A searing satire of political corruption and social injustice from the celebrated author of Things Fall Apart.
Despite how hard it is to read at times and how you’d have to pay keen attention to know what is going on (because of the language use), one cannot say this book isn’t a gem. First, there is the use of elevated and poetic language that takes the reader to a whole different level when reading. Then the plotline, once figured out, is an intriguing one. The ending, especially what happened to Chris, I wish could have been avoided but…
The literariness of this book cannot be understated either—there are a lot of techniques and literature at play that you know Achebe was at the peak of his writing. Talk of the judicial nature of the writing, then of the multiple points of view used to the rich and dense nature of the language use. Also, you will find in it a number of prose poetries (eg. the pillar of fire) and other literary techniques at play.
Again, I love that for once, a voice was given to a woman In Achebe’s writing. That he created a strong character like Beatrice, a woman who projected the ideals of the century-old cries of most African Female writers. Oh, and the twist at the end when Elewa’s uncle (I believe to be representing the old generation) had no problem when the young ones i.e Beatrice and Co, changed things but was ready to accept that things could be different and it wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Embedded in the confines of this novel is a call to fight, a mandate to the African people to work and make Africa great again! Just like the story of the Anthill that survives to tell the news grass of the Savannah of last year’s brush fires, this book has survived years and years to remind us that “what is wrong with Africa is bad leadership” and that we can learn from stories. This is more than just a novel about friendship and bad leadership but a political manual with ideas and suggestions for the lost politician who would want to retrace his steps and serve his people as it was supposed to be. The events happened in Kangan but Kangan can be any other African country. To be fair, some African countries are already Kangan and its leaders, Sam H.E.
A part of the entire novel that really resonated with me is the emphasis on storytelling and the role of the storyteller as realised through the old man from Abazon’s monologue. Being a storyteller (writer) myself, I couldn’t help but agree with Achebe. This same importance is made clear through Ikem, a character I learnt to love and admire throughout my reading (aside from Beatrice of course). The importance given to storytelling and by extension storytellers is so admirable. As the Superintendent acknowledged, the pen is mightier than the sword.
“Have you thought about that? I tell you it is the way the Almighty
has divided the work of the world. Everyone and his own! The bushfowl,
her work; and the farmer, his.
“To some of us the Owner of the World has apportioned the gift to tell their fellows that the time to get up has finally come. To others He gives the eagerness to rise when they hear the call; to rise with racing blood and put on their garbs of war and go to the boundary of their town to engage the invading enemy boldly in battle. And then there are those others whose part is to wait and when the struggle is ended, to take over and recount its story.
“The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards—each is important in its own way. I tell you there is not one of them we could do without. But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather I will say boldly: the story. Do you hear me? Now, when I was younger, if you had asked me the same question I would have replied without a pause: the battle. But age gives to a man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left. The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of the roadside tree a full stride away as it once did but fall around his feet like a woman’s; but in return the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead…
“So why do I say that the story is chief among his fellows? The same reason I think that our people sometimes will give the name Nkolika to their daughters—Recalling-Is-Greatest. Why? Because it is only the story can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives
the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours.”
In the end, there are a plethora of things to be learnt from the novel. From what was told through obscured language to what wasn’t told but implied, leaving the reader to read between the lines, to the knowledge in the conversations had, to the wisdom from the proverbs to the actions of the characters and their outcome.
I didn’t think I would recommend this book when I started reading but here I am! And you can trust me. Clear your mind, dive into the book, immerse yourself in the world there and come out with an opinion, with a living idea that can change you from a parrot to a man (or woman).
“All of we,” continued Beatrice, “done see baad time; but na you one, Elewa, come produce something wonderful like this to show your sufferhead. Something alive and kicking.”
“That’s true. Very true,” said the Captain.
“But living ideas…” Emmanuel began haltingly.
“Ideas cannot live outside people,” said Beatrice rather peremptorily stopping him in mid-stride. He obeyed for a second, scratched his head and came right back blurting defiantly:
“I don’t accept that. The ideas in one lecture by Ikem changed my entire life from a parrot to a man.”
“Yes, really. And the lives of some of my friends. It wasn’t Ikem the man who changed me. I hardly knew him. It was his ideas set down on paper. One idea in particular: that we may accept a limitation on our actions but never, under no circumstances, must we accept restriction on our thinking.”
“OK,” said Beatrice bowing to this superior, unstoppable passion. “I have also felt what you are saying, though I knew him too as a man. You win! People and Ideas, then. We shall drink to both of them.”
There is a lot to talk about but I didn’t set out to write a review, really, but I just didn’t want to keep quiet either. However, I look forward to focusing on a part of the book sometime in the future for a thorough analysis though.