What an enchanting book! Each chapter is a series of tales so woven as to form a whole. This was my first Chinua Achebe and much came together for me in the reading of it. A sense of what was African writing at a point of time, reinforced by the memory of Les Nouveaux Contes d'Amadou Koumba, similar in some ways though less tightly woven and less driven by the superbly controlled angst of Achebe. Birago Diop, I found more playful and, of course, the advent of the White Pest was not present in that collection.
Achebe's writing brings to life an entire geography, horticulture and local flora and fauna, including human beings. The cultivation of yams, for example, consumes a good fraction of the book, without, however, giving you an itch to escape the descriptions. The seasons come and go, imprinting themselves on you, with the merry and poetic ease of expression.
Set in Africa, at a time when the European was beginning his depredations, this book covers the journey of one man, a metaphor of the times. The contrast between the protagonist and his father plays through the book, an ironic look at the usual tilt where one generation looks down on the other that preceded it. Family, families, throng the pages. Men, women, children and the elderly dance through in a procession of unforgettable sketches.
The dramatic ending is beautifully muted, making the small tragedy powerful - such is the marvel of humour.
I now ache to discover more African authors of that time, to uncover new voices for this is an enterprise in which we must all engage if we are to ever undo the sinister voodoo of one world view that is ruling and ruining us all.
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