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My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  750 ratings  ·  83 reviews
This novel recounts the fate of a mortal who strayed into the world of ghosts. The bush is the wilderness of Western Africa. Here, as every hunter and traveler knows, mortals venture at great peril, and it is here that a small boy is left alone.
Paperback, 174 pages
Published February 20th 2018 by Grove Press (first published 1954)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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Samir Rawas Sarayji
This is the first novel by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola that I’ve read, and it’s not comparable to any other book that I know of.

Two brothers get separated from their mother in the village, and then from each other near a bush when war breaks out. There are no details or specifics. The power of the novel – the suspension of disbelief – works best with the continuing vagueness that Tutuola employs. The youngest of the brothers eats a fruit from a tree and is then transported into the world of gho
...more
Mala
Oct 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Tutuola's second book, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, is an improvement on the first, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, in terms of plotting, but the earlier one scores high on spontaneity & exuberance.
Both deal with a young boy, facing a series of strange & fantastic adventures, learning to outwit his adversaries (who come in all shapes & sizes) & adverse circumstances with a little help from magic & fate. They are a bildungsroman of sorts as there's a progression of years & accumulation of various exper
...more
Sonic
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
DO NOT READ THE "Foreword" TO THIS BOOK! While I enjoyed this unusual book very much, I found the Foreword extremely offensive. It was written by your typical pompous-ass scholar type who condescendingly uses words like "primitive" to describe something his elitist bias finds difficult to categorize. To me the Foreword also spoiled other aspects of the book.
There is a poetry to his writing and what's more, a mythology that is very unusual, and to my orientation, surreal. In my culturally condit
...more
Nate D
Jun 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: short ghosts, smelling ghosts, transforming antelope-women
Recommended to Nate D by: Byrne, Butler, Eno
One day in Nigeria one of the three common types of war breaks out, and a 7-year-old boy is abandoned to it by his father's jealous second wife. He is too young even to know the meanings of "good" and "evil", but escapes by accident into the human-forbidden bush of ghosts, where the spirits walk, and he will find himself pursued by fearful specters, changed in form, worshipped as a god, and taking part in strange rites. Conveyed in the conversational tones of spoken Nigerian English and drawn fr ...more
Michael
From the reviews of others, my initial reaction (as a Westerner) to this book seems a common one: WTF am I reading?! However, without wishing to uproot it from its African soil, the folklore motif of a person lost in the otherworldly realm of spirits is universal: the Faerie of the Celts and Britons, and the land of Xibalba of the Quichi Maya springing to mind. Actually, the adventures of the twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué from the Popol Vuh are probably the closest thing I've read to "My Life in t ...more
Neal Adolph
How do you review a book when you are not confident that you have the toolset to understand it? Perhaps that is where you start.

I've never read a book like this before.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a fascinating adventure through the landscape of a mysterious civilization hidden in the West African forest. It contains short adventures, all of which are entirely unbelievable, but each containing within itself some story or suggestion about life, danger, economy, human relations, trust, and "th
...more
Josh Boardman
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Yeah man, this African Summer was a good call. This book is miraculous. It reminds one of Dante, or Homer, or the most to me, Apuleius' Metamorphoses. The stories contained herein (it's essentially a novel in stories) run the gamut of funny to horrifying, and Tutuola's masterful manipulation of the English is a delight.

Let me reiterate that last point. Tutuola's masterful manipulation of the English. The fucking editors of the edition pictured above seem to think that his English is "primitive"
...more
Aubrey
2.5/5

Despite my best efforts, my reaction to 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' was similar to that of my reaction to The Palm-Wine Drinkard; confused, one too many times frustrated and not finding the brief moments of engagement worth it for large stretches of a super short text. I'm not going to be an ass about it like this text's introduction is with its yammering on and on about "the thoughts of other races, even of those who resemble us superficially", but it does drive home how cavalier I was
...more
J.M. Hushour
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
A series of surreal, bizarre encounters with ghosts and their towns in the bush of ghosts. The narrator, lost in the bush of ghosts by the age of seven endures being persecuted by the Deads in myriad ways (from forced domestic servitude to being trapped and body elongated in a occult pitcher through which he is forced to eat strange meats) befriended by some (such as the "Super-Lady" he later marries) and witness to a thousand weirderies. He learns magic from a ghost magician the fallout of whic ...more
Michael
230316: somehow lost the review, for this as second reading, but as remembered: no different than any of his work, sort of a comic odyssey, from the very beginning the narrator must learn what is ‘good’and what is ‘bad’, being an unloved child of second wife, who escapes the slavers by falling through ‘the bush’ and over the years he is trying to escape... there is some contention that the author merely is transcribing Yoruba myths on his particular voice (mostly west-African spoken English) but ...more
Uche Ogbuji
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nigeria
I might come back to a fuller review, and I will say that if you must pick one Tutuola book, pick "The Palmwine Drinkard" (five stars from me) over this one. For now I just felt compelled to record that this is a darkly imaginative and funny saga set in the West African idea of a chthonic "bush' where the real and spirit worlds intermingle, using a broken English with elements of Nigerian Pidgin, but largely Tutuola's fantastic, poetical idiolect. For other books that might better suit the unadv ...more
Burke
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
Wanted to like this book. Didn't. The best thing about it by far is the title (which is epically great). More interesting in concept than execution. The fact that there are some who absolutely love it smacks of post-colonial guilt-inspired patronization to me: it's just not very well-written or especially engaging.

Skip the book, get the album of the same name by Brian Eno and David Byrne. That really is great.
...more
Eileen
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Difficult to review. Probably a lot of that is due to my comparative ignorance of African culture and lit. The whole book is so deeply steeped in African culture, beliefs, mythology that I have very little authoritative to say. Sudden, visceral. You should read this one.
Jaredjosephjaredjoseph harveyharvey
"This is what hatred did." ...more
Az
Mar 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I’ve never quite read a book like this. I’ve noticed that a few reviewers have taken to referring it to the African Wizard of Oz, or as a prime example of African magical realism. I would argue though that ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ is a hell of a lot more visceral and vibrant. This is my first foray into Amos Tutuola and in fact anything of its kind.

The story begins with a young Nigerian boy, too young to understand concepts of “good” and “bad”, and his escape from a gang of slavers into
...more
Ted
Aug 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I had the good fortune to pick this book up at a bookstore more or less randomly. I enjoy going to bookstores and exploring like that.

What I found was the least western/European book I've ever read. It's a picaresque, a horror story, a love story I guess? Certainly an adventure story. Tutuola evokes a world that I knew nothing about. In the course of the story, we get glimpses of our protagonist's home life, his life in the bush, and his culture's philosophies of life, death, afterlife, and hosp
...more
Maru Kun
Sep 20, 2018 marked it as to-read
Can't believe it took me so long to notice where David Byrne/Brian Eno got their album title from: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. ...more
Katrinka
This is one of the weirdest books I've ever read. Frustratingly enjoyable, and I have no idea how to rate it. ...more
Evan Suttell
May 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was a frustrating but very quick read due to its episodic nature. While I did find some great material in this book, such as the chapters in which the narrator is a cow, and the one where he meets his cousin, I was put off by the repetitive “ghosts are mean” theme of most chapters.

The so-called “ungrammatical” nature of Tutuola’s writing did not bother me, but his use of repetition did, as it was not used for rhythmic effect, but simply as filler, as if he was repeating a sentence he said
...more
Daniel
Oct 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: subsah
A disapointing read for me. I call this type of work "and then" fiction, meaning there is little to no character or plot development, merely a series of episodes ("...then XXX happened, and then YYY happened...") told towards no discernible purpose or meaning.

To the book's credit, often these episodes are impressive for the depth of imagination on display - such as when the narrator gets turned into a cow and has to find a way back to human form - but overall the whole thing just felt boring.
...more
Kurt Scillitoe
I had wanted to read this book for so long and it was a huge disappointment. It's like reading a child's description of a long, ridiculous dream. Approaching unreadable at times. It's essentially the same 5 pages of story on repeat with minor detail tweaks. You could call it imaginative, but I'd call it boring. Having said that I'm still glad I read it, even just to get it out of the system. ...more
Porsche
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's weird and it's wild. It's the folklore of an aboriginal religion that was very nearly killed. Thanks to this book, and the tenacity of it's people many of it's values survived. This is a fascinating look into culture raised in the shadow of deep dark jungle. Reach the end, and you'll find an even deeper message about the morality of a time, and the destruction of a people. ...more
Michael
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it
some books need to be spoken aloud, instead of spoken in the mind. this is one.
Jarl Olsen
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Since there are ony 51 reviews and I had the impression that this book was a classic, I'm going to try and review a book that I read over 20 years ago and that has stayed with me. Maybe someone will read this. You never know.

First, if you are like me, a Lutheran from the prairie, this book will probably make you uncomfortable just because we like to think that all books, when properly translated, reinforce the notion that all peoples of the earth are essentially the same. I had never been to Afr
...more
Jay
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amos Tutuola, on his birthday June 20
Author of surrealist fantasies written with a musical lyricism, the whispers of a strange and subversive dreamtime, his stories highly personalized reshapings of archaic myths, in a free and Joycean prose; championed by Dylan Thomas, influencer of Wole Soyinka and indeed all subsequent anticolonialist literature, Amos Tutuola is a foundational figure of African literature and with Soyinka and Achebe one its three great masters.
His nine novels and many shor
...more
Jack Wolfe
Feb 13, 2021 rated it liked it
There was a time before the Byrne/Eno record when this book existed, and then there's now. It's a neat album and I was reading about it and decided I should read this book, which I guess in some ways counts as the source material. It's a strange little guy! It's about a kid who to escape from slavers falls into the "bush of ghosts," a magical realm with lots of weird people and places. Think "Alice in Wonderland," but also think "Candide" and even "Blood Meridian," because a lot of the stuff tha ...more
Jammy Straub
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: post-grad
Steeped in oral story telling, full of animism, and largely concerned with psychological and physical abuse My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is an interesting read from the perspective of cultural anthropology.

The narrative of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is one of repetition describing a series of events that are done to the narrator versus done by the narrator.

This distinction is important to make. The narrator either moves towards or away from the various scenarios presented. His actions are co
...more
Rufus
It's this weird bildungsroman about a boy who gets separated from his village and family and has to survive in the world of 'bush ghosts' on his own. It has a lot of folkloric and horror elements.

-"And it was that day I believed that if fear is overmuch, a person would not fear for anything again."

-good/sad/beautiful part about singing the sad song of his village

-so much sacrificing, dancing, and feasting

-get-togethers, conferences,

-'flash-eyed mother' chapter reads like adventure time

-surreal,
...more
La Crosse Public Library
Feelings on this book were mixed among book club members but leaned negative. While it was agreed that Amos Tutuola was an effective writer, in the sense that his graphic descriptions of macabre scenes were very effective, several book club members felt that the folk tale inspired narrative style, along with the unreliable narrator, made it too hard to view this as a successful analog of Tutuola’s experience with the horrors of war-torn Nigeria.

Other members enjoyed the folktale structure, find
...more
Charlie Lee
This is a really unenjoyable book to read, but I think that's kind of the point. It does have some interesting symbolism and surreal scenes. If you're used to some kind of central crisis, or a linked chain of events, then this text probably isn't for you though.

I was once told in a creative writing workshop, 'a good story should go therefore, so, but, etc. with its chronology of plot events.' This plot goes and then, and then, and then, and then. It's very episodic with very little cause and ef
...more
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Amos Tutuola (20 June 1920 – 8 June 1997) was a Nigerian writer famous for his books based in part on Yoruba folk-tales.
Despite his short formal education, Tutuola wrote his novels in English. His writing's grammar often relies more on Yoruba orality than on standard English.
...more

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