2000 - 2007

Not Without Flowers by Amma Darko

Not Without Flowers

Five words from the blurb: women, Africa, dilemmas, confronting, social

Not Without Flowers gives an insight into Ghanaian culture; raising interesting discussions about polygamy, the treatment of mental health and HIV, and the difficulties faced by an ordinary family trying to raise enough money for a decent funeral.

The book begins with a distressing scene in which those with mental health problems are found chained to the floor, having been beaten by witchdoctors attempting to rid their bodies of evil spirits. It then goes on to introduce a man with five wives. He commits suicide after discovering that he has HIV and the family have to deal with the double grief of his death and his diagnosis.

I loved the way the book introduced me to many issues I was unfamiliar with. The emotions associated with polygamy were particularly interesting:

Many wives who suspect their husbands of having extra marital affairs usually pray for one thing, especially when they know they can’t stop him or what is going on. They pray that they never see nor hear nor smell the affair. She had. She had seen her, had heard her and had smelled her at her workplace and in her bedroom. But in this society where polygyny is a norm, how is a wife to receive adequate sympathy and understanding for a pain she must be suffering as a result of a husband’s unfaithfulness? The pain itself, that she is feeling, is doomed and becomes her failure. She is expected not to feel that pain at all. She is supposed to feel lucky enough to be the one wearing his ring, which should enable her to bear his little pleasures.

Unfortunately I found the book disjointed. Individual scenes were fantastic, but the plot jumped around between a large number of people and so it was impossible to bond with any individual. Things improved towards the end, but I would have preferred the story to concentrate on a fewer number of characters.

The book also contained some surrealism that I didn’t understand. Dreams seemed to come true and there were some potent symbols and visions that clearly had meanings I was unaware of. I think a greater knowledge of African mythology would improve enjoyment of this book, but I guess that will come from reading more books like this one.!

I’m pleased that I read Not Without Flowers because it introduced me to many new themes and ideas. It is a perfect choice for Ghanaian Literature Week and I recommend that you head over to Kinna’s blog in order to find out much more about literature from Ghana.


1960s Classics

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Armah

The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (Heinemann African Writers Series)

Five words from the blurb: Ghana, bribes, corruption, temptation, scorn

This week Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week. Keen to join in I went online to research books from Ghana. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born was described as “a cornerstone of African literature” and “as important as Things Fall Apart by Achebe “. I hadn’t heard of it, but with quotes like that I felt I had to read it.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is set in the mid 1960s and confronts the corruption present in the country after its independence. The central character is an unnamed railway clerk who resists bribes. The book explores issues of integrity and shows what life is like for ordinary citizens who have to live with corruption on a daily basis.

Unfortunately this book was so slow and tedious to read that any impact was lost on me.

Crossing over to the side of the main connecting road nearer the sea, the man walked the whole distance to the Essei area, keeping just behind the breakwater that kept the sea from destroying the road. Now and then the headlights of some oncoming vehicle came and blinded him and afterward the darkness of the night was even deeper and more infinite than before, so that a little of the lost comfortable feeling of the man alone in the world outside, so unlike the loneliness of the beloved surrounded by the grieving loved ones, came back to him in little frustrating sweet moments that were gone before they could be grasped. And yet, in some region of his mind, the thought almost rose: that it should not really be possible for the guiltless to feel so beaten down with the accusation of those so near….

The sentence structure was often awkward and difficult to follow and the pace was so slow that it would take him several pages just to get out of his chair. Lots of profound statements were buried in the text, but I had so little connection to the characters that I didn’t care.

Things picked up a bit towards the end and so I managed to complete this short book (180 pages), but it took a lot longer than expected.

I can see why this is an important piece of African literature and I’m sure that much more would be revealed if you were to spend time studying the text, but I’m afraid I found it a frustratingly slow read.


Head over to Kinna Reads to discover more Ghanaian Literature.