The Book That Made Me: Philip Reeve 16/10/19
Tail of the Blue Bird
Nii Ayikwei Parkes' debut novel is a poetic, dreamy story about the influx of technology and modernity into rural Ghana, and the uneasy relationship between science and spirit. Set in a tiny village called Sonokrom, there is a delicate preservation of tradition and culture, through the language and food and drink and the music of the forest; the villagers' only link to the influx of modernity in the bigger city is through a transistor radio.
Sinister remains, possibly human, are found in a hut in the village bringing Kayo, a budding forensic scientist to the scene to discover the truth and advance the career of politically hungry police inspector Donkor, expecting him to deliver a 'CSI-style report.' While Kayo tries to decipher what has gone on, and keep the inspector happy, he mingles with the villagers, drinking their palm wine, coveting their woman, listening to their stories and slowly the balance between fact and fiction, science and tradition seem to blur. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill the desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind.
It's a beautiful told story, about the old and new Ghana, about changing worlds, told with verve and humility, the traditional Ghanaian words and symbols all adding to the belief that while Ghana changes and moves forward, it must hold on to its precious past. It's a heart-warming and funny tale, Parkes is able to balance the mystical nature of the plot playing with the idea of fable and scientific fact, drawing warm rich characters who are three dimensional and engaging, always entertaining and filled with life.