I don't even know if I should/can rate this book. Up until the last 50 or so pages, it took a lot of effort to slog through.
Ayi Kwei Armah set out to...moreI don't even know if I should/can rate this book. Up until the last 50 or so pages, it took a lot of effort to slog through.
Ayi Kwei Armah set out to take a stand, make a political statement, and it is evident in every part of the book. A lot of similes, a lot of hyperbole, painful description, and LOTS of pontification. It is annoying, and it makes the book painful to read, but it also gets his point across very well.
He wrote this book in 1968, 11 years after Ghana's independence, when the joy of freedom had given way to hopelessness and corruption was running amok. Our main character is a struggling civil servant, earning wages too low to allow for any kind of a good quality of life. But he refuses to join in the corruption-free-for-all.
It seems everyone hates him for that. The people who offer him bribes are offended when he refuses to take it, telling him he thinks he's better than everyone else. He's not willing to falsify documents to get some money, so his wife resents him, because if he'd only just stop acting like he was better than everyone else, they'd actually have enough money to not live hand-to-mouth.
"You have not done what everybody else is doing," said the naked man, "and in this world, that is one of the crimes."
What kept me reading was how well Ayi Kwei Armah manged to capture the situation in Ghana: corruption, greed, and theft among the leaders, and a sense of utter hopelessness among the struggling masses. It hasn't changed. Over 70% of Ghanaians still live on less than $2 a day. Corruption has become ingrained into the very fabric of society. In Ghana trying to do the right thing is so hard that it's so much easier to do the wrong thing - just take the bribe; or just offer the bribe because going through the correct procedures won't get you anywhere. And when a person tries to do the right thing, people really do look at you as if you think you're better than everyone else. Doing the right thing gets you nowhere whereas doing as everyone is will get you everywhere.
"Corruption is the national game;" "many had tried the rotten ways and found them filled with the sweetness of life," he writes, and he is right.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. A few passages stood out to me because even though this book was written in 1968, many of the same things happen 40-odd years later.
There's a scene where he waxes on about how after people fought for independence, they still tried to "act white," if you will. They pretended only foods and goods from Europe were worth having; they disdained anything 'local'; they took on English names or Anglicized their names, or changed them entirely, just so long as it was something European and not local. 40 years later it's still true. When I was growing up, I ALWAYS got offended stares when people asked my name and I told them. They'd say, "No, not your 'house' name; I want your real name, your English name." And then get even more puzzled stares when I told them I didn't have an English name, just my 'local' name. It's only in the last decade or so that the tide has slooooowly began to turn, that people have started not giving English names to their children, that it has become fashionable to have a Ghanaian name that is your only name. 40 years, and not much has changed.
I almost fell out of my seat when I read this passage in the book. Here, the man is talking to his wife, who has bought out the hot comb and is straightening her hair:
"That must be very painful." "Of course it is painful. I' just trying to straighten it out a bit now, to make it presentable." "What is wrong with it natural?" "Only bush women wear their hair natural" [being call 'bush' in Gh is NOT a compliment] "I wish you were a bush woman then"
O_O. This is major. Ayi Kwei Armah was espousing natural hair in 1968? Again, 40-odd years later, things are only just NOW beginning to change. It is slightly more acceptable to walk around with natural hair in Gh today than it was five years ago. And even so, you have to be uber careful because it is looked upon as 'bush' in most places.
One last thing. It was nice to read a book with people just like me in it; with peculiar turns of phrases I know about; with names I recognize as part of my culture: Adoley, Oyo, Ayivi, Maanan. I very rarely come across fiction that reflects back something familiar to me I forget the power of recognizing oneself/one's cultural identity in literature. Not very many African authors write anything that is not political/literary fiction you see. Very few write romance of any kind and very few write fantasy of any kind. So I don't see myself much in the books I read. It was really refreshing to have that change this time around, even though the subject matter wasn't very palatable.
All in all, I can truly see why this book is considered a classic and essential African literature. You an literally feel the weight of its literary merit as you read it. It is a very important work that deals with very important very salient themes of African corruption, African identity, personal integrity, disillusionment, hopelessness, accountability, and African leaderships. He wrote it in 1968, and almost everything he wrote about, almost everything he supported/opposed you can see in the fabric of Ghanaian/African society today. It was an important work then, and it is just as important, just as valid a work now.
It left me with a lot of food for thought and a new respect for Ayi Kwei Armah. But damn if reading this book isn't like reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel: you know it is an important work dealing with important themes, but it is sheer torture to get through.
With ALL my heart I recommend this one, especially for Ghanaians, especially for Africans, but be prepared to take at the very least 6 weeks to read a mere 192 pages; be prepared to be tortured by sheer boredom for a good part of it; be prepared to read pages and pages of soliloquy whose only goal is to pontificate. Be prepared to not be able to read more than two or three pages every few days. Ugh, this book is painful to get through. But it is soooooooooooooooo worth it!(less)
Ms. Picoult has a gift that demands an emotional response to her work, in one or the other direction. I lean very much on the enraged/feel duped and m...moreMs. Picoult has a gift that demands an emotional response to her work, in one or the other direction. I lean very much on the enraged/feel duped and manipulated side of things. Never again will I read another Ms. Picoult, great writing or no. It is just not worth it. (less)
I refuse to read any more Jodi Picoult. I can't take it.
Like others have said beforee, Ms. Picoult writes excellently, but her characters leave much...moreI refuse to read any more Jodi Picoult. I can't take it.
Like others have said beforee, Ms. Picoult writes excellently, but her characters leave much to be desired and her endings are rather manipulative. I hate to be mean online, but those endings are quite sadistic, IMHO. Never again. Life is too short and there are too many books to read to have to go through this. Nunca mas. Jamais! Kabhi nehi! Daabi da! Never. again.(less)
I cannot tell you just how much I hated this book. I hate, hate, hated it with a passion. I would blacklist Barbara Kingsolver, but unfortunately I ha...moreI cannot tell you just how much I hated this book. I hate, hate, hated it with a passion. I would blacklist Barbara Kingsolver, but unfortunately I have read others by her that I really like, so..... proceed at your own risk. (less)