Search Sweet Country was the first novel I read from Kojo Laing, but I was introduced to him earlier through his poetry. This, being the first ever; More Hope More Dust.
And of course, my favorite is what runs through vertically; I AM OBSESSED WITH THE TOUCH OF SKINS AT BUSY DUSTY PLACES BUT IT IS THE FORGOTTEN FUTURE, THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY THAT SHAMES ME AND ALL THESE MYSTERIOUS BODIES PULLED BY A SLY WILD FATE!
As is seen in the poem, Kojo Laing gives you something that is much more than meets the eye. The structure of the piece is in itself beautiful, and the message, though carried on a vehicle of light-hearted, almost flippant word choices, is a serious one. This post however is not going to focus on Laing as a poet, but as a novelist.
Search Sweet Country was a reading prescribed in my level 300 mandatory (core) class, and so I read it along with over a hundred grumbling students. Grumbling, yes, most of them, because they maybe (?) found it too unordinary to use ‘template appreciation’ to review it, and there are some who admitted they couldn’t understand the text.
In my conversation with a course mate, she mentioned how winding Laing’s novel was, and how it was hard to understand what was going on in it, and fully appreciate it and I remember clearly what my response was…
“You see the thing about Laing is this; let’s assume he is walking from one end to another, covering a distance of about 100m. A lot of writers you may have read, will, if any, make just one or two stops to give a bit of information, relevant to the final destination and what is going to get done there, but not Kojo Laing. He will make a thousand stops and tell about almost everything, before he gets to the other end, and a lot of what he says might not really be relevant to the side he was moving to. That considered, he does so, in such fanatastic ways, with coinages, and impossible imagery, and very fine peculiarities you might miss, but are what make Laing Laing.”
I remember encountering one of his titles in my Creative Writing Class and concluding
“I like this man!!!”
The title was Vacancy for the post of Jesus Christ and trust me, you may allow yourself to get confused, especially when you haven’t yet learned to open up to narrative styles that are unconventional, or not of the norm. Laing’s novels are not the usual stuff that is for sure!
Before you throw your hands in the air, grab the towel and throw it in, let me tell you a little of what I am talking about (I have already talked too much). The second novel I read from him, in my opinion, was even more fascinating than the first, and this is Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters (Just look at the title alone! Lol!), from which I picked the title of this post (as you may have guessed, one of his coined words).
As is usual with me, to fall in love with a book, something has to be in there that impresses me greatly…and there are gems in Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters.
This a story that strangely merges themes and so it is about science, and it is about religion, and it is about science and religion (lol), about humans, sexuality, psychology, politics, extremism in all forms!
He opens you up to issues on a microscopic level, so these are descriptions that present the world’s rot to you on an exaggerated scale, but a scale that makes you see clearly exactly what our problems as humans are. Here, read this;
“And, of course, the gripple nuns would vouch as spectators for what went on under the cassock when his Lordship was having a siesta. And when Roko was having his afternoon nap, everything else napped, namely train wheels, carriages, chairs, a crucifix, glasses, carpets, stools, wall-geckos, books, experimental material, letters old and new, incense, a few photographs like perched egrets, cassocks, a massive number of notebooks, red and black seeds from the bush, painted white, branches, little lamps…and the draft of a magnificent new secular Bible borne out of expensive phone calls between Roko and Jimmy.”
He lets you enjoy more than just the story…you enjoy those finer details I mentioned. Here look at this;
“But I had my own city within me which they called the city of Adama – they wanted me to leave them and be adamant in the north about life.”
Did you see that?? Did you? On the first read? This is in the first chapter, fourth page…when I noticed I knew I was in for some beauty in literary art.
No one can tell me Adama….right before ADAMAnt is not a brilliant play on words.
“…where they insisted to me (why me?)that they got the most ambitious erections…How dare he harangue the nuns and be so hard on them…?”
Where ‘erections’ and ‘hard on’(though it is used in a different context) are placed in close proximity intentionally. This is Laing!
There is more in this novel, but I cannot put them all out here. In between names like Zig ZagZala, Deputy Jesus, Deputy Lord, Faxian Bishops and words like logologoed, and contrapredispositionalisationalism, you can’t but love Laing’s unique style and genius.
Now let me end by dropping a few of my favorite quotes here;
“Sometimes the sharks or myself would have to receive the answers to “How are you?” and rush gidigidi to present them to the bishop.”
“Later I realized he was telling me that the only way I could achieve my soul’s desire was to pump his soul up first. A bicycle pump of obstinacy, humility, waywardness, mock reverence, and an eye for the image that cut across all artistic boundaries.”
“She was the city’s first waakye saint. But above all, there was also a small atheists’ corner just before the sanctuary, where non-believers could engage in quiet theodicean arguments about the emotional absence of God.”