|Jan/Feb 2018 Reviews & Interviews|
The Three Books of Shama
Cissus World Press. 2016. 409 pp.
In 1994, precisely from April to July, the world watched in awe as a genocidal mass murder of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government took place. Millions of Tutsis fled their homeland as refugees to the US, neighboring African countries, and elsewhere.
In this book, prolific Ghana-born novelist Benjamin Kwakye's seventh publication, characters try to reconcile the past with the present in what appears to be a futuristic dramatization of events unfolding in the life of an immigrant Rwandan family in the US.
Aside from instances of brutal memory evoking the horrors of mass murder and bloodshed, this novel utilizes conflicts and plot—driven by unending tension and suspense in building hope amid a narrative that delves into the past—to conjure for the reader the relationships of Christian men and Muslim women who are bonded by forbidden love.
For those avid readers of the postcolonial novel from Africa, this story will present two important revelations: First, that Africa's conflicts will always serve as a lesson to those living who generate literature to preserve the continent's history. The second is the author's focus on Shama Rogwe, his heroine, as a blossoming presence that dignifies the role and presence of the female voice and character in the modern African novel.
The Three Books of Shama is told through the point of view of Shama, a Tutsi woman born to a Rwandan-American family in the US. It begins in Kigali, offering the reader a penetrating and in depth look at the life of Papa, Shama's father, who educates his daughter on the story of his life, her birth, and her mother who is identified as Mama. Papa's affection for his brother Placid is apparent from the onset. Yet even more apparent to his life, as the plot unveils, is his relationship with his bosom friend, Anan, a character whose significance to the novel cannot be overlooked, given that his transformative role resulted in the birth of Shama, who Papa describes as a gift from the dead Anan.
If taboo is dreaded occurrence in societies worldwide, the simplicity with which it is dealt with by Kwakye makes it acceptable under the circumstances projected. The novel straddles two continents and for the most part engages the reader with events that unfold years later in the US around the life of Shama. In a generation still grappling with the historical significance of Barack Obama's emergence and tenure as US president-elect, given that his father was a Kenyan immigrant to the US, this book provides a far greater spin in the turn of events as Shama Rogwe is sworn in as a US Supreme Court Judge years later. Aside from these attention-grabbing feats, the story projects instances of email exchanges that the reader unfamiliar with email ethos might find difficult to keep up with. But such is the language of the times, where technology has made possible certain forms of dialogue.
Overall, this novel is filled with common tropes that endear an avid reader to indulge in navigating the scores of events and characters covered. Kwakye has once again challenged his reader's patience and expectations, using this time a novel divided into three books of suspense, tension, secrets and violence, to resurrect from the horrors of the past links that seem to find endless connections to the situations trailing the narratives of characters concerned with future dreams and goals.
Dike Okoro has also reviewed two earlier books by Benjamin Kwakye in an previous issue.