The complete review 's Review :. The two thousand seasons of the title of Ayi Kwei Armah's novel represent the enormous arc of time of African history covered in it. The book hopes to put it behind: "Soon we shall end this remembrance," Armah writes near the close of the novel, "the sound of it. Armah's novel is a pan-African epic. In many ways it is a summing up of the African experience for the past two thousand seasons. Armah reduces it effectively to "a thousand seasons wasted wandering amazed along alien roads, another thousand spent finding paths to the living way.
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The complete review 's Review :. The two thousand seasons of the title of Ayi Kwei Armah's novel represent the enormous arc of time of African history covered in it.
The book hopes to put it behind: "Soon we shall end this remembrance," Armah writes near the close of the novel, "the sound of it. Armah's novel is a pan-African epic. In many ways it is a summing up of the African experience for the past two thousand seasons. Armah reduces it effectively to "a thousand seasons wasted wandering amazed along alien roads, another thousand spent finding paths to the living way.
He warns: "Woe the race, too generous in the giving of itself, that finds a highway not of regeneration but a highway to its own extinction. The place of origin, the home, is an unspecified African country, standing for all of sub-Saharan Africa. The story truly begins with the coming of the predators who bring ruin. First it is the the Arabs, then the Europeans -- "whites" all.
And always there are the weak and complicit locals, showing from the first a "fantastic quality The first predators to appear come as beggars.
Their pitiful appearance -- hardly to be taken seriously -- is misleading. They are cunning and patient. They use their religion to inspire and hold sway over the weak, turning them against their fellow Africans.
The predators reduce them "to beasts" by starving their minds with their foreign religion and "indulging their crassest physical wants. Time and again Armah shows the African to have been party to his own culture's demise, willing to deal with the white devil and selling out often literally his fellow man. The "white man from the desert" patiently makes inroads, returning stronger and wiser each time. The locals do not know how to protect themselves: This time again the predators came with force -- to break our bodies.
This time they came with guile also -- a religion to smash the feeblest minds among us, then turn them into tools against us all. The white men from the desert had made a discovery precious to predators and destroyers: the capture of the mind and the body both is a slavery far more lasting, far more secure than the conquest of bodies alone. There are revolts -- of great ferocity. The gluttony of the predators is their own undoing -- yet it is never enough that is undone.
Success is limited, the next wave of predators seemingly always at the ready. The locals never seem the wiser for what happened. The locals flee, "our hope being that new places, new circumstances, might bring us back to reciprocity, might bring us closer to our way, the way.
Leadership is a problem: the rulers are the worst of the lot. Armah has nothing but contempt for the powers that were: "The quietest king, the gentlest leader of the mystified, is criminal beyond the exercise of any comparison. The whites who come after the Arabs are not merely predators but destroyers -- the armed colonial European powers.
And Armah is certain: "There is nothing white men will not do to satisfy their greed" -- or: "Monstrous is the greed of the white destroyers, infinite their avarice. They had come determined to see nothing, to listen to no one, bent solely on the satisfaction of their greed, of which we had ample news. But the king was infatuated with the white destroyers and would not heed the people's will, as quick in its expression as it was clear: to tell the white men to go.
Among the destroyers are missionaries, too, with a different poisonous religion. It seems too simple, too ridiculous -- and yet it too will subvert the ancient society from within. Wise Isanusi warns time and again of the dangers, but he is not heard or, at first, understood.
Later, after they have been sold into slavery by their king and escaped "his words came back an echo to what we had lived to know. Finally, they are determined not to look into the past, or "return to homes blasted with triumphant whiteness. Despite "the treachery of chiefs and leaders, of the greed of parasites that had pushed us so far into the whiteness of death" there is some hope for the future -- but not an immediate one.
Two Thousand Seasons is a story of triumphs of the spirit and the will, despite unspeakable horrors, oppression, and betrayals. Enslaved, there is a daring escape from the ship -- and then the rescue of others. The white predators are beaten at their own games, their own arms stolen from them and then turned against them.
Treachery does not stop, but there are successes, small movements along the right way. Much of this is dramatically related, though some of the chronicle is overly simple and overly stark. It is a very broad canvas Armah is painting: two thousand seasons, and almost all of Africa's history of that time reduced to these two hundred pages.
It is a stirring, angry, often horrifying, often touching read. But ultimately it is too simplistic. The valiant triumphs that are recounted don't reflect the actual sad history of the continent. The white predators and destroyers are more complex creatures than Armah is here willing to acknowledge. Much that he relates -- the weakness of the native leaders, the perverting effect of Islam and Christianity, the greed of the whites and blacks alike -- is convincing.
But there was more complexity at work there, and most of it Armah glosses over. Noble, yes, but not a path likely to be taken. Idealism is all well and good, but it should also convince -- and here, unfortunately, it doesn't. Armah's anger is well-placed, and often well if too vigorously and subjectively expressed. His idealism, his solution, is something that readers want to embrace, but truth and fact stand in the way.
The history of the continent in the seasons since he has finished the novel sadly show the many wrong paths that continue to be taken. Armah's voice is not a lone one, but in Africa actions often speak louder than words and for the past three decades actions have only reinforced the ugly picture of the continuation of the destructive past he painted.
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Two Thousand Seasons
The novel was first published in and subsequently published a number of times, including in the influential Heinemann African Writers Series. It is an epic historical novel, attempting to depict the last "two thousand seasons" of African history in one narrative arc following a Pan-African approach. The novel focuses on the complicitness of African people to the enslavement of their people to intruders, first represented as Arabs than as European whites. Criticism of the novel is mixed.