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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Good Morning Comrades

by
Ondjaki


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

To purchase Good Morning Comrades



Title: Good Morning Comrades
Author: Ondjaki
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 120 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Good Morning Comrades - US
Good Morning Comrades - UK
Good Morning Comrades - Canada
Bonjour camarades - France
Bom dia camaradas - Deutschland
  • Portuguese title: Bom dia camaradas
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Stephen Henighan

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing glimpse of life in Angola, ca.1990

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 7/3/2007 Sieglinde Geisel
Die Zeit . 28/9/2006 Birgit Dankert


  From the Reviews:
  • "Trotz einer gewissen Verklärung ist Bom dia camaradas ein ehrliches Buch. Der Bullerbü-Effekt gehört zum Genre: Wenn Erwachsene von einer Kindheit erzählen, die sie sich gewünscht hätten, erfüllen sie auch die Sehnsüchte der lesenden Kinder." - Sieglinde Geisel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Der Autor wählt die traditionsreiche Form des Schelmenromans, und die beschränkte Perspektive 'von unten' verstärkt dessen Wirkung. (...) Wie Diktaturen in Afrika funktionieren, was Sozialismus in Uganda für Kinder bedeutete, hat er in Bom dia camaradas beschrieben, voller Sehnsucht nach der Magie seiner Heimat und Kindheit, voll von Gerüchen, von Gefühlen des Glücks, der Geborgenheit und Sehnsucht mitten in Elend und Gefahr." - Birgit Dankert, Die Zeit

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:

       Good Morning Comrades is narrated by young Ndalu and describes life in the Angolan capital of Luanda near the end of one stage of the long-festering civil war there. Among Ndalu's rituals is the early-morning conversation with Comrade António, the family servant who arrives at the house early each day -- and who is nostalgic for the days when the Portuguese still ruled and the city was clean and had "everything you needed". Ndalu argues it wasn't the right kind of freedom, with the Portuguese running things instead of the Angolans, but Comrade António is only one of the adults who suggest a world -- and experience -- beyond his narrow and limited ken.
       In a still-childish manner Ndalu takes the world to be as he finds it, hardly aware of its absurdities, or the ways in which it differs from life elsewhere. But he also revels in its specialness:

Here in Luanda there's no doubting good stories. Lots of things can happen and there are a lot of other things which, if they can't happen, can find another way to take place.
       A major event in the book is the visit of his Aunt Dada from Portugal -- who brings not just chocolate for the kids, but even potatoes. Ndalu's family is clearly fairly well-to-do by the local standards, but are also used to the local privations, and Ndalu is stunned to learn that there's no such thing as ration cards in Portugal to determine how much foodstuff and other essentials anyone can purchase.
       Life is childishly full for Ndalu, every day a new day, with little carry-over from one to the next. There is menace and very real danger -- for example, an urgency to pull over the car and convince Aunt Dada to get out and stand still when the president's motorcade drives by, narrowly avoiding: "seeing the cirucs of shots that would have happened if some FAPLA had seen you moving around". And there is also the much-feared ruthless Empty Crate gang, who supposedly target schools -- with Ndalu's apparently next on their hit-list. In each case, however, Ondjaki deflates the menace -- even when it is very real (the president's escort no doubt actually being quite trigger-happy) -- with humour, leaving Ndalu more or less untroubled by what might have been.
       The political situation is also just a given for the boy: beaches that can only be used by the Soviets, teachers from Cuba, having to participate in a big rally in May 1st Square. Ndalu is invited with some other Youth Pioneers to appear on a National Radio broadcast, giving a testimony for the workers: he carefully prepares a text, but when the time comes he's given a neatly typed script to read from. Ondjaki just slips this kind of thing in: the boy is more excited to recount what he saw at the station, or how many dirty jokes he could get out, than the fact that they switched texts on him, or made him read a prepared statement. He doesn't even mention what it is he reads; it's all the same to him -- and it's not so much that he's oblivious to how he's being manipulated (though he is, in the way most ten-year-olds would be) but because it doesn't particularly interest him, certainly not when considering all the other exciting things going on.
       Here is, for once, a child-narrator who is not particularly precocious and who doesn't analyse everything he sees and hears around him. Ndalu reports what happens, and in this way Ondjaki does provide a lot of information about conditions (physical, political, etc.), but even where he's made aware of issues -- such as the fact that there are places where ration cards are not used -- he doesn't trouble himself with wondering how that can be, or why that isn't the case in Angola.
       The narrative at first appears to be almost a stream of childish consciousness, Ndalu's account undifferentiated as he reports on every- and anything. But there is an arc to the story too: Comrade António's morning greetings, a sign of some stability (and link to the past), become more resonant when it becomes clear that this a time of change. The Cuban teachers will be heading home, for example, signaling a fundamental change. But the uncertain fear that grips the country remains pervasive: the threat of an Empty Crate seen in every cloud of dust on the horizon.
       Good Morning Comrades is a dense, fast mix of many glimpses of Angolan life around 1990 for a child. It is a childish perspective, with Ndalu less concerned with, say, what his parents do during the day than his classmates' bathing habits (the book is rife with heat and smells). It's an effective presentation, but also leaves the story feeling a bit thin -- though, in fact, Ondjaki packs a lot more in than would first seem apparent: it's the sort of book that unfolds more fully after one has read it. The pace, and jumps, make for an almost unsettlingly quick read, and it feels like material that could have been effectively expanded, but even as is it's a warm, rich, worthwhile read.

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Links:

Good Morning Comrades: Reviews: Ondjaki: Other books by Ondjaki under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Angolan author Ondjaki was born in 1977.

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© 2008-2010 the complete review

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