My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

Bush of GhostsThis is the first novel by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola that I’ve read, and it’s not comparable to any other book that I know of.

Two brothers get separated from their mother in the village, and then from each other near a bush, when war breaks out. There are no details or specifics. The power of the novel – the suspension of disbelief – works best with the continuing vagueness that Tutuola employs. The youngest of the brothers eats a fruit from a tree and is then transported into the world of ghosts (in this bush). Here, the strangest tale takes place as the boy learns about this ethereal world with all its different towns, each with their own rules, while he wanders about hoping to make his way out and back home. Suffice it to say, he is stuck there for 24 years.

But as the noises of the enemies’ guns drove me very far until I entered the “Bush of Ghosts” unnoticed, because I was too young to know that it was a dreadful bush or it was banned to be entered by any earthly person, so that immediately I entered in it I stopped and ate both fruits which my brother gave me before we left each other, because I was very hungry before we reached there.

What I particularly like in this novel is the style of English used, reminiscent of the oral tradition of African storytelling rather than composition. There were occasional words of pidgin English, too. Sentences repeated themselves – not in an annoying way – but in the natural manner of speech. And just when I’d think a sentence had a run-on effect, Tutuola would round it off nicely by coming full circle where, for example, one sub-clause would have explained another sub-clause that would in turn have explained the main clause and, then finally, the last sub-clause would tie it all back to the main clause.

The aspect of the novel that I didn’t fully enjoy was the story itself of the trapped kid in the bush of ghosts. It came across as a device to show the reader the mystical aspects of the culture (Yoruba) and the tribal (pagan) beliefs of what life after death is. Basically, the Bush of Ghosts is where the ghosts remain until judgement day. And here, the dichotomy of pagan and Christian values fuse together as is seen in many African cultures where somehow, the traditional values and beliefs remain despite the belief in and adoption of Christianity. It’s certainly fascinating, and the “Bush of Ghosts” is a great window into the afterlife beliefs of this culture (at least at it might have been a long time ago), but I have no authority to make any sweeping conclusions or further analysis into this subject. However, back to the point, the bulk of the novel takes place in the ghost towns, which quickly becomes boring. Had Tutuola used the opportunity to create two parallel stories, one for the trapped brother, and the other for the brother that was still alive, and showed us the two worlds – the ghost one and life in a real village – I think the tale would have been stronger, more enjoyable and more insightful into a foreign culture. Wishful thinking, I know.

Samir Rawas Sarayji

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2 thoughts on “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

    1. I wonder, too. Although for its time, it had its merits. I can afford to be knit-picking only because its 5 or 6 decades later and the culture is no longer a mystery nor African writers an oddity. Sign ‘o the times 🙂

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