Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Palm-Wine Drunkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts- Amos Tutuola

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of GhostsThe Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These two stories were a great find! Savoring something like a fairytale by Brothers Grimm and a didactic morality play, but not at the same time. This form and tone seemed entirely unique, and reading the forwarded biography I second the claim that it is "perhaps fortunate that his schooling ended too early to force his story-telling into a foreign style" (10). Written in the 50's, this book was one of the first acknowledged stories to come out of West Africa.

Story telling is an art that, in my experience, seems to have been abandoned in the current Western African school systems aimed at a Western education. These tales seem to have that flavor of that oral tradition, said to be incomparable in a Western context.

I believe the most entertaining of the stories was "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts." The magical realism seems very fitting to the subject, a combination of spiritual beliefs and day to day life of a traditional African. Fears of "the Bush" and the adventures our narrator goes through take us into the mind of a brilliant imagination, allowing us a taste of some of the rich nature of traditional stories.

Even though Tutuola is said to have been uncontaminated in his form and style, I did notice that there seems to be a lot of elements that compliment the mythic story. We have something like an Odyssey, a character who has strayed and has made a long journey home. Like Odysseus, the narrator stumbles upon people and places that he does not want to leave, but eventually remembers his goal to get home. There is also the recognition scene common in the mythic tradition when he first identifies his brother by the scar on his forehead.

"The Palm-wine Drunkard" was also a fun story, but in ways entirely different than "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts." My interpretation of this story was of a married couple and the development of their relationship as much as an adventure story. Like in the previous story, we have a number of outrageous stories filled with danger and thrill, yet through it all we have this interesting couple relationship that we did not have before. The narrator of "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" married a couple of times, left them, and then half heatedly seemed to deny a third wife, but never really made much of it. In this story we see a development from a point when a threat comes up and each push each other to take the hit first, to giving the wife a voice. She seems to be a voice of reason, and when the narrator runs into a quarrel with a hired laborer, after failing to heed her advice, he then listened.

By the end of the story we see that things have changed in that initial relationship. When his wife is swallowed up by a hungry creature, the narrator confesses he "then I thought of my wife, who had been following me about in the bush to Dead's Town had not shrunk from any suffering, so I said that, she should not leave me like this and I would not leave her for the hungry-creature to carry away. So I followed... (287).

As far as content, because of this development in character and the relationship with his wife I think I prefer "The Palm-wine Drunkard." What can I say?  I love a good love story! 

Both stories end, in my opinion, very oddly though. I would love some more insight on the closing line of "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," and the last several chapters about the famine in "The Palm-wine Drunkard."

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