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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Search Sweet Country

by
Kojo Laing


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

To purchase Search Sweet Country



Title: Search Sweet Country
Author: Kojo Laing
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986
Length: 339 pages
Availability: Search Sweet Country - US
Search Sweet Country - UK
Search Sweet Country - Canada
Search Sweet Country - India
Die Sonnensucher - Deutschland
  • With a Foreword by Binyavanga Wainaina

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Our Assessment:

B+ : striking

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Foreign Affairs . Summer/1988 John de St. Jorre
FAZ . 5/1/1996 Alban Nikolai Herbst
London Rev. of Books . 18/9/1986 D.A.N.Jones
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 7/6/1987 George Packer
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . 23/9/2012 Mona Moraru
Publishers Weekly . 11/6/2012 .
Slate . 29/6/2012 Uzodinma Iweala


  From the Reviews:
  • "Ghanaian poet Kojo Laing, in his first novel, breaks new ground for the genre, scoring a prodigious symphony of life in contemporary Accra." - John de St. Jorre, Foreign Affairs

  • "Solche Konstruktionen enervieren den europäischen Leser bisweilen, zumal man ja die Methode schnell kapiert. Nicht immer hat sie Witz, zuweilen führt sie auch zu falschen Bildern (...) Allezeit werden oft nur lose verbundene Geschichten erzählt." - Alban Nikolai Herbst, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Mr. Laing, an acclaimed poet inhis native Ghana, captures Accra, Ghana's capital, at a moment of its recent history, through the wanderings and intersections of a large cast of comic characters (.....) The vision is surreal and satirical; every sentence is relentlessly figurative; ideas and jokes crowd every page. Though the verbal excess becomes tiresome, and the whole of the novel is weaker than its parts, Mr. Laing has found an original voice that is all the stronger for making few concessions to the Western reader: wild, sophisticated, sorrowful, it is the voice of contemporary Africa's disillusionment." - George Packer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Search Sweet Country is a dense and perceptive homage to the vibrant and unsteady metropolis, brilliantly shaped by Kojo Laing's lyrical prose and complete awareness of his characters. (...) The novel is a barrage of lilting prose racing through and past expressive characters. The most rewarding reading comes from surrendering into that current, basking in the crisp descriptions and lively language." - Mona Moraru, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • "The abrupt shifts in tone create an atmosphere of simultaneity, gathering contradictions -- and divers narrative threads--into concert in denial of permanence or stability. Insisting on the multivalence of humanity is certainly not a new idea, but the power of Laing's writing and the complexity of his subject -- a country rising out of colonialism and looking to the future -- make for a compelling and rewarding read." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Like Samuel Beckett, Laing utilizes narrative confusion to help construct the book’s environment and emotional tone at any given moment. And as we do with Beckett, we continue reading Laing in spite of our confusion and frustration because of the beauty of his prose. His sentences can only be described as heated, bubbling over with images, slamming metaphor and simile against quiet and simple observation, sometimes purposefully confusing meanings in the most poetic fashion" - Uzodinma Iweala, Slate

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:

       Binyavanga Wainaina begins his Introduction to Search Sweet Country with the bold claim that:

     Search Sweet Country is the finest novel written in English to come out of the African continent. I know no other novel, from a continent full of great novels, which rewards the reader so abundantly.
       That's some high expectations to burden a book with -- and while the rewards of Search Sweet Country are abundant, they don't necessarily come easily.
       The novel is set in Accra, in the mid-1970s, when Ghana -- independent since 1957 -- was under the rule of a military head of state, Acheampong, whose National Redemption Council had overthrown the democratically elected government in 1972. But Search Sweet Country isn't so much concerned with the historical specifics: politics features in the novel, but only as one part of a larger picture of the country and city. Laing's novel is critical, as there are arguments about the failures of state and of differing approaches to governance, but Laing's vision doesn't get hung up in the details of the time: descriptions of the lives of his characters, and the conditions in Accra largely suffice to convey the failures of those in power.
       Wishful thinking -- of how things should be -- and a search for alternatives is common to several of the characters, and one, Beni Baidoo, has ambitions for reinvention at its most basic: "I know everybody in Accra except dignity !" he complains, and his solution is to try to found his own village, and start entirely anew:
All I need now is a little help from my gooooooood friends to start my village. I can get land, I have my donkey, and all I need is a few human beings, some furniture, several superhuman girls, a family god, an okyeame, a village fool and a village thief ... to steal from the rich and give to me gently.
       The novel moves among a variety of characters and their various quests, including the academic, Professor Sackey (who, although, a professor of sociology: "could not manage the society of his house" -- but who also claims: "I am the barometer for Ghana ! When they start making things unhappy for me, then things are getting serious !") and the seeking Kofi Llow. Another character is named Owula ½-Allotey; another the British witch, Sally Soon (and Sooner, and Soonest -- at one point: "huddling behind the moon, crying over her own contradictions").
       There is no clear story arc, as Laing juggles the (often crossing) paths of these many characters -- many of whom finds themselves adrift even as they, like Baidoo, claim (or hope) to have a specific goal in mind. Much of the story amounts to a muddling through, given the circumstances.
       What is most remarkable about the novel is the language, and how the overlapping stories and episodes are told. Laing was a poet before writing this, his first novel, and Search Sweet Country is very much poetic fiction. A six-page glossary is not only of Ghanaian words used in the text, but also: "a few that were invented by the author". But Laing doesn't just sprinkle these words in his narrative, his use of language far exceeds the usual prosaic expectations.
       Typical is the early description of Baidoo:
     Beni Baidoo was Accra, was the bird standing alive by the pot that should receive it, and hoping that, after being defeathereed, it would triumphantly fly out before it was fried.
       Or, for example:
Ghana was a photocopy country, and they wanted the original truth ! Cats and lorries, which had been impatient all along, partly joined them with their different types of horn making one tune of solidarity. You could hold the hope in the air and powder it; all the salt would leave the sea and flavor this stew on fire by the roadsides.
       The intensity and density of the imagery that Laing packs in makes for an unusual reading experience, the richness of the language often in danger of obscuring what plot there is -- especially since Laing shifts so frequently between so many different significant characters. A great deal happens in Search Sweet Country, but much of this is not presented in the most conventional form, making it difficult to keep track of all the Accra-bustle. The picture that emerges, of a country and city and people struggling against so many forces -- many imposed by the powers that be -- is a vivid and convincing one, but, yes, the way it is presented is unusual and can be hard to come to grips with.
       Worthwhile, and often fascinating, but not easy going.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 May 2012

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Links:

Search Sweet Country: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Ghanaian author B.Kojo Laing was born in 1946.

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© 2012 the complete review

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