Sunday, August 29, 2010

Their Field of Play

Kole Omotoso's Just Before Dawn gets off to a bad start, with what appears to be a broken link between missing sections of the book in the early chapters. It is also (the Spectrum edition I have) a low quality book: the cover design is dreadful and the paper is so thin you can see the ink on the reverse of each page. Still, once you get going, it is an absolutely magnificent read, bringing to vivid life the complexities of colonial and post-Independence Nigeria. He does this by fictionalising real events with a deft ear for dialogue and then providing bridging narrative sections. This passage, from the chapter Their Field of Play, is typical:

'By the first decade of the 20th century, the meaning of time had changed for the Africans on the coastal areas of Nigeria. The current of investment ebbs and flows, loss and profit overtook their previous rhythm of planting and harvesting. Numerous gods were banished and one god was once again proclaimed, like the Arab traders before them. New natives were created by the white men in their own image. And indeed, wherever the white man's money could be earned, the Africans went. A little training in the mission school, a smattering of communication English and a comprehension of the mysteries of credit and debit and the 'beach clerk' could follow the white man anywhere. The new times went into the interior, the forest area, and the Africans here also imbibed their ways, condemned their own and abandoned their huts and their ancestors. The new props of their lives were the English language they spoke badly, the new dresses they wore in imitation of the white man and the white man's thinking that only bigger and fatter and faster was better for their lives. But from the fringe of the desert other times predominated. Times past, present and future had already been revealed... tomorrow has nothing to teach yesterday, and today can only be lived if it is lived in the shadow of all yesterdays. Here, there was bustle to ruffle the surface of a somnolent existence. From the coast into the interior came "time is money" and it encountered from the edges of the desert "time, revealed beyond the efforts of man."'


Anonymous,  6:01 pm  

And the point is what exactly?!!!!

Ayo,  6:31 pm  

@anon, what is your point?

Anonymous,  6:37 pm  

I guess the point is that he thinks it is a good book despite the shortcomings of the beginning and production quality. I would have to agree with you Jeremy on both points. However, this is a brilliant book and it is a good book for anyone who wants an inside track into Nigeria's history. You would think that Spectrum will bring out a new edition for this 50 yr independence stuff. It is a book that everyone should have on their shelf - read. Perhaps you guys can wrestle it off Spectrum and give it the kind of care it deserves!!

kiibaati 10:25 am  

Actually a great book and my first introduction to Nigerian history. It was also well researched. A teenage me read the gripping tale of Dimka's search after the failed coup.I doubt it is still in print in Nigeria

Bello,  1:19 pm  

Wow, I read this book years ago. I often wonder why they don't make it a required text for all Nigeria students or expats coming into Nigeria. It is thorough piece of research. Do academics in Nigeria still do research like that? It is a tour de force.

Trust you Mr Weate to always dig things out and remind us of things we are fast losing.

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