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Ayi Kwei Armah: Radical Iconoclast: Pitting Imaginary Worlds against the Actual, by Ode Ogede. Athens: Ohio UP, 2000. 211 pp. ISBN 0-8214-1352-X cloth.
Ayi Kwei Armah is a world-class novelist and one of Africa's finest, but also a most politically controversial writer whose works have attracted some of the most biased criticism in the history of African literary studies. Ode Ogede's book surpasses any critical analysis that has yet been published, especially with regard to understanding the essence of Armah's narrative style and themes and their respective evolutionary paths of development. The book provides an enlightening close textual reading of Armah's novels, short stories, and essays both in relationship to one another and to the body of texts constituting African prose narratives. Furthermore, Ogede simultaneously engages an informed and balanced discourse with Western critical scholarship on the African novel at the same time as he provides an elucidation of the complexities of Armah's themes and narrative methods.
A major virtue of Ogede's analysis is that it has a consistent and unified thematic focus. Even as his gaze effortlessly and cogently traverses the voluminous corpus of Armah's works in their African and universal historical and social contexts, as well as in their selfreferential allusions and intertextual dialogic engagements with other African writers and literary scholars, Ogede never once deviates from his stated primary objective—that of providing a reading of the evolutionary paths of development both in Armah's novelistic engagements with African history, politics, and culture and in the experimental modes of narrating them. In addressing these interconnected concerns, Ogede cultivates the virtue of linguistic and analytical lucidity, eschewing contemporary fashionable critical jargons that usually impede rather than enhance perception of the object of literary discourse. His arguments, even on the few occasions when one does not altogether agree with them, are comprehensible, logically ordered, and textually substantiated.
Similarly, Ogede's analysis shows an informed familiarity with existing critical literature on the genre of the novel, particularly African novel and Armah criticism. Although Ogede articulates the limitations of earlier booklength studies on Armah, he equally recognizes their positive contributions to scholarship. His evaluation of these studies is objective and guided by his stated critical goal—to provide an unbiased picture of the thematic and stylistic route Armah has traveled in his development as one of Africa's most gifted and revolutionary novelists. The objectivity of his analysis enables Ogede to place the works of Africanist literary critics [End Page 194] in true perspectives, in the process causing to tumble a number of invalid, biased opinions that have been enthroned by usually respected scholars in the field.
The advantage that Ogede has over his predecessors comes from both his firsthand as well as educated knowledge of African orature and the manner in which it operates in relationship with acquired Western narrative traditions in Armah's fiction. As a result, Ogede's analysis of Armah's historical novels, for example, is better informed because he possesses a deeper understanding of African history than has characterized most of the earlier studies of Armah's socalled histories. Since Armah's narrative inspiration, especially in his later monumental epic and historical novels, comes predominantly from African orature, only scholars, like Ogede, who combine knowledge of this tradition with close familiarity with the Western novelistic traditions with which it interfaces in Armah's writing, can accurately assess the writer's artistic strengths and weaknesses as a novelist.
Ogede's book is invaluable to students and scholars of the novel, particularly the African novel, for it is well researched and well formulated.
F. Odun Balogun
Delaware State University