Kwaku focuses on the life of its protagonist, who, despite the fact that he is orphaned, bowlegged, and seemingly incapable of staying out of trouble, manages to rise from being a humble shoemaker in C village to becoming a famous healer in New Amsterdam, a large Guyanese city. A series of events, including an ill-advised promise he makes, plunges him and his family into poverty, alcoholism, and violence.
Even when he is a child, Kwaku’s desires for glory and fame lead him into a series of comic misadventures. He is not malicious: “The only flaw in himself was a weakness for letting his tongue run away with him.” The boasts he makes and the stories he invents render him an outsider in his own village, where he is generally viewed as being unreliable. The low opinion that others generally hold of him does not prevent him from having high expectations for himself, however, so that when he wishes to marry, he feels entitled to give his matchmaking uncle a long list of specifications for his bride, including profession, height, degree of literacy, and even style of table manners.
His arranged marriage to Gwendoline, a woman from far outside the village who is unaware of his bad reputation, transforms Kwaku into a reliable member of the community. He works hard as a shoemaker’s apprentice, and as his family grows, he stays devoted to his wife. When his vanity drives him to seek the assistance of his next-door neighbor, the one-toothed Mr. Barzey, in ridding himself of gray hairs, he begins to develop artistic yearnings. Mr. Barzey’s photographs offer Kwaku a window into a larger world, and he becomes “lost in a dream of far-away places.”
Kwaku’s tenuous hold on respectability, and his livelihood itself, is threatened when a plague of locusts attacks C village and destroys the coconut palms on which many of the villagers depend, directly or indirectly. The poverty...
(The entire section is 784 words.)