Report by Ogova Ondego
Published November 24, 2007
To many people, artists are mysterious people who live in their own world. They are thought to relish poetic licence that enables them to lay bare the lives of lesser mortals in novels, poetry, music and painting. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
She’s Gone, a debut novel by Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet and academic, Kwame Dawes, appears to turn tables on creative people by exposing their relationships and strange ways and mannerisms, showing that they are ordinary people with ordinary problems that affect ordinary people once the veneer of invincibility is removed with the writer’s scalpel.
Dawes uses words skillfully, bringing scenes alive and animating characters to the extent the reader cannot only feel but also walk and feel with them. In this book, set in Ghana, Jamaica, South Carolina, New York and Toronto, one need not be a speaker of Black English Vernacular or user of slang to enjoy the gripping story.
In the book, the protagonists are Kofi, a Jamaican musician, and Keisha, a black American social researcher who meet at a club where Kofi’s band is playing on its tour of the United States.
Attracted to reggae music and stereotypes that paint the Caribbean islands as an idyllic resort that resembles a Sunday evening iholiday n paradise, Keisha follows Kofi to the land of Bob Marley to relax and enjoy the beauty of sea, sun, and…yes, sin!
Though black, Keisha comes face to face with the politics of race, class, history and identity and is often reminded that she is a foreigner, a descendant of slaves, and therefore roots-less, by black Jamaicans who she would ordinarily have thought of as her brothers and sisters. Keisha, for instance, cannot understand how people can feast and dance at a funeral while dressed in white. She is the only one in black at the funeral of Kofi’s aunt!
Though beautifully written and engaging, one may not understand why Dawes should be so detailed and graphic when describing bedroom scenes, for instance. Mathematicians put magic in their work through statistics that hint at something without exposing it. Fashion designers also use mini skirts and other sexually appealing attire to create seduction without baring everything that would kill curiosity and mystery that keeps interest alive.Why, pray, does he detail sex between Kofi and Keisha in three FULL pages and hence kills the story prematurely?
It is often said that romance and friendship between the opposite sex is sustained by the ability of steering clear of the bedroom: Sleep together and a wonderful relationship is destroyed.
There appears to be too much liberal and casual sexual relations in this book. Is this all there is between female and male creative people? Are they obsessed with sex?
Some characters, like Dorothy, appear to act without any motive. For instance, her ill-treatment of Keisha is as surprising as their chance meeting during the funeral of Kofi’s aunt.
But this in no way implies She’s Gone is not a great read. I didn’t put it down from the time I started reading it.
Akashic Books, that is touted as priding itself on publishing authors who are ignored by the mainstream, may not have known that She’s Gone would fall in step with the year-long celebrations marking 50 years of political independence and 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Ghana. But this is what has happened.
Running 350-pages and published in February 2007, She’s Gone is retailing for US$15.95. Though fiction, this book may also be used as reference material in African-American studies. It is available exclusively through akashicbooks.com website while bulk discount rates are available for groups and organisations.
Dawes, an award-winning author of several books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, teaches at the University of South Carolina where he is Distinguished Poet in Residence and director of the USC Arts Institute and the SC Poetry Initiative. He is the director o the annual Jamaican Calabash International Literary Festival.