Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: A Man of the People

I’ve read Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart.  I’ve even seen it performed live, in Nigeria, with people who actually know how to pronounce the Igbo.  I understand why it’s a classic-  I’m a bit annoyed that it’s the main example of Africa Literature taught in US Universities (why does everything have to focus on Westerners?) – but I never really enjoyed it.  A Man of the People was different.

A Nigerian gentleman I met in Mountain View highly recommended the book.  Written in the early days of Nigerian’s independence, A Man of the People perfectly predicted Nigeria’s political future, or so this gentleman claimed.  I have to say, I agree.

The book is marvelous in its perception, Delphic novel with an engaging story.  Of course, I know little of the Nigerian politics of 1967, so perhaps the novel is less prediction than observation, but it certainly seems to match the current times.

It’s sometimes hard to figure out which characters to like, if you’re supposed to like any of them.  They’re very real in this way.  There are few obvious villains and few obvious heroes.  Situations and circumstances play the biggest role.  Who you are is where you are and who’s around you. The book’s biggest impact is the probing questions it discretely sends to the reader, “what would you do in this situation? How can you judge; wouldn’t you do the same?”

I’d recommend this book, except for one minor detail.  If you’re going to read it, make sure you have a Nigerian friend within reach for translations.  I muddled through fairly well thanks to having spent a very short time in Nigeria, but I still had to send out the occasional “what does x mean” tweet.

Usually, when I’m reading a book that has people speaking in a different language than the one in which the book is written, there’s some built-in guide to help you out with the translations, footnotes, immediate translation, italics to at least alert you of the other language, something.  Not in A Man of the People.  At least, not in my edition.  It is called Pidgin English, so I suppose some might assume it’s close enough.  Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not.  Taking an example from a random page, “Abi my head no correct?”  I’ll let you decide.

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