Saturday, 23 May 2009

Nii Ayikwei Parkes - Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape 2009)

Is there anything Nii Parkes can't do? Lauded performance poet, celebrated editor in chief of his own independent publisher (Flipped Eye), and now his debut novel on Jonathan Cape. It's a beautiful elegaic poetical dreamy story about the influx of technology and modernity into the more rural parts of Ghana, and the uneasy relationship between science and spirit. Set in Ghana, and mostly occupying a tiny village called Sonokrom, there is a delicate preservation of tradition and culture, through the language and food and drink and the music of the forest, the villagers' only link to the influx of modernity in the bigger city is through a transistor radio. Sinister remains, possibly human, are found in a hut in the village and this brings Kayo, a budding forensic scientist to the scene to discover the truth behind the remains and help advance the career of politically hungry police inspector Donkor, expecting him to deliver a 'CSI-style report' on the mysterious remains. While Kayo tries to decipher what has gone on, and keep the inspector happy, he mingles with the villagers, drinking their palm wine, coveting their woman, listening to their stories and histories and slowly the balance between fact and fiction, science and tradition seem to blur uncontrollably. Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill the desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind. It's a beautiful told story, about the old and new Africa, about changing worlds, told with verve and no cynicism, with heart and poetical syntax dripping from the page, the traditional Ghanaian words and symbols all adding to the belief that while Africa changes and moves forward, it must hold on to its precious past in its heart. It's a heart-warming and funny tale, Parkes is able to balance the mystical nature of the plot playing with the idea of fable and scientific fact, drawing warm rich characters who are three dimensional and engaging, always entertaining and filled with life. Parkes has already done so much for independent publishing and language and hopefully this impressive elegaic debut will mean he starts to reap the kudos he deserves.


robbwindow said...

Nice one Nii, I ordered this book months ago but Amazon did not deliver, I shall have to re-order.

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