There are more books meant for reading than any average reader would care to imbibe on. It is especially so for fiction which provides a wide array of texts to choose from. Lawrence Darmani’s Grief Child is one of these texts and my question is: Is Grief Child a novel worth our reading? Although book prescription is not by any means anything objective, I will endeavour to share my subjective and limited view on whether this novel is worth reading or not.
The old adage by the sages decrees that thou shall not judge a book by its cover. Darmani’s Grief Child is fairly crafted with a young readership in mind although the writer simultaneously tackles fairly complex issues like spiritual realism. It narrates the story of Adu whose life is appropriately summed up as one significantly characterised by grief hence the text’s title – Grief Child. Adu’s grief is intimately demonstrated in the tragic deaths of his mother and sister and a little while later the grim reaper wrestles his father from the tight grip of life leaving Adu to wallow in the abyss of ophanhood.
Structured into two parts, the novel is fairly easy to read and to keep track of events as they unfold. In the first part, we are initiated into this bildungsroman novel’s setting. The story is crafted in a traditionally remote village that is reminiscent of most African people’s traditional settings. The villagers, in this story, are plagued by myths, beliefs and other forms of fears and misgivings for the supernatural and the unknown. But the story also highlights the twin points of convergence and divergence between the villagers’ mores and cultural values and that of Christianity – a new religion associated with colonialism.
As a result, the villagers appear to sometimes express doubt and even at other moments they seem to falter between doing things the traditional way or the Christian. It is an unenviable dilemma that Africans have had to grapple with since the missionaries set foot in the continent. There is a possibility that as a people, we are eternally aggrieved by the repercussions of colonialism thus bemoaning our lost sense of belonging through the deracination of our values as a people. Therefore, Grief Child invites the reader to read, nay see the many young African nations as being symbolised through the character of Adu.
Africans are grief children and the newly independent nations are orphans in one way or the other. We are able to grieve for our lost values as a people, our identity, our sense of belonging, our rootedness as a people amongst many other factors that characterise us as a community. This narrative is thus an allegorical story of the struggles of the African people to rediscover themselves at the backdrop of colonialism and its attendant consequences. We are constantly strung up in a complex chasm; whilst fighting to assert ourselves, we are simultaneously undermined by our knowledge that the world is constantly changing and hence we cannot remain static. However the challenge lies in deciding what to hold on to and what to borrow from other cultures even as we abandon others.
In its first part, the narrative initiates us into Adu’s world. Adu’s nightly sojourns are disturbed by nightmares that are a major concern to his father. Adu’s father, Nimo, is justified to be worried about his son’s nightmares. This is because Adu has been dreaming about a leopard chasing him. According to their beliefs, this is a bad omen because it means that someone close to the family is likely to die. Although Yaro, a staunch Christian, encourages Adu and prays for and with him, it is clear that Adu’s fears are not quashed.
When Adu’s mother and his sister tragically get killed in a storm by being crushed to death by a tree that has been struck by lightning, we are convinced that something ominous is prowling Nimo’s homestead. Both Adu and his father are devastated by the death of their loved ones. We begin to see what the text describes as the struggle between light and darkness. Adu’s aunt, Goma, is the devil’s incarnate. She is cast as an evil woman whose life is shrouded in mystery and crowned by an innate desire to hate others.
Goma’s visit to mourn with her brother Nimo is short lived. Through her, we learn of the village’s history and how it came to be named Susa. Apparently the owner of the vast land and farms had lost his wife, Susa, and daughter in a tragic road accident. Consequently, he abandoned the village and left his farm in the care of Nimo. As part of his tribute to his wife and daughter, Yeboah, the landlord named the village Susa. Goma’s suspicious behaviour either around Yeboah or whenever the story about Yeboah’s deceased family comes up ignites a sense of intrigue in the reader’s mind. We would like to read and discover what has contributed to her guarded interaction with or about the story of Yeboah.
Unfortunately, Adu’s grieving is compounded by the death of his father Nimo. Following closely at the heels of his mother and sister’s deaths, the father’s death comes as a fatal blow to the young man’s ability to cope with death. It takes the effort of Yaro, Adu’s spiritual mentor to comfort him and wean him away from the devastating effects of his family’s untimely deaths. This is also the time that the young Adu is initiated into life’s harsh realities and we begin to notice his transformation from naivety to a more informed young adult.
Part two of the novel begins with the physical journey of Adu from Susa to Buama, his aunt’s homeland. It is a journey that will eventually culminate into Adu’s most trying moments in his life. Goma’s hatred for Adu comes to the fore as she metes out mistreatment after mistreatment on her nephew. Goma is the prototype of an evil stepmother and if it were not for her influence over Ama her daughter, she would have ended up with both children hating her. The twist in the tale is that the reader discovers that the perceived daughter to Goma – Ama – is actually Yeboah’s daughter who had been assumed lost and dead when her body could not be traced after the road accident.
In Buama, Adu discovers a foster family in the form of his teachers – Ofori and Beckie. But it is the weight of Yaro’s spiritual words that holds him back when he is on the brink of committing suicide. Goma’s perpetual torture and the haunting memories of his deceased family is a tad too much to fathom. His life has become meaningless and his days are synonymous with pain and suffering. Despite the love and support he obtains from his friend – Anane and his teachers, Adu cannot come to terms with the turn of events that have catapulted him into an abyss of perpetual torment – physically, psychologically and spiritually.
The turning point of his life occurs when he chooses life over death. His role in helping the Chief of Buama apprehend and convict local thieves provides him with a sense of meaning in life. In addition, when Yeboah discovers that Ama is his daughter, the reader knows that things will never be the same again in this story. Eventually both Adu and Ama get life opportunities to move away from Buama and its associated painful experiences. Although Adu returns to his home village of Susa, he immediately sneaks away to be united with Ofori and Beckie as his foster parents. In the end, it comes as no surprise when the assumed sibling love between Adu and Ama metamorphoses into a man’s love for a woman when the two finally decide to live the rest of their lives together by sealing their fate with a kiss as the novel closes.
I opine that Grief Child is an interesting novel to read but the aesthetics of the narrative are marred by the numerous authorial intrusions. It is not surprising that in many instances the writer appears preachy and deliberately infuses excerpts that would be conceived as telling and not showing. Probably the writer intended to conform to certain publishing restrictions or the fact that Daystar University was involved in the publication of the text contributed to the overt spiritual theme that the novel rides on. Whatever it is, Darmani could have done better and let the story take its course and not give in to the controlling impetus that is at time wont to come into play in creative writing. Is the novel then worth your time to read? My suggestion is that you would have to give it a chance and then make up your mind whether it is worth it or not.