(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In his desire to do justice to his tale, the narrator, the “story-teller,” of the events of the novel, invokes the arts of eloquence from a long-revered tradition of African masters of narrative. Convinced of the urgency and importance of his tale, the narrator must remind himself, through the invocations, that discipline in storytelling is a paramount factor that he must not forget. The main task of the narrator is to show how the events of the twentieth year in the life of the protagonist, Densu, serve to illustrate aspects of the larger society. There is a focus on a specific historical time, during which critical changes occurred as a result of internal political and spiritual conflicts exacerbated by British colonial incursions into the Asante empire.

The novel opens with the notation that a brutal murder has occurred and that the protagonist, Densu, is involved in this event. Murdered is Appia, the crown prince of Esuano, and also believed murdered is his missing mother, Araba Jesiwa. The action flashes back to the period just prior to the murder, the festival season of the chosen-year ceremonial games of competition in the town of Esuano. Densu and his age-group, young men passing into manhood, compete in several athletic and mental skills. In the past, these games were regarded as cooperative rituals of wholeness. Now, however, the festivals have a strong emphasis on individual competition, which Densu believes promotes fragmentation and division. Densu, who dislikes aimless and disruptive conflict, reluctantly competes, and his overall skills are superior. Appia is declared winner of the games, however, when Densu compassionately refuses to kill a tethered pigeon in the final shooting competition.

Two forces pull at Densu. One is his manipulative guardian, Ababio, who, out of self-interest spurred by greed for power, wants Densu to aspire to royal service and even to the local kingship. Ababio would hope to be de facto ruler, with Densu as a figurehead. The other force pulling at Densu is his own inclination to become a healer, to get far away from court life and join Damfo’s community of simple-living healers in the eastern forest.

The action catches up with the present with Appia’s murder, and as a result...

(The entire section is 924 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

British Book News. Review. June, 1980, p. 373.

Fraser, Robert. The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah, 1980.

New Statesman. Review. XCIX (March 7, 1980), p. 362.

The Times Educational Supplement. Review. April 18, 1980, p. 22.

World Literature Today. LIV (Spring, 1980), p. 246.