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The Dancing Story
The Dancing Tortoise is a well-told, even if rather unexciting, story. The story develops in a slow-burning style that reminds me of a folktale narrative. Which, depending on where one sits , may or may not be a strong point.
In the narrative, things happen to the characters, the characters do things - but apart from Jiffa, none of them is really convincing, and the reader is left with ambiguous feelings towards even the main characters. Is Vincent a villain or a victim? Is he a bad man who is trying to make the best of a bad situation or is he a good man who is doing bad things?
The story is simple enough. Vincent, then a bright young man in Secondary School, is married off to Jiffa in a union arranged by their parents, his parents taking advantage of the poverty of the young girls' family.
Vincent was compelled by the circumstance of the arranged marriage to terminate his relationship with Vera, his girlfriend at the time. Just after Jiffa's betrothal to Vincent, Mawuli, the heir to the Chief of the area, falls in love with Jiffa and tries to win her hand. Although Jiffa loves Mawuli, she does not make any effort to terminate the arranged marriage with Vincent. One day Vincent comes home from Secondary School, and, sad to say, settles the matter by raping and impregnating Jiffa.
Fast forward about eighteen years. Vincent and Jiffa are happily married with children. Vincent, returning from Italy, meets Vera on the aircraft. They strike it off immediately and soon Vera is Vincent's mistress.
Following a patten of behaviour rather over-exploited in Ghanaian stories, Vincent becomes abusive of Jiffa and often abandons is family to enjoy the charms of the still-unmarried Vera. In order to force Vincent to keep his promise of marrying her, Vera becomes pregnant and one evening confronts Vincent in front of his mother and wife at home. The resulting altercation destroys the relationship between Vincent and Vera, and leads to him begging his wife for forgiveness later, in a bid to save the marriage.
In a 'schoolgirl' ending, Vincent 'realises' how wicked he had been, how much he loved Jiffa, what a good woman Jiffa was, etc. Vera loses the baby, Vincent's mother dies, and one suspects that the end of the story tends to that famous style of Ghanaian story-termination, 'ankye bia na obiara wu ye' (everyone died soon after).
There are some eye-brow raising incidents like sixteen year old girls quaffing beer with the connivance of elders - but nothing hairier, I'm afraid.
The story centres on events that are entirely realistic - the dilemma presented by an arranged marriage, the difficulty of an extra-marital affair, and so on. In this sense pertinent social questions are raised, but no answers are offered.
The Dancing Tortoise is a simple, straightforward story that makes easy reading.
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