Tuesday, January 31, 2012

People of the City (1954), by Cyprian Ekwensi

This was a good but dated novel written by Nigerian author Cyprian Ekwensi (also part of the African Writers Series). This novel was evidently one of the first works of African literature that was widely read outside of Africa circles (according to the book jacket) and Ekwensi is an author of much acclaim. However, it’s a strange read: there are some aspects that are distinctly “African” but remove the African names and such and it would read like a Beat Generation novel. The protagonist (Sango) is a reporter and jazz musician trying to make his way in a big, unnamed city in Nigeria; he’s caught up in a romantic problems with several attractive women. Kerouac could have made an appearance in this story.

The story moves along and it kept me interested, but the author uses some amusing and contrived literary devices to develop and resolve plot points. There’s just a huge pile-on of bad luck on the main character. Sango will do something and a chapter will end and he’ll say something like “Trust me, this is a great plan.” Then inevitably the next chapter starts and with a sentence like “Sango’s plan was not a good one, and he lost his job because of it.” It’s quite amusing it its predictability. There’s also the way the author resolves certain plot points involving both major and minor characters. A character will have some big part in the book, they’ll get dropped for a chapter or two, then later their name will come up and another character would go “Oh, didn’t you hear? They died.” And that’s that. Seriously, two major characters were resolved in this manner, and a few minor characters were bumped off this way, too. And then there’s, of course, a happy ending. Upon a quick review of a few articles about Ekwensi's writing style, he was evidently an author of quite a few short stories, which explains a lot about this novel's structure; it's full of short little plots that are loosely strung together as a whole. It was also his first novel, so his style for longer works was likely still development. I enjoyed reading it. It’s a fun, easy read.