06 Oct Smile, My Beloved Country – An Ideologue of hope
When Alan Paton penned down his novel – Cry, My Beloved Country, in 1948, he was one of the first sets of people that pioneered the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. That narrative, among other things, demonstrated the devastation and privation that assaulted the African psyche and personhood at the hands of ruthless colonialism and in clustered space. It was a dour narrative; it detailed the reason why the country – and indeed Africa needed to cry. When it ended, the narrative ended with a death – the hanging of a boy who was forced by society to rob, and who had mistakenly killed a white man. As that boy was led to hangman’s noose, his father, miles away watched the sunrise with the knowledge that his boy, yet at the threshold of adulthood was exiting a world he would never grow up in.
Alan Paton’s work, along with the works of many African writers across the length and breadth of Africa has coagulated to form what is now known as postcolonial writing. Depending on perception, postcoloniality can be periodized – meaning a time when many nations of Africa are no longer under the (direct) rulership of the English, French, Portuguese or Arabic. Postcoloniality can also defy periodization. It can mean the affirmation of the African selfhood, characteristics, cultural paradigms, flora and fauna over colonial ethos. This form of postcoloniality does not have respect for time.
Postcoloniality and African studies have moved beyond the binaries of colonized-colonizer, conquerer-conqueror and leader-led. It now includes such metonymies such as governance, urbanity, water, feminism, politics, blurring borders, schizophrenia, outward and reverse migration, hope, afropolitanism and the afro-future. That means that a whole lot more literature issuing from the continent have a place in the Africanity (if I can say so) and postcolonial ethos. It is important to make this point because apart from playing on the title of Ngugi’s work, it is from the perspective of Africa that this review of Emeka Onwusorom’s Smile, my Beloved Country is presented.
Smile, My Beloved Country is Emeka Onwusorom’s first novel. With a title that is antonymous to Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s first work, one approaches the work with the mind that it is a narrative of hope. However, the minute one opens the pages; he encounters a travel narrative. The travel narrative morphs into a tale of reverse migration in the next few pages; it becomes a story of the symptoms of a failed nation for another few chapters and then becomes a political thriller. After thrilling its reader, the narrative offers hope – stirring the heart in strange ways towards true nationhood. Then, a touch of schizophrenia – the end.
Written in four parts, Smile My Beloved Country follows a thirty-one-year-old professor of Agricultural Science practising in the US from his period of political naivete to his period of political power as the president of Nigeria. The path that leads from his tenured professorship in the U.S to Nigeria’s seat of power is lined with courage, luck, dreams and passion for his nation.
The language of the narrative is assessible, and the characters are quite realistic. As far as action goes, it might be said that the narrative is plausible if one considers that the Nigeria that is narrated in the novel – where a thirty-one year old political novice can enter late into the race for the presidency and win without being scathed- is the Nigeria that we hope for in the future. Apart from that, one might have said that the narrative was far-fetched. But this novel does not deal with realities; it deals with possibilities.
Perhaps, it is because the novel deals largely with possibilities and national reorientation that some parts of it read like a statement of ideology and political manifesto. While those parts are credited as the words of a politcian seeking the highest office in the nation, a discerning reader cannot miss the authorial intrusion in those pages. It should be said anyway, that the author finds a way to even out the voice so that the narrative does not read like a patchwork quilt.
Still on language, in a few places in the narrative, one does not know who exactly is speaking. But those instances are not many. Also, the narrative contains a few typos and some missing words, but this does nothing to reduce the quality and speed of the narrative.
As far as ideology goes, and Africa; this narrative not just makes one smile by its happy ending, it is a narrative that prescribes how the beloved motherland might be made to smile. How to describe that motherland: it is a place where everyone will be free to run for office and not be said to be too young. It is a place where truth can be spoken to power without the risk of vendetta or victimization. It is a place where military leaders can watch wide-eyed without interference while credible elections take place and the elected wield their mandate. It is a place where the experienced politician offers his guardiance for the young blood whose conscience is true and passionate for the country. This is effectively the ideology the author sets out in this rather timely novel. That is how to make Nigeria and indeed Africa smile.
The story in Smile, My Beloved Country is not new – it is a story that has been told so many times over. But the narrtive has something to recommend it. It does not sit and show us characters whose psyche breaks into fragments because they cannot find or make their ideal country. Smile, My Beloved Country is not a story where characters take to arms or prostitution because their beloved country is, in fact, not theirs anymore. It is a narrative of a people who dare to take their future in their own hands and do something beyond words or feelings of helplessness.
There is a little matter to be mentioned here. Proceeds from the sale of this book in Nigeria will be used to care for orphans at the Smile Motherless Children Support Foundation. It is for them that the nation must smile.