BARAWA AND THE WAYS BIRDS FLY IN THE SKY by Michael Jackson

BARAWA AND THE WAYS BIRDS FLY IN THE SKY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From New Zealand poet/anthropologist Jackson, a fitfully interesting but ultimately failed attempt to fictionalize the history and experience of the Kuranko people of West Africa. The first novel to be published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. Jackson (himself a character in what he calls ""An Ethnographic Novel"") casts himself in the role of an anthropologist weary of ""academic writing"" who has decided to assume the voice of a ""Kuranko bard"" in order to bridge the cultural gap between the people of the country of Barawa, West Africa, and our own. For the first half of the novel, he does this quite well, describing the first settlers, the coming of Islam, and the arrival, in the late 18th century, of the white man (the tubabu), with his insatiable desire to conquer and explore. Barawa was the scene of the search for the source and termination of the Niger River by British explorers Alexander Gordon Laing, Mungo Park, and the hapless Winwood Reade (a hack novelist looking for fame and fortune). The novel then moves into the 20th century with Jackson's description of the life of Tina Kome, the first to leave his village and fight with the white man in WW I. The second portion describes Jackson's two visits to Barawa, in the 1970's, as a young, idealistic anthropologist who hires Tina Kome's youngest son, Noah, as an interpreter. Here, the novel is a flat, unaffecting fiction that never does transcend the academic writing Jackson is trying to avoid--in scene after scene, the self-consciously humble ethnographer furiously scribbles notes on the myths, customs, and politics of the Kuranko, most of the time worrying about what they must think of this crazy tubabu (who provides little if any plot, and no dramatic progression at all). All in all, a good idea that never gets off the ground (but for more on the adventures of Laing and Park, readers should turn to T. Coraghessan Boyle's 1983 novel, Water Music).

Pub Date: May 20th, 1986
Publisher: Smithsonian