The Beautyful Ones Are Not yet Born

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What’s in a name? Ayi Kwei Armah thinks not much. It is probably for this reason why he doesn’t bother giving a name to the protagonist. He is simply introduced to the reader as the man. Corruption, integrity, poverty, and inequality are the themes woven in this story. Armah does not waste time beating about the bush. In the first pages, the stench of corruption rises into the reader’s nostrils. A bus conductor having conned a passenger off his change, is engaged in the pathetic ritual of smelling his loot. This ritual is sustained throughout the novel by various characters chief among them being the minister Koomson, once a close friend of the man. Of course, those without political connections such as the man and his wife, Oyo, also crave to smell the loot, although the latter’s craving outweighs the former.

The man is full of integrity. He does not take bribes despite the numerous opportunities for him to do so. He is like an oasis of integrity in a desert of corruption yet he is not refreshed by his strength of character. On the contrary, he suffers the more proving the old adage true- no good deed goes unpunished. Disillusionment is his bed-fellow, a constant aching that simply won’t go away. Armah captures the emotion beautifully…

Why was it that just the solitary whistle of a train about to disappear down the deep distances of the forest should scatter in the air so much of the feeling of permanent sorrow? (He was a railway man)

The man was left alone with thoughts of the easy slide and how everything said there was something miserable, something unspeakably dishonest about a man who refused to take and to give what everyone around was busy taking and giving: something unnatural something very cruel , something that was criminal, for who but a criminal could ever be left with such a feeling of loneliness?

It seems the man can take a few jabs below the belt from the world but when his wife takes one at him, it hits him hard.

“You are the Chichidodo itself”

“Now, what do you mean by that?”

“Ah, you know, the Chichidodo is a bird. The Chichidodo hates excrement with all its soul. But the Chichidodo only feeds on maggots, and you know the maggots grow best inside the lavatory. This is the Chichidodo” The woman was smiling.

The reproach of loved ones comes kindly when it comes in silence. Even when this silence is filled with the consciousness of resentment, there is always the hope that they understand whatever vague little wishes there are to understand, as if one could forever keep up the pretence that the difference between failure and the hard heroes of the dream is only a matter of time…But when the reproach of loved ones grows into sound and the pain is thrown outwards against the one who causes it, then it is no longer possible to look with any hope at all at time.

It thus seems that the man’s sufferings will know no end but sometimes, the sufferings of good commoners are vindicated by the sufferings of the elect. When Nkrumah is overthrown, Konsoom flees for his life and seeks refuge in the man’s humble abode. It is the only time that the man is vindicated-not by the pleasure of seeing Koomson suffer but by the penitence of his wife.

He went back into the hall and stood quietly beside Oyo. She held his hand in a tight grasp. Then, in a voice that sounded as if she were stifling, she whispered, ‘I am glad you never became like him.’

In Oyo’s eyes there was real gratitude. Perhaps for the first time in their married life the man could believe that she was glad to have him the way he was. He returned the increasing pressure of her hand…

The Beautyful One Are Not Yet Born is a novel I would recommend to all in employment-especially public service. Whether their positions are elected, appointed, contractual, permanent or otherwise, the principle remains that corruption doesn’t pay. It may seem to do so in the short term, but ultimately, it leads to the ruin of both the giver and taker.

More concise reviews

http://www.africabookclub.com/?p=946

 

 

 

 

 

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