A writer born in England in 1968 of Ghanaian parents visits Africa hoping to find the source of his malaise and rage—and a place he might call home.
Eshun (director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts) begins this debut work aboard an airplane to Ghana. Although he had lived there in his early childhood, he grew up in England, where he often felt rootless. He writes bitterly about the racism—overt and covert—that he experienced in England. And he recalls with regret a failed relationship with a woman—a relationship that ended, he feels, because he was unwilling to reveal his history. It is a history that has tormented him both in his waking hours and in his dreams. (One great source of unhappiness: His father had served time as a political prisoner in Ghana.) As the author tours Africa, he pauses to tell the history of the region—with sharpest focus on the slave trade. (About halfway through, he hears from a Ghanaian relative some grim, disorienting news about an ancestor.) Touring Ghana, Eshun also discusses his own biography (and those of his parents) and comments on issues that trouble and even haunt him. He is disturbed by some aspects of the country. He sees young people adopting America’s hip-hop culture. He sees other youngsters wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts. He visits a fundamentalist Christian church where a crass minister demands cash from his congregation. He experiences what he calls the “Big Man” psychology of Ghanaian men—a social posture of superiority many adopt with those they believe are below them in the human hierarchy. He sees poverty and hopelessness. Much of the writing is lyrical and deeply personal, though some of the author’s epiphanies seem more patent than revelational (e.g., “[I]t came to me that journeys never truly end”).
Thoughtful, evocative and deeply felt, but occasionally lacking freshness.