

Back of the novel: 1818 SOUTH AFRICA: The searing wind of change is sweeping across the African continent s the European powers clash over the lands they consider to be theirs by right of conquest and settlement.

But in th homeland of the Zulu tribes, a new power, which will change the course of African history and soak its soil in blood, is preparing to fight back. The warrior king Shaka begins his ruthless and violent rise to power, a path that will lead to the birth of the Zulu Nation and the formation of its legendary Impis--units of the most disciplined, courageous and fearsome army the modern world has ever known.

About the Author: Walton Golightly is a freelance writer from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal--on the doorstep of what used to be the Zulu Kingdom. He's a film buff with a passion for Spaghetti Westerners, '70s action movies and the films of Jean-Luc Godard. AmaZulu is his first novel. He shares his life with a few thousand books and two dogs. Occasionally the dogs let him sleep on the bed. (As written on the second page of the Novel).

The book was published by Quercus in 2008, however it was originally published by Kwela Books a division of NB Publishers (Pty) Limited, Cape Town, South Africa in 2007.

I purchased this copy from the University of Ghana's Bookshop at 6 Ghana Cedis or US$ 4.29.

News Item Two: ImageNations in Business and Financial Times (Friday July 9, 2010)
Hurray! The interview I had with author, Nana Awere Damoah, was published in the Friday July 9, 2010 edition of the Business and Financial Times. It is interesting to see how far ImageNations is going. Thanks to you all. You can also read this interview from the B&FT homepage.

News Item Three: What You Need to Know About Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and the Perceived Problem with Chinua Achebe. 

Read this in the June 2010 edition of the only truly African magazine NewAfrican. It sells for GHCedis 3 but the information it contains is worth much more than the price tag. The title of the article is "Armah--in his own words" on page 92. Ayi Kwei Armah, whose novels I have reviewed on this blog, is one of the very few novelists who live what they writer. Thus, it is virtually impossible to differentiate what he says with his pen from how he lives his life. Recently, he has established and publishing company called Per Ankh, that is republishing all his books. If you don't have any of his books rush to the University of Ghana's bookshop and you would get a copy. 

Some Quotes from the Article: 
Seeing myself as an African, I had though it natural and logical to choose work that, in my estimation, would help the creation of a new society in Africa (page 93)
My writing may be inspired at times, but the inspiration comes not from palm wine or yamba, and definitely not from heaven or hell. It comes from knowledge acquire through regular, systematic research (page 94).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Olufemi Terry wins the 2010 Caine Prize

So I must say that this one went by without my notice and had it not been The Bookaholic Blog I would not have heard it and talked about it. Thanks Bookaholic. I first blogged about the Prize here...

Sierra Leone's Olufemi Terry has won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing for 'Stickfighting Days' from Chimurenga vol 12/13. This Prize has been described as Africa's leading literary award. The Chair of Judges, The Economist's Literary Editor Fiammetta Rocco, announced Olufemi as the winner of the 10,000 pound prize at a dinner held on Monday July 5 at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. 

Fimmetta Rocco said "ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative, Olufemi Terry's 'Stickfighting Days' presents a heroid culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception. The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future"

Olufemi was born in Sierra Leon of African and Antillean parentage. He grew up in Nigeria, the U.K., and Cote d'Ivoire before attending university in New York. Subsequently, Olufemi lived in Kenya and worked as a journalist and analyst in Somalia and Uganda. He lives in Cape Town where he is writing his first novel. His writing has appeared in Chimurenga, New Contrast and The Caine Prize for African Writing's Eight Annual Collection.

Also shortlisted were:
  • Ken Barris (South Africa) 'The Life of Worm' from New Writing from Africa 2009, published by Johnson & King James Books, Cape Town
  • Lily Mabura (Kenya) 'How Shall We Kill the Bishop?' from Wasafari No 53, Spring 2008
  • Namwali Serpell (Zambia) 'Muzungu' from The Best American Short Stories 2009, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston MA
  • Alex Smith (South Africa) 'Soulmates' from New Writing from Africa 2009 (As Above)
Read the full press release here....

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

31. Bloodlines...A Review

Title: Bloodlines, Tales from the African Diaspora, vol. 1
Genre: Anthology of Short Stories
Pages: 143 (e-copy)
Publishers:, US
Year of Publication: 2010
Country: Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leon, U.S., Canada

The internet is fast becoming a meeting place of literary minds. In addition to this, it is reducing the problems that one has to go through to get his works published or get to a wider audience. I have benefited from it and I know many authors too who have. However, the greatest literary achievement of the internet is the diversity that it brings. People from different parts of the world are able to come together to publish an anthology that is diverse in its readings and unique in its approach. One such anthology is Bloodlines.

Bloodlines is a collection of fourteen short stories collected through a competition organised and edited by Veronica Henry. The authors are from varied backgrounds such as Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leon, Canada and the U.S. All the stories are uniquely told and carefully selected to tell a story that touches at the heart of life.

Subjects covered in this collection range from the dicey issue of Black-White marriages, lack of self confidence among Blacks, and the everyday issues of life. Genres ranged from Science Fiction to Traditional (if there is a genre like that).

The Other Wife by Cranston Livingston, tells the story of a woman in a polygamous marriage, who decided to bring the other wife into the household. The story deals with the issue of non-recognition, loss and reminiscence.

Skyboat Strangers by Ronald T. Jones: This is a science-fiction story that deals with the attack by strangers from space on the Benin Kingdom. My love for this story stems from the fact that the author created a very ancient story and gave it a science fiction touch. It tells us that we can still write about tradition, about huts and palaces, about calabashes and wrestlings, about bows and arrows, but then we can also incorporate aliens, spacecrafts, flying saucers, into them. That's the freedom that literature provides.

The Old Black Magic by Barbara Jenkins: This novel has a mystic touch. The title was culled from Frank Sinatra's song. It is a touching story between a girl and a guy who is suffering from some unknown disease and always lying in bed. Read this piece, it is a great piece.

Near But Far by Igodiame Soumana: This story is set in Niger. It is a story about a child who was taken by the Djinn as a baby and came back as a Native Doctor--curer of diseases. It is a story about spiritual transformation. 

To Rest by Sarah Bass: This is a narrative by a third person who is an observer of events but at the same time knows more about the events like an omniscient observer. It deals with a woman who dreamt of clouds and prepared for it. Another beautiful piece.

Smooth Lanes by H. Abiola: This is a first person narrative. It is a story about a deaf girl (like the author) whose hair was been plaited by her mother. This hair-plaiting was used as an analogy for the choices she had to make in life. Whereas her father showed her two great paths: the Olikage Ransome Kuti path and the Ellen Sirleaf pat, others were showing her or informing her that with her deafness all she can be is an alms beggar. However, she chose well and chose the path of Sirleaf. The story has a lot of beautiful imagery, like the other stories. For instance:
Sometimes her lanes are sharp straight. Sometimes they run like the path of a palm wine drunkard (page 56)
My grandmother's hands start a monologue with my head... (page 56)
No World Order by Jeff Carroll: This is a futuristic story about the destruction of the developed world, North America, South Africa and Technology. This caused the less developed countries to take over the rulership of the world. A new world order devoid of wars, technology and imposition was created. This is a brilliant piece that brings into the future the issues of the past. Black Africa and some countries such as Japan and the southern part of U.S. that were left undestroyed by the bombs. A greater portion of the story is told in the form of reports and interviews. This story is creativity at its best. A must read.

Along Racial Lines by Eleanor Adams: A short story that deals with marriage and relationship between blacks and whites and how Black men love such unions and the extent to which they would go to protect it. The story is told from the point of view of a black girl who is not married and who had been jilted twice, all at the point of marriage, and the men involved had gone ahead to marry white girls. I love this piece simply because it says things people prefer to remain oblivious off and coming from a black woman makes it all the more important. 

Fein, The Jew by Raymond Hill: Can you, as a child, approach a man in the dirtiest shop in the ghettos of town and ask him if he is a Jew and that if he were why he killed Jesus? The story is told by this young boy who took such a bold step and ended up with candies.

Rendezvous With Poverty by Arose N. Daghetto: A fight with poverty and losing it. It is a psychological and physical fight. However, after losing the fight, after trying hard to escape and being unsuccessful, she finally got to love him and that was where poverty ditched him.

African Queen by Georgia Ijeoma Ugwu: This story is about the transformation a girl went through when she left her village in Nigeria and travelled to London. Overnight suitors, who were dearth in coming, knocked on her parents' door back home and her name changed from Nna ga nnu (Father will marry) to African Queen.

Black in Love by Larrysha Jones: A black girl who was taunted by people because of her colour and the worst part is that the vociferous name-calling, ridiculing, and insults came from the Black men who at times were darker than her. Ironically, it took a White man for her to gain her confidence though she refused to love him and waited for her Black men. This is the second piece about Black-White relationships.

Lunar Slam by Kalunda Bockarie: A science fiction story about the judiciary system in a country I suppose is Sierra Leon. Here accused criminals, when convicted, are sent to prisons on the moon where prison officers used them the way they deem best.

My Soul to Free by Veronica Henry is a defining story for the collection especially looking at the origins of the website and the development of this anthology. It is a very diasporean call and a good one indeed. 
only a true slave don't know how to leave when set free (page 141)
and this is a statement I wish we take to heart. The story is more akin to the Lot story in the Bible. Why should we look back once we are free to leave? Why can't we celebrate with our kinsmen our freedom? Veronica touched a cord here. This is a reflective piece.

All the stories in this anthology would excite you at different levels. They would have a place with you and you would love them. I enjoyed reading each and everyone of them. Though they are all works of fiction they do have reality hidden within them, even the science fiction pieces, all that is needed is for the reader to think deep about it.

I fully recommend this anthology. It is a good one. Get it. Read it.
Read my interview with Veronica Henry hereFTTC Rules: The editor sent me a copy of this anthology.

Monday, July 05, 2010

An Interview with Author Nana Awere Damoah

IMAG: You have been writing that long, as I read in your book. But what inspired you to start writing? Which books did you read as a child growing up?

NAD: My very first article, published in “Through the Gates of Thought”, was written in 1993, so I trace my writing life to that year. But my appreciation of the literary and my involvement in things literary actually started much earlier, in the Preparatory school in the early ‘80s when each class had to perform a play a day before the vacation day. Small beginnings, appreciation of the arts, learning the rudiments of prose and poetry. I remember being taught, in preparation for the Common Entrance in preparatory school, to answer the question: write a story ending with ‘…and the boy learnt a lesson for life, that obedience is better than sacrifice.’ Small beginnings of creative writing.

Then in Form one, in 1986, I wrote what I consider my first creative work, in (you won’t believe this) my history class: “A day in Carthage”. It was purely fictional, and I loved it! In the sixth form, we wanted to form a Literary Club and that was what led me to write that first article. My first break as a writer came in 1995 when I submitted a short story, ‘The showdown’, to the popular weekly newspaper The Mirror, and it was published! Seeing my name in print, knowing that this newspaper was the best selling paper in Ghana and circulated all over the country, gave me immense confidence and encouragement. My skills were further honed when I joined the Literary Wing of the Christian fellowship during University.

In my early days, and this hasn’t changed much, I wrote a lot during the day, in my study notebooks, on sheets of paper, whenever and wherever inspiration hit. I continued to submit stories to The Mirror, the Spectator (which published one story), magazines on the University campus and shared my writings with the Literary club and also posted on notice boards in the Department and my hall of residence, Katanga Hall. Some of them were published, some were rejected! I also did a lot of reading in the secondary school and University, to learn about various writing styles.

I started my writing journey with essays, but moved swiftly into short stories. In 1997, I entered and won a national competition for true short stories. I got into poetry in the University, during my undergraduate years, and used to recite my poems in church. I started writing these essays which form the material for both books, in Oct 2004 and circulated to my friends via email. When I was in the UK for my masters, I started updating them on the blog (

I would say my two English teachers – Mrs Ayiah and Mr Thompson – inspired me a lot, as they expressed some faith in my essays and compositions. I was also inspired by a strong desire to share what I learnt – in my bible studies, in my reading, what I learnt through observation and experience – with my friends. It must have started via letters I wrote to new converts made during crusades of Joyful Way Incorporated (I have been a member since 1992). I am motivated by my desire to make my impact on my society, with my thoughts.

Growing up, I read a lot of fairy tales in Preparatory school, especially those translated from Russian (I can’t remember where I got them from, possibly from my uncle and sister who travelled to Nigeria). In Secondary school, I devoured the Pacesetters series and the African Writers series. I remember reading about four books in the Pacesetters series per day; because they were small books, they were prone to theft by the students so you had to sign for them at the librarian’s desk before taking them. I would pick on, submit in about an hour and a half and sign for another – it was fun! That must have encouraged me to become a Library Prefect in Sixth form and that is when I started experimenting with my pen.

IMAG: Your works seem to be inspirational and motivational, and they tackle the very root of the Ghanaian problem, if I should say so. To what extent do you think your book (Through the Gates of Thought) can help solve this problem?

NAD: In sharing through my writings, my earnest hope is that I may be able to change even one mind. If I can change one such mind, I would have contributed to the agenda of building our nation, our continent, our world. That is why I ensure the reader is not left hanging without an action point, each article provokes the reader to take an action, upon reflecting on the main points.

 How different is your book (Through the Gates of Thought) different from any other inspirational books?

NAD: I prefer to refer to my book as reflective, rather than motivational. The analogy in the differentiation is this: a motivational book may provoke you, positively, to start running, in whatever direction - that is speed. A reflective book, which is more than yet inclusive of motivational, will cause you to run, in a direction, knowing where and why you are running – that is velocity. Because it matters not how hard you row the boat if you are headed in the wrong direction.

IMAG: You seem to remember most events and especially the dates on which they occurred. How do you do that?

NAD: Haha, I guess it is a gift. OK, seriously, I like to note a lot of things down, so I keep journals and diaries, some dating back to the early ‘90s. For instance, I have the original copies of the scripts for two chapters in the book: ‘Gate 9: The Written Letter’ and ‘Gate 14: Do this and you will be on top!’, which were both written in the ‘90s. Some of the dates I also get from the letters I exchanged. Finally, above all, I reflect on these occurrences in my life for years, so I do have some of the dates firmly entrenched in my memory.

IMAG: How are you able to combine working full-time at Unilever (a work I believe is very demanding) with writing (something I know is demanding)?

NAD: Nana, it all comes down to passion for me. I look at my writing as more than a hobby, I see it as a ministry, as the main vehicle and medium for me to impact my generation and beyond. I view it as my ministry and a legacy I can leave: How you treat the talent you have is a reflection on how you view it in the total picture of what you are here on earth to do. I see my writing as a ministry, because as a friend told me, through these I can reach some who may never be within the confines of a church. Because I see it as such, I invest in it, knowing and believing that through this talent, I can be significant. In the parable of the talents, the guy with one talent missed an opportunity to become a banker! Look again at his master’s response to him.

So I create time for the things that matter and what I believe in. So when friends ask me numerous times how I am able to get time to write. I tell them I don’t get time, I make time. I usually write at dawn (my thoughts are clearer when the world is asleep), or when I am not too tired after work, in the evenings, sitting in the living room with the family. I once asked a mentor of mine, Ace Ankomah, how he could make time for his legal work, lay preaching, lecturing, playing the bass guitar at church, teaching choirs, etc. His response? “I sleep less!”

When you believe in something, go for it. The monetary gain for me is just surplus, the personal satisfaction cannot be quantified. I wake up each day knowing, as I write, that my thoughts are affecting lives, my talent is not wasted, I am relevant

On another level, I use writing to distress after work. When I am down and feeling low, I write as a therapy.

IMAG: How involved are you in the literary circles in Ghana, as I read your novel Truth Floats in the first edition of African Roar?

NAD: Not as much as I would love to. I am still working on that, but have been engaging online with some established and emerging writers and poets like Albert & Comfort Ocran, Alba K Sumprim, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Boakyewaa Glover, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, Esi Cleland, Danny Hanson and Kwaku Sonny. I have met a couple of them face-to-face. There is a project in the offing by one leading author and publisher for an author’s forum soon, we will see how it goes. I am still work in progress and I intend to tap into the experience of those who have gone ahead of me.

IMAG: How do you see the Literary Scene in Ghana? Is it progressing or retrogressing? 

NAD: My humble view is that it is beginning to rise again, progressively. A new set of writers are coming up after the golden generation of Ama Ataa Aidoo, Ayi Kwei Armah, Efua Sutherland and Atukwei Okai; this is encouraging. We don’t have a dearth of writing talent, I am sure of that. The formation of book clubs also must go on, we need to excite our people, especially the youth to read. We still have a long way to go, and we have only now started the drive upwards after the decline. I hope I am contributing my quota with my books. I have also observed a growing trend of public readings and poetry events – that is great!

IMAG: Your observations about Ghanaians in Gate 15 is keen. It is something I have talked about on my blog before and something I still do talk about. How have you, as a person, solved it or tried overcoming such a problem, because sometimes it is synonymous to life in Ghana and it is easy for one to be classified as opinionated (or 'too known' in the Ghanaian parlance) if one decides to eschew such vices?

NAD: Our problem, Nana, is not a scarcity of resources – human, natural, intellectual, etc;  our problem is our unwillingness or our lack of motivation to take action on what we know is right. We are good at diagnosing the root causes of problems (and I wrote about that in Gate 4: ‘Infant Steps’) but so pathetic at action. That is why I am focused on contributing my bit towards a mindset change. It is all in the mind, because why should the Ghanaian behave differently when he is outside the borders of this nation? I am trying to help in overcoming it, in my own life and actions, in what I influence in my coaching and counseling of my team at work and in voluntary societies. I just posted on my Facebook status that if we would all exhibit the world-class attitude and fighting spirit plus the urge to die for the name of our nation as the Black Stars did at this world cup 2010, what a nation we would have! We need both mindset and attitudinal change. There is hope yet!

IMAG: Reading your book, I know you are a Christian, and I know also that you were in the University Hall (I was in Unity Hall between 1999 and 2003) and therefore a Katangee. How were you able to live within the negative perception the Hall carries and come out unscathed?

NAD: Do you REALLY want me to talk about the only hall in the world? J Katangees are the best people you could meet in the world, we do things with all our heart. I spent almost six happy years in that hall, and loved it! Living in Katanga was good for me as a Christian, there was no room for lukewarmness, either you were a serious Christian or you were not! There was such a great cloud of witnesses around you at all times, ensuring that you live as you professed. But what negative perception are you talking about? Katanga for life!

IMAG: Which books are your all time favourites, if there are any

NAD: Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart” is an all-time favorite. I am also a biography buff, and I have a good collection. I have read so many novels I can’t even remember. And yes, “How to make friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie is another great favorite, the first non-fiction book that had a very great influence on my life, and changed my views, actually. The first time I read it, I borrowed from a friend, and that was around 1991/92. I took copious notes which I still have! Since then, I have re-read it a number of times.

IMAG: What do you have to say to Ghanaians and also to writers?

NAD: For Ghanaians, let me say that life is a business to be worked at and lived, not just dreamed about, and that in doing this, we need to be ‘learning people’ – there is an example, a message, a lesson, a warning or a moral you can discover in every scene of the play that is  called ‘life.’ He is never old who continues to learn and he is already old who ceases to learn. Harvey Ullman puts the same thought this way: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether this happens at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young but becomes constantly valuable regardless of physical capacity.” As an Engineer/Author, I seek to be an example to our youth that they can experiment and explore, and not to let their scope and influence on their generation be restricted by their formal training, to stop restricting themselves to the box or pigeon-hole when they can go beyond the perimeter and reach the pinnacle of their potential, to grasp the verity that talents cannot be tamed and should be employed for the universal good of mankind. With these scripts, I attempt to instigate thought, provoke reflections and educe action. 

For writers, I wish to encourage us to document our thoughts as Africans. We erroneously say that Africans don’t like reading, but my humble submission is that we need more literature relevant to us as well, and therein lies my passion to see more African writers come after the generation of the Achibes, Sutherlands, Soyinkas and Ataa Aidoos. We need more African writers, writing our own African stories, for our African readers. There is so much we need to do, and the time to begin was yesterday. My wish is that I can contribute to this renaissance and to the rejuvenation of the African spirit to excellence. Ours is an amazing continent full of resources – both in the ground and in our minds, and may we harness them all to our benefit. Viva Africa!

IMAG: Thanks for your time Nana and I hope you don't stop writing.

NAD: Many thanks too Nana Fredua, for this interview and generally for your ardent support in promoting African literature. I enjoyed this interview and no way, I am hooked onto writing till my last breath. Perhaps, I will even be sending dispatches from heaven!

Read my review of Nana Awere Damoah's second book 'Through the Gates of Thought' here...

Friday, July 02, 2010

30. My Thoughts on "Through the Gates of Thoughts"

Title: Through the Gates of Thought
Genre: Non-Fiction (Inspirational)
Publishers: Athena Press, London
Pages: 134 (e-copy)
Year of Publication: 2010
Country: Ghana

Through the Gates of Thought is a book of inspiration written by a Chemical Engineer whose passion for the arts has seen his works published in different media and collections. Nana Awere Damoah's second book, took me by surprise. When I first got the e-copy for review, I read the first chapter, referred to in the book as Gate 1 and nearly gave up continuing. I thought it was full of reminiscences and I am not one to brood over past events. However, I opened it again yesterday and read the Gate 2 and after the first two paragraphs I was hooked and I completed reading it in less than two hours. Whilst reading it I was encouraged to take two bold steps and one has bore fruits this morning. I had wanted to tell my boss that I don't feel involved in the research process and I would want to learn more as I have decided on pursuing a PhD sometime soon. Reading his book, I realised that I needed to take matters into my own hands, that if I don't move this thought forward, if I don't realise it or sow this seed by telling him what I have in mind he would not know or come to understand it (as he, my boss, is not telepathic to read my mind) and while doing so I needed to exercise tactfulness and circumspection in my writing. I did it and today the news I got from him was 'EXCELLENT, that's good news'. 

This is the sort of inspiration that Nana's work provides. It is practical. The book could be classified into three parts, though these are not distinct: Motivational, Reflections and Problem Solving. The Motivational pieces don't just state abstract things that you must do in order to achieve success but it gives you practical things that others have done and sometimes, that the author himself has done or gone through, which has the ability to lead one to success. Most of the chapters end with an activity that test where you stand on an issue or that try to encourage you to take a second look at yourself. Besides, there are a lot of aphorisms, quotes, proverbs related to the topic that is being discussed. The use of local stories, stories from the Bible and stories from many other sources make it easy for one to relate to it. For instance, most of us have been to the secondary school and have been bullied and humiliated. But how do you solve a problem that you have created and which, according to all, could lead to your dismissal? Through this story, one learns that the cause of the problem is not different from its solution and that with controlled emotions one can solve almost every problem.

To summarise some of the topics in the Gates (or Chapters): Gate 4 encourages us to put words into actions; Gate 5 inspires the youth to act young, and start now for procrastination does not help anyone except perhaps time itself. Gate 6 tells us that time waits for no one and Gate 9, never act in anger. My favourite topic is 'The Ghanaian @ 52'. Here interesting questions are posed; pertinent issues are raised and I hope every person the world over (not only Ghanaians) would, at least, read this Gate, Gate 15 that is. Whereas Nana praises the Ghanaian @ 52 (that is 52 years after independence) as being politically in tune and ability to vote for different political parties for presidential and parliamentary elections, he does not mince words about the way some Ghanaians @ 52 still see politics in the 'way ants walk'. There are other social issues raised in this chapter such as:
The Ghanaian @ 52 is still not sanitation-conscious. (S)he still throws rubbish out of the taxi (s)he is travelling in. (S)he dumps waste into the drain in front of his/her house, ... (S)he expects the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) and the Kumasi Metropolitan Authority (KMA) to sort out her/his indiscriminate littering. (page 79, electronic copy).
And this observation couldn't have come at an opportune time as the infamous June/July floods have started washing away houses, properties, roads and bridges and the death toll has been escalating with it. Here, Nana tells us that we are or should be responsible for our actions; that one cannot expect to have a mosquito-free environment if one keeps dumping waste into gutters; one cannot expect the gutters to clean themselves or better still the floods to find their own appropriate course when it rains if we keep dumping the waste into the gutters, for 'action and reaction are always equal and opposite', aren't they?

Though the subject of politics was talked about, the book is not political as it deals with issues rather than personalities, as has become the new order for our radio stations. The subjects of the book deal with the substance that we all should be talking about. He is an observant and the words in this book have been talked about over and over again but the difference is that he has recorded it and has provided solutions to these problems, the Problem Solving part of the book. Let me be quick to say that, this PS part is not separate in itself for every issue raised is solved by itself. 

Interspersed with these writings are poems written with the motive to inspire. Though I love the pieces and they are inspirational, I think that he strove for a particular poetic device that I would wish he did away with, rhyming. Yet, the latter did nothing to dilute the content of the book, if anything at all, it probably provided a touch of variety as the poetry pieces were strategically placed in the book.

Nana's books have always targeted our mind and, hence, our thoughts. He feels and knows that by attacking the mind, and by so doing our thoughts, the attitudinal problems that have become the bane to development in Ghana would be overcome. For almost all the problems raised in this book are character and attitude base. Thus, it is no wonder that his first book was titled Excursions in my Mind. We need a mental revolution to change the course of our development.

Nana's writing is simple, devoid of dictionary-grabbing words, and written is such a way that every person with a minimal level of education would be able to read and understand and with this the book has a possibility of reaching people far and wide. 
It has been said that in a typical African country of two PhD holders, one is the president and the other is in exile. (page 123, Gate 24, Pro Patria, For the Sake of Africa).
With this quote from the book, I urge all individuals to get a copy, read and act according to its dictates. Nothing in it would lead you astray. I love this book as it has already helped me. Enjoy it. 

Nana contributed a story, Truth Floats, to the first edition African Roar, a collection of Short Stories published by StoryTime, a registered e-zine.

Look out for my interview with the author, Nana Awere Damoah, in the coming days.

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out of 6.0
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