Ask me about a writer who is unflinching in his emasculation of an African postcolonial way of life stunted by its mire in corruption and deceit, and I ll point to Ayi Armah Why do we waste so much time with sorrow and pity for ourselves not so long ago we were helpless messes of soft flesh and unformed bone squeezing through bursting motherholes, trailing dung and exhausted blood We could not ask then why it is was necessary for us also to grow So why now should we be shaking our head and wondering bitterly why there are children together with the old, why time does not stop when we ourselves have come to stations where we would like to rest It is so like a child, to wish all movement to cease In jarring words, this intrepid narrator speaks of poverty and despair within a small African village I ve never come across a novel where despair is embodied through such disparaging scenes Hopelessness is incarnate in our narrator the man Yes, the man has no name, but he has a story A story of immense loneliness and desperation, for he is the only one who desires a simple life of earned income Everyone around him wants to smuggle goods and bribe for treasures A world where the rich wants to get richer and the poor well the poor want a life beyond outdoor latrines, long, non airconditioned bus rides, and one room houses Everyone said there was something miserable, something unspeakably dishonest about a man who refused to take and to give what everyone around was busy taking and giving something unnatural, something very cruel, something that was criminal, for who but a criminal could ever be left with such a feeling of loneliness To be the odd one out what a state to find one s self This is Armah s first novel which has been added to Heinemann s African Writers Series, and I m so glad that I ve had a chance to come across it The novel is seriocomic, a satirical attempt at showcasing the irony of Nkrumah s leadership and if you re familiar with Ghana during the Nkrumah years, you see why this is ironic indeed It is an attempt to broadcast the voice of Ghana that was usually unheard that of the poor in most cases uneducated village worker.This novel is about the dung of life and so it is not surprising that no words are mincedLeft hand fingers in their careless journey from a hasty anus sliding all the way up the banister as their owners made the return trip from the lavatory downstairs to the offices above You may be tempted to stray because this character driven narrative has a couple of perspective switches and some brief philosophical meanderings that will at first seem daunting Stick with the man however, and you should be fine, for he as well as his book addict teacher will tell you the blatant truth If you come near people here they will ask you, what about you Where is your house Where have you left your car What do you bring in your hands for the loved ones Nothing Then let us keep quiet and not get close to people People will make you very sad that you do not have a house to make onlookers stumble with looking, or a car to make every walker know that a big man and his concubine have just passed Let us keep quiet and watch. A masterpiece Truly an extraordinary work full of shit and sadness and sentences of great beauty Proper review to come soon, but y all need to get your greedy mitts on this ere book ASAP. This book changed my perception of Africa as much as Things Fall Apart did I was startled to realise, through these books, that I had never imagined every day life for people in Ghana, had only thought of Africa through negative news reports and famine relief appeals, and had never considered the possibility that Africans might live in cities, go to work in smart clothes and drive cars Such is the power of ethnocentric socialisation.Armah s novel twisted my stomach in empathy with its protagonist Vivid descriptions and harshly poetic reflections made it an excellent read. I don t even know if I should can rate this book Up until the last 50 or so pages, it took a lot of effort to slog through Ayi Kwei Armah set out to take a stand, make a political statement, and it is evident in every part of the book A lot of similes, a lot of hyperbole, painful description, and LOTS of pontification It is annoying, and it makes the book painful to read, but it also gets his point across very well He wrote this book in 1968, 11 years after Ghana s independence, when the joy of freedom had given way to hopelessness and corruption was running amok Our main character is a struggling civil servant, earning wages too low to allow for any kind of a good quality of life But he refuses to join in the corruption free for all It seems everyone hates him for that The people who offer him bribes are offended when he refuses to take it, telling him he thinks he s better than everyone else He s not willing to falsify documents to get some money, so his wife resents him, because if he d only just stop acting like he was better than everyone else, they d actually have enough money to not live hand to mouth You have not done what everybody else is doing, said the naked man, and in this world, that is one of the crimes What kept me reading was how well Ayi Kwei Armah manged to capture the situation in Ghana corruption, greed, and theft among the leaders, and a sense of utter hopelessness among the struggling masses It hasn t changed Over 70% of Ghanaians still live on less than 2 a day Corruption has become ingrained into the very fabric of society In Ghana trying to do the right thing is so hard that it s so much easier to do the wrong thing just take the bribe or just offer the bribe because going through the correct procedures won t get you anywhere And when a person tries to do the right thing, people really do look at you as if you think you re better than everyone else Doing the right thing gets you nowhere whereas doing as everyone is will get you everywhereCorruption is the national game many had tried the rotten ways and found them filled with the sweetness of life,he writes, and he is right.The things change, the they stay the same A few passages stood out to me because even though this book was written in 1968, many of the same things happen 40 odd years later There s a scene where he waxes on about how after people fought for independence, they still tried to act white, if you will They pretended only foods and goods from Europe were worth having they disdained anything local they took on English names or Anglicized their names, or changed them entirely, just so long as it was something European and not local 40 years later it s still true When I was growing up, I ALWAYS got offended stares when people asked my name and I told them They d say, No, not your house name I want your real name, your English name And then get even puzzled stares when I told them I didn t have an English name, just my local name It s only in the last decade or so that the tide has slooooowly began to turn, that people have started not giving English names to their children, that it has become fashionable to have a Ghanaian name that is your only name 40 years, and not much has changed I almost fell out of my seat when I read this passage in the book Here, the man is talking to his wife, who has bought out the hot comb and is straightening her hair That must be very painful Of course it is painful I just trying to straighten it out a bit now, to make it presentable What is wrong with it natural Only bush women wear their hair natural being call bush in Gh is NOT a compliment I wish you were a bush woman then OO This is major Ayi Kwei Armah was espousing natural hair in 1968 Again, 40 odd years later, things are only just NOW beginning to change It is slightly acceptable to walk around with natural hair in Gh today than it was five years ago And even so, you have to be uber careful because it is looked upon as bush in most places One last thing It was nice to read a book with people just like me in it with peculiar turns of phrases I know about with names I recognize as part of my culture Adoley, Oyo, Ayivi, Maanan. I very rarely come across fiction that reflects back something familiar to me I forget the power of recognizing oneself one s cultural identity in literature Not very many African authors write anything that is not political literary fiction you see Very few write romance of any kind and very few write fantasy of any kind So I don t see myself much in the books I read It was really refreshing to have that change this time around, even though the subject matter wasn t very palatable All in all, I can truly see why this book is considered a classic and essential African literature You an literally feel the weight of its literary merit as you read it It is a very important work that deals with very important very salient themes of African corruption, African identity, personal integrity, disillusionment, hopelessness, accountability, and African leaderships He wrote it in 1968, and almost everything he wrote about, almost everything he supported opposed you can see in the fabric of Ghanaian African society today It was an important work then, and it is just as important, just as valid a work now It left me with a lot of food for thought and a new respect for Ayi Kwei Armah But damn if reading this book isn t like reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich A Novel you know it is an important work dealing with important themes, but it is sheer torture to get through With ALL my heart I recommend this one, especially for Ghanaians, especially for Africans, but be prepared to take at the very least 6 weeks to read a mere 192 pages be prepared to be tortured by sheer boredom for a good part of it be prepared to read pages and pages of soliloquy whose only goal is to pontificate Be prepared to not be able to read than two or three pages every few days Ugh, this book is painful to get through But it is soooooooooooooooo worth it So this book is by an American trained Marxist and it about the new Ghana with Nkrumah as president It traces the sad move from idealistic and hopeful begins of a new state, to a corrupt and selfish mess It is a book that I as a Westerner identified with, but my African students found it harsh and unrealistic It has a heavy existensialist bent, one character, nameless, the man, refuses to participate in the corruption, and he is hated by everyone Yet he goes on, trying to avoid the dirt, described vividly, on every surface, the floor, the bus, the wall, the banister I think that anyone who has gone somewhere radically different from home and learned something there has this kind of reaction on returning home There is something wrong there, that you see at every turn, and it disgusts you, and you feel totally separate, in this ball of distance, where you look the same and people talk to you the same but you are worried about touching anything because you can see the dirt. The story of Africa told through a man who refused to bend his values to fit into the system It is always interesting to see how African countries are similar when it comes to politics The era that this book talks about was the most challenging in African politics, and the writer managed to pen it down so well The story pulls you in gently while reminding you of the path we have travelled, and are still travelling, as Africans in politics I really enjoyed it. A Railway Freight Clerk In Ghana Attempts To Hold Out Against The Pressures That Impel Him Toward Corruption In Both His Family And His Country The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born Is The Novel That Catapulted Ayi Kwei Armah Into The Limelight The Novel Is Generally A Satirical Attack On The Ghanaian Society During Kwame Nkrumah S Regime And The Period Immediately After Independence In The S It Is Often Claimed To Rank With Things Fall Apart As One Of The High Points Of Post Colonial African Literature A Quote From Chapter And Where Is My Solid Ground These Days Let Us Say Just That The Cycle From Birth To Decay Has Been Short Short, Brief But Otherwise Not At All Unusual And Even In The Decline Into The End There Are Things That Remind The Longing Mind Of Old Beginnings And Hold Out The Promise Of New Ones, Things Even Like Your Despair Itself I Have Heard This Pain Before, Only Then It Was Multiplied Many, Many Times, But That May Only Be Because At That Time I Was Not So Alone, So Far Apart Maybe There Are Other Lonely Voices Despairing Now I Will Not Be Entranced By The Voice, Even If It Should Swell As It Did In The Days Of Hope I Will Not Be Entranced, Since I Have Seen The Destruction Of The Promises It Made But I Shall Not Resist It Either I Will Be Like A Cork It Is So Surprising, Is It Not, How Even The Worst Happenings Of The Past Acquire A Sweetness In The Memory Old Harsh Distresses Are Now Merely Pictures And Tastes Which Hurt No , Like Itching Scars Which Can Only Give Pleasure Now Strange, Because When I Can Think Soberly About It All, With Out Pushing Any Later Joys Into The Deepr Past, I Can Remember That Things Were Terrible Then When The War Was Over The Soldiers Came Back To Homes Broken In Their Absence And They Themselves Brought Murder In Their Hearts And Gave It To Those Nearest Them I Saw It, Not Very Clearly, Because I Had No Way Of Understanding It, But It Frightened Me We Had Gone On Marches Of Victory And I Do Not Think There Was Anyone Mean Enough In Spirit To Ask Whether We Knew What We Were Celebrating Whose Victory Ours It Did Not Matter We Marched, And Only A Dishonest Fool Will Look Back On His Boyhood And Say He Knew Even Then That There Was No Meaning In Any Of It It Is So Funny Now, To Remember That We All Thought We Were Welcoming Victory Or Perhaps There Is Nothing Funny Here At All, And It Is Only That Victory Itself Happens To Be The Identical Twin Of Defeat Very intense and intensely written Also beautifully written I could only absorb about one chapter a day, both in content and language Occasionally Armah gets carried away with an elaborate metaphor or description , but generally it works The book works to convey the profound tedium and despair of ever getting ahead in an honest manner, or getting a government that isn t just a new corrupt version of the old corrupt government There is a lot of imagery of shit in this regard, in a simultaneously graphic and abstract style There are also passages of beauty that describe the sea and even the dignity and inherent order of the man s railroad job Finally, a mid novel interlude with a revolutionary philosopher who has assessed the situation and withdrawn completely from the confrontation, but not from his beliefs He serves as the protagonist s mentor and life vest For some this might be too blatant a way to inject the politics, but in retrospect it worked as a counterpoint to the cycle of coups that change nothing. I did not know what to expect from this one As it turns out, it s quite a good literary book, although its tone is poorly represented by its cover picture instead a dark road strewn with litter, under a cloudy sky, lined by buildings in various stages of collapse, and you ll have a better idea of what to expect.This book is set in Ghana in the 1960s, and is about corruption It follows the unnamed third person narrator, a railroad clerk, who is one of the few who refuses to take bribes which only angers everyone, from the people who see bribing officials as a normal part of doing business, to his family, who are upset that he isn t taking every opportunity to provide them with a better life From that description you might think the book features some kind of crusader, but the man as he s referred to throughout doesn t quite seem to know why he does what he does No lectures about ideals from him.At any rate, the book mostly follows the man through his daily life, and is heavy on the description the writing is quite visual, but often repulsive I ve never seen a book spend so much time in latrines or talking about excrement A piece of advice don t read it while you re eating Physical decay serves as a metaphor for moral corruption throughout, to a point that might seem heavy handed to some readers, but effectively creates a dark and oppressive atmosphere Meanwhile, this is the sort of book that develops characters through minute details of their daily lives, so while we learn relatively little about them, they feel entirely real.I have not talked about plot, because this book is far to the literary end of the spectrum, with a heavy focus on themes and ideas Fortunately, the writing is good enough to pull it off I m not surprised that many reviewers have encountered this one in university classes what does surprise me is that it isn t taught often. The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born is a novel set during the last days of the Nkrumah government in Ghana It s about a man resisting corruption, quixotically in the view of most of those around him The scathing portrayal of a corrupt society is all the sharper because of the contrast with the optimism that came with independence it s a novel, among other things, about the loss of hope A kind of Animal Farm of post colonialism.It s a slim book, less than 200 pages, but it took me quite a long time to read because it required focussed attention eventually I took it on a long train journey where there were no distractions It s just densely written, with detailed, closely observed descriptive passages that are very effective but also with some convoluted sentences that simply do not allow for skimming This is the kind of thing But along the streets, those who can soon learn to recognize in ordinary faces beings whom the spirit has moved, but who cannot follow where it beckons, so heavy are the small ordinary days of the time.I know it s hardly Finnegans Wake, but it s a bit of a speed bump when you re reading.Incidentally, the cover of the Heinemann edition really seems like a terrible choice for a novel which is dark and spiky and intricate I should know by now don t read too much into the cover design But I think it s unavoidable that it affects your expectations, and I was really startled by the mismatch between the cover and the content The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born is my book from Ghana for the Read The World challenge I tried to find a short passage to quote to give you a flavour, but it doesn t really lend itself to quoting So I ll just say it s sharp, bitter, evocative, sometimes for my taste slightly overwritten, but often beautiful.