My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The moment you put down this book, you immediately understand why the author’s name is Ayi Kwei Armah. Very much like Ngugi, Achebe and Soyinka, these are African writers who were closer to their history than many of us now are. Tethered into the history of an Africa prior to colonialism, the writing shows you a view of a man who has observed the changes and is not content.
We have heard stories about post colonial Africa and the state of that Africa is described with interesting clarity in this tale. Similar to A Grain of Wheat, the premise is that with the leaving of the colonialists, there will be freedom and liberty and self actualisation for the Africans in their country. However it turns out that what these African countries get, are African leaders fitting in the shoes of the white masters they previously spoke rigorously against.
Armah’s tale shows you a hopeless tale of resignation for a man who realises the promises of prosperity were empty. There was no room for honesty in this Ghana. For one to get ahead, one must lose his honour. Yet in a way, the dilemma is that anyone not brave enough to lose this honour for the sake of his family or himself is a disappointment. Corruption is not a vice rather a virtue. The need to be white is not a vice rather a virtue and there are very few who disagree with this.
The man, who is interestingly not named in the entire book works at a train station, but this was originally supposed to be a stop over on his way to university and greater opportunities. His mother in law and wife are disappointed when he refuses to take a bribe that should increase the wellness of his family. He is ridiculed because he is not man enough to be corrupt.
His refuge is a friend who is merely called Teacher. Their conversations are utterly engaging as they deliver philosophical notes on the state of the post colonial Ghana which is the state all over Africa. They take on social issues, like parenting, marriage, poverty and fear. And while the Teacher seems to be so wise, he also is resigned to the fate that there is no change in the near future.
As you read the book, you realise so much of it could be spoken of our countries. Where people aim to achieve their dreams of living on hills, drive fancy cars, have large houses and beautiful wives and will do anything to get it. Where one who does not take this path is looked at as foolish.
Armah’s style is a bit frustrating. He uses very long sentences quite often, and the dialogue happens not too often. There are times you feel you are walking a parched journey with no water in sight. One thing that struck me was his very vivid imagery. So vivid it made me cringe. It is quite funny though that the things we know well when told vividly through another’s eyes often end up looking offensive.
His dialogue though is extremely entertaining. It is one of his strengths. The points of dialogue are not that many but they are the best parts of the book . This is because they flesh out an ongoing nervousness and expectation. You are always holding your breath while reading his narrative, so that when the dialogue comes, you breathe a very good long breath!
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a story of hopelessness in a place where there should be hope. It’s a story of a vicious circle of leaders only intending to look after their own interests even when they seem concerned about the citizens. It’s a story that condemns the common man without prospects to despair because there is absolutely no hope in the theme! Ah what a sad thing for Africa then! And what a turn around for Ghana who have since then moved on to better prospects!
I just finished my first book in the 2015 African Reading Challenge on Kinna Reads. More to come!