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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Healers

by
Ayi Kwei Armah


general information | quotes | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Healers



Title: The Healers
Author: Ayi Kwei Armah
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978
Length: 309 pages
Availability: The Healers - US
The Healers - UK
The Healers - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : solid novel of Africans finding their way -- with a good dose of suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.




Quotes:

  • "Taking as its field of inquiry a particular moment when the stresses to which one society was habitually subject arose to overwhelm it, it sets out to demonstrate the reasons for this failure and hence to illustrate something about the nature, not only of this culture, but perhaps of all comparable societies which succumb to external pressures in this way." - Robert Fraser, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah (1988)

  • "The Healers is a more substantial work, with its own special kind of sombre beauty and haunting resonances, but its weaknesses lie in much the same areas as those of its predecessor." - Derek Wright, Ayi Kwei Armah's Africa (1989)

  • "For the most part, The Healers eschews the technique of the hammer for that of the dagger it its polemical dimension. (...) The Healers does not, in other words, come by its concreteness casually, but forges it, deliberately and laboriously, from the metal of language upon the anvil of narrative." - Neil Lazarus, Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction (1990)

  • "One must aim at winning the hearts and minds of the young, imbuing them with the highest ideals and making them proud and happy to be Africans. This The Healers does better than any other novel Armah has written. And this is why it is potentially his most important book and certainly his healthiest. One can no longer complain that his vision is warped, his art sick." - Bernth Lindfors, Popular Literature inAfrica (1991)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Healers is set in the time of the British take-over of the kingdom of Ashanti (Asante, in what is now Ghana) in the late 19th century. The novel centres around Densu, and begins before the colonizers have made much of an inroad in the country.
       Densu is twenty, on the verge of becoming a full-fledged member of his society, though still somewhat uncertain of what he wants to do. The book begins with the local Olympiad-type contest in his native Esuano. He is a strong but wilful competitor, refusing to wrestle, for example -- he doesn't want to fight --, but a contender for the overall title. His main competition is the heir to the local throne, the able Appia, who has a different approach to the contests.
       Densu and Appia are also pitted against each other in a far more significant contest: the local power-broker, Ababio, thinks Densu should be the next king, and approaches him to essentially offer him the job. Densu declines the repeatedly made offer -- with Ababio warning him of the significance of the choice: if Densu doesn't side with him he was making a very big enemy. Densu learns as much soon enough: Appia is brutally murdered and Densu is set up as the fall guy.
       One reason Ababio doesn't want Appia to take over is because he has been turned against the whites by his mother (who in turn is heavily influenced by the so-called healers), and Ababio knows which way the tide is turning:

If we do not help the whites, we shall be left by the roadside. And if we are such fools as to stand against the whites, they will grind us till we become less than impotent , less than grains of bad snuff tossing in a storm. That is the choice before every one of us. I myself, I have already chosen. And those who think like me have chosen. We shall be on the side of the whites. That is where the power lies. We have chosen power because we find impotence disgusting. What I am doing now is inviting you to be on the same side.
       But Densu's sympathies also lie with healers -- indeed the more he thinks about it, the more he wants to join their ranks. Deciding what he wants to do with his life he goes to apprentice with Damfo (the healer Appia's mother depends on) -- which has the fringe benefit that it allows him to be near Denfu's daughter, Ajoa, whom he is very much drawn to.
       Ababio's clever conniving put Densu in a difficult position; his efforts to prove his innocence (and Ababio's evil doings) make for quite some suspense: the story of the innocent fugitive is a familiar one, but proves surprisingly effective in this unusual setting.
       Densu also gets thrust into the white-native conflicts, his healing duties going beyond the mere healing of the body and soul of individuals. "The ending of all unnatural rifts is healing work", Damfo tells him, and Densu tries his best -- though the overwhelming power of the intruders (and the weaknesses of the divided locals) mean victories are small rather than complete. Armah effectively describes the conflicts, picking scenes and events, then occasionally stepping back for a larger overview, evoking a solid sense of what happened in those times.
       The whole 'healer'-concept could easily be overplayed, but Armah keeps it in check, suggesting why their attitude and approach is sensible, but understanding that convincing all is not easy. From the beginning, Damfo acknowledges that healers are often looked upon with suspicion.
       The main message of the novel (though carefully presented, and not imposed upon the reader as message too forcefully) is a call for patience: overwhelming force and injustice can prevail in the short term, but the goal must be longterm health and success. Just as Densu's innocence is eventually proved, the idea is that the healers lay the groundwork for a better future:
     'You are saying our time is not now ?' Nyaneba asked.
     'I am saying this is seed time, far from harvest time,' Damfo said.
       By not being too programmatic, and by telling a good story along the way -- the small, local scenes are often excellent --, Armah effectively conveys his message. The Healers is a well-presented story, and it is also a good, enjoyable read. Minor faults in the presentation, including some awkward jumps in the story, are forgivable; overall, the book is a success.

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Links:

Reviews: Ayi Kwei Armah: Books by Ayi Kwei Armah under review: Books about Ayi Kwei Armah under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Ayi Kwei Armah was born in what is now Ghana in 1939. He studied in the United States and is the author of several novels, including The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born.

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