Review: Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah
Title: Two Thousand Seasons
Author: Armah, Ayi Kwei
Length: 316 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Per Ankh / 1973
Source: Sent to me by the wonderful Geosi.
Why I Read It: Geosi recommended it.
Date Read: 14/11/11
This was both a difficult and interesting read, but one which left me in the end slightly unsatisfied. The book is the story of a group of young men and women captured and sold into slavery during the height of the slave wars in Africa. These young men and women are dedicated to The Way, the ancient religion and way of life of the entire African peoples. They stage a revolt and then work to end destruction.
That is the easy summation of the novel as given on the back of the book. In truth it isn’t until almost page 150 that any of that happens and that we meet the ‘characters’, if they may be termed such. The book starts by describing the way, the way of reciprocity, that all African people originally followed. It then discusses the cripples, those Africans who sell themselves and their souls to those who come to stage their destruction and work with those who would convert them to broken religions and steal their souls. It then spends chapters discussing the predators (i.e. Arabs) and the destroyers (i.e. whites). Through these chapters the author and his narrator aims to tell the story of the migration of the African people through the continent and especially of the one particular group.
Throughout the book bad is always equated with whiteness. Apparently all African people are wonderful and kind, though some have strayed from the way thanks largely to the influence of these predators and destroyers. All Arabs are predators indulging in sexual orgies and drugs and feasts and all whites are evil. While I understand this book was set during the slave trade when they didn’t have much contact with anyone other than those coming to convert their souls and sell them into slavery, it still seemed too simplistic.
For example, on the Arabs:
The predators from the desert, they who found so much to do among us turning living bodies to carrion, what are they now? A bizarre sort of egrets feast impudent on their very eyeballs in other deserts they once called their own. Thirty hundred seasons consumed in the lazy oppression of other peoples have killed their minds. All they can be now is willing instruments of worse predators than themselves, of destroyers even greedier. (page314-5)
That being said, there were some really interesting and insightful pieces as well. The majority of the book could be more aptly termed philosophical musings than a true novel. Sometimes these musings though did give a lot to think about.
We had been forced to think of multiform death: death of the body for all whose bodies resisted oppression; death of the body also for those whose minds resisted, for any way different from the predatory conquerors’ road was to them diseased, unholy, dangerous. We with our way were all condemned, our very color turned into the predators’ name for evil. (pg 75)
Overall I found the book to be a bit dry and lacking in true story. While it was interesting and at times really made me think, it lacked any true story line, developed characters, or true examination of issues. It spelled out every issue to the point of losing interest, failing to imagine that a reader could want to think of the issues and in some cases be smart enough to get some of it without it being made so clear. There was also a lot of repetition, again as if Armah had no faith in the reader’s ability to understand or deduce anything without it.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys philosophical works, or who has patience. I do wish Armah had more faith in his readers, and I hope in his others works that perhaps he does. Interesting work but ultimately not a new favorite. While I want to read more by him, I won’t be rushing out to find them.