I built an OTC blog.

Hello there. As you might have surmised from the title of this post, I have built an OTC blog. Its URL is akotowaaotc.wordpress.com and I have no doubt people are going to be getting confused because of how similar that URL is to this one. But ah well.

The reason I built an OTC blog is because I think the project is now too big for this blog. This is a good thing; it’s been the intention ever since the release of the first Kuukua story. Its first phase was the 8 Kuukua short stories I released monthly from May to December in 2017. The second phase is going to be a different product than the type I’m usually associated with, so I have no way to predict how the audience (that’s you, my loves) is going to receive it. Thankfully, I don’t have enough energy to be too concerned about that right now. LOL, I just want to launch it and then go to bed.

In the mean time, keep your eye on the OTC site, tell a friend about Kuukua and Yaw if you like them, and, if you’re interested in the forthcoming second phase, you might want to prepare for it by refreshing yourself on (or introducing yourself to) Kuukua Annan’s escapades, via the Complete Kuukua Collection PDF that’s now live on the site. The art, by the way, is by Kaz, who also did the art for If I Could Kill My Feelings…. I’ve been privileged to work with two of my favorite illustrators (Kaz and Xane Asiamah, who did the original Kuukua illustration) on OTC, and it’s not even close to done yet!

Issa litness.

Spider Kid out.

Okay, so Ghana, Imma need a “The Justice” series, like, ASAP

What the title said.

The Justice is a novel by Ghanaian author, Boakyewaa Glover. It’s marketed as a “political thriller” as indicated on the cover, but I’d probably call it a political romantic suspense-drama. But that’s a lot, so let’s just go with what the cover says, LOL.

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For me, it was one of those books that looked intimidatingly large at first, made me think it might be boring and difficult to trudge through, but ended up being an exhilarating read that made me feel like I was effortlessly drinking up the words. It was a wild ride. I remember excitedly ranting to my best friend about it nearly from beginning to end.

Most events occur around the attempts of a man called Joseph Annan (also known as “The Justice”) to rise to the position of presidency in Ghana. The Justice, however, isn’t quite the main character. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to narrow “main character” down to a single person. I feel like s/he changes throughout the different sections of the book.

When I first started reading it, I thought it would make a great Ghanaian movie. It worked perfectly. The premise—a man trying to become president while his daughter does scandalous things, his wife is ill and unstable, and the opposition is being, well, oppositional—was such a good one, and Glover set the stage up excellently. Besides, the way we like politics in our Ghana dier, I could already see this movie’s publicity taking off if handled well.

But then as I continued reading, the number of plot twists grew wildly, the twists themselves were increasingly mind-blowing, and the stakes kept rising relentlessly. It reached a point where immediately starting another chapter after I’d finished one began to feel exactly like binge-watching a suspenseful Netflix show, just skipping credits and moving on to the next episode. The end of each chapter had me so impatient to find out what would happen in the next one, and I could so clearly see this becoming an excellent TV show!

I’ve thought about a The Justice TV show almost every day since I finished the book. The novel itself is so underrated and underpublicized! I wouldn’t have known it existed if it hadn’t been lent to me by a friend (shout-out to TrueCoaster!), yet it’s easily one of the littest Ghanaian books I have ever read.

I have only two particularly critical things to say about it: firstly, that final plot twist just seemed a bit over the top. Everything else could fly—but that final one just had me going, “Wei dier, wo boa.” The other thing is about the characters’ speech. Every character spoke in standard English, no matter their background, the social context, their names, whatever. This is probably not something I’d have complained about if I’d read this book a few years ago, before I started being really conscious about such things. I, too, have written many things where the words coming out of characters’ mouths could just as easily have come out of the mouths of generic wyt characters. Basically, the characters’ speech didn’t have enough character. No pidgin, Twinglish, Ewe, etc., so that’s one thing I’ll advocate for the screenwriter of The Justice TV show (yes, I’m speaking about it like I already know it’s going to happen) to take into account when adapting the novel.

I have so much hope in this series, faith in its potential to be a smash hit and revival of Ghanaian television. No series has made sense to me since Home Sweet Home, to be very honest. And, if done right, I can’t see why The Justice won’t work. If we adapt this novel, we shouldn’t have much to worry about, with regards to the story being wack, because it’s already not. If someone has the resources to make something as visually stunning as An African City, I don’t see why The Justice can’t be just as good quality-wise. Maybe acting and accents could be problematic, but again, I’ll say, if the scripts are written correctly, dialogues should sound so natural and colloquially Ghanaian that it would make it at least extremely difficult, if not impossible, for actors to deliver them unnaturally. Also, if Ghanaians are consistently hooked on suspenseful dramas, from Game of Thrones to Stranger Things to How to Get Away with Murder etc., I honestly can’t see why The Justice should fail to appeal to the same audience. What I’m saying is: This series go beeeee!

I beg, a human being who has loads of money should get in contact with Boakyewaa Glover as soon as possible, find a sensible screenwriter and set this process in motion, please and thank you. (I really beg.)

Just in case you’re thinking of volunteering me as screenwriter, let me just make it clear that I don’t have the faintest clue how to screen-write. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. But the very faintest is the best I’ve got. Which is not to say that if you offer me tons of money, I’ll refuse to learn, don’t get it twisted.)

Also, read the book, because, you know, it’s lit!

Akotz the Spider Kid

 

My Thoughts: Kintu

Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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If I had to summarize this book in a single word, I’d choose “epic”. Both the literal and connotative senses of the word are appropriate. I read this 430-page book in a single weekend, which, frankly, shocked even me. I had expected to have to dedicate a whole month to such an intimidatingly large book, but it proved me so wrong that when I started, I could not stop. Let’s not talk about how much I procrastinated with other responsibilities during those few days. No regrets, though, because Kintu is now one of my favorite books.

The book’s events spanned chronologically from the 1700s all the way to 2004, telling a long tale of individual characters’ interconnected life stories. The root of nearly everything is a common patriarch named – in case you couldn’t guess – Kintu.

The beginning portion of the story, which concerned tis patriarch, was impressively immersive. I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily I could feel the existences of Ganda (and Tutsi) characters from the 18th century. It would surely have taken a powerful combination of imagination and writing skill on Makumbi’s part, to make these characters feel so real.

The most complex character for me, I think, was Kintu himself, and his internal conflicts were at least as interesting as his actions. For instance, his bullish insistence on having Nnakato as a wife, and not Babirye. Nnakato and Babirye were twins; Babirye was older, and it just seemed absurd to everyone other than Kintu that he should want to marry a younger twin when the older was still unmarried. Kintu’s aversion to Babirye was so strong that I kept wondering at which point she was going to suddenly reveal herself to be a witch or demon or something. Honestly, at some point, I was just like, Chale, just marry the girl and continue with your life, eh? But Kintu’s bullheadedness was something else entirely.

Also, I liked that Kintu had a critical mind, through which I believe the book sufficiently explored the nature of the ages-old conflicts between what an individual wants and what that individual’s culture says s/he must have instead. Even in the 1700s, Kintu was aware of cultural ironies – for instance, how can a cultural system believe that twins were initially one in the womb and quarreled so much that they had to be separate from each other, and at the same time keep insisting that twin women stay together even through marriage? In Kintu’s opinion, if two beings have wanted to be separate since before they were even born, why are you insisting, now that they are grown women, that they still must not be separated? And I was like, well, he’s got a point there…

And then there was his sexual exhaustion, which I found wonderfully intriguing because I can’t remember ever having read a character with a problem like this before. Because Kintu was a Ppookino, he had women being offered to him as wives very often, so that his first wife, Nnakato, even had to draw up a roster that determined how Kintu split his time among them. But Kintu was an inherently monogamous man – his heart and love belonged only to Nnakato – living in a society that imposed polygamy over him, and it annoyed and exhausted him to have so many women to be obliged to sleep with. It was a curse and a trap unfortunately attached to his privilege, and it made me once again think deeply about the often tense relationships between individual interests and collective culture.

I also generally enjoyed being let into a vivid re-imagining of the operations of the Buganda kingdom and its politics, through fiction. Fiction is my favorite gateway into history (and most disciplines of knowledge, actually), and I feel like Makumbi has officially taught me more things in more memorable ways about a pre-colonial African society than any textbook ever could. This pleases me immensely.

Anyway, despite all of the super cool sub-themes in this epic novel, I’d say the main, over-arching one is juju. (Obviously not spoken of in terms of that specific word, it’s the closest I can get to what I mean.) Juju is how the thing upon which the rest of the story is based happened, because it resulted in a multi-generational curse upon Kintu’s bloodline by a Tutsi man. The nature of the curse was that it kept manifesting in different but eerily similar ways among the various descendants of the patriarch, until pretty much the end of the book.

I think all the lineage/descendant business was masterfully carried out. The way names were intentionally or unintentionally passed down, consistently mirrored those of the 18th-century characters from the novel’s first section, and it made the journey so wild. It was surprising, even, how anxious I got, any time a character with a name I recognized was introduced. My heart would start pounding in preemptive despair, wondering how the Kintu curse was about to strike this time. The way the curse worked was simultaneously patterned and unpredictable. The suspense was crazy.

Given that the book had so many characters, I was highly impressed by the fact that each main one still felt tangible and complete to me. A story that spans over hundreds of years is, I think, very difficult to achieve this with, but Makumbi did it so well. (Chale, so now what excuse does Homegoing have? Maybe it should have been at least 200 pages longer than it was.) Each character felt different and knowable, and their histories and explanations for why they were the way they were, made sense to me as a reader.

Lastly, one thing about Kintu that I appreciated was how “too African” the subject matter was. In this way, it reminded me of the feeling I had after reading Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ brilliant Tail of the Blue Bird. Kintu was uncompromising in how rooted it was in the locality of situations, people, stories, politics and family. It didn’t have to force any “international” issues or characters into the tale to make it more palpable to any literary market. Even the nationalist/identity distinctions it made were more African-originated than Berlin-influenced, and when it was Berlin-influenced, the narrative was self-aware of the fact.

Kintu. Is. Lit.

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: Tail of the Blue Bird

Author: Nii Ayikwei Parkes.

Overview of my thoughts: I think this book was downright brilliant.

Synopsis: Some minister’s girlfriend comes to a village called Sonokrom, where she’s freaked out by some inexplicable remains of what appears to have once been a living creature. (There’s a blue bird feather in the same room.) An egotistical maniac of a police Inspector recruits a Ga forensic pathologist who calls himself “Kayo” to investigate and solve the case. The rest of the story is about what Kayo did and discovered.

The plot is beautifully strange.

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Tail of the Blue Bird is the first/only novel of its kind I have ever read. If there are several detective/crime/mystery novels on the Ghanaian literature market, it would seem my eyes have been circumstantially closed – because I’ve not been intentionally avoiding them. But this novel isn’t unique simply because of its genre in cultural context: it’s the way the mystery genre is executed that I think makes it so distinctively Ghanaian. (I say Ghanaian for the smallest unit of specificity I am willing to narrow down to, but I could have said West African, African, or even Black). Two defining features I think make it a success in this regard are (folk)lore and magic. Those were the things that excited me the most.

“It was my grandfather, Opoku, the one whose hands were never empty, who told me that the tale the English man calls history is mostly lies written in fine dye.” – Opanyin Poku

There is no good reason why there shouldn’t be magic and absurdity in a Ghanaian mystery novel. In fact, I see every reason why there should be. Speaking as someone who, in 2016, entered a committed relationship with African history both as a personal and academic interest, I can honestly say there’s a good amount of our history that is mildly to heavily magical. I consider it a large contributing factor to why wypipo have treated accounts of African histories – especially oral ones – as illegitimate. In a European paradigm, there is history, and there is folklore/mythology, and they are kept in two different places. In a (West) African paradigm, history and folklore/mythology can be and are often legitimately considered the same thing. I’m not sure any Ghanaian who has done JSS Social Studies would need convincing of this, when we’ve been taught in our schools about golden stools dropping from the sky and about entire ethnic groups emerging from underground or being led to their claimed lands by elephants. Et cetera. Tail of the Blue Bird is exactly the kind of mystical Ghanaian (hi)story that excites me, in novel form! (Can you see me transforming into the heart-eyes emoji right now?)

Let’s talk about the story’s style. It’s one thing to have a brilliant idea (the plot). It’s another to have the genius to determine the right style for it, and even multiple styles, if that’s appropriate – as it is in this case.

I think Ghana in its modern state (the book is set in 2004, and I’m a teenager who considers every year I have memory of as “modern”) exists in a kind of duality. I admit it’s probably more spectral than binary. One end of the duality includes metropolitan cities – the Accras, Temas, Kumasis etc. – and the other end includes what we casually refer to as “the villages,” the places we continue to connect to our ancestral traditions, and the places where “the witches in [my] village” try and fail to accomplish our downfalls.

Tail of the Blue Bird was a reflection of that duality, both in setting and in style. On the metropolitan side, we had the modern Accra settings, with the scientific labs and offices, the places police have influence, the kind of setting in which an England-educated forensic scientist can almost comfortably exist, and the novel’s plot being interpreted as a mostly logical and systematic attempt to solve a real-world crime case. But we are frequently removed from the metropolis and transported into the other side of the duality, where we’re in the Sonokrom village, reading first-person narration from Opanyin Poku, a septuagenarian hunter-storyteller who has spent his whole life in said village, thinks in parables, and speaks truth through Anansesɛm, revealing the very same plot through a lens that processes a world where magic and curses aren’t merely fun, made-up fables. Reading this novel was like having a superpower of double-vision: reading the exact same story through two wildly different filters. Crazy.

Perhaps the most interesting character to me was Opankyin Poku. I thought his slightly verbose tendencies were very appropriate. He would sometimes drop proverbs and deep memories in the middle of his narrations that I thought were rather irrelevant to the plot itself, but extremely relevant to our understanding of his character. He was authentic in that I know people like him in real life, who really do be droppin’ proverbs left-right-center at the slightest opportunity. Opanyin Poku’s narration made the reading experience so much richer and more enjoyable for me, for its denseness, its unabashedly Ghanaian rhetoric, and its musicality. It’s the kind of musical narration that you get when you translate Twi (which is what Opanyin Poku actually thought and spoke in) to English but leave the semantics as untouched as possible.

“It is no mystery that when something leaves your hand grief can take its place; it is the same way that rain takes the place of clouds. What we cannot understand is how heavy the rain can be.” – Opanyin Poku

Beautiful.

But perhaps the one thing I think this novel did exceptionally well was to marry the Ghanaian oral storytelling art with the art of the genre novel. The truth only comes out in folkloric story form, and it is only spoken. The spoken truth is never written anywhere but in the mind of the ones it is spoken to. Tail of the Blue Bird is a testament to what I think is fact: that African history and (folk)lore are intricately tied and are probably not going to get divorced for a while yet, if ever.

-Akotowaa