Category: Book Reviews


Photo Credit: Daniel Kojo Appiah (O’Zionn)


“But I have enough hope to

Leave her with honest words.

I am no Angel,

Yet somehow,

Our voices

Melt into each another

Hers, a promise…

Mine, a prayer…”


Last night my mother called to ask how I am doing. These days (or has it been always?), our telephone conversations are short and predictable, and after she hangs up…sad. She normally sounds much bubblier than I do, and I subconsciously try to figure out if she is faking it or trying too hard to sound happy to talk to me. Last night she asked about my graduation today. I decided not to attend, for various reasons. She really wants me to. She asked, again, if I wouldn’t even pass by. I said no. She sighed, and laughed awkwardly. “Well, it’s your decision,” she said. It most likely did not actually sound like it was said reluctantly, but I thought it did. Almost like she realized she was acknowledging that she no longer made decisions for me; learning, bit by bit, to adjust to the turned tables. I think she wishes she could still make me do what she wants…needs me to do. That way, I wouldn’t spring surprises on her like I have the habit of doing, with my numerous mistakes.

“ I am no Angel.”

I think I know what is new in our recent telephone conversations. I always hang up

“…hoping to God I make good

 On my promises.”


Adulting is…well…adulting. And yeah, they did tell us “wobεnyini abεto” but…I guess they left out the details


One of the beauties of art, for me, is in how the artist pours out her/himself and it becomes a mirror. I have found that confessional writing becomes so. Sometimes I think a lot of addict-readers look for this in what they read. I, for one, open each page with some kind of caution, unsure of what I will read next, and what it will mean to me…what it will remind me of…what it will do to me. I have finished books and let them lie for days, not ready to process the entire experience yet. Absolutely drained, after what it did to me. Perhaps my eyes are attracted to those things that do that to me. Like when I started reading Huchu’s The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician. Four pages into the novel, I read “Music forms memories. The Magistrate, who was often transported back to some point in the past when he heard a familiar tune…” and that was it for me. I had to put the book down. Being exactly so, the line had become a mirror, and I started to think of all the songs that have heavy memories attached. Memories that come back so vividly. I couldn’t move past minus all the emotions it roused.

What I am trying to say is, I couldn’t read through Ellipses, minus all the emotions it roused.



“To be satisfied

With the person

I have spent




This is a foreign thing.”


Being aware (too much) of myself, and all that I am not but should be(?) is why I can never really be satisfied with who I have become. Maybe it is a good thing for me, nevertheless, to never fully settle in. Maybe that is how come I am able to live with myself. Perhaps what will push me down the edge is if I stop trying to be better…do better…or promise to…do…be….

So I live each day fighting the disappointment and guilt from yesterday’s “unrealized promise.” I still have hope left to live through another day.

This chapbook, to me, is a representation of what social media is to many people. Okay, maybe not many people; let me speak for myself here. I usually go on rants on my twitter…for me. At the back of my mind I am aware that everyone can see what I am going on about, and yet I go ahead, not caring much about that. In those moments, I need to let it out and if possible, let it go. The catharsis is layered. One layer is because it is no longer some “dark secret”. Another is because you were brave enough. Another is because you are acknowledging your humanness, and acknowledging too that “None of us is completely broken. None of us is completely healed.”

The symbolism was not lost on me, going in and seeing that I had almost literally been let into another’s life; thoughts…secrets…even those we try to hide in plain sight (vignettes).

I guess what I mean here is, Ellipses is how we really are.



“The Bible made sense for the very first time – not as a collection of talismans… Rather a mirror for introspection…”

Sometimes I am afraid to pick up the Bible (Ha!) Oh dear, and again it is because of this “mirror” thing. It causes you to see and think and feel.

Enough said.

Enough said.


A part of me says that the written parts of this book should have been typed out too, so readers would have both. It was hard to make out every word.

Another part of me says it should be as it is. Like picking up someone’s journal…you get what you are able to read. Of all the such entries, “Pill Bottle” got to me most…but I will spare you why.



There is too much I have to say here, and so I wouldn’t say them. I have already talked too much. The parts of this book that directly or indirectly touched on suffering and loss, were parts I could relate to so much it was hard dealing the flood of emotions. The longer you live, the more likely it is for more of such waves (suffering and loss) to hit you.

And then you have to move on. You have to “return to normalcy…keep on living.” And if we are honest, we’d admit that “normalcy” and “living” here, is this very thing Ellipses represents.

And it goes on


To the author, Eli Tetteh,


and thanks for living out loud.





“…whatever that emotion is when you know it’s all going downhill and you want to convince yourself you’d be fine if you hurtled after it because you want so bad not to lose it and there’s nothing you can do to stop it and you’re driven to sadness while bracing for the inevitable even though you know no loneliness hurts as bad as being miserable feels. Yeah. That one. My fonts of choice? Sarcasm, humour, resignation, grit, steel, some anger, a degree of longing, but mostly, care.”


I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this. First, because this would be my first time reviewing an anthology of poems/poetry anthology [this is intentional], and secondly, because my first impression (yes, I judged by its cover) was eeeeeeeeeeh, this love thing reaaaaally is not my area of strength, can I even relate? I don’t like clichés, honestly. Ok, lemme do this anyway, I could just list all the reasons why I do not like this, in the review. Brace yourselves! I am not saying yet whether or not I had to eat all of my words/thoughts (perhaps you’ve already guessed) but yeah, I probably shouldn’t have jumped the gun.


As I mentioned earlier, this is a collection of poems, on “Love, Love-ish, and Hope”, as Claudia Williams puts it. This book was my first encounter with Claudia, and I must say, when I saw her quotes from Lewis and Maya Angelou, I suspected a conspiracy…I hadn’t even started and I was beginning to approve?? Lol!


The book is divided into three parts, and Claudia explains to us in her introduction, that the poems span from her early teen years, right up to the “Fortyish” years (three decades of her life captured in poems) and I’m going to touch on each part, each phase, each decade, and how she transitioned not just through Love, Love-ish, and Hope, but also through the ‘then Loves of her life’, and herself.



This first phase is the teen zone, “where child and adult meet”. Truth is, I started out by trying too hard to find some hidden pattern, some common veiled tone running through, but by the fourth or fifth poem, I stopped. There is no doubt that these were works that happened at scattered times, and on different waves, and emotions. The only thing that ran through them, to me, was honesty. The encounter of that first feel of being singled out and specially loved (For the Love of Me)

Of all the people in the world

Of all the girls in the world

Of all the dreams in the world

Look at me, being appreciated by you.

 to the too-much-to-make-me-doubt slippery grounds (Insecure),

You won’t leave me like that, will you?

Please don’t answer.

to the “did that even happen?” ( Have I?)

How can it be

I miss you so bad

The vacancy of you not being here

Though I have not met you yet

Or, have I?


I picked up on the honesty of her works right from the introduction, from which I quoted the excerpt I started this review with. I am quite keen on punctuation, and what I realized in that excerpt was that, right up to ‘feels’, there was no punctuation. I am fond of reading just as I see it, not pausing if there is no comma there to “instruct” me to, and it hit me!…she must have been writing on the wave of the emotion that part evoked! Go read it again. Isn’t that how it feels?? I forgave her for all the absent commas, really. I did. I was like, “I feel you, sister!”

Anyway, to the next phase!



Now this is the part where I started to eat some of my words. I could actually relate to some of them. Remorse, is the first piece in this part, and although this piece most probably is talking about a lost love; a then past love of her life, I connected with it in a different way. I imagined this “you” referred to in there, as a child you didn’t keep, yet years down the lane, that part of you that had wanted to keep it, touches the other half of you, and now all of you wishes you had kept it. You admit…

I wanted to touch you

I wanted to hold you

I wanted to feel the warmth of

Your cheeks against mine.

And though there is no way you are going to be able to turn back the hands of time, you are remorseful, and you admit that too;

My heart aches in trying

To let you know I feel remorse.

Guilty of burning my bridges behind me.

If only I could reach for you now.

If only.


I didn’t like that the title was Remorse, and that the word remorse was used in the poem… “To let you know I feel remorse.” I would have loved to be shown how she felt, not told. Describe it, maybe a little? Anyway, “I feel remorse”…doesn’t get clearer than that.

The other part of this phase I could relate to was what I got from Break Free! (Parts one). When you’re tired of one vicious cycle, destructive routine, non-productive, non-progressive cycle that winds and winds, and you just want it to stop!

For every drop of tear that falls

An ounce of strength within you grows.

And you have been cryin’

For a long time.

In other words, you have strength enough to break free. You get to that point where you realize you need to fire yourself up…motivate yourself to move!

As Claudia moves past Thirty, we see the new battles she must fight, we see how time slowly creeps into her themes, she can’t seem to help it. The word “waiting”  crops up in a couple of the pieces, and then we see nostalgia, frustration, maturity, and yet still a level of childlike openness to love against the threat of heartbreak.



Time has passed, some things aren’t new anymore, or surprising anymore. “Sarcasm, humour, resignation, grit, steel, some anger, a degree of longing” have all become familiar, and you can feel them from miles off when they head your way. This phase reminds me of lines from a poem by Ama Ata Aidoo;

A young girl’s voice doesn’t break;

It gets firmer.

Past maturity is that firmness that comes with being wise, knowing what you want;

Time and company are fine

But, my love, I want you, too.

and knowing what you do not want;

For I realized

As the words fell

I was now free.

It was okay for me

To be. Just be.

yet still, you are  human enough to fall again sometimes;

You rain-fire kisses

Wash and renew me

Delight and destroy me

Thoroughly consume me.

You let love in and you inhale deep!


Clearly, there is an ellipsis at the end of it all. It hasn’t really ended. After all, it’s not really Forty…it’s Fortyish.


I do not think I had to eat all of my words, though. When a book excites me very much, trust me, I can hyperventilate because of it. This was a good book, you know, but I did not hyperventilate, lol. I would rate it a 3 out of 5. As I said, you can’t miss the honesty with which she writes, they are refreshingly confessional (I’m a sucker for confessionals too), and surprisingly, what stuck with me most was that said-on-a-single-breath line in the excerpt I quoted from the introduction, and not any of the poems. Do I dare suggest she considers creative non-fiction too?

Oh! And may I end with my favoritest line??


“…no loneliness hurts as bad as being miserable feels.”







“Three men sat in their black swivel chairs, staring simultaneously at the large flat-screen in front of them…They watched with quiet, speculative intensity, the happenings on the screen”


Those are the opening lines of Puppets, a novella by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, which I’d been patiently waiting for a good time to read. My initial plan was to do a thorough read, and share my views with the author, but you know that itch I get when reading that results in reviews? Yeah, I got that right after the first paragraph, and I knew it was going to be one of those reviews too that required extra discipline so I do not go on and on cos there is so much to say! (I’m already talking too much).


One thing about my mind and literature is how one calls on to the other; I read one text and if it is in anyway like anything I have read, it calls that text to mind. Sometimes it could be the slightest hint. Just that first paragraph brought George Orwell’s novel, 1984 to mind, and I’m tempted to elaborate on the similarities, but let me not. If you have read 1984, and you’ve read Puppets (if you haven’t, download and read) you will know what I’m talking about. Now let me get straight to what I want to touch on concerning this read before I veer off, smh.





Here are three men, mind-controlling an entire school (of ‘human beings’, I’d like to add) and it takes a human being to get one of them (and it had to be the one named Thomas) doubting the entire set up and functioning of that control room.

“But then again, how were Matthew and Jude to understand, when each of them was both wifeless and childless? Neither had any idea how it felt to be responsible for another human being”

Pause. Read that last sentence again…huh? Pause…now a bunch of over 400 students, plus teaching and non-teaching staff, all of whom they are responsible for…and yet the sentence reads“Neither had any idea how it felt to be responsible for another human being.” Pause again. Ok…

So… Errr… What are they, the students and staff…? Takes you back to the title does it not?

But what I made of this beyond what it directly implied, was our world today, when terrible, terrible things are done by people to other people and thinking of it makes you sigh exasperatedly, “Humans!” but…are they? The author only gives us glimpses of how Thomas used to be from some of the things he says, and of course, from his other two colleagues. We are introduced to a Thomas now becoming human because he has been able to identify a human, and connect with that human – the heart softens as the connection grows stronger, and most importantly, the mind is regained. To extend this Name-play sorta allusion further we can say Thomas needed evidence in flesh and blood to feel again, and believe not only in the individual and varying capabilities of humans, but in himself as well. Also, this fueled him with an urge to unhinge all the seized minds of the “subjects” he and his colleagues had been controlling for years.  (*Resists urge to go back to1984*).




The school is Bethesda High School and 12 new Prefects have been appointed (this is where the story starts). We, one by one, get to meet some of the teaching staff [Ms. Adriana…Mr. Barth (please don’t tell me it’s short for Bartholomew, smh)] and maybe it is just me but there is a ‘phariseeic’ air about them that they pass down to the Prefects. The other students are…well…sheep (no?). They appear to be the keepers of what they know as Truth (Lol, which again reminded me of the Ministry of Truth in 1984) and when these “truths” are questioned, the answers are always “because that is what it says” and nothing satisfactory, at least, to Dawn; the anomaly, the nuisance, the threat, present in a system that had consumed everyone but her (and Solomon, of course). Keeping the “truth” has become so routine, so mechanic, so much that when the system collapses, and the ‘prison walls’ fall, these poor people have no clue what to do…how to live…


Ms. Adriana has no ready solution to a simple problem, Mr. Barth probably would not have a clue how to grade exams without the previously “standard” marking scheme. The prefects won’t, as basic as know how to stand on their feet. No hand rubbing their puffed-up chests, why then would they feel the need to puff it up? Their knees would be weak, would it not? The actual truth was the freedom shutting the control room down got them, but it was foreign, confusing. So I ask…what is truth again? The repeated lie? That one thing we deny? *shrugs*




What is refreshing here is, in an oppressive setting, we find a bunch of puppets, yes, even puppeteer puppets (the control room staff, teaching staff…) but We find hints of hope that calm us a bit, survivors, fighters…Thomas – we witness a miraculous regeneration of his own mind, Dawn – Dawn is Dawn Immanuel. Solomon – Wise, wise, unnerving Solomon, Matthew (who admits his losses and regrets) and even Mr. Barth (there was some trace in there). But this story tells of another scenario. When oppression falls…there are those who will pick themselves up, take baby steps, learn to use their freedom – James and Andrea did…Matthew too…the students, most of them, I hope. But there will be those so completely consumed by that oppressive system, their brains will find no room when handed back to them, they have shrunk to nothing, they sit on the floor like idiots and rock their senseless selves, bathed in tears. Jude…Ms. Adriana…there are those, and it is sad.


This is a work of fiction, but do not be fooled by that word, I know I am not…my writing and reading experiences over the years have taught me not to. I mean, come on, have you read 1984? That novel is a prophecy. This novella is some truth. My only disappointment is the cover page. I love to use my mind, and it did paint me quite vivid pictures of Dawn’s sketches, but I’d have loved to see some sketches for a cover page.


Anyway, so at the end of the read I had one major question. So…who is the puppeteer?




“Choose Authenticity”




Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable. 

This is a true account of a professor, Azar Nafisi, who started a Reading Club with some girls from her Literature class. This is not just a memoir in books, as the title says, but also bits and pieces of Iranian history, and the stories of these Iranian girls. From Nabokov to Fitzgerald, to Austen, the club explore literature, share their thoughts, fears, grow together, laugh together. We see the struggle of women in the academic world in these Iranian Universities, of young girls wanting to have choices and being free to make one or the other. We are told of characters that make our blood boil, we meet others who warm our hearts, and aside that I could see myself being Nafisi…wanting to change the feel in the classroom, open the blinds, let some sunlight in, let students breathe as we learn from each other, I love this book also because it takes me through other books.

She had me thinking of Power n’ Oppression, The Writer, The Reader, Literature, Art, Freedom, and yes, Time! Honestly, #TimeNoDey, and so in the face of all that was against Nafisi and the other revolutionaries, they had to act immediately, damn the consequences. I’ll try and go through a few of the loads I can’t keep out of my mind. 


Nafisi’s described how female students in the University of Tehran were required to dress, complete with their hijabs (veils); only their eyes or at most their faces, were to be seen. She points out how the hijab had lost its meaning because of its imposition. A woman losing the choice to wear it or not left it without any essence. She talks of one of the seven girls in the reading club, Mahshid, who before the imposition, wore the hijab, and was mostly one of a few women who did, wherever she was…

She wore the scarf even before the revolution, and in her class diary, she wrote about the lonely morning when she went to a fashionable girls’ college, where she was neglected and ignored – ironically, because of her then-conspicuous attire…the revolution that imposed that imposed the scarf on others did not relieve Mahshid of her loneliness. Before the revolution she could in a sense take pride in her isolation. At that time, she had worn the scarf as a testament to her faith. Her decision was a voluntary act. When the revolution forced the scarf on others, her action became meaningless.

I was glad to note that Nafisi, who had refused to wear the hijab herself, and for which she was fired, was not preaching against the veil. She was preaching against how it had been forced onto them. She was fighting the powers that wanted to control the lives of people who should be free – as far as dictating how to appear in public. It was that oppression, she was fighting against. In Mahshid’s case, her choice had been taken away from her too, cos even though she loved the hijab, she looked no different, not in the least bit unique, and that was or is heartbreaking. It reminded me of a true account I read in Half the Sky  of one of the middle-Eastern countries where a school was burning, and while the girls were trying to escape, local police forced the veil-less ones back inside to put their hijabs on before they will be allowed out. Yes, more than should have, died. The extent of it shocked me, and reading this book too.  The early part of the book where these girls, go to Nafisi’s home where the club meetings were held, and one by one took off their veils and cloaks to reveal bright-coloured clothes, different shades, texture, length of hair, and features that made each of them unique, is when we review Nabokov’s Lolita with them. In my opinion, a very disturbing book. We go through a bit of Invitation to a Beheading, another of Nabokov’s books, which I believe Nafisi brought in because of how it resonated with the reality they were in.

The worst crime committed by  totalitarian mindsets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality. My students…enacted it…every time they went out into the streets dressed as they were told to dress. They had not become part of the crowd who watched the executions, but they did not have the power to protest them, either…There was not much difference in our jailers and Cincinnatus’ executioners. They invaded all private spaces and tried to shape every gesture, to force us to become one of them, and that in itself was another form of execution. 


I have always been of the view that reading is an empowering art! A lot of the time when I hear certain stories in which it seems to me that young girls cannot see beyond what is in their immediate surrounding (even with those which they see but see half-inch in), I think of reading, writing, imagination, as windows through which to set them free! Nafisi had that view, hence the reading club she started. It is liberating, such trips through other worlds aside yours, opening your mind to other possibilities aside what you face. Leaving you daring, fearless, ready to break free because you know there is more than what you have, and if what you have is sh*t, why, fight for  better, cos much better exists!

The constipated oppressors could not wrap their minds around any of it. This brings me to The Great Gatsby, another Western Classic that was banned in Iran. Nafisi not only discussed this book with her small club, she decided to defend it in a moot court. It was a hilarious scene, and the most highlighted part of my copy of the book. To begin with, this is what the prosecutor said;

This is an Islamic court, not Perry Mason, I can present my case the way I want to, and I am setting the context. I want to say that as a Muslim, I cannot accept Gatsby.

According to him;

…our revolution is opposed to the materialism preached by Mr. Fitzgerald. We do not need Western materialisms, or American goods.

Which reminded me of a quote from Nawal El Saadawi’s Prologue to God Dies by the Nile, about hypocrisy in Egypt with the insistence that women wear veils and in the next breath with men drooling at naked pictures of women in Western ads.

It quickly brought in the reader as a critic, and how their blind criticism was injurious to not only themselves, but to the writers too. Zarrin, one of the ladies defending Gatsby said it all;

Could one not say in fact that this blindness or carelessness towards others is a reminder of another brand of careless people? Those who see the world in black and white, drunk on the righteousness of their own fictions.

Then it moves to the writer, and how such reactions and criticisms can paralyze them.

The Islamic revolutionaries seemed to believe that writers were the guardians of morality. This displaced view of writers, ironically, gave them a sacred place and at the same time paralyzed them. The price they had to pay for their new pre-eminence was a kind of aesthetic impotence.

And that is a writer’s nightmare.


 Aside the ‘Gatsby Trial’ which was outrageous, because so much distaste could be had for mere fiction, throughout the book we see how people of ‘authority’ misuse these positions. Everything was a battle between God and Satan for them, and they wrote all the rules. There was no reasoning with them. The least resistance they met or whiff of evil they smelt, they uprooted the source and burned it.

Before Nafisi left University of Tehran, she had tried to reason with the authorities. Yes, she was already ‘a bad nut’ since her refusal to wear the hijab plus the club she had started and the fact that they read ‘Immoral Western Classics’. According to her,

“That day I realized how futile it was to “discuss” my views with Mr. Bahri. How could one argue against the representative of God on earth? Mr. Bahri, for the time being at least, derived his energy from the undeniable fact that he was on the side of Right; I was at best a stray sinner.

It was the last straw for Nafisi. The war bewteen 1981 and 1988 that hit Iran, is only a little piece of what Nafisi recounts. She struggles with reality. She wants to remove herself from it, and the only way she can is to invent games in which she barely exists. She had become irrelevant, with all her intelligence and ideas, she was disregarded. She had questions!

For a long time, I wallowed in the afterglow of my irrelevance. While doing so, I was also unconsciously examining my options. Should I give in to this non-existence imposed upon me by a force I did not respect? Should I pretend to comply and then cheat the regime in secret? Should I leave the country as so many of my friends had done or had been forced to do? Should I withdraw from my job in silence the way some of my most honourable colleagues had done? Was there any other option?

Her sole solace was in books.

Eventually, she moved from Iran to the US, in 1997 and has been there till date. It was tough decision for her, but one that she had to take. Her students and members of the club kept in touch with her. Some of them moved, some stayed and pursued their dreams right there in Iran, fighting the status quo as they went.


A word that was coined by Nabokov in Invitation to a Beheading, and one that Nafisi agreed with the girls was open to any meaning one wanted to give to it. For me, that was her first lesson to them, as well as a gift – the gift of choice, of freedom to take something in whichever way you want it. For Nafisi, it was the impossible joy of a suspended leap, another thought it was a name of a dance…”C’mon baby, do the upsilamba with me!”…A small silver fish, a sound, melody, someone’s magical name, the paradox of a blissful sigh, the magic code that opened the door to a secret cave filled with treasures. Upsilamba is coded.

There is so much more this book touches on that I do not talk write about here, as usual, but yup, a good read, eye-opening, absolutely upsilamba!



“The things I could tell you about the dictator, Sani Abacha! I saw his own death approach…but of course I held my peace…you don’t become someone’s favorite marabout by telling them they will die next month…”


I promised you a Chuma Nwokolo marathon right? Yup! This is another of his books; a collection of short stories – The Ghost of Sani Abacha. Another brilliant, brilliant display of humorous wit!  Nwokolo gives us a taste of Nigerian (which mirrors most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) politics, and the gimmicks that form a part of the society, what eases their tension, what keeps them going even when conditions are hard to survive in, oh and quite a bit of display in marital homes.  It is a collection of 26 short stories, with the title piece itself, in there too.

I’d touch on the stories I really, really liked, which is taking some discipline to limit, because I might as well touch on all 26 of them! Each story leaves something with you, mostly the character(s) themselves! The imagery is clear and almost real, you’d stop a few times to ask yourself if you haven’t met them before anywhere…at some points you’d swear you know them! Anyway, so here goes.


This is a story of a man, his wife of six months, and his mother-in-law. He comes home prematurely one day, no, not to meet his wife in bed with another man…there was a twist. He got home to a house looking cleaner than he had ever seen it, their bed laid neatly, meat stewing on the stove with its tempting aroma, but his wife, nowhere to be found. According to the neighbours, she had dashed to the Pharmacy. This man, Gwarimpa, sits and waits, as his situation unfolds before his eyes First it was another man walking unlike a visitor into his house, whistling…

“He did not wait too long before Harki rode up…propping his bicycle up against the mud wall, and knocked gingerly. Getting no response, he entered confidently only to stand flummoxed at the sight of Gwarimpa in full glower.”

He did not stay too long. He left fast…too fast, he left his bicycle behind. Then came Sara, Gwarimpa’s wife, who entered singing an endearment Gwarimpa had never enjoyed as his, ever since they married.

“She entered singing ‘Darl-ing, darl-ing,’ in a song that harked back to their days of courtship, a song that broke abruptly when she saw her husband.”

Now this was the matter at hand, with Gwarimpa left to make meaning of. He questioned his wife, starting from what exactly it was she went to the pharmacy to buy, that “looked suspiciously like a pack of condoms.” This only led to a rapid escalation of the matter. Sara threw the bright-coloured package out, and before Gwarimpa could comfirm before doubt that it was indeed condoms, the billy goat they had intended to gift to Sara’s mother, ate it. (lol!) The unidentified wrapper had to be retrieved and the mother-in-law arrived just in time for that.  The goat was given a purgative. The mother-in-law herself saw to looking through goat shit to find the said wrapper…and when she found it, confirmed Sara’s insistence that it was a bubblegum wrapper, without showing it to Gwarimpa.

“What is it, Mama? Condoms, not so? She remained silent. What is it? Urged Sara, anxiously. Look at it with the eyes of a mother. Finally the older woman broke her crusty silence. ‘A packet of chewing gum!’ Let me see, he demanded, incredulously. Her jaw dropped slowly… ‘You don’t trust me? You think I will lie? For what?”

Gwarimpa had no choice but to let the matter go, albeit still unsure of the meaning of the matter. So he asked his mother-in-law,

“And if you looked at it with the eyes of a mother-in-law, what would you have seen?”

And she answered;

“How many times must I tell you? I am not your mother-in-law, I’m your mother.’



This is a story of a blind man. Lol…no, not literally visually impaired…but this is about those of us who do not see love till it is long gone. The revelation at the end of this story leaves you speechless for a moment.

“I still remember the taste of Maitama orange, oddly enough. Nine years have passed since I ate it on a bus stop bench on seventeeth August 1999. I also remember the lonely night that led me there. And the fruit seller that hawked barefoot, her slippers slung like strange ornaments around her neck. I had bought a single fruit, out of boredom, and a habit for oranges, and we barely talked as she peeled and quartered it, the way I always ate my oranges. Her fingers were lithe and quick, going like clever mechanical things, and her carving of my fruit was performance art. It must have been a good day for her, for she waved away my money, and then she left.”

This was a connoisseur of oranges, as he called himself, but never in his life had he tasted an orange with a taste so perfect. He collected the seeds, planted them and waited, for years, for another taste of that goodness! The time came, and he tasted again;

“I open my eyes slowly. It is sweet – like hundreds and hundreds of oranges in my past – but it is not the Maitama orange. I eat all four quarters delicately, with the same mechanicalness with which I have eaten two, three thousand oranges throughout my life. It will be better as the season waxes, I know this…yet even as I console myself, I know the truth now. For though the heart of the animal is cannier than the tongue, it was clear that I knew my fruits far better than I knew myself. I had waited nine years, only to discover that I had fallen for the hawker, not her oranges.”



You know those tales of a player getting played? Aha, this is one of them, but what I love about Chuma is how he takes a simple story and adds life to it by how he packages it, leaving some of it to your imaginations and conclusions.

“Post-coitus, Paul watched a cockroach cross the pitted lino of her bedsit. Little things that told him that, however good the sex, he and Sara [Sara again??] belonged in completely different worlds…It scared him that she had believed his lies so easily. Why would he fracture the ready-made perfection of his life and leave his wife and daughters for her? Didn’t she see how anyone would say anything in the throes of that hunger?…Then he saw the lovesick face and his heart began to race – at the stressful mismatch of casual sex on his part and an all-consuming love on hers…He had to end it now!

Having played this game a lot of times, Paul pulled out the “my conscience isn’t permitting me to go on with this, you know I am Christian” card, expecting a tearful response full of pleas and heart-wrenching reminding of all he had promised to do. None of that happened. Instead, Sara calmly said she had something to give him before he left. She gave him a diary she started when their affair started, and then saw him out of her house. It wasn’t till Paul had read the very first entry (he needed not go beyond the first to get the message) that it became clear to him;

“There was the same smile on her face that had fired his passions through the months of their relationship, but in the context of her diary it acquired a uniquely malevolent gleam and he realized the mixture had not been casual sex and all-consuming love after all. How blind he had been. How thin the line between love and contempt. She waved at him but he drove away without waving back. His own churlishness amazed him. As he swerved away from a lamppost, he realized that he no longer felt any nostalgia for her lips and breasts and things…it was truly over! Then it struck him…the girl was even more a pro than he was! The honest diary…she had taught him the eleventh and most effective way to end an affair.

Other stories like The Las’ Foolscap, Confessions of General’s Marabout, The Colour of It, A History of Human Servitude, I enjoyed very much but I have already written too much, so I’ll end it here. There isn’t anything I did not particularly like. It’s again, if you read my comments from the last reviews I did on another of his books, a good read, full of laughter, full of truth. A trip through are governments and homes.

Do get yourself a copy! Contact @writersPG on twitter, and we’ll take it from there. And if you’re wondering what the title for this review means, you can ask Cousin Kashim when you are reading. He’s in there somewhere. For those of you who have read or who attended Chuma’s reading when Writers Project of Ghana hosted him here, shhhhhh.

In the mean time….


 Cheers again!! 


Worst thing was how father and son kept calling me ‘jobless’. I’m a writer; that’s what I am.


This is a wrap from two weeks back; the third and final part of a 3-part review. You should read the first two if you haven’t, to better understand some of the things I may refer to here.

The last part of the book is where Abel, Meme’s first son, comes in. Abel the writer. After Calama burnt down the entire household and business of the midwife who accidentally castrated him, dying in the fire, news reached Abel, together with letters from his mother, and his father’s diary.

“Calama’s handwriting is lousy. To worsen matters, he spells things the way they sound, which is the way to get into trouble with a language like English…Found myself crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s. It’s a sickness  I have…When I rose, it was still difficult to grieve for Pa or Calama. But I’d started my own diary.”

Meme Jumai was a pauper, Calamatus Jumai was a rich con-man, and Abel was somewhere in between. Upon receiving and reading the diary entries, he swore to not end up like his father and brother.

“They’ll know there is a difference between Jumai and Jumai.”

My bias towards Abel moves beyond the fact that he is a writer (hehe…ok, not entirely true)…not too far beyond, he is in my opinion, more sensible of the lot. When Calama died, Abel was sent a message not to set foot in the village. We all know it was not in necessarily his interest, buit because they wanted the chance to loot all of what Calama left behind. As if Abel cared for those;

“As if I’d have waited for his death were I keen on his cash. There’s a passion that fires me, and it’s not just a passion for money. It is a passion for success, and inheriting from Calama doesn’t qualify as success. My passion is burning me up right now. Used to be desperate to write a successful book just to show all those who had given up on me. With the death of Pa and Calama, that list is getting shorter – and I’m getting more desperate.”

Abel has been living a lie ever since he returned to his village in Nigeria, from Cameroon. While in Cameroon he became so broke he oneday stole bread, which landed him in jail. Meme on receiving the news through a letter from Abel, decided to tell the entire village his son was in Cameroon studying for a degree in Business Management. Through nothing of his doing, he had to live with that lie, since the huge welcome party he came to meet in Ikerre-Oti, and it imprisoned him more than anyone would think, I am pushed to think hew may have been successful had he been able to live without that falsehood.

“True, I envied Calamatus, but not the way he thought. Envied him for the honesty of his life. He was a conman and didn’t hide it. Had the money to show for it too. I? I went to jail for a loaf. That’s the truth. And never got to eat the wretched bread. Now Pa who stuck me in this mess has died with his pride, I’m stuck with this permanent dread…[of] public exposure.”

It would be a hard way to live, wouldn’t it?

In this last part of the book, we finally get to meet Stella Jumai, the wife who eloped with the Warri vulganizer. She visits Abel and chances on the diary, reading parts of it that were enough to shock her. Apparently there was a lot she was not aware of. She broke down completely – it was a scene.

“She reached the last page of Pa’s diary. She broke off her low-key wail and grabbed me: What happened? I looked at her. Real or fake, her tears had ruined her makeup. Hardest thing for me was to see my mother, real and actual wife of a farmer, losing her eyebrows at age forty-eight. She’d lost the pencilled brows again after all the weeping…she screamed and rose in slow motion. Her hands stretched towards the ceiling, as if the fire that consumed Pa was burning again. The diary and her shawl fell on the ground. Decided to get everything over at once. Told her how Calama was also dead. Only thing I hate more than a soap opera is a rerun of a soap opera. She screamed and started whooping, ducking her head like a fowl. Would have been comical, but this was my family…She began to whoop again, making little jumps in the air, turning around in a small circle.”

And at this point, we come to an even sorrier fate of the late Meme – Abel too was not his son. Stella Jumai! (lol!) And when Abel came to this knowledge, he couldn’t stand her anymore, he threw her out of his house – her raging self;

“You are driving me from your house?…You know what happened to your brother and your father?…That’s mercy killing! …That’s mercy killing compared to what will happen to you.”

In the midst of all this, Abel still wrote – his passion keeping him alive. He expressed his grievances with publishers and the pile of rejections, which I suppose a lot of writers can relate to;

“Why won’t publishers take a chance on me? Must everybody write like Chinua Achebe?  I like to write about Tortoises. That is how I am.”

I particularly liked his choice of words, (lol!) how else will one know he is a wordman? Unfortunately for Abel, the death of Calama was not an end but a beginning for him. The paths he had crossed, generating bad blood, boiled over and spilled into Abel’s life. The fattest cow Calama had been milking finally found Meme’s house, along with Abel…and was bent on not leaving any Jumai alive. Question is, did Abel die too? I’d like to think not.

“Suddenly I was startled back into the present by a ragged snore. Glanced up increduously. Billy Barber had gold fillings in several molars! Under the table, I slipped off my shoes noiselessly. Hesitated.  If he had dallied this long because he wasn’t angry enough to kill, could an escape attempt provide the provocation to pull the trigger? Could I take the risk? Wet with sweat. But for the farcical snoring of the sleeping assassin, it was a silent night in Ikerri-Oti…I think I can hear Opportunity clearly.

I’ll just get the door…”

This book gets you laughing till you’re in tears, but again in very deep ways, it addresses humanness in raw terms, exposing the ills that plague us. I would have loved to read the diaries just as they wrote them, especially Calama’s in his unique spellings. Out of the three,it was Abel’s diary that held more of himself, in my opinion, in terms of how he wrote it. Calama follows, and then Meme, whose entries I thought had word choices that a man with his level of education and exposure most probably wouldn’t be using. All in all, this is a book I’ll recommend any day! If you ever get the opportunity to meet Chuma in person, do not miss it. He reads marvelously and is a burst of energy! Such a delight to have met and interacted with him.





“This world is very, very wicked. I’ve been licking the pepper of its wickedness since I was eight days old, when the witch that called herself a midwife sneezed during my circumcision and castrated me. I have been asking for her name since I was 12 years old but by then my parents had known my mind and refused to tell me. ”

Last week I started this three-part review (this is admittedly a suffering review because of time constraints) yes, it’s already dawn and I am as exhausted as exhau…let me not disgrace myself. But let’s carry on, shall we?

This is diary number two! Meme, the seniormost Jumai, has been lynched by the townspeople, and afterwards burnt, after he opened fire in the townsquare, killing a couple and injuring some. This is how his son(?) Calamatus finds him. Another funny name huh? Well there is a story behind it. When he was born, Meme (who isn’t even his actual father but by the time he found out his wife had been cheating and this was a product of it, it was too late, Calama was his son by naturalisation (lol) ) sent a message to his father to ask for a name. The post-boy who was the one believed to be excellent at reading and writing in that village somehow managed to spell Clement in Latin. It wasn’t till Grandpa asked after his Grandson Clement that he found out his son’s original name got lost in translation (again, it was too late).

That he was a product of infidelity, and that his name had been a story of an unfortunate mix up, wasn’t enough trouble to start him out in life, the midwife who saw to his circumcision, circumcised much more than usual, literally leaving little or (to be completely open about the situation) nothing at all to be desired. He grew up compensating this heart-stopping loss with a sharp tongue and brain, eventually leaving the village to enter into full-time 419 business. When he came back to the village, he came prepared for war, and decided to continue Meme’s diary, which was the only inheritance he had from him

“It is only now that Pa has died that I’m beginning to understand him. And is it not this his diary that did it? Pride is a terrible thing, O. This is our Pa that will do his face like ironwood and you won’t know he is suffering inside. His tongue will be rough like sandpaper. Come near him and his mouth will strike you like cobra. But everything was just a show. See what was inside him: was this not an ordinary human being? This is war!”

It is moving how unaware Calama was that he was musing about his own self; an observation that could have very well been that of himself, or of a lot of other people. This is what makes you see what Chuma Nwokolo is trying to paint us – a picture of everyday human life. And is it not ironic that Calama asks “was this not an ordinary human being?” well he WAS an ORDINARY HUMAN BEING, that is why he had the nature of not wearing his heart and the troubles weighing it down, on his sleeve. Such nature is not reserved for extraordinary humans, it is us all.

When we enter into Calamatus’ world, we see to an extent the depth of the problem of corruption that Nigeria suffers and also the power money has. We see how money turns the same villages who would have spat on Meme Jumai, those who killed Meme Jumai, trooping in and out of this same Meme Jumai’s compound to kiss his son’s ass. Calama knew it, and used it appropriately.

“Money is useful when you do not want to talk too much”

Even the elders of the village shelved shame and drooled at all the money he was throwing around.

“Today was the meeting at the Igwe’s palace…all I told them was that I didn’t like what they had done to my father’s house. All I asked them was why they made my compound a garbage dump, whether they would like it if I turned their own compounds into burial grounds. And they said I was threatening to kill them!…They asked me how else I could make their compound a cemetary if it wasn’t by killing and burying them there. I told them that only fools and dunces could interpret my words like that, after all, I could make their compounds a burial ground for dogs. That was when the meeting scattered….finally after more than one hour they settled the matter by fining me one fowl…So I vexed very well and went and bought five fowls from Mama Calabash…When they saw they number of fowls I was bringing, the elders showed all their brown and crooked teeth…so I told them that…their fine was only one fowl; that I had brought the rest because of what was still inside my mouth – and the sun was too hot for me to be going up and down to Mama Calabash’s shop every time they fined me. That was when their eyes cleared and they started talking to me with respect.”

His hot-headedness made him do even more extreme things like filling the booth of his car with money and throwing it on the ‘hungry’ village people who fought each other to gather as much as one could. Eventually the young boys in the town took it on themselves to avail themselves to him, to serve him, and somehow help him operate his 419 business. He set up the place with all he needed – a telephone, computer, fax machine, papers, etc.

Then he decided to hold a burial service for his father, which under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have been allowed by the chief and his elders, or even if it were, attended by anybody. But this was Calamatus Jumai. Even the Igwe himself visited him in his home to discuss it (interesting discussion). The burial service happened, and it was the biggest the village had ever seen. It was also the most memorable (hehehe). The morning after the service, the entire village was filled with screams. EVERYBODY HAD DIARRHOEA! lol! It was clear that the cause of it was the food that was served at the funeral – Jollof Rice, which Calama’s neighbour, Ma Caro, had prepared. So, they confronted Ma Caro.

“These people, I told her when she came, are asking me what I put into the jollof you served them yesterday.  Why? She asked angrily, are they saying it wasn’t sweet? The rice that they rushed like refugees from warfront? No, I told her, but they are stooling like agric fowls. She opened her mouth…The jollof rice that I , Mama Caro, served from my own pot? She loosened her head-tie and tied it around her waist….then she hissed and put a finger in the dust, and licked it, and pointed to the sky…I swear I didn’t poison the jollof! If I did, let Caro my daughter die in childbirth! Let the child she delivers survive only to be slaughtered in a motor accident on his wedding day! As for myself if I poisoned the rice…let epilepsy choke me to death. As for anyone that says I poisoned the jollof….”

And this is where they stopped her immediately. She had given enough proof to get the villages looking for other reasons  – which Ma Caro stated was their greed at a man they killed’s funeral that was killing them. They all shut up from there. But Calama was still curious, because he knew it had to be the food;

“How can you curse yourself and Caro like that?…Nothing will happen to us, she told me…I didn’t put it in the jollof, I put it in the goat meat.”

Calama brought a huge difference to Meme’s compound, he even helped with Abel’s marriage ceremony, which was another crazy event. Almost all the boys in the village had been employed by him, and business was booming, but he was not happy. What finally drove him to the very edge and over was when accidentally, the identity of the midwife who castrated him, was revealed before the entire village. He did not spare them, or their household;

“Tonight, there will be no mistake. And no sleep for the wicked either. If they like, they can run to the end of the world, I’m coming after them. This is one isn’t a matter of bullets finishing; I won’t repeat Pa’s mistake. My body can roast when I’ve finished, but before then I’ll show some people that their past blunder wasn’t an ordinary mistake.

It was a calamity.’”  

To be continued.



I realized I’ve been a bit too dark on here lately so I decided to dig out some happy stuff from my old reads, and I wasn’t surprised it was Chuma Nwokolo that won. The first book I read from him was The Ghost of Sani Abacha which I absolutely loved and will review next week hopefully. I readDiaries of a Dead African next and oh boy! I was in stitches throughout the read! Chuma’s wit is impressive! The balance of good humour and tragedy woven into the plot, brings a pretty simple story to life!

This is a tragic story about a father, Meme Jumai, and his sons, Calamatus (Calama for short) Jumai and Abel Jumai. It is a peek into the diaries of these three men and a plea for some sort of empathy for the last man standing – Abel. (Meme and Calama die)

Since my time has become much more limited of late, I will do this review in parts, one diary at a time.

The story starts from the top – Meme, the father. He is the first owner of this diary, and makes the first number of entries. He is a man who has suffered the hard life and sees no relief anywhere close, and he makes this clear right from the first entry, after all, it is his diary, and it was meant to be a private thing;

“The problems of my life are not the sort that one narrates to a native doctor and he laughs before he starts his treatment. My problems are the sort that the boldest witchdoctor will hear halfway and flee.”

And he ends this, after giving us a brief overview of his predicament, with;

“I should hate Meme Jumai, if I were not Meme Jumai”

Sad, no?

[If you are unsure how to pronounce the name, it is mentioned somewhere in the book that it is like the bleat of a stammering goat. Meme!]

Through Meme, we get to hear about how his wife, Ma’Abel, who left him for a Warri vulganizer, and carried most of his yams along with her, leaving him with too little to sustain him till the next yam harvest, he has to resort to carefully measuring by inch, how much he prepares to eat each day. Starvation, or the fear of dying from it, had turned him into an expert, he just had to look at his remaining yams and he could tell exactly how much, even in inches, was left.

“Fourteen days before the village harvest and only two tubers and thirteen inches of yam left at home.”

His fate is so terrible, not only does he lose everything as a result of the ‘divorce,’ his only goat dies mysteriously.

“The fearful bleating of my goat woke me up at 2am this morning. My useless heart was banging…Goat-thieves have been harassing our village recently; yet, there’re two short and cogent reasons why they just shouldn’t go near my goat. Firstly, it is my only goat; secondly, it is extremely pregnant. If they wait another month they can steal her without destroying me completely….

At first light I went into the yard where the goat was tethered and saw it lying there on the wreckage of my broken bicycle. Witchcraft and black magic!…on the inside of one leg were the marks of snakebite. The sight of the dead goat, with its violent pregnant belly, hit me more than my wife’s desertion. I hurried to the latrine and in that darkness, allowed the foolish tears to disgrace themselves.”

He isn’t even able to at least eat the meat of this dead goat.

The local government is after him for unpaid taxes, it gets so bad he had to steal once in order to eat, and that pumpkin he stole “wasn’t even sweet!” Tsk! Harvest time comes and termites have ravaged all the yams of that year, his traps are catching no meat, because well, someone is going ahead of him to empty them, he runs out of food, there is no one to help.

Look at this life! He eventually loses it, picks up his gun and heads to the village square during the harvest celebration and the worst happens. His son Calamatus (who was called to come, by the village elders) comes and finds the remains of his father.

“I went to the village square three or four times, but everything was still like cinema…this…roasted animal inside burnt-out tyre wires, is this really Meme Jumai?”


There a lot more I could quote from Meme Jumai’s diary enteries, but there is more to talk of ahead. I will reserve my general comments for the last part of this.


To be continued.



A lot of the time you have a writer advising another writer to put their frustrations on paper. Pain? Write about it! Anger? What are you waiting for?! Love, hatred, elation…is it overwhelming? No one to talk to? No one willing to help? Let the paper bleed! Attack the keyboard!

The gift is a survival tool, the first breath after too many seconds of strangulation, a long, deep, cry, fits of laughter and rage, a mirror, a ladder, an altar, a door…

In trying to wrap our minds around who we are as writers, and what most of us share in common, a good friend and myself concluded that it must be that our destinies are lined with so much drama; sorrows, pains, tragedies, betrayals, our own hindering selves, and a lot I have been unable to mention, that we are given this gift because we sure as hell would need it. It will be the key, the answer, the navigator, the compass, the way out, the way in. It will be as essential as oxygen.

And then we went on to admit how dangerous a gift it is – it can as well be the noose, the razor, the bottle of pills, the loaded gun…the end.

The birth of confessional poetry  created an ‘opportunity’ for writers to express their very personal thoughts, fears, loves, joys, darkness…like waving a banner and screaming ‘hey, look here, I am human…I have a life too! Hey, hey…look at me!’

“It has been described as poetry “of the personal,” focusing on extreme moments of individual experience, the psyche, and personal trauma, including previously taboo matter such as mental illness, sexuality, and suicide, often set in relation to broader social themes.”

Its birth in itself is Catharsis defined.

Some weeks ago I was taken back to one of my ‘obsessions’ – Sylvia Plath. We were talking about how a lot of the time the writer becomes the prophet or the seer, evidence being in what is written long before they happen or are executed either concerning themselves personally or others.

Plath died at age 30 from gas poisoning. A lot of people have written about her, her poems, her state of mind, and especially how she died – suicide. After reading about her generally and her works, I agreed with Plath’s friend, Al Alvarez who claimed that her ‘suicide’

“was an unanswered cry for help.”

I put suicide in inverted commas because I am of a different opinion, or have been of it, ever since I paid closer attention to her life, and her poem, Lady Lazarus.

Perhaps I am being biased? But I feel strongly, that her ‘cry for help’ went unanswered because nobody was really paying very close attention to the content of her poems. “Ohhh yeah, another confessional poem, yeah she is depressed, oh she just came out of a mental facility, yeah she is suicidal.” BECAUSE, THAT WAS THE AVAILABLE BOXES THEY COULD FIT HER IN – DEPRESSED, SUICIDAL.  But I read and reread and reread and thought,

 “No, this woman did not set out to commit suicide.”


Well, yes, she sealed off her kids in their room with wet towels and rags, turned the gas on and stuck her head in the oven but wait, let us look at Lady Lazarus. Even before we look at the content of the poem, pause to contemplate on the title. Lazarus…Lazarus…Lazarus. I believe it is an allusion we all readily get.

Now to the poem;

I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it–


A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot


A paperweight,

My face featureless, fine

Jew linen.


Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?–


The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.


Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me


And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.


This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.


What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see


Them unwrap me hand and foot–

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies


These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,


Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.


The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut


As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.



Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.


I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.


It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical


Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:


‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

There is a charge


For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart–

It really goes.


And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood


Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.


I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby


That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.


Ash, ash–

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–


A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.


Herr god, Herr Lucifer




Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.


  1. “One year in every ten I manage it” “I am only thirty and like the cat I have nine times to die.” “This is Number Three”

If this poem is believed to be confessional, truly, then she was being clear…very clear. The first time she nearly died, it was an accident. The second time, I agree she was suicidal for she says “The second time I meant to last it out and not come back at all.” But she was literally brought back to life, and she realized how it made her feel to go all the way there and back; the game had changed. Something happened to her after the second experience. The first time she was not aware of it, the second time she was. Now it was no longer suicide…Death had become something she took on, to explore, to experiment with, to tango with, and to cheat. One year in every ten…she said…she managed it. And then she went on to say “I have nine times to die…” ‘Ha, and I’m only thirty! This is just decade number three! I have six more decades after this to ‘manage’ it again, and again!’ Why was she like that? What was it about that experience of dying that intrigued her so? She made it clear again…

  1. “It’s the theatrical comeback in broad day” “To the same place, the same face, the same brute amused shout: ‘A miracle!’” “So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy. I am your opus, I am your valuable, The pure gold baby”

Theatrical comeback! Who was it that said “all the world is a stage”? The drama of it…coming to and blowing everybody’s mind! That exclamation; ‘A miracle!’ by the very people who really did not care about her…they marveled at her, if even for a brief moment, she had become their opus…valuable…pure gold baby, and it was a thrilling performance! She had plans to stage it…once in every ten years. There were those who speculated that Plath hadn’t meant to kill herself because

“That morning, she asked her downstairs neighbor, a Mr. Thomas, what time he would be leaving. She also left a note reading “Call Dr. Horder,” including the doctor’s phone number. Therefore, it is argued Plath turned on the gas at a time when Mr. Thomas would have been able to see the note.”


“According to Mr. Goodchild, a police officer attached to the coroner’s office … [Plath] had thrust her head far into the gas oven… [and] had really meant to die.”

This is why I do not see the doctor’s observation as reason to box her death as suicide ;

  1. “Dying is an art, like everything else.” “I do it exceptionally well.” “I do it so it feels like hell.” “I do it so it feels real.”

She wasn’t about to lay down on the floor somewhere so her performance looks unreal, come on, what happened to ‘suspension of disbelief’ in theater arts? It was a serious matter, this art she had discovered and she did it exceptionally well, so it felt like it, felt exactly like it…hell…real! The doctor was supposed to be called…and he was supposed to be there for the ‘comeback’ part! Someone forgot his lines and players in the backstage refused to improvise!

It must have been hard, to be a woman, a mother, a wife, a writer, a poet…of a style that was still new, that was still finding ground and acceptance – she was an artist, more than what people chose to see, and yet people refused to look deep into her. She must have been eager for acknowledgement; see her dreams take shape. Maybe other writers like myself will understand how complex it is to want to make it with your art, and yet not for fame, but for an audience…because you have something to say…will they listen? Wait, will they even hear you? Death…defying it…and the aftermath of this defiance, was where Plath found a rush…a high identical to that she knew she’d feel were she recognized as the artist she was…it was to be her lifelong manuscript… “The art of Dying”

  1. “Ash, ash–You poke and stir.” “Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—“ “Out of the ash I rise with my red hair”

The other title of the lifelong manuscript would probably have been ‘The Phoenix’. The total annihilation and the mystical, magical comeback, from nothing….ash…ash…nothing there…but she rises, burning hotter (red hair) than before; a flame that will burn fiercer and fiercer till she is ash again only to rise!

It really doesn’t change much, whether it was a suicide or a failed performance/experiment…she died…young. But I guess this, for me, is to point out how much we fail to see as readers of confessional art…the messages in there, the cry here, the secret there. I could sum this whole review up into a single line;

“There is a struggling being behind all these…notice her…notice him.”



“There will be no ceremony and no burial…just relief”

This is one of those books that I spot and know immediately I must read. The only unfortunate thing is, it’s borrowed, but trust I’d get my own copy when I find a bookstore that has it. It is the autobiography of a young Ghanaian, Paul Apowida.

“Back then, from a distance, the hill seemed to be covered with large, pale stones. They were oddly shaped, broken in places, with jagged holes. Closer in, the stones suddenly would come into focus, and no longer look like stones at all. They were small skulls; the tiny remains of murdered babies, some partially covered by rocks. These babies were beaten, some poisoned, by men who weren’t taking any chances.”

The skull of baby Paul Apowida would have been part of that Gothic hill, if a German missionary had not picked him up, after a poisonous concoction had been pushed down his throat and he’d been thrown out of the compound into the sun, naked.

Before you cry ‘wicked!’ let’s look at Sirigu, a village in the Upper East Region of Ghana, and what was happening there in astronomical numbers, some not-too-many years ago. Now, it is believed that fewer and fewer families are tied by this tradition, although the fear of Kinkuru still pushes some families to murder innocent babies.

“This savannah sunset is a warning to complete the chores before being plunged into darkness. There is no electricity and lighting is a luxury that families simply cannot afford. So people rise and go to bed with the sun….Because Sirigu is so close to the equator, the sun rises at five nearly every day, and sets at six, with little variation.”

The architecture of the place is bare, desert ground, seasonal fields of millet, mud houses built in spirals, housing huge families, a few wells and a market ground.

A very superstitious people, the inhabitants of Sirigu revere and fear soothsayers who are the media through which the gods speak…whatever these soothsayers say must be obeyed, because the gods have spoken.

When he was still a toddler, Paul’s family died; his parents, grandmother, and 5 others…in one day. The cause of death was Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis (CSM) which still sweeps through the three Northern Regions almost every year, killing both adults and children. This is what happened to Paul’s family…but Paul was not infected.

“It’s easier to blame problems on a vulnerable child who can’t defend themselves.”

And that is what a Kinkuru (Spirit Child) is…a poor, defenseless child. Reading this book and discovering what would make them tag a child a kinkuru, left me so upset, I had tears in my eyes! I was even more upset knowing nothing has changed much. In Paul’s case, eight of his family members died on the same day. It was CSM that killed them. The rest of his family, and nearly the entire village and their gods pointed their accusing fingers at a boy who was barely past a year old. Paul was not seen as human, but as something dangerous that had to be dealt with once for all. He had to be killed. Numerous babies had been killed because of such disturbing ignorance…

“Spirit children are possessed. They are malicious demons intent on causing trouble. They may use their evil to kill members of the family (as was with Paul), to bring bad luck or bad health, or drain away the family fortune…Spirit children come in many different forms. Some are easy to spot (imagine that!): those children born with deformities or disabilities are quickly labeled spirit children…ugly babies (really?!), babies with large heads and tiny limbs might all be called spirit children. So might babies who cry all night, or who stare into their mothers’ eyes when they are feeding (!!!!!!!).”

You’d think these long-dead…no way we’d hear of such happenings, but I am sad to say that is not the case. There has been improvement, however.

Towards the end of last year I was taking my tutorial class through the drafting of Ethical arguments and decided to split them in two groups, one arguing against the other on Euthanasia or Mercy Killing. One of the students mentioned a case that had just come up in the news – a baby born with deformities. Now, the way this young boy described it and concluded the baby was either not fully human, or according to him, some of the radio stations were saying the woman looked like she ‘bleached’ and she probably had such a baby because of that. I asked this student to slow down and describe the baby to me, and he was not even halfway through it when I knew it must have been a Harlequin Baby the woman had. This was a university-level student, also passing on the ‘spirit child,’ ‘mother bleached’ story, creating some spookiness out of a very normal albeit abnormal event.

Just this year, it was on the news that a woman and her boyfriend had tied the woman’s daughter to a tree behind their house because they believed the child was possessed. They only gave the child water occasionally and it was because a neighbour heard the child’s cries one day that got her rescued, and her parents(?) arrested.

And if you are thinking this is an image from 1900, then I am again sorry to say this is happening in Ghana now.

There is too much I have to say about superstition, the balance…between this world, and the spiritual, and so I would save it for another day. This is because I am Christian, which implies I do believe in the afterlife, and the spiritual, but also I believe in the abuse of it, and the imbalance and ignorance that is causing a lot of harm.

My focus in this review, is on Paul Apowida, as a living kinkuru, and how certain individuals, stirred the true feelings and reactions of these women whose children were being killed. This is not to say I blame the men who made these decisions wholly, the soothsayers, or the concoction men, but one thing I did think of while reading the first few pages of this book was why the women were silent.

Fear. This book revealed so much levels of fear, it was sad to keep reading. First of all, as i mentioned before, the soothsayer is the mouthpiece of the gods. After Paul’s family died, his Uncle Inke, went to consult a soothsayer;

“The soothsayer listened to the complaints in silence, then turned to collect his idols. He laid them on the ground, arranging them in the correct order, then performed his ceremonies. Chanting his hypnotic and strange songs, he entered into a sort of trance, leaning back to talk with the ancestors and hear what they had to say. When he opened his eyes, he nodded. The ancestors told him the truth. Inke was right to be afraid.”

The message was clear. Paul was a kinkuru…and he had to be killed. The concoction man then had to be contacted, and he had his own ritual to determine whether or not his poison must be administered.

“The women were shooed away. The concoction man took a black and white chicken, and held it squawking into the sky….he sawed at the chicken’s throat…then he threw it, almost casually, onto the ground….the position of the chicken meant yes.”

And thus, by the hurling of a dying fowl, was Paul’s fate decided. The poison was for him. How could they not fear, after the gods themselves had said he was a spirit? The women who carried these children and suffered through labour to have them, are mostly afraid too. Not only of the kinkuru, but of what their families would do or say, should they resist. However, when Paul landed in the hands of a local nun, Sister Jane, and she took him in, started raising him as hers, caring for him…when soon enough Paul was running around; a healthy tod with a football permanently attached to his foot, in spite of the fact that his family had attempted not just once, not twice, but five times, to kill him, the women started leaving their kinkuru at Sister Jane’s door. They were relieved! Finally, their hearts would stop breaking over and over!

Eventually it grew bigger, interventions started…fewer and fewer kinkuru were being murdered, as Sister Jane and the people she got to support her, reached out to this community, talking to them about some of these things they saw as strange and therefore a sign of kinkuru…breaking the myth bit by bit.

There are a lot that pointed to the fact that these soothsayers and concoction men were benefitting, from the kinkuru craze, because they were paid for their services, but they too believed they were doing it to rid the land of these ‘evil spirits’ and would go out of their way, as they were doing with Paul, to make sure all kinkuru were dealt with.

When a woman marries, she is expected to have children. What some women go through either because they choose not to have kids, or are unable to, due to various conditions, some of which are the fault of their husbands, are disheartening! Sometimes, a woman conceives, carries to full term, has a healthy/not-so-healthy baby, something goes wrong, some illness or accident, and child dies either as a baby or a toddler. When this happens once, it is mostly considered a tragic loss and merely that, but when it happens again, and then again, then we here Awomawuo being whispered. It is called Abiku in some parts of Nigeria. In Akan culture, such a child putting its mother through this cruel Awomawuo, is targeted. When again this woman gives birth, the child is quickly given a degrading name. They could name it Sumina (Trash), Donkor (Mule or plainly, Animal, Slave) or Babone (Evil Child), then the child is marked, mostly on the face. This is done because they believe when they make the child undesirable, taint it, the spirits on the other side won’t take it back in when it tries to go, and so the child would have no choice but to stay. Just like the kinkuru, this child is already believed to have a ‘naughty’ spirit, even dangerous…and with the marks and the name, this child grows with this stigma around it. Again, there have been drastic improvements all over, and the fact that someone is called Donkor now, does not mean the person was an Awomawuo child, no. People name their children after people they love and respect, to pay respect, etc. Some have surnames like these that really do not mean anything. But the truth also is that, in some of the very rural areas, this still happens. A kinkuru today might not be killed, but it is feared, shunned…that…that stigma…is not fully dead.

The change that is needed, must start from the minds of the people believed to be the custodians of the traditions of the lands. Just as information was disseminated in Sirigu;

“If they need to get a message round the village, the chief stands on the rooftop of his compound, and shouts over to the next compound; in turn, the head of the household will shout the message on to the next compound, and so on until word is round the whole community, in a loud and elaborate game of Ghanaian whispers.”

So must the chain of positive change travel. From the very top, to the next, to the next, in a loud, elaborate, much needed game of Ghanaian whispers!

I have not even slightly exhausted this book, this may pass as Part 1/2. But I will end here, seeing this is already too lengthy. Maybe another time, I’d focus entirely on Paul’s journey from a village that wanted him dead, to a uniformed man in Britain.