Book Detail

Tail of the Blue Bird  

Tail of the Blue Bird

Author - Nii Ayikwei Parkes
ISBN - 978-0224085748
Format - Paperback
Price - GH¢25.00
Available at Spintex
Here is a delightful book that combines the basic tug of the whodunnit with the more elegant pleasures of the literary novel. Like the best detective stories, it has a questing hero, and a vivid sense of locale. Kayo Odamtten is a young Ghanaian returned home after studying in the UK. He is happy enough working as a forensic pathologist in Accra. But when a strange crime is discovered in a remote forest village - by the horrified girlfriend of the Transport Minister, no less - Kayo is dragged into the investigation by corrupt police Inspector PJ Donker, whose idea of recruitment is the threat of imprisonment on conspiracy charges.
Insp Donker sends Kayo off with the warning, "Don't return until you have a good scientific theory and report - CSI-style." Kayo finds the "evil" evidence: unidentified fleshy remains, crawling with maggots, in the corner of a hut belonging to a cocoa farmer who hasn't been seen for a month. He does his CSI best - taking samples for DNA testing, using hi-tech "blue merge" goggles to spot patches of urine on the floor, creating a digital model of the crime scene on his laptop. More importantly, he listens to the locals, especially the old hunter Opanyin Poku.

The hunter shares some of the book's narrative, giving Kayo clues in the form of rambling tales of village history as they sit around drinking palm wine laced with the medicine man's own potions. Kayo may be "caught in a void between instinct and knowledge", but his courtesy and respect for non-Western wisdom mean that there is no real danger of his not getting to the bottom of the mystery.

Tail of the Blue Bird is not overly ambitious, but everything it sets out to do, it does admirably. Nii Ayikwei Parkes surely knows the effect the Ghanaian dialogue will have; he doesn't translate or explain, and this additional layer of mystery (for the average British reader) only adds to the strength of its lyricism and insight.

Reviewed by Jonathan Gibbs --The Independant

An African whodunit that alludes to the troublesome relationship that lies between the modernity and custom ... Parkes has managed to write fabulously poetic and fresh prose that is both vernacular and contemporary.

Deftly executed

Satisfying and unusual

A deeply complex novel; each character, every line entices the reader into feeling the beating heart of urban and rural Ghanaian lives... Parkes' steady, assured writing weaves a cosmological mystery that keeps you guessing to the very last page.

a humane investigation of human failing

Book Description
Tail of the Blue Bird is a beautifully written fable... Parkes's novel hinges on a clash between new and old. In this case, however, it's not wealth and poverty that are in opposition, but reason and belief...
The point of this tale is not about whether or not science works. It does: even the villagers agree. Instead, Tail of the Blue Bird is about the limits of rationalism... this book defends a world view in which wonder and mystery, conveyed through myth and story-telling, can be considered as or more important than "truth".

The List
clear-eyed lyricism

Product Description
Sonokrom, a village in the Ghanaian hinterland, has not changed for thousands of years. Here, the men and women speak the language of the forest, drink aphrodisiacs with their palm wine and walk alongside the spirits of their ancestors. The discovery of sinister remains - possibly human, definitely 'evil' - and the disappearance of a local man brings the intrusion of the city in the form of Kayo; a young forensic pathologist convinced that scientific logic can shatter even the most inexplicable of mysteries. As events in the village become more and more incomprehensible, Kayo and his sidekick, Constable Garba, find that Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill a 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. Tail of the Blue Bird is a story of the clash and clasp between old and new worlds. Lyrically beautiful, at once uncanny and heart-warmingly human, this is a story that tells us that at the heart of modern man there remains the capacity to know the unknowable.

About the Author
Born in the UK in 1974 and raised in Ghana, Nii Ayikwei Parkes lives in Manchester. He has performed poetry in the UK, Europe, Ghana and the US and was a 2005 Associate Artist-in-Residence with BBC Radio 3. In 2007 he was writer-in-residence at California State University, and became one of the youngest living writers to be featured in the Poems on the Underground programme in London for his poem Tin Roof. Tail of the Blue Bird is his first novel.
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