Born in Accra, Ghana, Benjamin Kwakye attended the Presbyterian Secondary School in Ghana, and Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School in the US.
He has been described by one of Africa’s leading literary scholars as arguably the most important Ghanaian novelist since Ayi Kwei Armah and continuing to reinforce his claim to being incontestably in the front rank of African writers. Kirkus Review writes of Scrolls of the Living Night: “Kwakye’s imaginative tale takes place in Ghana but could just as easily be set in the United States or any country beset by corruption…Rhyming quatrains move the story along with wit and grace, and despite the tragic outcome, Kwakye’s writing contains exuberant humor…and cutting insights into human nature… A darkly humorous modern take on the fleeting triumph of money, corruption, deceit, and evil.” — Kirkus Reviews. And for Obsessions of Paradise, Kirkus Reviews writes: “An oddly compelling tale of two connected couples separated by geography and culture… The tales of these couples—Ama and Shem, Maud and George—seem starkly different, but their futures are all bound up together in this novel that explores the interconnected modern world. Kwakye’s (Songs of a Jealous Wind, 2018, etc.) prose finds the tension in the strangeness of place… a bubbling mysteriousness rooted in desire and longing will propel readers ever deeper into this idiosyncratic story.” – Kirkus Reviews
His first novel, The Clothes of Nakedness, won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book and has been adapted for radio as a BBC Play of the Week. After the publication of The Clothes of Nakedness, he became Resident Novelist of Window to Africa Radio and Afriscope Radio. As Resident Novelist, he reviewed a number of African and African related titles on the air. The Sun By Night, won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and The Other Crucifix won the 2011 IPPY Gold Award for Adult Multicultural Fiction. He is also the author of a number of poetry collections and novels, as well as the epic poem, Scrolls of the Living Night.
He works as in-house counsel in the San Francisco Bay area and is a director of The Africa Education Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting science education in Africa.
“A darkly humorous modern take on the fleeting triumph of money, corruption, deceit, and evil”
– Kirkus Reviews
In this epic poem, Kwakye (The Executioner's Confession, 2015, etc.) recounts the lives of two Ghanaian twins—one good, one evil—from birth to death.
These are no ordinary twins—they don’t share the same parents, and upon his birth, Kobi the Magician, stands up, cuts his umbilical cord, and informs his mother that he’s self-sufficient and needs her only for spiritual support. Three attending midwives prophesy that he’s destined for greatness and try to introduce him to his twin brother, Paa Quartey. Kobi comes from modest circumstances, however, and Paa’s parents are rich. The senior Quarteys throw the midwives out, after which the women become captives in a forest and perish when voices of the sea entice them into drowning. Meanwhile, young Kobi excels in athletics and his studies, even correcting and teaching his grateful teachers, while young Quartey grows up as a spoiled brat whose doting parents think he’s a prodigy but who flops at everything he tries. After becoming a skillful fisherman, Kobi meets his foreordained twin while delivering fish to his mansion. Despite the parents’ misgivings, the twins bond. Kobi helps his increasingly dissolute brother as he launches a political career. The good twin writes earnest speeches for his brother, even though Paa is “a drinking, partying slob” and “a pampered, and arrogant snob” who revels in drunken orgies and “ménages a beaucoup.” Paa kills a woman in a drunken hit-and-run, and the story ends as a mob storms the twins’ hideout. Kwakye’s imaginative tale takes place in Ghana but could just as easily be set in the United States or any country beset by corruption, any place “where the tall / in intellect are mocked and then entrapped within / manacles of the powerful.” Rhyming quatrains move the story along with wit and grace, and despite the tragic outcome, Kwakye’s writing contains exuberant humor, often sexual or scatological, and cutting insights into human nature, especially the hypocrisy and sycophancy of the hangers-on who feed off the powerful with “faked genuflections and wordy words.”
A darkly humorous modern take on the fleeting triumph of money, corruption, deceit, and evil.
Page count: 428pp
Publisher: Cissus World Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2015
A literary novel tells the story of two couples a continent apart.
Ama Danso, a 29-year-old doctor based in California, is visiting her hometown of Accra, Ghana. She is seated with her friend Abby at a waterfront restaurant when she first sees a figure—the Shoreman—rise from the surf: “The shine of moon-glow on his bared upper torso seemed to carve him out as a dark sparkle on the shoreline. Like a shadow that held light.” She does not speak to him, but the two friends return several times hoping to cross his path. When they finally do, Ama learns his name is Shem Bonsra, but he is reluctant to speak to her for more than a few minutes at a time. Over the course of several dates, Ama learns that Shem has a tragic, fiery past, and that he now works as a nightsoil carrier. This second bit of information causes Ama to stop seeing him—the stigma would be too great—but she cannot get him out of her mind. Meanwhile, in a London pub, a physician named Maud James encounters a guy she calls the Barman. She soon realizes he’s George Stanton, a leader of a far-right political party. His nationalist politics appeal to Maud, whose white father was murdered by black men in her native Zimbabwe. The tales of these couples—Ama and Shem, Maud and George—seem starkly different, but their futures are all bound up together in this novel that explores the interconnected modern world. Kwakye’s (Songs of a Jealous Wind, 2018, etc.) prose finds the tension in the strangeness of place, as here when Ama searches for Shem in the nightsoil-disposing town of Old Fadama: “The town was barely alive and, except for the moon glow, it was totally dark. Even before they got close to the cesspit, they could smell the poignant odor. But they got closer anyway, surrendering safety of body and comfort of nostrils.” The plot moves slowly, and there is never much indication of where it is going. But a bubbling mysteriousness rooted in desire and longing will propel readers ever deeper into this idiosyncratic story.
An oddly compelling tale of two connected couples separated by geography and culture.
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Cissus World Press
Review Posted Online: March 21, 2019
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