Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
Author: Ngozi Achebe
ISBN: 978-0-9826473-0-1 (Hard Cover); 978-0-9826473-1-8 (Paperback)
Publisher: Mandag-Goldberg Publishing
Our people did not want an eze. Eventually, a compromise was reached. Abonani would accept a king, but with limitations. He would have no power of life and death over anyone… He would rule by consensus…So we remind the king every night of his contract with Abonani that their king did not have more powers than the people he ruled.…The king’s power “comes from the people and can be revoked at any time.” (p.84 and 97)
The plot opens with Onaedo sprinting stealthily to meet her suitor, Dualo; she was however hijacked by Oguebie, an unsavory character, half brother of the reigning king whose very proposal to Onaedo had recently been rejected by her father. She finally rejoined her friend and together they lamented his poverty that made their union at the moment impossible.
Dualo then disappeared from Abonani without a word of adieu. At home, Oneado accepted to wed a man from a nearby clan. The marriage ended in disaster: the husband was a good for nothing who spent his time drinking instead of trying to build a private house for the new couple in the parents compound, thereby forcing Onaedo to live with his parents resulting in untold clashes between mother and daughter in law. Finally, Onaedo’s parents consented to take back their daughter and ended the marriage by returning to the husband’s parents all of their prize-bride.
One day, Dualo showed up in Abonani: the same handsome, well-built and elegantly dressed up young man, but otherwise completely different Dualo, now rich, confident and outgoing. Better, he was ready to propose to Onaedo, albeit fully informed about what had happened to her: unhappy marriage, divorced with child. Filled with hope, love and faith, they happily got together to made plans for a delayed but no less solemn wedding ritual.
Then, it happened. It was time for them to part to go home. The sky was threatening: a big storm was brewing; Onaedo ran home:
She felt the invigorating cold wind bathe her with light moisture as Duelos’s arms propelled her forward. They were like little children again, laughing as they raced to beat the downpour. The roiling skies grew darker. “Try to catch me!” she shouted. Then she heard a noise. It seemed to come behind her. She turned to call out to Dualo and saw he was surrounded by a grouip of strangers. Then they hit him. He fell to the ground and she ran back to help. Too late…..Another man had crept from the surrounding woods. She took a breath to scream, felt the blow to her head, and fell to the ground. Darkness claimed her. (p.208).
The second part (from p. 209 to 356) relates the travails of a slave: transported to a new destination, forced labor in a plantation, miserable living conditions, abuses of all kinds coming from all directions. Noticed by her beauty and probably by a hint of a few drops of white blood in her veins, she started working with the missionary in his church to finally being chosen to become the mistress of the white plantation owner. All these happenings in the life of slaves reveal nothing new. Countless novels or even history books have depicted them with authority and precision.
The first part, therefore, constitutes the main core of the book. The suspense is real that makes the readers want to turn the pages fast enough so as to confirm Onaedo’s fate, hinted from the beginning of the narrative, which is to be kidnapped into slavery. Before that point in time, her life in its social and cultural environment was presented in so many minute aspects that the text became an ethnographic tableau of the Iqbo land. I was most struck by the custom concerning ejima: the phenomenon of twins or multiple birth, which is considered an abomination by the clan: ” The babies must be taken to the forest and left there. The mother must be purified for lowering us all to the level of animals with many babies.” (p.164). I welcome another tradition which decrees that the first born child no matter how early its birth after the wedding is always considered to be the husband’s. (p.32)
I particularly like the sayings, proverbs, images,expressions which reveal the perception of the world and the wisdom of the people.
“A dwarf should hang he bag where he can reach it.” “His eyes were dark and unfathomable lakes and his brows were branches that overhung it (p.30).
-Have you ever seen eyes of a the “color of dry and fresh leaves mixed together.”? and a person’s skin that has the “color of muddy earth after a heavy rain”? (p.19)
-It is always hard to reach the truth but to do that, in some situation,“one needs to count one’s own teeth with one’s own tongue! “(p. 37)
-The palm-oil wine that is as clean and sweet as the white of the babies' eyes. (p.47)
-“I’ll tell our mother what you said. She’ll slap you till okra seeds fall out of your eyes.” (p.59)
-…disappointment is written, especially for women. A woman’s life is rooted in overcoming sorrow, so you have to wear the garmant that is cut out of the cloth of patience.” (p.132)
-People are packed together like yams in a barn” (p.260)
I must confess that I was attracted to this novel because of the name of the author. It is a worn out last name for during my forty years in the teaching business, it did not pass a single year when that name: Chinua Achebe and the novel: Things Fall Apart were not listed in one of the syllabi of one of my colleagues. With all due respect, I am aware that it amounts to a sacrilege for me to say that I have never liked that book too much. On the other hand, would it skirt irreverence for me to assert that I personally like better his niece’s treatment of the similar topic in this work.
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