Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Wreath for Udomo

Peter Abrahams, A Wreath for Udomo, Faber and Faber, 1956. Abrahams takes the reader to places that few authors could. It is a story about African revolutionaries in the idealistic years after WWII, first in exile in London and later struggling and in power in fictional African countries. It is not a war novel (the account of the jungle is notably naive), rather it deals with the intersection of politics, culture and society. These men are essentially intellectuals, inevitably transformed by their exposure to Europe (and de rigour relations with white women) and some of them are able to connect to populist elements back home, others not. There is the old lion whose time has past, there is the idealist whose character does not pass the severe tests to which it is subjected. It is similar to John Williams's The Man Who Cried I Am in treating with educated, sophisticated characters at a time when most black literature was preoccupied with tribals (in Africa; e.g., Amos Tutuola) and the street (in the USA; e.g., Ishmael Reed).

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Known World

Edward P. Jones, The Known World, HarperCollins, 2003. Using recent scholarship on census data and other 19th century sources, Jones tells an extraordinary story of daughters owning mothers, brothers owning brothers, black slave owners, illegal slave trading and many other aspects of life under slavery that have hitherto been unappreciated. He shows how the institution of slavery corrupted everyone who lived with it, black, white, or otherwise. We are still working through the national issue of slavery. Now we are seeing a great wave of African-American literature, and Toni Morrison, Maryse Conde, and Edwin P. Jones are all tremendous examples.