Monday, April 22, 2024

The Pyramid of Askia Burtune: An Example of a Bad Book


By Tọ́pẹ́ Salaudeen-Adégòkè

  • Title: The Pyramid of Askia Burtune
  • Author: Aminu Hamajoda
  • Publisher: Fasihan Nigeria Limited
  • Number of pages: 290
  • Year of publication: 2014
  • Category: Fiction

The print-on-demand book on Amazon by Aminu Hamajoda can be said with considerable justification, if assessed by the raisons d’être of creativity, fluidity of narration and sublimity of subject matter, to be an example of a bad book that is not worthy of space on anybody’s bookshelf or anybody’s time for that matter.

It is most unfortunate that the book lends a voice in the affirmation of the erroneous notion concerning African books, held in some quarters, that they are not worth a read, that written prose is not a business that should be associated with the continent, that it is still quite difficult for writers in this part of the world to proficiently and fluently write in the second languages of the continent. Of course, it is not merely the bad grammar, which characterises the narration, that makes the book undeserving of any reader’s time, it is the failure of the writer in the cognitive-creative process of writing.

The book, if it could be called a book, is only an essay, an essay (one is led to think it is the author’s first) at writing fiction. From tangled and orthogonal plot lines, flat characters that are randomly introduced as mere names at different points in the narrative to shallow dialogue and muddled descriptions that cannot even place a sun in the sky – there is absolutely nothing that can be said in favour of the book. After turning about 290 pages, one wonders whether the thing is a finished book or a mere draft.

The story is set in an imaginary African town called Barduvai. There is a coincidence of two unnatural occurrences, a rock rolls down a mountain and a strange comet appears in the sky. These events become the defining moment for the people of Barduvai, a contest between problem-solving paradigms, between the traditional Hime sessions, where all the people of the town gather to discuss and solve problems, and the Kudulantis school of thought, which emphasises individuality.

Lamiri, a vagrant, has established the Kudulantis school of thought, taking advantage of the mysteries to undermine the Hime and unleash his pent up anger against his father, who forced him to marry a woman not his choice. Tugga, a blacksmith and disciple of Lamiri’s father, continues the old practice of conducting Hime sessions to solve problems, to the annoyance of Lamiri. Things come to a head when the Hime cannot properly explain the mystery that has appeared in the sky, and Lamiri takes advantage of this. The author does not provide anything of substance on the Hime and Kudulantis – the reviewer has had to deduce the foregoing description from the jumble that is the book.

The king of Barduvai, Askia Burtune, is embroiled in the conflict. Lamiri has won his favour by showing off the knowledge ostensibly acquired on his travels. Fortunes are made and the order of the society quickly transformed, making paupers out of the people of the town. People who subscribe to the philosophy of Rando Cartoza (obviously an ill-drawn stand in for Rene Descartes) gain recognition from the king and the self-styled Vice Regent, Lamiri. This is the way things remain until Lamiri’s greed and thoughtless exploitation cannot be endured anymore.

Here is what Aminu Hamajoda’s fiction tries to do: provide a plausible account of the ancient cities of Africa, how it was before foreign ideas were introduced, using Tugga and Lamiri to represent the conflicts of the continent, that is collectivism and individualism, traditionalism and modernism.

Hamajoda’s dilettantish fiction harks back to an earlier stage in Africa’s history. Starting with the title of the book, Hamajoda tries to reinstate the significance of the pyramid as a symbol of African culture. The book attempts to recreate a vision of earlier centuries, to retrieve the core concept of life and the importance of rural and collective living. Its contention seems to be that the advancing pace of individualism has undermined the fine art of communal living and that the organisation of society does not foster collaborative and inclusive brainstorming on collective problems and the settling of society into a productive civil order. Thus the author uses (or tries to use) the chaos brought on by the comet’s appearance to set these concepts in juxtaposition.

However, what actually results, as the book, is a poorly told story with confused points of view, muddled up and ungrammatical sentences, words that do not convey meanings discernible from their contexts and sentences that do not follow rules of proper construction. Aminu Hamajoda’s book, The Pyramid of Askia Burtune, should be cited as another example, an excellent example, of a bad book.

Photograph: Comet PANSTARS

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Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke
Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke
Tọ́pẹ́-ẸniỌbańkẹ́ Adégòkè (formerly writing as Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke) is a traveller, literary critic and writer from Ibadan, Nigeria. Tọ́pẹ́ is the co-publisher of Fortunate Traveller, a travel journal. He writes for Wawa Book Review, Abuja, and Africa in Words. He enjoys travelling and cooking. His chapbook of travels across Africa, Transacting Stories: Markets, People and Places, was exhibited by Invisible Borders at the 2019 AfriCologne Festival, Germany, and at the 12th Bamako Encounters – African Biennale of Photography, Mali. @LiteraryGansta is his alter ego on Twitter.

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