Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy

Ama Ata Aidoo’s restless, relentless critique of the Western and even of African nations she encounters is replete with a cynicism and a loving desire.  Having read Killjoy now, for the first time, I think I would put it on a syllabus right after Nervous Conditions. A useful exercise for high schoolers/undergraduates would be to have them compare the temperaments, circumstances, and implications of European style education/the experience of studying “abroad” for women and girls like Sissie, Tambu, and Nyasha. I wonder how Aidoo might resolve the tension between disappointing realization that “migrations are part of the general illusion of how well an unfree population think they can do for themselves. Running very fast just to remain where they are,” and the poverty and lack of mobility in one’s home country (89)

An investigation of the forms would also be interesting. For us, we might go back to our discussion of what it is that makes a novel a novel. As I read Killjoy, it occurred to me that this novel is at once a work of impressionism a series of portraits of faces, situations, landscapes one encounters while travelling and a tapestry of a variety of story types. These included the straight-forward expository narrative (12), some of the elements of the Negro spiritual (consonance, related & unified through the use of refrain and recurring lines in text, (20-2)), the praise song (26), a prayer form (27), the fairy tale(29), the fable(55). This blending of prose and poetic styles to create a novel in which the elements concatenate to form an overall gestalt was made critically famous in the U.S. by Jean Toomer through his prose-poem novel, Cane (1923), which is proclaimed by many to be the first critical novel of the Harlem Renaissance. While I don’t know if Aidoo ever read Toomer’s book,  I think it is not accidental that Aidoo has included forms, tropes and metrical/rhythmical styles from much of the Western world—from much of the Black diaspora, while relying heavily on the anecdotal form to weave together subtle adages. Wat do we make fo the fusion of all of these types of storytelling–of myth-making and sythesizing? of the Frankenstein’s monster made thereby?  The prose-poetry format intersting partially because the poems offer commentary on the expository sections.It is worth noting that the surprise and multivalence that poetic line breaks introduce are of particular use for Aidoo as she repeatedly renders commonly accepted idealist narratives and then undercuts them with the sweeping undertow ambivalence with regard to the limitations for those in the colonial or post-colonial state and really just the limits to human power to determine the future. She uses this technique (and the powerful silence of a vast white space) to set the tone from the first page to the second in which she writes, “Things are working out//towards their dazzling conclusions…//” (3-4)

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