Kofi Awoonor: This Earth, My Brother …
Awoonor is primarily known as a poet and this book has clearly written by a poet writing a novel, rather than a novelist per se. There is a sort of plot, as we follow the story of a lawyer, Amamu. He is clearly not happy with his life. He met and married a Ghanaian woman while living in London but their marriage is not a particularly happy one. Amamu has affairs. More importantly, he is not happy with his life and with the way Ghana has turned out post-independence. We see him mixing in the club with the new Ghanaian elite, the movers and shakers but also those who drink and debauch. He is clearly critical of them though also clearly very much part of them. He also sees the misery in the country. This is brought home, for example, when he has to track down his servant in the servant’s poor, unsanitary suburb of Accra, with the servant having to deal with his brother’s arrest and subsequent death in detention. Awoonor spares us no expense in showing the misery and the police brutality and while it has an effect on Amamu, the response is more a poet’s response than that of a socially concerned citizen.
Mixed in with the story of Amamu and his background, is a story, presumably of Amamu/Awoonor and his travels and life in Europe, primarily England and Sweden as well as his early life in the Gold Coast. He faces racism and the grief of exile abroad but misery and suffering at home. He tries religion but while nominally a Christian, his main exposure to religion is the beatings administered by the priests at school to those who do not turn up to church services. In the end, there is no respite, even with his mermaid, his idealized image of his dead cousin.
The book doesn’t quite work for me, as Awoonor lays on image after image and goes off on tangents. It’s a brave attempt but the pain of exile, the failure of post-independence leaders and the difficulty of adjusting to a world where you are now a stranger has been done better elsewhere.
First published by Doubleday in 1971