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My First Coup d'Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa Hardcover – July 3, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A graceful memoir and striking literary debut…A collection of remarkable vignettes that blend a historian's sensibility with a novelist's prose, Mahama captures the evolution of that consciousness and, with it, glimpses of a nation's recovered soul.” ―Washington Post

“This is no typical political memoir. Rather it is the engaging story of a boy coming of age in the "lost decades" of military rule in Ghana that preceded multiparty democracy. Mahama tells it tenderly and well, weaving small slices of history and culture into a family narrative so rich in colour it at times feels like magical realism… Mahama has given us a useful reminder of the bad old days yet the real value of his book lies in its depiction of ordinary life in a time of turmoil – and of how people adapt and carry on regardless.” ―Financial Times

“Mr. Mahama is at his best in describing this vanished world. He does so with the eye of a historian and the flair of a novelist…At times the lost world he describes seems almost magical, as if it were populated by fairies and demons rather than real people… His stories overflow with humanity.” ―Wall Street Journal

“With crisp yet sweeping prose, John Mahama's memoir, My First Coup d'Etat, provides insights into Ghana's, and by extension, Africa's struggle to weather its historical burden and engage with a world much removed from her dilemma. Without sentimentality or condescension, he exposes homegrown African pathologies and helps us understand several contradictions of our postcolonial condition. His is a much welcome work of immense relevance to African studies and deserves serious critical attention.” ―Chinua Achebe

“These stories reminded me of Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose memories of a vanished world feel half like memoir and half like fairy tale. Readers will be charmed by them. They brim with humanity.” ―Andrew Solomon, author of the National Book Award–winning The Noonday Demon

“Eloquent” ―Newsweek

My First Coup d'Etat shows an uncommon literary ambition . . . His elegant memoir of those crucible decades lets us see the times that forged his generation as more than just a succession of defaults and dictators.” ―newrepublic.com

“Affecting and revealing…Ghanaian readers might see this memoir by a current officeholder as a political instrument; others will mainly enjoy the well-crafted anecdotes and images of an Africa that no longer exists.” ―Foreign Affairs

“Mahama's stories lure the reader into an unforgettable journey in which he interacts with history as a living tissue. The characters and the episodes are part of the everyday but one imbued with magic and suggestive power that go beyond the concrete and the palpable to hint at history in motion.” ―Ngugi wa Thiong'o, author of Weep Not, Child

“Warm and engaging. The view of a complex world in microcosm.” ―Aminatta Forna, author of the Commonwealth Book Prize–winning The Memory of Love

“In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana's recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Sensitive, honest autobiographical essays… A wonderfully intimate look at the convulsive changes, and deep scarring, in post-colonial Africa.” ―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

John Dramani Mahama is a writer, historian, journalist, former member of Parliament and minister of state, and sitting president of the Republic of Ghana. This is his first book. He lives in Accra with his family and is currently at work on his second book.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Printing edition (July 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608198596
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608198597
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a compelling, coming-of-age story of the life of John Dramani Mahama, from childhood to adult. A heartfelt story of 'lost decades' in Africa, his father sent to prison, and an intimate and personal portrait. At age seven, he suffered from fear, despair, and longing. In addition, he reveals truths on faith, the cost of loss, and survival. Entertaining throughout as it tugs on the heartstrings. Beautifully written, inspiring, and Highly Recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
I was thoroughly enthralled by this book. I know little about Africa, so picked this book up to get some introduction to the contemporary state of affairs through the eyes of an African. This is far better than any political memoir, with his lovely stories of his childhood, from his grandmother's mud hut, to days of Michael Jackson, the precious public school system of Ghana, his revelation about village gods, his first love, the vicissitudes of his loving father's fortunes with the political pendulum, the evolution of his young views on socialism vs. capitalism. The book is so well-structured around key ideas for each chapter, even as it brings us from early post-colonial times to the present. There is no self-aggrandizement in this lovely memoir, as is often the case with politician biographies. Instead, it is a wonderful introduction to a vast landscape through a very personal, perceptive lens. The author's prose is gentle and precise, bringing all to life with the minimum words. Other reviews describe the book as "brimming with humanity," and it is true. I am amazed that such a thoughtful person like this could handle a life of politics and am intrigued to follow Ghana's progress, now that John Dramani has succeeded the President in a peaceful transition. I highly recommend this book. (Minus one star only because I wish it was longer!)
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Format: Hardcover
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get an insight into life in Africa. Although the book is focused on Ghana, the post-independence era was similar in many countries on the continent, with the military taking over power from legally elected heads of state and corruption reigning supreme.

Mahama grew up in the era when Africans could only hope for democracy, but as he says things have begun to change for the better in the past year or so.

Although he was born in a privileged family, fortune kept changing for Mahama's family and we follow him from his childhood and his first coup d'etat, which sent his father - a government minister - to jail until the present time when Ghana is stable and relatively prosperous. The book is written with warmth and ease that make it accessible to any reader. Sometimes it's so suspenseful that it is hard to put down. Mahama describes even the most difficult experiences of his life with directness and optimism, avoiding harsh accusations as well as gloom and doom.

Memories of his childhood and youth are particularly heart-warming. A reader will get a profound insight into African life in villages as well as cities and understand how the modern interacts with old traditions. Mahama is intelligent and compassionate. Ghana is lucky to have him at its helm.

One of the most compelling books I've red in recent times.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing story, written by the current president of Ghana. He was vice-president when it was published. John Dramani Mahama was born just a short time after Ghana became independent. The stories tell of major happenings in Mahama's childhood and youth that shaped him and many other young Africans of that era. The author writes extremely well too and makes the story very personal to the reader.

It is honest, straight-forward,very thoughtful and thought provoking, at times chilling, and a very good way to get a picture of what has shaped the people of Ghana. It should be compulsory reading for a high school current affairs class.

The author has several strong messages to all readers too, including one in the last chapter stating that "everything exists as a continuation of something else," so one cannot erase a troubling event from ones life but needs to recognize it as having been linked to all that happened before and after.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very well written account of Ghana's recent history, beginning with the post-independence era in Ghana, brought to life through the author's life story. Even as a Nigerian, much younger than the Dramani Mahama, I could appreciate his experiences. I found his stories entertaining, at times familiar, due to the similarities between our two countries. I particularly recall living through "Ghana-must-go" as a child, primarily through the experience of an uncle in Lagos, who was publicly harrassed by police at the bus stop for "looking Ghanaian".

Dramani Mahama is able to abstract valuable lessons from his own experiences, while clearly communicating a very uniquely West African story, and sharing a concise version Ghana's recent history. His accounts of the post-independence years, full of hope, are similar to firsthand accounts from my own relatives, but he shares his perspective without their sense of spite or anguish over missed opportunities. Rather, his reflective account challenges us to learn from even the darkest bits of our past, rather than tuck them away in shame.

Dramani shies away from the fingerpointing and/or ethnic biases I have come to expect from some West African writers of his generation when they attempt to explain the lost years and failed economic and social experiments of the 70s and 80s. He doesn't claim to know all the answers. Instead, he engages the reader with the story of his own growth and transformation, alongside that of the young nation of Ghana, whose at times turbulent emergence is not just the backdrop to his story, but provides context to a lot of the decisions, opportunities (or lack thereof), and questions that shaped the destiny of the author and his family. Overall, I was very impressed by this book.
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