The Concubine by Elechi Amadi

OMFG this novel is so friggin great!  As a set, The Concubine, The Slave and The Great Ponds should have gotten Amadi the Nobel Prize for literature.  These are perfect novels.  The dialogue is amazing.  The Concubine starts off with the death of Emenike, after a fight in the bush.  His widow is coveted by Madume.  Bad things happen.  Madume is dead too.  Now the pace slows down.  Characters are given time to develop.  Ihuoma, the widow, is at the center.  She’s a good person.  But she has her flaws, and the situation is difficult.  As the situation spirals in and out of control, decisions, and chance, affect people’s lives.  They are constantly aware of the tension between predictability and sudden change.  It is the real world of a village in precolonial times.  The number of people is small… a couple hundred.  It takes a day to walk to a neighboring village, where some people are known but most are strangers.  The gods too are a mix of capriciousness and predictable interventions.  The medicine men are aware, and also unconscious.  Amadi delights in bringing out nuance and ambiguity. At one point a character struggles with what to say, and gives up… observing to himself that there was no proverb at hand to convey the nuance he felt was needed.

As in Amadi’s other novels, the title is never really made clear until the very end.  And the ending itself is poignant and shocking, completely unexpected.  Masterful writing.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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