The pulse of the pages | Daily News

The pulse of the pages

Being attached to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London during the late sixties, I had the opportunity of meeting some of the well known African writers who write in English, despite the knowledge in their own mother tongue. These I have read in English and had come to know to include such names as Chinua Achebe, Thiongo wa Ngugi, Cyprian Ekwangi and Amus Tutuola. Their novels, poems, plays and rare literary essays have paved the way to ascertain and understand the pulse and conscience of the African human expressions.

As such, the English creative writing that had come to stay as English African writing came to be studied as a significant sector in cross-cultural communications studies. This subject area that was in infant stages at the time we came to know happened to be expanded over time.

Some of those novels, especially the novels such as No Longer At Ease and Weep Not Child came to be regarded as expanding the creative sphere linked to narratology around the globe. They too came to be known via translations and adaptations. The most recent addition to my repertoire of African-English creative writings enters the name I had so far missed due to the time lapse. The name of the creative novelist is now well known in the English reading world as Ben Okri.

The creative work, a novel titled as Dangerous Love, reached my hand a few weeks ago as a result of a book gift from a great collector of books namely Nihal Akmeemana, who lives in New Zealand at the moment. I picked up the creative work to find that I had the chance of going down the memory lane to my sixties. In the highest sense of the word, the 399-page novel happened to be unputdownable.

I agree with some of the comments that go as ‘it is poetic writing of a higher order’, tender sensitive and full of human wisdom. The protagonist in the work is one Omovo who is gifted with the talent of a master painter. But the circumstances tend to drive him to various groups of men and women who fail to fathom his sensitivity.

Even his own circle of friends and teachers tend to misunderstand his social stance. His father who is depicted as a cruel person who drives away the two brothers of Omovo. The creative writer, Ben Okri, creates human situations so vividly that the reader finds the impact of human situations not as a mere narrative plot outline but as a mission with a vision.

The profile of the painter cum lover and philosopher, Omovo, is portrayed so tenderly that the reader sees the inner struggle he undergoes in his social interactions. One good example is the exhibition to which he presents one painting. This painting in the hands of those who rule the land as set in the novel takes a negative standpoint declaring it as revolting.

As a result of this unruly judgement, the aesthetic significance is overshadowed by the crude judgement on the part of the rulers. Okri marks his protagonist contemplate on the vanity and the failure of the perceiving of creativity in an ignorant gathering. In this manner, the painting that comes who discussed among the members of aesthetes is banned by the authorities.

But still, the reader finds that in the course of the development of the narrative, the saint-like protagonist shifts on to the other areas of his life in the same manner. What is underlined is that the insanity rules and lays down regulations while the sanity is left as a forgotten or unfound factor. Behind this venture, the reader finds himself enmeshed with the other areas of life such as love, friendship, marriage, devotion to work, scouting the skills are challenged. They are challenged to the point that the reader finds that the insanity happened to be a spreading or contagious sickness. But the protagonist with his limited but sensitive feelings attempts to convince his most intimate female Ipeyiwa who happens who likeminded but is married.

Her marital bond is depicted in the novel not as a barrier but as a sensitive layer of an alternative expression to Omovo’s inner feelings. But they are shown as aloof from each other at most times but get together in hidden intimacies. Both these chronicles tend to express some of the utmost humane expressions utilising the dialogue, monologue, poetry and humour.

The moment of illumination in the work ‘Dangerous Love’ is the amalgamation of the degraded social mannerisms and the sensitivities of the inner creative flux of genuine human beings who so feel like bringing about a change in the social order they exist. As a reader, I felt that Okri is influenced by the folk literary nuances of African Culture both in human behaviour and the expression.

As I finished dreading ‘Dangerous Love’ I felt like entering into a trance. As Omovo questions, where can one find a world of the highest form of love and artistic freedom. Perhaps the underlying theme goes and the Marxian dictum, wherever the man goes he is bound by chains. I confess that I have not read any other book by Okri, but I sincerely feel that he ought to be a starting point in the search.

He is stated as an award-winning who won the Booker prize in 1991 for the novel ‘The Famished Road’. The work carries a profound epitaph that bears an immortal value. The lines are drawn from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

“Shouldn’t these ancient sufferings of ours Finally, start to bear fruit?” 


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