Title: Not Without Flowers
Author: Amma Darko
Publishers: Sub-Saharan Publishers
Review by Nana Fredua-Agyeman
Just as a person's name is a good guess in identifying his country or tribe, so has the pitching of African Tradition against Western Culture and the exposition of certain social issues become a trait of Amma Darko's writings. In this piece, I present my thoughts on her work, Not Without Flowers.
Polygamy vs Monogamy
All through the story and in our lives, we are confronted with the choice between Western Culture and Traditional African Culture. We are forced to make notes and debate each issue with the ultimate aim of making a choice. Yet, we are unable to make such choices because of the compelling merits and demerits of each social issue presented; hence, at the subliminal level, we are left at the crossroads of choice, wondering which direction to take. We come to a hybrid of cultures neither here nor there, without a recognisable identity.
In Not without Flowers, one social issue that comes out clearly is the issue of polygamy and monogamy. The polygamous marriage of Ntifor and his wives (Penyin and Kakraba) solves an important problem for the couple: childlessness. Since one of the rules in polygamy is that children of such a union belong to all the wives, the inability of one wife to conceive is concealed and she rejoices in the children of her co-wives. This was made known to Mena Penyin by Kakraba anytime the latter tried raising the issue:
"... A little jealousy, yes. Even till today. I am human, Kakraba. You are the mother of all his children. And if..."
"Our children, Penyin. The children I bore with him belong to us all. Our children, Penyin." (Page 160)
It is also observed that the polygamous family of Ntifor was a closely knit one with support coming from both sides. The children also treat both mothers equally and this goes a long way to make each of the mothers happy. They accept that both women are their mothers and hence do not discriminate.
However, the polygamous marriage of Pesewa and his five wives was not without problems. Pesewa, the wealthy man, contracted HIV, though he was faithful to all five wives and was famous for refusing sex until marriage. Yet, the unfaithfulness of one of his wives costs him and four of his wives their lives. This unfaithfulness arose because the time spent on each wife reduced as the number of wives increased. The fifth wife’s reason for accepting to be part of a polygamous marriage is compelling and convincing. As a woman who knew she could not give birth as a result of a past mistake, marrying into a polygamous family where child-bearing was not the motive, was the best that could happen to her. Why should she enter a monogamous marriage with all the expectations of children, when she knew the truth about herself? Besides, there were the added advantages of emotional and financial security.
Similarly, even though Idan and Aggie had a monogamous marriage, they both were infected with this deadly disease. Idan, being the typical 'man', engaged in an extra-marital affair with a girl who was also in a relationship with a man who had multiple 'sugar' mummies. The love circles suggest how HIV travels and how fast it could affect an entire population.
In the end, we see that mere polygamy or monogamy is not the key to happiness in marriage; happiness in marriage is the duty of the players in that marriage.
In Not without Flowers the reader is taken through a roller-coaster of emotions. In one breath you will get angry, cry, smile, and laugh. It will get to a point you will feel like throwing the book away because you can't stand the stupidity of certain people—but don’t we at times behave just like that, especially when caught in the clutches of love? The story will make you smile and accept the fact that even in the world of pain there is humour.
"Nonsense!" roasted face blurted angrily, "Ah! This woman inside, what is wrong with her? Isn’t she supposed to be educated?"
"What has that to do with her analysis?" torpedo haircut snapped.
"What?" roasted face frowned suspiciously. The word analysis sounded like an insult.
"A-n-a-l-y-s-i-s! That is what she is doing!" torpedo haircut repeated.
"You too analysis...analisa...analisum...anali everything! Nonsense! Why? Do you want to insult me?" (Page 93)
The names alone would make you burst your rib cage: there is a hairdresser called Fingers and a dog called Let-them-say; Sylv Po whose Auntie always calls him Siiv; and Prophet Abednego. Fingers' commentary on national and international issues will make you crack your ribs with laughter. She is your typical Ghanaian who knows every issue including what happened to a president, who was presumed dead, in the netherworld.
Shifting of Allegiances
Not without Flowers is suspenseful and will make you shift allegiances. It will make you revise your predictions and admirations until the last sentence of the last page. The story will hook you to one character, allow you to develop all the love and sympathy you can for him or her then pull you, sublimely, from that character and make you stand back and sigh and say, 'Ahaaaaa! that's why, it serves you right', forgetting that you were once a staunch admirer.
Aggie is interesting, respectful, loving and yet Idan cheats on her. Randa is an enigmatic figure who hardly laughs, so what was behind her laughter at Maa Cherie’s salon? What about the strange woman in Afro wig and huge spectacles... is she a loose girl or is she psychotic? Why does Ma hates flowers? These are the people who will cause your allegiance to shift like the desert sand.
Vengeance is one theme that comes through in this novel; yet, we are reminded to the fact that it ends nowhere...a course we mustn't take.
One fascinating thing I found about Not without Flowers is its multiple storyline. There are more story lines in this novel than you can imagine. Sylv Po, his Auntie and 'let-them-say'; Pesewa and his five wives; the Ntifors (comprising Ntifor, Mena Penyin and Mena Kakraba); Aggie and Idan and their childlessness; the four women at MUTE and the numerous ghosts whose names are never really revealed. From the beginning, all these stories run parallel but somehow, though imperceptibly, they converge whilst at the same time move differently serving as frayed seams for another story to begin.
Pitching our traditional culture against western culture will definitely raise issues of surrealism. Amma Darko, though not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, enters the mind and magnifies its clicks and ticks with words. Can dreams have influence on the lives we live? Idan’s grandmother warns Idan and Aggie of dark clouds that have gathered over their impending marriage. There are rituals that she can perform to prevent the manifestation this doom; but she is branded as a witch and barred from attending the marriage festivities. Elsewhere she would have been described as a Seer. On the day of the wedding it rained heavily and an unknown child was electrocuted. Does it matter if it rains on your wedding day or even if someone dies, especially when the person is unknown to you? Then there is the black cat that followed the 'lady in wig' but looks at Aggie with evil intentions. Perhaps, here, Amma Darko extended her surrealism a bit too far. Yet, it did not take away from the story. If anything at all, it heightens the suspense and keeps us wondering what role the black cat will be playing in the thick of events.
Amma Darko’s writing skills, semantics and ability to weave well-researched traditional issues into her story makes it an educative read and distinctly Ghanaian; yet, when viewed from a broader perspective the story is global in nature. Hers is a story of life; a story that touches the soul and brings us against ourselves, impinges on our psyche and touches on the priorities of the society we live in. Not without Flowers is your story.
I urge you to get a copy of Not without Flowers and make sure it doesn't remain unread. It will change your life or open your mind or both. Happy Reading and let me know what you think about this book.