Tuesday, September 15, 2015


‘My introduction to this novel as a kid was certainly unorthodox! I had an Uncle who bought books a lot in those days and he would lend me such books regularly. One evening I was with him; we had enjoyed a wonderful African meal with our bare fingers; then he said with a smirk: "Boy, when did you last dream?" Surprised, I admitted to him that every single night I dreamed... all of my 12 years or so by then…But why sir, I enquired. "Well," he replied, bringing out a copy of The African Witch, "This great celebrated white writer authoritatively states in this work that we Africans do not dream...read for yourself…" he flicked the book open, to a certain page, and passage. I read: "The black man's sleep is like death...he does not dream..." I winced. Hence from an early age, I realised that not everything we read in books are true; and later on I again realised the negative reaction by African intellectuals to many of the works written by celebrated white writers on "Africa and Africans" Anyway, I borrowed the book from my Uncle and read it. And re-read it years later.Despite some prejudices here and there, I discovered that the African Witch is a very fine novel. Reading a work like this, it is understandable why the average African reader might not be able to identify with it and its ilk. (For example, the famous Nigerian novelist and scholar, Chinua Achebe heavily criticized Joseph Conrad over the work, Heart of Darkness) In The African Witch, the narrator is many times patronizing and even outrageous. But this does not detract from the fact that this is a well-written novel, and considering the time it was written, the author's prejudices are probably limited. For example he condemns some white characters in the work, stating that they come up short compared to other black protagonists. Again, whilst a white lady character here expresses disgust at "a black skin", another white lady confesses that she found the same black complexion attractive. Finally, as for the portions relating to the 'African Witch' herself here, the least said about this aspect, the better! At best, the descriptions of 'the witch' - her trances, her spells, her mien et al can be dubbed mere fantasy, to pander to the imaginations of a detached, Eurocentric readership. On the whole, reading this novel without a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, one would easily concede that it is worth reading.’ - Malome

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