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Yulisa Pat Amadu Maddy: No Past, No Present, No Future

The initial part of this novel is set in the fictional state of Bauya, an obvious proxy for Sierra Leone. It tells the story of three young boys, later young men, from different classes, who become friends and call themselves the Three Brothers. We first meet Joe Bengoh. He is from the urban poor and comes home from school to find that his drunken parents got a bit too enthusiastic with their gin still. It exploded and they are now dead. Joe is glad because it will enable him to get away from his drunken, abusive parents. He heads off to the mission where he knows he will be welcomed.

Joe soon becomes friends with two other boys at the mission school. Ade John is from the elite, the upwardly mobile middle class. His father works for the post office and they live in a nice house. Santigie Bombolai is the son of a tribal chief and he has been sent to the school to get an education as his father wants him to take over as chief when he dies. The father is, in fact, dying but is relying on local medicine. Santigie is the only one of his many siblings to be given an education.

Their first unpleasant episode is when Joe is staying with Ada during the holidays. Ade and his siblings eat separately from their parents and are expected to help with the house-work. One day, Ade and Joe are doing the laundry in the communal laundry, when they are joined by Mary. Mary is, like Joe, an orphan and lives with an aunt, where she is very badly treated. The whip marks on her skin are clearly visible. She has a reputation for being sexually promiscuous. Joe is attracted to her and they go off on a walk together and have sex. They realise Ade has been watching and he tells Mary that she must have sex with him or he will tell her aunt. She accepts but this naturally creates bad blood between Joe and Ade.

However, the following term, barely a month later, Mary is dead. She had got pregnant, tried to abort and died. She left a note blaming Ade. His parents pull him out the school. There is a huge row, ending in fisticuffs between father and son, and Ade leaves the parental home to go and work on the Railways. Eventually, he will be joined by Santigie, who is furious that, after the death of his father, he is not elected chief, and then Joe. All three young men are now behaving irresponsibly, with promiscuous sex, drinking and stealing from the railways, including taking bribes.

Ade is caught but he has managed to save up enough to go to the UK. Again, he is followed, first by Santigie and then Joe. Ade is studying journalism while Joe (like Maddy himself) is studying drama. Santigie, who has little money, is trying to get his A levels. Relations between the three young men deteriorate as they argue and seek different things. Ade is generally successful in his studies, the other two are not. They face racism, so much so that, when he finally has to leave the college after failing three times, Santigie gives an impassioned speech about it at the farewell ceremony.

All three continue their promiscuous and irresponsible behaviour, including drink and drugs. Joe, which caused some stir when this book was published, turns out to be bisexual. Like Maddy, Ade heads to Denmark, where he has a rich Danish girlfriend but, of course, he is not faithful to her.

Maddy paints a fairly grim picture of the lives of three. None of them is happy or even content. They all struggle with their lives. All of them behave very irresponsibly, promiscuous in their sexual lives, drinking and taking drugs. They also squabble with one another. Maddy is clearly showing that the three lack a moral compass. Joe’s parents were irresponsible drunks and died when he was still at school. Santigie’s father was still living the old ways and this causes conflict with his son who is moving towards Western ways. All three feel that they are victims – of racism, the remnants of colonialism and the economic situation of their country. Ade, for example, sees his father at work, kow-towing to a much younger white man and is ashamed. All three face a degree of racism in the UK.

Maddy tells his story well and, no doubt, at least in part, it is based on his own life, though obviously he went on to far greater success than his characters. There is no doubt that he sympathises with them and is well aware that they do lack an essential moral compass, with both family and religion playing no role when they are young men. There is a Bauyan community in England but we only hear about it tangentially. In short, the young men are adrift and are unable to find their way. I hope that is not the case with other young Sierra Leonean men.

Publishing history

First published 1973 by Heinemann