In my opinion, they belong to the same genre of the surreal. The narrators find themselves on a fantastical, adventurous journey where strange and unimaginable things happen. The Drinkard consumes kegs of palm-wine a day and into the night, ever since he was ten years old. Water has never touched his lips, and when his palm-wine tapper dies, he sets out on a journey to find and bring him back from the dead.
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Audiences are craving the next big fantasy epic. And amid criticisms that Game of Thrones was too white , what better way to answer that craving than by setting an epic in a mystical African past?
They are, however, indebted to the late Nigerian author Amos Tutuola, who wrote the fantasy The Palm-Wine Drinkard in , the first novel written in English by a West African writer about an African subject. His compelling narratives and inventive mixture of traditional folklore with wholly unique supernatural elements offers a lot to contemporary readers. I fell in love with Tutuola immediately. The opening lines of The Palm-Wine Drinkard offer an excellent glimpse into why:.
I was a palm-wine drinkard since I was a boy of ten years of age. I had no other work more than to drink my palm-wine in my life. In those days we did not know other money, except COWRIES [ sic ], so that everything was very cheap, and my father was the richest man in our town. My father got eight children and I was the eldest among them, all of the rest were hard workers, but I myself was an expert palm-wine drinkard.
I was drinking palm-wine from morning till night and from night till morning. By that time I could not drink ordinary water at all, except palm-wine.
But when my father noticed that I could not do any work more than to drink, he engaged an expert palm-wine tapster for me; he had no other work than to tap palm-wine every day. The opening premise fits comfortably alongside any number of fairy tales from any number of cultures: A spoiled son of a wealthy and powerful man spends his days committed to nothing but drinking palm wine, so much so that his father hires a servant to do the dangerous work of scaling and tapping the palm trees to keep his son sufficiently quenched.
For me, the pleasure of Tutuola comes from how clever he is. When the protagonist of the novel later evades the Grim Reaper by hiding under a bed made of bones, I laugh and cheer for him. His sentence structures don't generally adhere to conventions. His punctuation and capitalization seem random, and he seems to make odd or even incorrect word choices at times. The further into the Bush we travel, the fewer rules apply to the story, both in terms of the rules that govern the natural world and those that govern the English language.
Furthermore his phrasing, while it can be compared to the modernist, stream-of-consciousness style of a writer like James Joyce, also feels more clumsy than fluid due to the repetition of words and phrases throughout. Much of the story reads as if Tutuola is in a hurry to summarize all of its events for us rather than transport his readers to the Bush of Ghosts. Thus, dialogue is embedded in the sentences without quotation marks or other grammatical signals to differentiate between his words and the words of others.
But Tutuola pulls it off because the stories he tells are so strange, funny, and altogether entertaining. Sure, it had the playfulness and humor of James Joyce or Lewis Carroll, but could such a book, by a Yoruba-speaking West African, be high art?
However, by , Things Fall Apart by the university-educated Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe had arrived on the scene, eclipsing Tutuola with its more traditionally modernist sensibilities and portrayal of precolonial Nigerian history, an approach that would prove more accessible to readers around the world.
While Western readers moved on from Tutuola, West Africans were able to reevaluate his work out of the oppressive pressure of the colonial gaze. The Palm-Wine Drinkard is definitely not the African Game of Thrones , but it is a novel based on folkloric stories that combine the mystical with the political.
With so many African fantasy novels resonating in the US and Europe now, it seems like the perfect moment for Amos Tutuola to reenter the public conversation, especially with titans such as James and Okorafor citing him as an influence. In fact, the Tutuola renaissance has already started. She is currently writing a dissertation about suicide and contemporary African fiction. Contact Kate Harlin at kh mail. Got a confidential tip? Submit it here. Jade Schulz for BuzzFeed News. View Comments.
What Does An African "Game Of Thrones" Look Like?
The first African novel published in English outside of Africa, this quest tale based on Yoruba folktales is written in a modified Yoruba English or Pidgin English. In it, a man follows his brewer into the land of the dead, encountering many spirits and adventures. The novel has always been controversial, inspiring both admiration and contempt among Western and Nigerian critics, but has emerged as one of the most important texts in the African literary canon, translated into more than a dozen languages. The Palm-Wine Drinkard, told in the first person, is about an unnamed man who is addicted to palm wine , which is made from the fermented sap of the palm tree and used in ceremonies all over West Africa. The son of a rich man, the narrator can afford his own tapster a man who taps the palm tree for sap and then prepares the wine.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard
Written in the English of the Yoruba oral tradition, the novel was the first Nigerian book to achieve international fame. The story is a classic quest tale in which the hero, a lazy boy who likes to spend his days drinking palm wine, gains wisdom, confronts death, and overcomes many perils in the course of his journey. The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Info Print Cite.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town
Audiences are craving the next big fantasy epic. And amid criticisms that Game of Thrones was too white , what better way to answer that craving than by setting an epic in a mystical African past? They are, however, indebted to the late Nigerian author Amos Tutuola, who wrote the fantasy The Palm-Wine Drinkard in , the first novel written in English by a West African writer about an African subject. His compelling narratives and inventive mixture of traditional folklore with wholly unique supernatural elements offers a lot to contemporary readers.
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