Monday, 21 May 2012

#1: Guinea-Bissau

Whispers of a Secret God
Ed. D. Jerry Wheeler and Robert Dunn (USA, 2004)
 
I don’t believe it was Allah who helped us today. I thought at first it was the spirits of the trees, but it was different. I have never seen them perform with so much power. I thought I had seen everything possible to see, but who knows, maybe this secret God is real….” 
- Fijudi
Perhaps it was the overtone of Christian evangelism. Perhaps it was the conspicuous absence of any kind of proofreading or editing. Or perhaps it was the fact that, for reasons best known to the publisher, the text of the ebook I downloaded was all in eye-frazzling red.
  
Whatever the reason, I really did not get on with Whispers of a Secret God, my entry for Guinea-Bissau in the Rushlight List.
 
When Fijudi, king of the Fula tribe, has a vision predicting his own death, he begins preparations for the relocation of the tribe, and the succession of his eldest son, Monatu. Matters are complicated by Chief Elder Lorenko, whose insatiable hunger for power leads him to twist the tribe's Muslim faith to his own ends.

As Monatu and the tribe set out on their journey, Fijudi remains behind along with his wife Augoosta and younger son Saaku. Before he dies he tells them of a 'secret god' that has been passed down the royal line through several generations without the elders' knowledge.
 
The blurb (considerably better-written than the book itself) promised not only "intrigue, romance, and fierce battles" but even "brief glimpses into the world beyond, contrasting temporal and spiritual reality". What little intrigue there was became lost under the weight of some truly terrible writing. The romance was dry, the characters utterly flat, and the author lacked the descriptive ability to render "fierce battles" beyond a cursory sentence stating that they've occurred.

That said, it wasn't impossible to get invested in the very simple storyline, even bearing in mind its stately pace. Saaku is a sympathetic protagonist, and it feels as though the book was written with good intentions. But the writer's skill is limited to say the least, and the tribe's "finding God" is therefore entirely unconvincing and childish. And for any Muslim readers, there's plenty in here to take offense over. Being neither Christian nor Muslim, I found myself pretty appalled at times by how flatly and smugly the latter was dismissed.
I only let you live so you will know the difference between the mercy of my God and the vengeance of yours.”  
- Saaku
Sadly, I don't feel that the Rushlight has got off to a very good start with this. Guinea-Bissau was, as one might expect, a rather difficult country to locate a novel for. Beyond a general feel for the savanna and the rainy/dry seasons, which could all apply to many other African countries, this was really not the most evocative book. I'm also strongly disinclined to trust anything it says, as its basic agenda is clear: the Christian God is the true God. The Fula people, whose beliefs are rooted in both tribal and Islamic custom, are ultimately shown to be in folly for having rejected the "secret God" (he has to be kept secret so that the Chief Elder - a Disney-villain reprint complete with gormless sidekicks - won't accuse them of blasphemy, which he really really wants to do) and, as could be predicted from the beginning, convert to Christianity and live happily ever after. Yawn.

The novel was rewarding in one respect, though: to compensate me for the financial and emotional damage of Redgate, Amazon gave me a £5 gift voucher (more than I'd actually spent). Even so, I can't help but feel I should have been paid more than £1.01 to read this book.