During the last six months in Ghana, I’ve enjoyed reading books by African authors. It's been a fascinating journey through both fiction and non-fiction.
My initial foray into African literature this year was Ghana Must Go – a recent best seller by a Ghanaian/Nigerian author, Tayie Salasi. It’s a poetically written novel about a dysfunctional family across several generations and continents. I enjoyed this book, even though it took a while to get into it. And, I knew it had an impact on me, when I missed the characters after finishing the book.
Then, I checked out Things Fall Apart from the SF Library – on my Kindle! (SF Public Library doesn’t know I am in Africa, and simply transfers the book electronically.) This acclaimed novel written in 1958 by Chinua Achebe tells the story of Nigeria prior and during the arrival of the colonists. Although I probably would have understood more of the symbolism had I studied this in a literature class, the story was profound, and stood on it’s own merits.
When I returned this book to the SF Public Library, I received several recommendations about other books I might enjoy. (I think SFPL uses Amazon to power this feature.) One of the books was My First Coup D’Etat. The author’s name sounded familiar to me …. , so I downloaded it. When I received it on my kindle, I realized that this was written (or shall I say “ghost written”) by the current President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. In the book he paints many vignettes of his life growing up in Ghana. An interesting read, especially given the current context.
Since I was now reading about Presidents, I picked up the printed Kwame Nkrumah: The Father of African Nationalism biography that I had been given as a gift from Stanford SEED in the Spring. This was also quite interesting. (It was a bit academic, as the back cover suggests it for graduate courses.) Kwame Nkrumah was the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1951 to 1966. He was an important figure in terms of de-colonization and African nationalism. Educated in England he used what he learned from his colonial masters to bring down colonialism. But, he also refused to leave power and was ejected in a coup. He died in exile, but is now regarded as a true statesman and hero.
This book enriched my visit to his mausoleum in Accra, where he is revered. On exhibit are fascinating photos of Nkrumah with dignitaries from the 50’s and 60’s including Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, Queen Elizabeth, Dag Hammarskjöld, and others.
On a lighter note, I returned to the SF Public Library’s website and checked out Wife of the Gods, a murder mystery by by Kwei Quartey, a Ghanaian who is currently a doctor in Pasadena. (He had been a guest at the Four Villages Inn in Kumasi, where he left an autographed copy.) This is a light murder mystery (think Number One Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana by Alexander McCall Smith or the Laos detective series by Colin Cottrell that features Dr. Siri Paiboun). It’s a fun read, because he describes so many nuances of Ghanaian life – the special handshake, the religious-oriented business names (God’s Grace Liquors), and the crowded tro-tros (communal vans that people use for local transportation.) The novel brings to life the charm of Ghana–from Accra to the small communities in the Volta region, near where we hiked to the village in November.
According to the author,
“It’s been popularly said that once you’ve been in Ghana, you can’t get Ghana out of you. Wife of the Gods is infused with the flavor of the place, the sights and smells, the traditions of drumming, dancing and libation pouring and the disparities of life that I took for granted as I was growing up in Ghana. Those disparities are rich material for the telling of a mystery story.”
So, if you’re interested in any of the above works, check them out of your library (either physically or electronically), and you’ll be able to taste a slice of African life on your next plane or at home.