Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
To read Woman of the Aeroplanes is to experience wonder and magic, to undertake a glorious journey to a never- never land inhabited by characters whose day-to-day lives exhibit totally human traits and an abundance of positive human values. Citizens of Tukwan in the Asante region of Ghana seem to share a kinship relationship with all objects surrounding them. One man dresses his Mercedes and sleeps under it; the airplanes are landed by ducks more or less attached to the traveling party; a vulture perches on the pipe of one of the Ghanaians and may be the repository of a sacred soul. Ghanaian lawyer Tay says with characteristic solemnity and guile that it may be necessary to redefine living things in a place where ducks talk and goats are artists. In Tukwan, zinnias are ankle-happy and counting the ripples in a lake is a creditable activity for the town scribe.
The delight a reader experiences in participating in a soaring flight of fancy and in sharing the life of the people of Tukwan is anchored by the citizens of Tukwan’s twin city Levensvale, a village in Scotland, who also cannot find their geography of time and space. The people of Levensvale are recognizably western in their perceptions; however, the circumstances in which they live (out of time) question basic world-views of Western culture. These similar circumstances have created in the citizens of both towns an open-mindedness and willingness to accept traditions, perceptions, and practices different from their own. The plot of the novel takes emissaries from Tukwan to Levensvale by means of two airplanes that Pokuaa has purchased from David Mackie to establish trade and share information and culture for the mutual benefit of the twin cities. It is perhaps 1965 but three other watches register different years. Thus, time is both free and absurdly controlled. The Ghanaians, both those staying and those going, exchange advice and cautions, but only Pastor Mensah voices a dominant concern:
“What do we want with money or with ideas that we already have enough of…” This was Pastor Mensah being pensive through the discomfort he felt at being so high from his crosses. Re did not consider that theology should be so tall. And up here he was even more afraid of one thing: The minute Tukwan struck a true balance of life, it would either be invaded or destroyed, he thought.
Soon after the planes take off’ Babo accuses Pastor Mensah of being out of date, which serves to corroborate the latter’s fears. A consequence of being out of date is immortality. Citizens of Tukwan and Levensvale have at birth a certain expectancy that reincarnation will move them from one form of life to another as their allotted energies are expended. Within that allotment of life, a person is born, is schooled, matures, gives life, ages, and is reincarnated into another being with another allotment. Thus, characters in Tukwan and Levensvale can be and are young and old, wise and foolish, happy and quarrelsome, male and female, sexually productive and nonproductive.
Romance develops among the men and women of the two cities. The twins, Atta and Babo, are both in love with Pokuaa, but she favors them equally. An important plot movement concerns who, if anyone, Pokuaa will choose for a mate. David Mackie, leader of the Levensvale group, is also smitten by Pokuaa, despite his attachment to his wife of thirty years. Angus Mackie, David’s son, meets and then persistently pursues Aba, who withholds a positive response until the novel draws to a close. The symbolic joining of Angus and Aba is, at the end, the salvation of the people; for the major thrust of the novel is toward an inevitable return of Tukwan and Levensvale to their own geographies. The enemy Kumasi tribe has spotted aspects of Tukwan and some have even invaded what has been a totally invisible town; yet, the Tukwanians are given another fifty years, a gift from Angus who takes it away from his own life allotment.
Atta and Babo, twin brothers and counterparts, exist in the same relationship to one another as Levensvale and Tukwan. Atta, called the “bad” twin, seems to be so characterized because of his inordinate curiosity and his scientific bent. He is the emerging technocrat whose left brain dominates his actions. Babo, on the other hand, is the “good” twin whose natural bent is toward the literary and artistic. He is both scribe (historian) and poet. Babo is no less inventive than Atta, but his creativity exhibits itself in a different way, and it could be said that Babo, busily writing his way through this novel, is inventing it as he goes along. The eventual joining of Babo and Pokuaa, whose own...
(The entire section is 1896 words.)
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