Thursday, October 28, 2010

42. The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi

Title: The Blinkards, A Comedy and The Anglo-Fanti - A Short Story
Author: Kobina Sekyi
Genre: Play/Short Story
Pages: 256
Publishers: Heinemann/Readwide
ISBN: 978-0-435-92784-4
Year of Publication: 1974 (this edition, 1997)
Country: Gold Coast (Now Ghana)

Setting: This book contains two stories: The Blinkards - a play and The Anglo-Fanti - a short story. Though the stories are from two different genres, one theme threads through them: the effect of absolute cultural osmosis or better still the consequences of swallowing an alien culture without much scrutiny, as happened in occupied countries popularly referred to by the occupiers as colonies (colonies of what? Ants? Bees?) Both stories took place in Cape Coast and the setting is very significant to the story. Apart from the author being a Fanti from Cape Coast, Cape Coast was the first point of introduction to colonial rule. As a seaport city, it was the first town that was brought under colonial rule; hence there are numerous Castles and Forts scattered in the city and its surrounding towns like Elimina and Anomabo. However, the inhabitants of this great city, which was the first capital of Ghana before it was moved to Accra in 1877, became anglicised to such an extent that even now a Fanti cannot speak a sentence without less than four English words. They anglicised their local names such that you can hear Koomson, Blankson, Menson etc. Some have all foreign names without a local name. Yes, it is that serious. And it is this that Kobina Sekyi, who was also known as William Essuman-Gwira Sekyi, was speaking against. Here, it would serve a good purpose if one realises that the play was first performed somewhere around 1915 whereas The Anglo Fanti short story was first published in the West Africa magazine in 1918.

To understand why Kobina Sekyi, himself a member of the elite who were eagerly morphing into caricatures of hybrids, turned around to criticize the status quo, which in the beginning of the nineteenth century marked the borderline between civilisation and bushmen, one needs to read about his biography. 

Kobina Sekyi
Biography of Kobina Sekyi: Kobina Sekyi, the grandson of Chief Kofi Sekyi, was born in 1892 at Cape Coast (locally known as Oguaa). As a highly educated member of his society, he was brought up to believe that European culture was superior to African culture. He attended Mfantsipim Boys' School (the oldest senior secondary school in Ghana) and went on to study English Literature at the University of London. However, a fellow student (Nigerian) persuaded him to give up English Literature in favour of Philosophy. 

Sekyi returned to England in 1915 to study law. On the voyage out his boat, the SS Falaba, was torpedoed by a German U-boat and some lives were lost. Sekyi managed to get to a lifeboat, at which point a European shouted at him that he should get out of the boat, as a black man had no right to be alive when whites were drowning. It was this incident that had a profound effect on him, confirming his rejection of European pretensions to superiority. In 1918, Sekyi qualified as a barrister, and was awarded an MA in philosophy.

The Blinkards
The Blinkards is a satirical play written in English and interspersed with Fanti (all the Fantis have been translated on the left hand side of the page or the even-numbered pages). It tells of the consequences of blindly mimicking the European culture. 

Mrs. Borɔfosεm (someone who exhibits too much European tendencies in his/her actions) eats only European foods, though we know that at several points in time she yearns for locally prepared food such as roasted plantain. She goes everywhere in frock, boots with an umbrella and a lorgnette. Though she speaks bad English, she does so with a forced English accent. As a wife to Mr. Borɔfosεm, she forces him to behave as an Europeanised man: smoking cigar, eschewing local foods and dresses. 

Mr. Tsiba (a cocoa farmer) brought his daughter to Mrs. Borɔfosεm to train so that she would become just like her. Mrs. Borɔfosεm accepted her task with eagerness, instilling in Miss Tsiba 'proper' English mannerisms. Later, Miss Tsiba met a young man who, to attract her attention, went to work with Mr. Onyimdze - a lawyer who avoided anything European except those that are germane to the execution of his profession such as the wearing of black gowns and white curled wigs.

As the play goes on we find that the two (the young man Okadu and Miss Tsiba) finally met at a garden party thrown by Mrs. Borɔfosεm. They immediately got engaged (without the presence of any family member) following the example of a couple they had read in an English novel. Mrs Borɔfosεm told Mr Tsiba that his daughter was about to marry and that he, Mr. Tsiba, had to buy the clothes for the impending wedding. He got furious but calmed down when he was told that it was the ways of the Europeans for the bridegroom's father to purchase the clothes for the bride and bridegroom. When Na Sompa (Mr. Tsiba's wife) heard the news she got furious and insulted Okadu. It was in the middle of one of such vituperations that she got a heart-attack and died. Nana Katawerwa, hearing that her daughter (Na Sompa) was dead and her granddaughter was marrying without following tradition stormed the chapel and disrupted the whole program.

Nana Katawerwa refused to let Miss Tsiba into her 'husband's' house. Later Miss Tsiba was to marry another man according to traditional customs. This infuriated Okadu and he called for the arrest of the grandmother and granddaughter. The case went to court and Nana Katawerwa and her daughter won under the exposition of the Native Law.

The story is deep and borders on several aspects of our lives. It is a pity that the situation still pertains today. People cannot speak their local language properly and yet will do everything to show that they can speak English including faking the voice. It is easier to see people in three-piece suits walking under the scorching sun. Still the borderline between enlightenment and colloquialism is measured by how much one has adopted Christian and European values. But there is hope: gradually people are changing, people are finding their roots... it is a slow process now but it will work out. It is the language that is becoming a problem. There is a former presidential candidate who changed his name from Joseph Houston-Yorke (yes he is a Fanti) to his local name. 

The Anglo-Fanti Short Story
Like The Blinkards, this story concerns blind assimilation of European culture. It's about a boy who was brought up to become an aficionado of European mannerisms, while shunning African culture. Following this path and by his hard work he got a scholarship to London where he studied Law. Whilst there he realised that London was not all that they say it is. There are classes and divisions and the people they imitated are on the lower scale of their social ladder. He also recognised, that no matter what he did he was described as a savage especially when people began asking whether he wore clothes or not (and they still do, ask Naipaul!).
"It does not take him long to find out that he is regarded as a savage, even by the starving unemployable who asks him for alms. Amusing questions are often put to him as to whether he wore clothes before he came to England; whether it was safe for white men to go to his country since the climate was unsuitable to civilised people; whether wild animals wandered at large in the streets of his native town." (page 230)
However, there were many Africans who also came to a similar disillusionment when they saw England; yet, these group began to accept these disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisation. 
"... but if his friends, even those who had been similarly disillusioned, have begun to accept certain disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisaiton, and instead of arguing from the unpleasantness of such incidents to the inherent unwholesomeness of that to which they are incidental, they conclude somewhat perversely that whoever cannot explain cannot explain away such unpleasantness is not civilised. " (page 231)
Time came for Kwesi Onyidzin (Kwesi without a name) - known as Edward Cudjoe -  to come to Gold Coast and to Cape Coast. His family were all expecting him to behave like an European. So when he set down to work and began wearing native dresses and eat native foods they became disappointed in him. Some even considered him mad. Others made it their duty to show him "the way". After he was virtually thrust into marriage, it became his wife's pursuit to force her husband to behave like an European. Later, she resorted to cooking European foods and throwing garden parties. Working harder and ever harder to avoid these incidents, Kwesi Onyidzin broke down.

The issue of cultural invasion is one that has taken the world by storm especially in these days of globalisation. Should there be a universal earth culture? and who would determine what should be in such a culture? or each country should keep its culture? Are other cultures at a threat from European culture? These are questions we need to ask. Culture is something you are born into. It grows with you. Yet there people who were born outside of it or alien to it like VS Naipaul, who after spending a day or two in ones country will describe it as backward. 

This story is purely narrative with no dialogue. If you love a narrative novel I will recommend this to you. If you are a staunch believer of communalism rather than individualism, I will recommend it to you. If you believe in selective cultural absorption, incising certain unproductive parts of culture and replacing it with tested ones not just dumping the whole into the society, I will recommend this to you.

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out 6.0

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Know Your Laureate of African Origin Part V - J. M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee
This is the concluding part of a series began in the last week of September. John Maxwell Coetzee is the last African and second South African to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Currently J.M. Coetzee is a citizen of Australia.

Born in Cape Town on February 9, 1940, Coetzee attended St. Joseph's College and later studied Mathematics and English at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1960 and 1961 with Bachelor of Arts with Honours and  Honours in Mathematics respectively.

Coetzee worked as a computer programmer at IBM from 1962 to 1965. He later worked for the International Computers Limited in Bracknell, Berkshire. During this period he was awarded with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town for a dissertation on the novels of Ford Max Ford. He later received a PhD in Linguistics in 1969 from the University of Texas with thesis topic on the computer stylistic analysis of the works of Samuel Beckett. He taught English and Literature at the University of New York before he was arrested for criminal trespass together with 45 other faculty members who had occupied the university's Hall. He returned to University of Cape Town where he taught English and Literature and in 1963 promoted to Professor of General Literature.

Coetzee spoke against the limitations of art in South African society under the apartheid regime, calling on the regime to abandon its apartheid policy. Some scholars and readers claim that his Booker-winning novel Disgrace allegorises the South African Truth and Reconciliation Council.

Coetzee has won many awards including being a three times winner of the CNA Prize. His novel Waiting for the Barbarians was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Age of Iron was awarded the Sunday Express Book of the Year award. The Master of Petersburg was awarded the Irish Times International Fiction Prize in 1995. He also won the French Prix Femina Etranger, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the 1987 Jerusalem Prize for Fiction of the Individual in Society. He was the first author to have won the Booker on two different occasions for Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. He was shortlisted in 2009 for Summertime  and longlisted in 2003 for Elizabeth Costello and in 2005 for Slow Man.

On October 2, 2003, John Maxwell Coetzee won the Nobel laureate for his
...well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance
Coetzee's published work consists of fiction, fictionalised autobiographies and non-fiction.
  •  Dusklands (1974)
  • In the Heart of the Country (1977)
  • Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)
  • Life and Times of Michael K (1983)
  • Foe (1986)
  • Age of Iron (1990)
  • The Master of Petersburg (1994)
  • The Lives of Animals (1999)
  • Disgrace (1999)
  • Elizabeth Costello (2003)
  • Slow Man (2005)
  • Diary of a Bad Year (2007)
Fictionalised Autobiography
  • Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997)
  • Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (2002)
  • Summertime: Scenes from Provincial Life (2009)
  • White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (1988)
  • Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews (1992)
  • Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (1996)
  • Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986-1999 (2002)
  • Inner Workings: Literary Essays, 2000-2005 (2007)
Read about J.M.Coetzee here and there...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Interview with Dr. Kwei Quartey, Author of Children of the Street

Dr. Kwei Quartey is an author whose interest lies in the Mystery genre. He has created the Inspector Darko Dawson's series, which uses the city of Accra as its background. The first in this series is titled Wife of the Gods. ImageNations set out to interview this author who has not forgotten the genre which most of us read and loved but which we least write on, especially by Africans.

1. Who is Dr. Kwei Quartey?
He's a new mystery writer who wants to be known worldwide in the same way people know Stieg Larsson, Alexander McCall Smith or Walter Mosley, and who wants to bring Ghana into reader's consciousness as a setting for mystery that competes on the same level as the US or Europe.

2. What motivates you to write? And why did you choose the mystery genre?
The first part of the question isn't easy to answer. It's like asking a stage or screen actor what makes him or her perform. It's an unexplainable urge to create an absorbing story and share it with as many people as possible. Do I have some neurotic craving for attention or some need to be admired? I don't know, and maybe I don't want to know either, but in any case the psychoanalysis is moot to me. Mystery is the genre I've loved since I was a child devouring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels. My attraction to mysteries may be just another manifestation of the same motivations that pushed me to become a physician. Every day in the life and work of a physician there's a mystery in the form of an illness the doctor must figure out in order to treat it. Perhaps I'm drawn to the challenge of deductive reasoning.

3. How many novels do you have to your credit?

In the mid-nineties I wrote a novel called Kamila, set in 1950's Algeria and published by Vantage Press, which is a subsidy publisher. That means the author pays for the editorial and printing costs, a pretty ruinous route to take since very few authors will ever break even from the sales from a subsidy publisher. They provide no marketing or distribution and leave you in debt for a long time. Maybe I'll try to put Kamila on Amazon as a kindle e-book one of these days. But moving on, my debut Inspector Darko mystery WIFE OF THE GODS was released July 2008 by a "real" publisher, Random House, and the next Darko in the series, CHILDREN OF THE STREET, comes out July 12, 2011, also from Random House.

4. Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
I grew up in Ghana, and given its history as a British colony, the influence of British authors was strong. So in addition to Conan Doyle, I read a lot of British mysteries - Johan Creasey's Inspector West, and children's writer Enid Blyton, for example - but also some other writers like Kingsley Amis, whose book Lucky Jim is truly hilarious, Doris Lessing, James Joyce. In later secondary school, I read Achebe's Things Fall Apart as part of required reading for English Lit.

At the moment I'm reading some Swedish mysteries - no Stieg Larsson, but Henning Mankel. I like police procedurals. The Darko Dawson series are police procedurals.

5. Which writers have influenced your writing?
I can't point to a single influence, but I can tell you some authors whose voices I admire and only wish that some element of their skill would seep into my writing. Raymond Chandler for his marvelous single line descriptions that vividly capture a scene that I might use a whole paragraph to characterize; Both Arthur Conan Doyle and Dennis Lehane for their skill in creating a dark setting; Colin Dexter for the spine-chilling way he describes the moment when the detective realizes who the killer is, and Lynda LaPlante for her skillful interview scenes.

6. Are you targeting a niche market?
Inevitably, I suppose. But mystery and crime readers remain among the largest niches there are and certainly among the most passionate and enthusiastic.

7. How far have you been received as an author, in Ghana and abroad? And is your book available in Ghana?
Reception has been gratifying and in many cases even better than I had hoped. The novel is not widely distributed in Ghana and is therefore not available except perhaps in one or two bookstores. The reason for this is that only Random House owns the English language rights. For my next novel CHILDREN OF THE STREET, the English rights will be available to Ghanaian publishers, who can then print, publish and distribute the book in Ghana.

8. What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
Recognition. And I want to see my book at airports and bookstores worldwide. I also want to make Ghana well known to the world at large.

9. How do you find the time to write? Is there a special period of the day that you write?
I take time early in the morning, on weekdays when I'm off, and on weekends. Early morning is when I create best.

10. Tell us something about your upcoming book, "Children of the Street"
It's the second in the Darko Dawson series. In this story, Darko is caught up in the dog-eat-dog world of street children and finds himself up against a diabolical murderer who is always one step ahead. This book talks about the real and serious social problem of street kids in Accra, but it brings them to life as characters, not faceless, nameless statistics.

11. Do you think that authors have an important role to play in Ghana, or is their importance dwindling?
Their importance was never greater, in my opinion. So much is happening in Ghana at economic, social and political levels, so much to write about. There's wealth of material for fiction and we need talented people to write about it. The building materials are all laid out, we just need the construction workers.

12. Are there enough writers to take over from the Ayi Kwei Armahs, Atukwei Okais, Ama Ata Aidoos?
Not that I know of, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they're waiting in the wings on the verge of surprising us.

13. What should be done to develop writers?

Creative writing classes at all levels of education, and even if that may be difficult in some cases, English classes at school should encourage English composition and story creation. I recommend national writing 
contests (when I was a kid in Ghana, I entered one sponsored by Clarks Shoes), and reading to kids is also important. There should be Saturday morning story time on the radio stations for children, and there should be serialized readings for adults of the great African fictional works, the same way the BBC has done for decades. There should be a call for literacy and writing by both government and NGOs. The same way Ghanaians have gotten hooked on religion, we want to get hooked on literature and writing.

14. How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
Briefly elated, and then it was, "okay, enough ego - let's move on to the next stage: selling the book"

15. Any work in progress?
The next novel CHILDREN OF THE STREET is being prepared for release July 12, 2011. I have begun work on the synopsis for the third novel as well. I would actually like to put out 2 books a year, although that would mean fulltime writing and hardly any work as a doctor.

You can read more about the Dr Kwei Quartey here
Or follow him on Twitter

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Know Your Laureate of African Origin Part IV - Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer
This week's Know Your Laureate of African Origin presents the only female Nobel of African Origin, Nadine Gordimer.

Nadine Gordimer was born on 20th November 1923 around Springs, Gauteng, an East Rand Mining town outside Johannesburg. Her parents, Isidore and Nan Gordimer, were Jewish Immigrants and it was them who shaped her earlier views and interests in racial and economic inequality in South Africa.

This views were spurred on by the arrest of her friend, Bettie du Toit, was arrested in 1960 and the Sharpeville Massacre. Being an active critic of the apartheid government of South Africa saw her works being censored. For instance, The Late Bourgeois World was banned in 1976 for a decade; A World of Strangers was banned for twelve years. Other works received lesser duration ban such as Burger's Daughter was banned for one month. July's People  was also banned under apartheid, and faced censorship under post-apartheid government as well: In 2001, a provincial education department temporarily removed this novel from the school reading list, along with works by other anti-apartheid writers.

Gordimer's first published work was a short story for children The Quest for Seen Gold, which appeared in the Children's Sunday Express in 1937, when she was 14 years old; Come Again Tomorrow, another children's story appeared in Forum around the same time. At 16, she had her first adult fiction published.

Gordimer has won many awards such as the Central News Agency (CNA) Literary award in 1974, 1975, 1980 and 1991. In 1974, she won the Booker Prize with The Conservationist. She holds at least 15 honorary degrees from several universities including Leuven University (Belgium), University of York (England), Cambridge University (England), universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand (South Africa).

In 1991, she won the Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Gordimer has been active in the HIV/AIDS movement. In 2004, she organised about 20 major writers to contribute short fiction for Telling Tales, a fundraising book for South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign.

  • The Lying Days (1953)
  • A World of Strangers (1958)
  • Occasion for Loving (1963)
  • The Late Bourgeois World (1966)
  • A Guest of Honour (1970)
  • The Conservationist (1974)
  • Burger's Daughter (1979)
  • July's People (1981)
  • A Sport of Nature (1987)
  • My Son's Story (1990)
  • None to Accompany Me (1994)
  • The House Gun (1998)
  • The Pickup (2001)
  • Get a Life (2005)
Short fiction collections
  • Face to Face (1949)
  • Town and Country Lovers
  • The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1952)
  • Six Feet of the Country (1956)
  • Friday's Footprint (1960)
  • Not for Publication (1965)
  • Livingstone's Comparisons (1970)
  • Selected Stories (1975)
  • No Place Like: Selected Stories (1978)
  • A Soldier's Embrace (1980)
  • Something Out There (1984)
  • Correspondence Course and other Stories (1984)
  • The Moment Before the Gun Went Off (1988)
  • One Upon a Time (1989)
  • Jump: And Other Stories (1991)
  • Why Haven't You Written: Selected Stories 1950-1972 (1992)
  • Something for the Time Being 1950-1972 (1992)
  • Loot: And other Stories (2003)
  • Beethoven was One-Sixteenth Black (2007)
  • The First Circle (1949) pub. in Six One-Act Plays
Essay Collections
  • The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places (1988)
  • The Black Interpreters (1973)
  • Writing and Being: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (1995)
Other Works
  • On the Mines (1973)
  • Lifetimes Under Apartheid (1986)
  • "Choosing for Justice: Allan Boesak" (1983) (documentary with Hugo Cassirer)
  • "Berlin and Johannesburg: The Wall and the Colour Bar" (documentary with Hugo Cassirer)
Edited Works
  • Telling Tales (2004)
  • Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1950-2008
Read about Gordimer here and there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

a Daddy’s love (a poem)

I wrote this piece after an incident happened in Ghana when, a famous pastor was arrested (and alleged) to have raped his daughter.

she thought daddy loves her
Daddy would cry if she refuses
she must not disobey daddy
for so the Bible says
according to daddy
lest she would go to Hell
Daddy always says this too
and she would suffer world without end
and so being god-fearing
she parted it for him
and he, being god-fearing
drove in and drove out
till the treacle trickle through his veins
in that sweet release

and she couldn’t cry
because Daddy don’t like to see her cry
because if she does Daddy wouldn’t buy her the treacle
and she would not get her new shoes
must not all god’s children wear shoes?

she couldn’t tell mummy
if she does she would die
and if she dies she would go to hell
and she would not wear her Christmas dress
and she would not eat the sweet coconut cake
steeped in condensed milk
oh! How sweet it is

but then mummy came home
and she saw her walk
and seeing her walk
like a leaf in a wind’s path
mummy asked her
mummy gave her sweet coconut cake
and asked her again
mummy gave her nice dresses and shoes
and asked her again
and she told mummy
mummy, it was Daddy

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

41. Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again by Ola Rotimi, A Review

Title: Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again
Author: Ola Rotimi
Genre: Play
Publishers: University Press PLC
Pages: 86
ISBN: 978 154003 6
Year of First Performance: 1966
Place of First Performance: Yale School of Drama
Year of First Publication: 1977 (this edition, 1999)
Country: Nigeria

This is the first time I have read a play written by an African and the second play book I have read since Shakespeare's Macbeth. And save one or two issues, I enjoyed it. Extremely. The issues has to do with reading the instructions given in the play, such as telling the director of the play that a particular statement was made off-stage or something else.

Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again is a hilarious comic play by Ola Rotimi. It tells the story of Lejoka-Brown, a soldier and a man of many wives. One of the wives he married himself while fighting in the Congo, the other (Mama Rashida) was the wife of his elder brother who was married to him by default after the death of his brother. The third wife, Sikira, was married to help Lejoka-Brown, who was contesting for a political position, obtain the votes of the market women since her mother was the president of the National Union of Nigerian Market Women and standing for a political position wanted the post.

The comedy starts when Lizzy, the one only wife who thought she alone owns Lejoka-Brown, decides to come home to her husband after completing her medical studies in the United States. Lejoka-Brown didn't want her in his fathers' house and so decided to pick her up from the airport. However, the plane landed earlier than scheduled. And Lizzy, having known of Lejoka-Brown's fathers' name, proceeded to find it and make herself at home.

Ola Rotimi
What follows is a series of comic incidences that need to be read and appreciated. For instance, Lizzy, having stayed in America, came to the traditional marriage with 'White' culture in terms of dressing and her relationship with her husband. She was bold to say whatever she wanted, whereas the others were not. She played with her husband whilst the others could not. It was one of these love-plays, chasing one another, that the third wife (Sikira) ran away to her mother's house shouting 'Our husband has gone mad again' - she left the marriage for good.

People have read this as a political statement. I only read it as the period of transformation that hit most African families from the traditional to what we have today. It also marked the changing roles of women in the household. Thus, even though Lejoka-Brown was a traditional man, he loved the 'eccentricities' Lizzy brought into the household and into the marriage relationship. However, being a man as he was, once in a while he wanted to show his authority. 

Another point is that, Lejoka-Brown's political ambition was to help him match up to his educated wife, since he was less educated. He was later to abandon it when Lizzy told him that that wasn't what she loved about him. She expects to see him as she knew him way back in the Congo.

Let me spoil it by saying that in the end, Lizzy got her husband all to herself. How she did it is for the reader to find out.

I recommend this book to anyone who love to read. It is that good. Very good. Read about him here.

ImageNations Rating: 6.0 out of 6.0

Monday, October 18, 2010

Library Additions

Last week I treated myself to a an unprecedented book-buying spree. I love books and would do everything to get them; however, I never never done this before - buying 10 books in a five days? So here is list:

Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe
This is a book I think I should have read long long time ago. I don't know why I haven't, better now than never. Chinua Achebe, winner of the Man Booker International - awarded every two years for an author's entire portfolio, is one author whose non-recognition by the Nobel committee has puzzled me. His most popular offering, Things Fall Apart, paved the way for many writers. There is no one who has read African novels, who hasn't read this book, possibly. This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 1987.

A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe
Same story as above. Any story by Achebe is worth the read, I believe so.

Contemporary African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe and C. L. Innes
This is a collection of short stories from all parts of Africa. Contributors include Nadine Gordimer (Nobel Laureate), Ben Okri (Booker Winner), Kojo Laing, and many others. This is a great collection I believe all must endeavour to have. 

Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
I have only read Weep Not Child. I have A Grain of Wheat on my list of TBR. However, ever since he became a Nobel hopeful I have decided to read almost every offering this great author has made. It would have been a disgrace as someone dedicated to promoting African Literature to have not read, adequately, a hopeful laureate. So I am working hard to improve this. This novel was first written, as most of his novels, in Gikuyu - the author's native language, and translated into English.

Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo
Now comes the shame, the gender imbalance in my African readings. I have only read Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, Ayesha Harruna Atta, Nana Ekua Brew Hammond (and ...). The funny thing is that I have not read Anowa by Ama Ata Aidoo, one of the novels on my TBR. I searched for it and couldn't find it at the Legon Bookshop so I purchased this in place. According to Amy of Amy Reads she loved this book and I hope I would love it too. Ama Ata Aidoo is a prominent Ghanaian writer.

Chaka by Thomas Molofo
Chaka is on my TBR. This is a novel I have always passed by in the bookshop without knowing why. Finally, I couldn't skip it anymore. It was written in the author's native language and translated into English by Daniel P. Kunene. 

The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi
The Blinkards is one of the oldest story ever written by a Ghanaian. Kobina Sekyi makes fun of the Fantes and their rapacity for foreign things including names. I have not read it so cannot say much about it. I bought this book because of its long-ago nature.

Sand Daughter by Sarah Bryant
Was in a bookshop which was about closing. The lady there waited for me to look through the books and so I bought this book together with the next two out of appreciation for her kind nature. However, I also love fell in love with the cover and the blurb. It has to do with the Crusades and all that. 

Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins
The author was shortlisted for one award (Pulitzer?) I don't remember but that was why I added it. If I am buying a book by an author I don't know I rely on her credentials: shortlisted for Pulitzer, Booker, National Book Award etc; or winner of this and that award. It helps if I don't know the author.

The Secret Destiny of America by Manly P. Hall
I love conspiracy theories. I read Jim Mars Ruled by Secrecy and enjoyed it. I have always wanted to know why this and that. I have never trusted the things I see with my eyes. I believe a lot of things we hear as disasters are planned and executed, well except the natural ones. So I purchased Manly's book for these.

For all the books I purchased only one (Chaka) was on my TBR. Again, seven (those by African authors) would be reviewed on this blog. With these, I hope the blog would become more vibrant.

Follow me, here or on twitter or even facebook, and let's have a jolly time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meet Author Diana Mcbagonluri

Diana McBagonluri is a Ghanaian writer with several books to her name. She writes different genres and audience. Whereas most of her books are for children and teens, she also have books that satisfy the adult population. She is the author of the English text books for primary schools currently used in public schools in Ghana. 

Diana McBagonluri's Collection:
Boomerang (February 2001), this is available on amazon.
King's Drumbeat (Kindle Edition published on September 18, 2010), also available on amazon.


Mother's Tribute (Kindle Edition was published on September 18, 2010. Click here to make a purchase.

Tears of a Rain Goddess, is also on amazon.

Short Story Books for Children
My Brother the Footballer (Kindle Edition, September 14, 2010)
Bee Ninja (Kindle Edition, September 2010)
Both of these books is available on amazon.

Serialised Fantasy Novel

Sons of the Skroll: The Battle of the Tigers (August 7, 2010). Sons of the Skroll is one novel I would love to read just because of the the title, and this is saying something since I am not a Fantasy reader. For all you readers out there who love the fantasy genre give this book a try and let's discuss. This novel is available on amazon.

Diana McBagonluri, who is related to Fred McBagonluri by marriage, has agreed to have an interview with me so keep watching this space. I would also try to post the synopsis or a brief intro on each book. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Know Your Laureate of African Origin Part III - Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz
Last week, on the 7th October 2010, lovers of African Literature kept their fingers crossed waiting for the Nobel committee to announce their choice of the laureate for 2010. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, whose latest novel, The Wizard of the Crow, caused the Arap Moi government to go in search of its main character, and when upon finding that it is a creation of the author caused him (the government of Kenya) to publicly burn a thousand copies of his book, was tipped to win the award. The odds were in his favour. And knowing the penchant for the Nobel's committee to always 'dodge' mainstream predictions, I waited with skepticism. Yet, I prayed silently to a god unknown for this great man, who has forsaken all financial enticements to write in his native Gikuyu to win the award. And the Nobel committee never disappointed, they only disappointed me. But for Ngugi to have been an odds favourite to win speaks volumes of the man's contribution to literature and the development of his mother tongue at the expense of financial gain. And so Mario Llosa Vargas won and I have not as yet heard of a single complaint or drama, as was talked about when Herta Muller won last year. Had Ngugi won, he would have been the sixth Nobelist strictly from Africa. Strictly because Albert Camus is linked to Algeria, sometimes.

We continue with the weekly highlight of African Nobelists in Literature. Two years after Soyinka's Nobel award, another African from the North, Egypt, won in 1988. 

Naguib Mahfouz, (11 December 1911 - 30 August 2006) started writing at the of 17, publishing his first novel five years later in 1933. Naguib wrote prolifically, writing ten more books, before the Egyptian revolution in 1952 where he took a short leave of writing. Even then, in 1953 he published one novel and in 1957 published what has been referred to as the Cairo Trilogy - Between-the-Palace, Palace of Longing and Sugarhouse. These books which marked the second phase of his writing career was marked with political innuendos using symbolisms and allegory. 

As an Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz is considered, along with Tawfiq, el-Hakim, as the first of contemporary writers of Arabic Literature to explore themes of existentialism. He published over 50 novels, 350 short stories, dozens movie scripts and five plays over a career spanning over 70 years. At the time of his death, and four years on, he is the only Arabic-language writer to have won the Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Some of his works:
  • Old Egypt (1932)
  • Whisper of Madness (1938)
  • Mockery of the Fates (1939)
  • Rhadopis of Nubia (1943)
  • The Struggle of Thebes (1944)
  • Modern Cairo (1945)
  • Khan El-Kahlili (1945)
  • Midaq Alley (1947)
  • The Mirage (1948)
  • The Beginning and The End (1950)
  • Cairo Trilogy (1956-57)
  • Palace Walk (1956)
  • Palace of Desire (1957)
  • Sugar Street (1957)
  • Children of Gebelawi (1959)
  • The Thief and the Dogs (1961)
  • Quail and Autumn (1962)
  • God's World (1962)
  • The Search (1964)
  • Zaabalawi (1963)
  • The Search (1964)
  • The Beggar (1965)
  • Adrift on the Nile (1966)
  • Miramar (1967)
  • The Pub of the Black Cat (1969)
  • A story without a beginning or an ending (1971)
  • The Honeymoon (1971)
  • Mirrors (1972)
  • Lover under the rain (1973)
  • The Crime (1973)
  • al-Karnak (1974)
  • Respected Sir (1975)
  • The Harafish (1977)
  • Love above the Pyramid Plateau (1979)
  • The Devil Preaches (1979)
  • Love and the Veil (1980)
  • Arabian Nights and Days (1981)
  • Wedding Song (1981)
  • One hour remains (1982)
  • The Journey of Ibn Fattouma (1983)
  • Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (1985)
  • The Day the Leader was Killed (1985)
  • The Hunger (Al-Go'a) (1986)
  • Speaking the morning and evening (1986)
  • Fountain and Tomb (1988)
  • Echoes of an Autobiography (1994)
  • Dreams of the Rehabilitation Period (2004)
  • The Seventh Heaven (2005)
Read about him here and there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Library Additions

Over the past two weeks, I have added some books to my library. 
William Golding's Lord of the Flies
The copy I have has a bright yellow cover with red fonts. The backs covers says it is was published for educational purposes. The printing is so bad that I suspect, and judging from where I bought it I might be right, that it is an 'un-original' copy. I don't want to say what I am thinking. Yes, we need these books and if the demand is there and the mainstream publishers aren't satisfying it, others would.

Ola Rotimi's Our Husband has gone Mad again
I usually do not read plays. The only one I have read is Shakespeare's Macbeth. However, if I am to fulfill my Top 100 reading resolution and keep up with African writers I must develop the love for this genre and no other way to develop love for a genre than to start with the famous and well-loved ones. Ola Rotimi is also the author of 'The Gods are not to Blame'. It was this latter book, which I have not read but whose story was told to me by a room-mate way back at Secondary School that inspired my interest in African literature. It is therefore fair that I read him at some point. Again, the copy I got is a low quality one and I suspect it is from a dubious source.

Wole Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel
One cannot read Soyinka without reading his plays, after all he has only three novels to his credits. I have set out to read him and even though The Lion and the Jewel is not on my list of TBRs I bought a copy as I came upon it. In fact I bought this together with the two above in a day and as the saying goes, a bird of a feather... it is also of low quality.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Beloved is her book I have on my TBR. I have only heard good reviews about that book and it is almost present on every book list. As a Nobel Laureate, and one of the few women to have won that award, why should I pass by this book even though it isn't on my TBR? I cannot and everyone who love books would tell you that this is almost impossible. It would be ignorance.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I discovered a local used-books dealer. Unfortunately, the novel section is filled with Danielle Steel, Sydney Sheldon, John Grisham, Stephen King that there was no room for the authors I have on my list. Yet, there was no way I could just have left a BOOKSHOP without purchasing any book. So I was this one, typed his name into my 'dilapidated' Nokia N95. What came out was somehow okay so I bought this book together with Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and The Best American Short Stories for 2004 in one day.

The Best American Short Stories for 2004 Edited by Lorrie Moore
I added this to my library because I am learning this genre. Simple! Nothing more, nothing less. I hope I learn a lot from it as it contains a lot of short stories. 

The Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
Thinking that the local bookshop has obtained 'new' stocks of used books, I went there again and to my disgust they have not. So I scanned through the books again, hoping to catch a book wrongly listed, knowing that Songs of Solomon was listed as motivational and religious book. But this time round I was disappointed so I settled on this novel, which was written to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ian Flemming the creator of James Bond.

Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter
So I bought The Devil May Care and this one. They were both hardcover. I bought this because I wanted to buy something and I was also curious to know what the former president of America is talking about. I guess they almost always write a memoir. Besides, I have read Obama's Dreams from My Father and have witnessed the bittersweet, topsy-turvy receipt of Blair's My Journey. Also, I think any conversation on moral values is of interest to me. How, one can talk of morals and participate in things that kill innocents, is still beyond my comprehension.

So these are the books that have found their way into my shelves over the past two weeks. Only one, William Golding's, is on my TBR 100 and three (those by the African writers) would be reviewed on this blog.

Friday, October 08, 2010

New Poetry Anthologies from Mensa Press I

I have known this for a while but wanted to let you in after some time. Some of my poetry pieces have been published in various anthologies. I summarise them below.

The War Against War: Poetry about stark realities of war
With contributions from poets in Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, USA, and India, the War Against War contains the voices of poets who represent a growing fatigue with aggression in the world. Each poem looks at war from broken windows - images are disturbing and the sentiments are gloomy. Each poet in this anthology wages a war against war with compelling perspectives.

Authors in the collection: Prince Kwasi Mensah, Lord God Almighty, Lila Mensa, Roland Marke, Cosmas Mairosi, Afegbua Shabban, Emmanuel Jakpa, Simbarashe Clever Kavenga, Tinahse Muchuri, Nana Fredua-Agyeman, Timothy Middleditch, Basanta Kar, Carrie Ann Thunell, Darko Antwi and Batsirai Chigama.

Whispers in the Whirlwind: A Collection of Poems about Socio-Economic Challenges in Africa

As a continent blessed with promise and plagued with problems, Africa has inspired tons of poetry for centuries. Such poetry were written by non-Africans and Africans who wrote from either a pro-colonialist or anti-colonialist mindset. It has been said that most poetry from Africa is political in nature. There is a reason for that. Our problems emanate from politics and socio-economic mismanagement. In Whispers in the Whirlwind, young African poets ventilate about the struggles that they, and their people, face each day, due to socio-economic and political stagnancy. This anthology's sole motive is to put on the recored what is happening and what must be done. The poets, who hail from several parts of Africa, speak to their leaders and their people about things lost, things forgotten and things that need to be salvaged. Whispers in the Whirlwind is a must-read for anyone who desires to see a better Africa, in spite of the many realities that act like hurdles in her path to progress.

Authors in this anthology: Prince Kwasi Mensah, Nana Fredua-Agyeman, Batsirai Chigama, Darko Antwi, Appiah Grant, Foster Toppah, Barbra Anderson, Asangba Reginald Taluah, Adjei Agyei-Baah, Jabulani Mzinyathi, Cosmas Mairosi, Roland Marke, Reggie Kyere, Lila S. Mensah.

We Come From One Place: Poetry about the ills of racism, sexism, ethno-centricism and nepotism

We come From One Place - Poetry about the ills of racism, sexism, ethno-centricism and nepotism is an anthology that minces no words about things that divide us in this world. With spectacular contributions from Nana Nyarko Boateng, Nana Fredua-Agyeman, Basantar Kar, Adjei Agyei Bahh, Roland Marke, Vivekanand Jha, Emmanuel Jakpa, Cosmas Mairosi and Lila S Mensah, the anthology serves as a constant reminder as to why we must remain united as one strong unit, not divided into weakened units. We Come From One place will challenge you to reevaluate how you treat another person; it will probe into your reasons for not enjoying the company of someone from another race or cultural background. The central theme in this anthology is humanity and each poet presents a compelling array of perspectives in their poetry.

About the Editor

Prince K Mensah
Prince Kwasi Mensah was born in Accra, Ghana but presently resides in the United States of America. His poetry has been published in One Ghana, One Voice magazine, UNESCO's Other Voices Anthology and The Muse Literary Magazine. He has written over thirty books of poetry. Apart from being a poet, Prince is an author, playwright/screenwriter, actor and essayist. One of his essays, An African's Epistle to the Mosquito was included in Dike Okoro's Anthology of Contemporary African Writers. Prince is the Publisher and Managing Editor for Mensa Press, Associate Editor for One Ghana, One Voice Magazine and a member of the Wineglass Court Poets of Columbia, MD.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

40. When will the Beautyful Ones be Born? - A Review of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born

Title: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Genre: Novel
Publishers: Heinemann
Pages: 183
ISBN: 978-0-435-90540-8
Year of Publication: 1968 (this edition, 1988)
Country: Ghana

The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born is the fourth of Ayi Kwei Armah's novels that I have read and reviewed and I must say I have not as yet been disappointed by this great writer of our times. There is something I have realised and it is that his books are gradually being republished, not only by his publishing press Per Ankh, but also by other publishing houses.

The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born is set in the latter stages of Nkrumah's reign, in the country Ghana, and ended just after the first coup. It talks about 'the man' who, pure in heart and spirit, saw no reason to amass wealth through bribery, which, of course, has become the in-thing. It talks about the personal and emotional struggles 'the man' went through as he tried to convince his wife and mother-in-law that though wealth in itself was not evil but it is the means to its attainment that makes it evil. However, these two women in the man's life denigrated him, insulted him, and made him a useless thing, describing him as a nobody. They found love in his classmate who has now become a party man and so uses his position of influence to enrich himself. This man, Koomson, proudly displayed opulence wherever he went.

The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born documents, narratively, the period in Ghana when corruption became institutionalised and when one is judged by the wealth one has with asking how that wealth was made. People despised knowledge and revered wealth; thus, men would go any length to enrich themselves. It also talks about the period where not only physical corruption but spiritual, wealth and environmental decadence reached its peak. And it is yet to decline, for the situation still prevails.

In the story is a Teacher, whom 'the man' consulted anytime he had problems. It was this Teacher who guided the man to resist the torments of his wife and mother-in-law, whilst at the same time showing him that the path is not that rosy and things wouldn't change even now. The mental decay that characterised the period is seen through a lady called Maanan who thought that the coming of an eloquent man, who showed glimpses of learning and not just learning but having knowledge of the path, of having power not bestowed upon him by the white man, and when this man (reference to Nkrumah) failed her, she went insane. This is how the Teacher described Maanan's view of this new person, leader:
It is not true at all that when men are desperate they will raise their arms and welcome just anybody who comes talking of their salvation. If it had been so, we would have been following th first men who came offering words and hidden plans to heal our souls. But we did not run out eager to follow anyone. In our boredom we went out to the open public places to see what it was people were talking about, whether it was a thing we could go to with our hopes, or just another passing show like so many we had seen and so many we are seeing now. (Page 80)
The novel talks about the politics of the day, as a newly independent country sinks into the throes of corruption and the national coffers, wealth, treasure became a free for all scramble by men whose thought and learning rested and ended only within the grumblings in their stomachs.
there is something so terrible in watching a black man trying at all points to be the dark ghost of a European... (page 81)
The above quote reminded me of a similar quote in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Weep Not Child, where Kamau told his brother that 'blackness is not all that makes a man ... a whiteman would always be a white man but a black man trying to be a whiteman is wicked..(to paraphrase)'. However, the author never lost sight of where power truly lies
We knew then, and we know now, that the only real power a black man can have will come from black people.
And how true can this be. Even today, in our advertisements, we seek the stamped approval of light-skin people. Our inferiority complex, borne out of our dark complexion, has pervaded our every move, our everyday lives to the extent that manufacturers and advertisers and politicians and the taxi driver and every other person would want to be seen associating with these individuals in order for them to be regarded as 'somebody'.

Ayi Kwei Armah
And even when the inevitable coup came, purportedly to erase corruption which, at that period, had become endemic in the life of the people and was synonymous to wealth and life itself, the author never gave in to the euphoric attitude of the few. He knew then that these are individuals who have also come to participate, greedily, in the national looting spree. One family has come, let another too come; and even today, in the politics of 21st Century Ghana, this mantra is used and abused. 'The Man' seeing policemen taking bribes at the numerous road blocks, after he has helped his friend, Koomson, escape from the military junta, walked home, head bowed, wondering when the 'Beautyful Ones' would be born.

The title of the novel, The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, was an inscription the author saw written at the back of a car a policeman had stopped, in the novel. Yet it has its unique significance. In Ghana, as in most countries perhaps, car inscriptions are common. It is an art and also a way of knowing what the driver believes in or stands for. This inscription, which, according to the author in the June 2010 edition of New African magazine, saw in real life after he was looking for a title for this novel, is one of such arts. The industry of sign-writing is populated mostly by semi-literates and such petty mistakes in spelling abounds. Yet, even though it spoke literally to the driver or owner of the sign, in its misspelt state it was a spiritual message to the author. Thus, in its unwholesomeness it became wholesome, beautiful, intellectual, symbolic and above all meaningful in all its aspects. For in that period the only source of solace is to know that 'The Beautyful Ones' of Africa, those men who would stand corruption and fight it to the letter at the expense of their lives, leaders who have visions to take the country farther into development and not to 'see the true end of politics as wealth (Busia)', those who are spiritually in-tuned with the way and knows the path have not yet been born. This makes room that they would be born. Someday. For what is hope if the end is known. So I ask, Are the Beautyful Ones of Africa, The Healers?

The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, set the premise for the succeeding novels of Armah. He began answering the questions he raised in this first novel. Yes, the Beautyful Ones in Africa are those who know the Way, the Path and not the Ostentatious Cripples; they are the Healers. All of Armah's novels address the way to freedom, to prosperity of the spirit, the environment and the mind. His novels are inter-linked and address similar themes in varied ways.

Some scholars have questioned the use of an un-named man, referred to simply as 'The Man' in a named country. To such folks I say, it is the apt thing for Armah to do. The Man is symbolic. The use of the definite article 'the' supposes that the attitude of this 'man' could be taken up by any specific person. It could be you or me but at the same times, he does not delude himself into thinking that they would be many and judging from the period where it was set, the use of 'the man' seemed even more applicable. He was a solitary man in his thinking. Besides, why shouldn't the country be named? The use of Ghana is good enough. Ghana at that point signified the hope of Africa, the beacon of hope, hence if the house has fallen, who are you to ask if the ceiling came with it? Corruption then was ubiquitous and for those countries that hadn't caught the the cold, it was only a matter of time.

This is a book that would rank high amongst my favourite books. When will the Beautyful Ones be born? Africa, when?

This is a highly recommended book.

ImageNations Rating: 6.0 out of 6.0
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