Immediately after finishing this read last night, I almost felt like I had never really read a novel before, that’s how incredibly remarkable it was.
It was my first Ayi Kwei Armah reading and it definitely won’t be my last. What a man. To call this a book would be reductive it’s a piece of brilliant literary work – something that should be at the very top of all those narrow “50 books to read before you die” listicles.
“Beyond that he taught us not to fear the power of the destroyers’ weapons but to learn quickly the use of that power against the destroyers themselves.” – pg 147
So what happens? Basically the book is a narrative account of slavery thrust upon this continent, first by the Arabs and then later by the “white destroyers from the sea”. There is nothing vague in this work, people are called what they are and the terrible acts performed by these destroyers described in all their grotesque wickedness are laid bare. Of people being forced to fornicate with horses as punishment, of people being branded, of the raping of young boys by old men, of being shot at and dumped overboard and much more. It felt all the more real because Armah had made you (the reader) a part of this world, on this journey with these people’s in the grips of a terrible destruction.
But beyond this is also offers an insight into “the way”, our way before we were so rudely interrupted, and interestingly he doesn’t paint it as some utopia either but there was much more respect for one another and the spaces we occupied.
It’s a difficult read, with a lot happening on every single page, so I took my time reading it. Every word counts and if you miss a line you will be the lesser for it. It was a truly devastating read but in the best way possible, I will never be the same and I am the better for it.
“A mind attacked and conquered is guided easily away from the paths of its own soul,” – pg 28
What I loved most was that he didn’t just outline and highlight what the problem was/is but he proffered practical solutions. I think that is what kept me from complete ruin by the works close. Yes, I cried in many, many places, but towards the end when one of the most important characters meets his end, I was sad but I knew it was coming and I also knew that his death would not render those like him immobile, incapable of carrying out their planned action without him at helm to lead the charge.
I was left with a real sense of hope, a real sense of knowing that I will not be the answer to today’s destruction but I can in whatever way I can, CREATE something that will help to bring the end of our destruction closer. And that is all I need, all I want really.
“No illusions brought us here, none support our work. We offer none of the comfort destroyed mind finds in lies.” – pg 183
Of this reading experience I would say this: As a student of history I know things and stuff about slavery in its many forms, when it happened, to whom etc. I’ve read the books, watched the movies and written the essays. But all in a semi-detached way because those accounts are rarely ever personalised, Armah made the facts breathe.
I’ll use a short analogy to elaborate: I was unplugged from the Matrix like Neo, I had already puked from the knowledge being forced down my throat and into my ears. Eventually as he began to accept the truth about the world and who he was, that was all flipped upside down when he met the architect. This book was my architect. Laid everything bare, didn’t hold back on anything, showed its disdain and even gave me a way forward.
Nothing and no one have done that for me before, I will forever be thankful for this piece of work. It gave me real and more importantly, practical advice on how to press on. I will have to read and reread it many more times, it’s too dense a work for me not to have missed things.