Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Book Number 16: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, by Ayi Kwei Armah
Country: Ghana

In an earlier post, I observed that from my (very limited) reading, African authors seemed to write either stories about people or stories about countries. The Beautyful Ones is a story about a country struggling to find its feet amidst corruption and poverty, with the tantalising gleam of the riches of the white man’s world corrupting men’s souls by promising a better life for those willing to go far enough for it.

How long will Africa be cursed with its leaders? There were men dying from the loss of hope, and others were finding gaudy ways to enjoy power they did not have. We were ready here for big and beautiful things, but what we had was our own black men hugging new paunches scrambling to ask the white man to welcome them onto our backs…we knew then and we know now that the only real power a black man can have will come from black people.

Armah’s novel is filled with many impassioned speeches such as the one above, decrying Africa’s poverty, her corrupt and greedy leaders who seem to lose all sense of morality at the merest whiff of power or riches, the hopelessness of life for millions of Ghanaians who have no way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and labour.

The man (who remains nameless throughout the novel) struggles to find something good about life in Ghana, but can only hold onto his own integrity for comfort. He watches his friends grow rich through cheating their fellow countrymen out of money and by sucking up to rich white men, and is berated by his wife and family for failing to provide for them and bring in the money to buy European beers and Japanese cars. He suffers as he watches his own children go without, but cannot bring himself to abandon his own morals. When the old regime is overthrown by the military, his formerly rich friends have a price slapped on their heads overnight, and the man must choose between helping his corrupt friend and saving his life, or allowing the authorities to catch him.

It’s taken me a few weeks to finally finish this novel – I found it very difficult to get into at first because it is so bleak and lacking in hope. I persisted however, and found it to be a very well-written novel, making powerful observations about life in Ghana, the African leader and the African countryman. Armah’s writing is very atmospheric and his depictions of daily life very effective. What struck me most was the passion behind Armah’s writing, shining through the grey drudge of poverty and desperation.

7 comments:

booklogged said...

Traveller, I'm curious to know how many of the 100 around-the-world books you've read so far.

The Traveller said...

Hey booklogged, I've only read 16 books that I'm counting toward my challenge. I've read a little more than that in total, but for example, I've read two by Mariama Ba from Senegal, and since it's 100 countries, I can't count both!

equiano said...

But it is just such diversions that make the journey richer! I am so glad that you are finding so much to enjoy in your African segment.

David Hodges said...

My own reading about Africa is so limited I'd welcome recommendations beyond Achebe, Tutuola, and Coetzee (do I even count Paul Bowles?). Have an opinion on Kabelo Sello Duiker? Hope you're enjoying Paris!

desesperate-hope said...

i have this story as a final exam next week and i could no find it in morocco and even on line i could buy it but i ll recieve it after 14 days i dunno how i can read it i m so desesperate..i don t have even the analysis can you help me plz?

The Traveller said...

Possibly, although I read it a while ago. What kind of help do you want? Nothing can substitute for reading the book of course, but you know that. Email me at desdemonathewicked@hotmail.com

desesperate-hope said...

ty so much traveller i ll email ya for sure since i have only 1 day left to the exam lol i found though some of the chapters on line i ve read them ty so much dear flowers to ya...