Tail of the Blue Bird
Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Flipped Eye Publishing - 2009 ( 197 pages )
Tail of the Blue Bird published by Flipped Eye publishing is the debut novel from Ghanaian poet and writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes. It is the story of an incident that starts when a woman notices a stunning blue bird outside the edge of Sonokrom, a Ghanaian village outside of Accra town and what happens after the fact. Her involvement in the case sees the people, read police in droves, from the big city come to try and find out what happened.
This is where forensic pathologist Kwadwo, known in the book by his version of the name Kayo, who was trained in the UK and had relocated back home to try and find out what happened. What happens, I’m not telling, is beyond Kayo’s scientific training and comes out to be more myth driven than you would expect from a scientific thinker.
I love this book. Really. This book has so much going for it. Some people are more partial to urban tales and I count myself in that group as I love to see books that deal with the environment that I am familiar with. Then others are more partial to the rural tale as it shows the way people were in the golden days that we love to imagine and that folks like Ngugi Wa Thiongo have made their names on. This book has both scenarios involved. Kayo lives in a major African metropolis and we see the typical drive to work that one will see in many African cities with numerous hawkers selling various commodities. One will also see the man at play as he drinks with his friends in the professional community in Ghana’s capital city.
Then there is the rural. The lives people in Sonkorom live that have changed very little in generations; a life where people are still living on and off the land. These are folks who live the simple life without having to worry about Ben 10, mad traffic and forced IOS upgrades ever so often. Then the writer throws in an extra with a few scenes from an African immigrant in the UK as he starts learning on his craft as a forensic scientist in Birmingham. After he is done he returns home to find the he can only find a job in a lab and not with the police force as he was hoping for. This is something that many returnees have to go through when they return with their new skills.
The character development in this book is on another level with the people in the book standing out in their fullness. The main character is of course Kayo. However I loved the old hunter Opanyin Poku that drove a large part of the narrative with his interactions with Kayo. Then there is Kwaku Ananse who as we read further in the book is a horrible father to his daughter. He causes her so much pain after her mother passes on as she evolves from a child and into her adulthood. We all know people like this and the writer shows the whole character not just his obsessed part.
One of the characters was said to have fled Kenya in the 1950s as the colonial government castrated its citizens. He settles into the community and his children integrate smoothly into the Sokorom community. It shows that the people in this continent are closer than we imagine.
The prose is written with great humour. The drinking scenes of the Accra based professionals are as hilarious as the ones we are involved in most African cities. Then there is the police boss Joseph Donkor who hires Kayo and instructs him to give him a report on the crime scene “like in CSI.” That conversation left me in stitches and will leave many regarding this as one of the most hilarious pieces they have read in a while.
This is one of the better-written books to come out of this continent in English in a while and for his efforts, Parkes was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Best First Book prize in 2010. I guess there is a reason I am not on these types of panel. Lucky for us the writer has gone on developing his craft and found himself on the list of Africa39 hottest (prosewise not looks as far as I can tell) writers under 40 announced recently.