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I was inspired by one of my friends to read Amos Tutuola’sThe Palm-Wine Drinkard‘. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’ is published by Faber & Faber, one of the oldest indie publishers around. (I didn’t even know that Faber & Faber was an indie publisher, till recently!)

The narrator of the story is a young man who likes drinking palm-wine. So his dad gets him a whole farm filled with palms and hires a special palm-wine tapster for him. The tapster brings him palm-wine everyday and our narrator enjoys drinking it. But one day, the tapster falls from a tree and dies. Now there is no one to tap the wine. Our narrator misses the delicious palm-wine and the tapster and he decides to go in search of the tapster and get him back. The tapster is dead, of course. So, this can mean only one thing. Our narrator has to go to the land of the dead. Before that, he has to find out where this land is. What follows is an amazing series of adventures, as our narrator has one exciting experience after another, meets interesting people and strange creatures, performs one impossible task after another, escapes from impossible situations, even saves a princess (or someone like a princess) from a wicked creature. Whether he accomplishes his original goal and is able to get back the wine tapster – you have to read the book to find that.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard‘ is a fascinating book. It is a combination of folktale, fantasy, magic, mythology. As we follow the narrator’s adventures, the pages just fly. The narrator’s voice is charming and bubbles with energy, and it made me smile throughout, as the narrator describes how he gets into one scrape after another. Amos Tutuola’s prose is very unique. He adapts and shapes and modifies language to bring out the narrator’s voice in a natural way, and it is such a pleasure to read. I read the title as ‘The Palm-Wine Drunkard’, but after reading the introduction to the book by Wole Soyinka, I discovered that it was not ‘drunkard’ but ‘drinkard’. Soyinka explains this in his introduction –

“What an imaginative rupture of spelling, to have turned a negative association into a thing of acceptance, if not exactly approval. Not ‘drunkard’ but – ‘drinkard’. Difficult to damn ‘drinkinness’ with the same moralistic fervour as drunkenness.”

I discovered that when Tutola tried publishing the book, the editors attempted to change the English to make it more grammatically correct. I’m glad they didn’t do that in the end, because Amos Tutuola’s version of English is perfect for the story. The story is just around 110 pages long, and it is over before we know it. Wish it was longer. ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’ was published in 1952, much before Chinua Achebe’s first book. I’m wondering whether Amos Tutuola was the first Nigerian / African author to get international acclaim. If that was the case, he is a pioneer.

I loved ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’. I’m hoping to explore more of Amos Tutuola’s work.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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