The events of the novel take place between Passion Week in 1965 and February 25, 1966, the day after the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. On the political level, they describe the failure of a purportedly socialistic government, which is, in fact, as capitalistic as the white colonial regime it replaced. The new black leaders with white souls have, according to Ayi Kwei Armah, used their positions of power for personal gain. The corruption has filtered down to all levels of society, all economic relationships being based on intimidation, bribery, and fraud. What makes the society appear so bleak is that Armah reports it through the eyes of a rare individual who has retained his integrity: the man, an unnamed protagonist, has failed professionally because he has been too soft; he has been unable to play the bribery game. The only heroes in the society—that is, the only ones who succeed—are the hard ones who no longer feel moral or emotional hypocrisy. For the man, who speaks for Armah, the leaders of society are no different from the old African chiefs who sold their people in the slave trade for the trinkets of white society.
The novel divides neatly into two large parts. The first, which moves at an agonizingly slow pace, traces the daily routine of the man through a typical working day, beginning with the usual bus ride to the railway administration building where he is a traffic control clerk. The day is boringly uneventful, but Armah punctuates his narrative with depressing descriptions of the environment, sights and smells of human excrement, spittle, filth, and graffiti, relieved only occasionally by the beauty of some natural phenomenon, the sky or the sea, as yet uncontaminated by man’s touch. In the afternoon, a timberman comes to offer the man a bribe, but he leaves unsatisfied. After work the man meets an old acquaintance from school, now a government Minister, Joseph Koomson, and his wife, Estella. Koomson is one of the hard ones who have succeeded. The man invites the Koomsons for dinner the following Sunday evening. (The visit will initiate the events in the second part of the novel.)
The man’s return home on the bus completes the workday but hardly ends the day for him. Relations with his...
(The entire section is 923 words.)