on October 6, 2002
Fairy-tales? Hah! See if your kid will go to sleep after hearing one of Tutuola's mad hallucinatory (not my word) yarns.
A seldom-discussed aspect of cultural anthropology is the metamorphosis of our fairy-tales--the imaginative currency of early youth which are passed on through family and social structures alike. In America, characters like witches, ghosts, and other creatures have their genesis in Europe, or can be traced even further back to ancient Indo-European cultures (of course, we have our own indigenous tales as well). These characters and stories have become so diluted over the years, that they've lost a lot of their original cultural meaning or relevance. What does this have to do with Amos Tutuola?
"My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" and "The Palm Wine Drinkard" are African tales in their pure unadulterated form. And they're not something you'd want to hear before bedtime! Amos Tutuola writes an English which lends the narration a wide-eyed, almost childlike voice--yet in the face of wild, horrific imagery (eg. armies of dead babies) the words are unflinching.
Tutuola is not for everybody, but for the adventurous reader I could not recommend this highly enough.
on December 12, 1997
Amos Tutuola died earlier this year (June), when he died he was one of the most appreciated authors of the African continent. At first he was not accepted by the African intellectualist community because his work was considered to confirm the prejudices of African literature as primitive. This book was first printed in 1952 by the english publisher 'Faber and Faber' and have with a few exceptions never been out of print since then, Dylan Thomas wrote a delighted review of the book and called the language Tutuola wrote in "young english", for Tutuola did not write in his native tounge, Yoruba, but in a very primitive form of english. Tutuola barely had any education and he has been accused of only writing down the myths and folklores of the Yoruba people, though he never claimed he made up all these stories himself. Into the tale of the Palmwinedrinkard he's woven a lot of the Yoruba folktales, these are new myths for the people of the west, which means that the stories he wrote seems new to us. The written storytelling of the african continent is still young, their storytelling tradition has always been oral, so what we're confronted with here is not only a new kind of stories that we're unfamiliar with, but also another kind of storytelling, another kind of flow, which, I'm convinced will have a major influence on future literature as the western literature of the 90's have stagnated and have not been able to produce anything new and groundbreaking in years, western literature needs new blood and african literature is one way of getting that injection. Read Amos Tutuola, read Dambrudzo Marechera, read Muhammed Mrabet (translated by Paul Bowles) and discover the beaty of the african literature...
on May 1, 2000
What an experience. Accompanying the narrator, "Father of the gods who can do everything in this world," the reader escapes the difference between real or unreal, into where the two are the same. A book like none other i've ever come near, and i am not sure what i'd do if i did. There is no explanation, no need, just a story: creatures, trees, an alive bush, walking backward deads, menacing babies - one of which explodes from a thumb, trees within which lives "Faithful mother" who is faithful to all things - alive and dead, an egg that grants all wishes, much dancing, much music... So many things. This book is required reading for especially this, but every other, generation, for all "races" of folks, a book for which there can be no substitute. Purchase it, check out your local library, whatever, just read it. Then reread it.
on October 20, 2005
Reading them evoked similarities with fairy tales of Western culture: supernatural forces, shape-shifting, "monsters," battles between good and evil, etc.
At the same time, however, I was struck at how dissimilar these stories were to any fairy tale I'd ever read, or any other tale I'd read for that matter.
There is a tone of ease to the stories, of a casual approach to danger. It is though our "heroes" understand the significance of the crises they face, but they throw off the challenges with a shrug, since in their world, the "natural" and the "supernatural" interact all of the time b/c they live in close proximity with one another. After all, what's the worst that could happen? Death, in both of these stories, is a relative term at best, and is usually correctible.
This casual approach gives the stories a freer feeling of adventure, and allows one to accept anything that happens in these stories, no matter how wild it gets, since Tutuola's imagination in these stories is by turns hilarious, psychedelic, grotesque, and even frightening, but at all times unique.
At the same time, one gets a small taste of the mysticism, culture, and psychology of the West African Yoruba, from which Tutuola in part derives his tales. That taste filled me with a feeling of an entirely different world, one about which I knew nothing, but at the same time, one to which I could relate, as Tutuola's themes of redemption and devotion are common to us all.
The results are two stories that I adored, with no reservations whatsoever. They are simply two of the most wonderful stories I've ever read. As far as children are concerned, while these stories are violent and could certainly inspire nightmares, I intend to challenge my daughter with these stories as soon as she's able to understand what I'm saying, because I think she'll find them just as exciting and adventurous as her old man does.
Without question one of the best books of the 20th century. I can't recommend it more.
on December 23, 1999
Since 1980, when I was only 16, I have not read a book as fantastic as this one. Its pages are so dense you may even spend hours through one single paragraph in order to feel all images created by the author and taste all its delicate and, at the same time, intricate constructions. A book I will never forget.
on April 15, 1997
This Nigerian writer has woven the folklores and superstitions of rural people into these stories. Written in ungrammatical, unsophisticated english, the narration gains the charm of rural storytelling. The reader feels compelled to `suspend disbelief' and follow the protagonist's horrifying adventures in the land of ghosts.
`Palm-wine Drinkard' is the story of a young man who can drink palm-wine from morning until night. The only tapester who can satisfy his insatiable need dies in an accident and the young man sets out to find his tapester in the land of dead. `My Life in the bush of Ghosts' is a daringly imaginative tale of a young lad who gets lost in the land of dead. He eventually gets accepted by the community after years of his efforts in trying to be one of them.
on April 13, 2007
The introduction to My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, the first book in this two-for-one volume, makes you think that it's an anthropological work for class, not a story you're reading for fun. That's a shame, because these two stories are worth reading in their own right. But in comparison to the standard Western literary format, they are unquestionably different.
Most Western literature I read focuses on a cohesive narrative with a beginning, middle and end, a specific plot, and rich descriptions of characters, places, and emotions. That's not what happens here. Rather, the story unwinds in a very linear fashion, bit by bit, as the character passes through the ghost world he has stumbled into, seemingly at random. There is no surprise expressed by the protagonist when, for example, he meets a ghosts with televisions on her hands, or is transformed by a ghost into a monkey to go climb trees and pick nuts for the ghost to eat. These things are just stated as given, a part of the ongoing adventure. The passage of time is also a very fluid thing. A chapter, or several, can describe the events of a single hour and then a single sentence can describe the passing of a decade. It's a loose, free-flowing narrative built on the imagination of the author, and his ability to dream up ghosts wild, unexpected, and grotesque. It's an enjoyable ride but it takes some getting used to.
on June 4, 1999
What a fine thing to publish these in one volume! Tutuola's best, these stories are without precedent -- seriously, no matter how you tie them back into traditional Yoruba folktales -- if they are rooted in a Nigerian cultural undermind, what Tutuola's unique imagination did to them produced seeds, stems and flowers heretofore unseen. Read them, read them to your lover, read them to your children, read them to your dying grandmother, to your dog, to your plants, to random strangers...
on December 5, 2008
"The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads' Town" was Amos Tutuola's first book, for which he invented an African-English dialect, the most extreme non-standard English ever seen in print. The anonymous hero begins in a life of bliss, nothing to do all day but drink prodigious quantities of palm-wine prepared by his expert palm-wine tapster. When the latter dies after a fall from a palm-tree, the hero sets out to find him wherever dead people go, and he is launched into a vertiginous series of what, for lack of any other word, we'll have to call Adventures.
Tutuola lives unselfconsciously within African tradition, in forests darker and deeper than any imagined by the Brothers Grimm, where animism, magic and the supernatural are taken for granted, where missionaries, Administrations and Western rationalism are unknown. The story is gruesome, spooky, wildly unpredictable, incessant, wondrous, monstrous, boastful, innocent, pitiless, infantile, violent, disturbing, haphazard and plain loco. If you can't let go of logic and standard narrative expectations, stay away. If you can, you'll find this the most curious and excellent story you could hope to read.
Tutuola wrote many follow-ups, never quite recapturing the white-heat of "PWD". They are all the mixture as before, and all worth reading (though I wouldn't want to have to read them one after another.) "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", made famous by an 80s Talking Heads album, is likely the best, and until this reprint was the hardest to find. The word "unique" is often used loosely. But Amos Tutuola Is Unique. Nothing else remotely like these books exists in the English language.
on November 26, 2010
In attempting to convey the imagination and experiences lived by his people, Amos Tutuola wrote a novel, The Palm Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts(1954),that earned him both encomium and opprobrium. In this novel, he communicates not only the attitudes and value systems of his characters but also their speech mannerisms. Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard is the written form of a Yoruba composite folktale, which attempts to simulate in writing the live performance of a competent Yoruba praise-singer. Tutuola resorts to linguistic experimentation as a creative writing canon purposefully as illustrated in his lexical choices in the novel. In his attempt to translate African cultural particularities into the English language,this writer transposes ethno-texts into the written word. All in all, The Palm Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a success story in linguistic innovation in literature. Readers will emerge from a reading of this novel incredibly enriched!
[Dr. Peter Vakunta is a professor of literature and literary theory]