Saturday, August 28, 2010

Francis Selormey's Narrow Path

The Narrow Path (1966) is #27 in Heinemann's African Writer's Series. It appears to be straightforwardly autobiographical, recounting the misadventures of Kofi (meaning he who was born on Friday) as he attends a series of Catholic schools in coastal Ghana in the 1930s and 40s, following his itinerant headmaster father, a loving but hardworking and strict man; also the childhood story of the book's author Francis Selormey (1927-1983). It serves as a document of life in rural Ghana at the time, without much commentary on larger issues or indeed much reflection. It is typical of the genre, recounting a strict regime that included corporal punishment and at times dire consequences for youthful transgressions, neither of which seemed to extinguish the protagonist's penchant for mischief, of which there is plenty.

The themes are: coming to terms with a strict father whose excesses reflect the hardships of earlier times; life as the headmaster's son and the new kid on the block; coming of age and attendant crises with honesty, school, money and romance; and the tensions that define the life of a young African student in the post-colonial era, caught as he is between traditional life and the brave new world opening up before him. Subjects of previous posts here that are relevantly similar are the much more philosophical (and Muslim) Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure (1962), the very similar but more intense Chukwuemeka Ike's The Potter's Wheel (1973), and the more recent and far more edgy El-Nukoya's Nine Lives (2007). For more of the persistent theme (also ubiquitous in Asian fiction) of the youth who is caught up (in this case) in the contingencies of rural west African culture check out Nkem Nwanko's Danda (1964), Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl (1977) and the excellent Ben Okri's The Famished Road (1991). The Narrow Path is worth reading for some local color and for impressive verisimilitude but a slight volume in the context of the AWS.

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