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Book review Ayi Kwei Armah's - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Dida Halake

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Book review Ayi Kwei Armah's - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Dida Halake Empty Book review Ayi Kwei Armah's - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Dida Halake

Post by Hush on Thu Mar 05, 2009 1:53 am

This book is a masterpiece, but as the title implies it is not a beautiful book. Or, we could say, it is beautiful in it’s depiction of ugliness. It may be forty years since it was written, but it remains a masterpiece in it’s portrayal of the African bourgeoisie's mad rush to worship at the altar of materialism.

Ayi Kwei Armah is from the city of Takoradi in Ghana and his book describes (almost painter like) in a vivid and pungent manner the misery of daily life for the ordinary Ghanaians, side by side with the corruption ridden opulence of the business and political elite.

The cover of the book says it all: we are all now worshiping at the altar of materialism (even those in the slums pray to this new deity, at least for a cool mobile phone!). I know of a young Gambian driving up and down in a shiny BMW, but he uses a village-style hole-in-the-ground toilet walled with sticks! And he borrows water from his neighbours!

The central character in the book is "the man", who has no name because the likes of him are not yet born. He is amongst "those of us whose entrails are not strong enough for the national game" - the "game" of corruption. The narrative chronicles the life experiences of "the man", at work, at home, and as he struggles to travel between home and work in the jungle of the gele-gele and taxi transport system where there is "no heart feeling". One taxi driver nearly kills him as he walks along the road and then verbally assaults him: "Uncircumcised baboon, moron of a frog. If your time has come, search for someone else to take your worthless life". The man's reply is a meek "I wasn't looking, I am sorry". It is the taxi driver who nearly killed him, but the "the man" steadfastly refuses to feel anger or bitterness towards anyone. He also determinedly refuses to accept the bribery constantly offered him at work, acceptance of which would make life for him far far easier because his
colleagues would admire him and his wife, who now despises him, would love him.

His wife despises him because he cannot, or rather will not, provide what his formerly "stupid" schoolmate, the Hon. Minister, can now provide for his wife: "My wife has seen the true salvation ... it is the blinding gleam of beautiful new houses and the shine of a powerful new mercedes, the scent of a new perfume and the mass of hair that is a new wig". The incorruptible man's response to his wife's reproach is "... it should not be possible for the guiltless to be beaten down with the accusations of those so near". Chased out of the house, after a hard day at work, by his wife's disdain, "the man" wanders the night streets and ends up in his teacher’s house. There he pours his troubles out to his teacher, a "lonely" philosopher who has dropped out of the rat-race, run away from "oppressive" family and friends and lives alone in a simple room in town. But the man is not spared by his teacher either: "It may be you cannot lie very well and you cannot steal", says the teacher, the message to the man being to stop moaning and criticising those who are more able at lying and stealing.

As I read this book, I remembered a remarkable obituary about a taxi driver in The Guardian newspaper in London about ten years ago. It was remarkable for two reasons: firstly, taxi-drivers never get an obituary, let alone in The Guardian; and secondly, the taxi-driver happened to be an extra-ordinarily well-educated African. The taxi driver was a Ghanaian, and he went to the same excellent school as did Ayi Kwei Armah, Achimota. From Achimota the taxi-driver went on to obtain a double-first in Classics either at Legon, or Oxbridge
(I can't remember which). He worked briefly for the BBC Africa Service and then ended up as a London taxi driver where he was stabbed to death by a petty thief on a night shift. Reviewing this book it is
appropriate that I have forgotten this taxi driver’s name (I hope Ghanaian readers can help). Let us just also call him "the man" and then ask what this remarkably gifted African was doing in London, and why he was working as a taxi-driver? Running away from the "ugliness" of the corruption at home? Un-willing or unable to partake in the rat-race in UK? Or was he just not able to see that, like another gifted Achimotan I know in The Gambia, he could have become a simple and inspiring teacher in Africa to generations of colleagues and students? Maybe this brilliant but tragic taxi-driver's "run-away African" life is also a parable of our times.

Inspite of the books title, it has to be remembered that the title "Africa's new type of man" was first used to describe Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah. The 1960s were a time of great promises and great dreams in Africa. As Kwame Nkrumah's own writings show, the dreams were of a new great Africa that would take it's place with pride amongst the nations of the world. Even the adoption of the name "Ghana" by the new nation was a hankering back to that time of greatness. But even in Nkrumah's Ghana the dream died quickly. Or since we don't want to lose hope, let us just say, in the words of the Black American poet, that the "dream was deferred". And what happens to a dream deferred? It bursts out like a "sore" or it just ends up in hopelessness: "It seems that their eyes are learning this flat look that is a defence against hope", writes Ayi Kwei Armah.

This book is a difficult read because of this sense of hopelessness running through it. On the last page "the man" watches the dexterity with which the policeman folds away the money that the bus-driver hands over with his documents. As the policeman pretends to look at the documents and hands them back to the driver, he sees "the man" watching and smiles. The bus driver gets in and drives off. As the bus disappears off into the distance, the man reads what is written on the back of the bus: "The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born".

Then the man turned and "He walked very slowly, going home".

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Book review Ayi Kwei Armah's - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Dida Halake Empty Re: Book review Ayi Kwei Armah's - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Dida Halake

Post by chinda on Wed Jan 05, 2011 7:25 pm

I found this very interesting, hope it will help you to understand the novel, The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born, fourth year students!

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