Friday, 7 January 2011
Book Review: The Up-Country Man by Kenneth Ryeland
My interest in the war in Nigeria in the 1960s was piqued some time ago when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, a fictional account of various characters' experiences of the foundation of Biafra. Being a child of the 70s it was something I knew virtually nothing about. Therefore when I came across this book I thought it would be really interesting to read a first-hand account. The author Kenneth Ryeland moved to Nigeria as a young man in 1967, working as an engineer. His company had played down reports of previous unrest and Ryeland planned to move his young family to the country to join him after the completion of his probation period.
The book intially details the culture shock experienced by the author and another young colleague upon their arrival, having to adjust to a new geography and culture. Ryeland is moved to a posting in Enugu amid rumours that secession will occur, and when it does he finds himself living in the new state of Biafra. The "police action" seriously disrupts life for the Europeans as well as for the rest of it's new citizens.
I found the book fascinating. I really liked the use of Pidgin English in the book as I felt it illustrated one of the most obvious difficulties the author must have faced on arriving in Nigeria and lent real flavour to the book. The story of Adam and Eve in Pidgin at the start really helped my understanding, so while I couldn't translate it I certainly got the gist. The story was so descriptive of the places and people, but without being unnecessarily wordy.
I can imagine some people might be uncomfortable with some of the portrayals of the white man as master and the locals as servants but it is illustrating how things really were at the time, is basically a historical account of events and it would be wrong to sanitise the book to appease people.
This book contained enough description of Nigeria and it's people to satisfy me as a travel book, enough about factual historical events to make me feel like I was learning something by reading it, and enough emotion and anecdotes for it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.