“The personal is political”. So went a popular saying in the heady 60s. In presenting the story of the Ulzens and Elmina as a metaphor for the African condition in history, this novel is an eloquent corroboration of this idea – without of course erasing the specificities of the personal and the familial. I like the manner in which the author employs the device of disjunctive narrative to make such connections.
I applaud the brutal honesty, not unmixed with touching empathy, with which the author narrates the details of political events and family dramas: characters, personalities, roles and relations marked by conscious and unwitting paradoxes, complicities, mixed motives behind noble stances and deeds. In a word, IRONY is the dominant prism through which the events are rendered. An emblematic case in point is Elmina’s resistance to being traded by the Dutch for British rule and King Kobina Gyan’s message to Governor Ferguson. “We are not slaves and we do not want to see any other flag on the fort, not even on its ruins”. Call it selective anti-imperialism. But it vies with a general principle: the idea of freedom, autonomy and agency. That principle is worth remembering. Is there any anti-imperialist stance, any oppositional stance for that matter, which is free of ambiguity? Sobering thought.
It is fashionable of a certain version of so-called “postcolonial theory” to tout and stress “collaboration” between the colonizers and segments of the colonized as the true story of the colonial encounter, as opposed to the picture of an implacable antagonism between two camps. Sometimes this idea of collaboration (and its cultural consequences – “hybridity, creolization and so on) comes close to papering over the violence and brutality and venality of the whole business. The great merit of this account is that it is cognizant of ironic kinships but not at all oblivious of the enslavers’ and colonizers’ exercise of brute force.
Ato Sekyi – Otu
Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Thought
York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada