Archive for autobiography

Review of The Up-Country Man “A Fascinating Insight”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 26/01/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

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My interest in the war in Nigeria was piqued some time ago when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. 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.

***** (5 Stars)

Tracy Cook

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Review of The Up-Country Man “I Thoroughly Recommend this Book!”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 23/11/2010 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

UCMcover16x24I have to admit to a natural bias towards this book. I was a young man in Nigeria during the time the book is set and it brought back so many memories for me.

Ryeland captures the uncertainty of the build up to the Nigerian Civil War with mastery. His observations are incredibly detailed and perfectly illustrate the society to which I belonged as a child: the ex-patriot community. He truthfully depicts the lives of the Europeans resident in that young independent country and their attempts to try to help it get on its feet (while enjoying a life style we’d never have had “back home”). He observes how we remained outside of the mainstream African culture which fascinated, repelled and puzzled us in equal measure.

 As another reviewer has mentioned, this is not a book for the PC brigade. Ryeland is no racist, but his portrayal of the sense of superiority that was instilled in the Europeans working and living out in the ex-colony is bound to offend some. I would advise people likely to be offended by that to simply appreciate those aspects for what they are, invaluable first-hand accounts of a particular moment in history, whose protagonists are now slowly disappearing off the world stage.

 The book reads like a thriller. I found it difficult to stop myself starting another chapter as I finished each one… even when common sense said it was time for sleep. You really get drawn into this first person narrative and rapidly become keen to find out what happens to him, his friends and acquaintances as the political situation deteriorates.

 As for his use of Pidgin English, I recognise that for some this might present a problem to the uninitiated, but if you persevere, it will become easier to understand and it is yet another element by which Ryeland allows you to put yourself into his predicament. As a fluent pidgin speaker myself, I found those dialogues really added to the atmosphere and to the authentic tone of the book.

 If anyone is seeking to understand what it was like for a European to live in post-colonial Africa, under the threat of coup d’etats and civil wars, this book will offer you the chance to experience that life in great detail.

 It has even given me a desire to finish my long abandoned novel about my own experiences in Nigeria as a child. I thoroughly recommend this book!

***** (5 stars)

Berni Armstrong

Review of The Up-Country Man “Well Written and Engaging”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on 15/10/2010 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Up-Country Man is the autobiographical tale of Kenneth Ryeland, author of Tribal Gathering. As a young man in the 1960s, he was posted by Land Rover, to work in Nigeria, leaving behind his wife and young son. His posting coincided with the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War and the establishment of the short lived independent state of Biafra. Ken comes face to face with tribal differences, the corruption inherent in newly independent countries and meets some interesting characters along the way. The book is well written and engaging and I certainly came away feeling as though I had learnt a lot about a subject I previously knew very little about. Ryeland has a wonderful memory for places and dialogue and evokes the sense of one actually being there and witnessing the horror of his situation.

My criticisms are few, in that I found the frequent use of pidgin English both annoying and unnecessary. Ryeland could have established early on that the indigenous people used this language and from then on, just used an English translation. Because I couldn’t understand it, I found myself skipping these parts. I would also add that this book would not appeal to those who are concerned about political correctness. Some of the language is very of the time, and there is a tendency to make the white man always look fair and just, and black Africans ignorant. As this is an autobiography, subjectivity is understandable, and it is the situation seen through Ryeland’s eyes. But while he does not express the same obnoxious prejudices as his fellow ex-pats, there is still a feeling that he is not willing to accept that white rule in Nigeria may have played a part in the situation he finds himself in. But it is not for me to argue if countries are better off as colonies, or finding their own feet, even if it does involve civil war. It is my place to review books, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Up-Country Man and would now be interested to now read an account of the situation from a black African’s point of view.

**** (4 stars)

Karen Mason

The Up-Country Man: The Story Behind the Story

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 23/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Evacuation Ship: MV Isonzo

When the “Winds of Change” began to blow through the African colonies in the late fifties and early sixties, the author began to take a deep interest in these vast territories. Even after leaving school, he nurtured his secret desire to live and work in the ex-colonies of Africa. His ambition was eventually fulfilled shortly after his 25th birthday.

Having finished his engineering apprenticeship and obtained the necessary academic qualifications, the author joined a British company with commercial interests in the West African state of Nigeria. In the six and a half years since independence in October 1960, the people of this ex-British colony had already experienced civil unrest and two military coups. Now the country was on the brink of three long years of civil war, primarily because of an argument over oil revenues between the Federal Military Government and the Governor of the Eastern Region. The author arrived in Nigeria in April 1967, just as the Biafran crisis was about to enter its final and most devastating stage.

This book records his personal views and experiences of the events leading up to and beyond the act of rebellion that created the short-lived Republic of Biafra. The work concentrates on the author’s arrival in the territory and the first one hundred days following secession when he was resident in Enugu, the capital of Biafra. His job as a manager with one of the most important companies in the region gave him a particular insight into the bid for independence and the consequences arising from many of the policies adopted by the Biafran Government thereafter.

The narrative deals with the culture shock that everyone experiences when they arrive in a country where the lifestyle, customs and climate are vastly different to their own. It also looks closely at the relationship between the Africans and the Europeans who lived and worked in Nigeria, reflecting the reality of post colonial Africa in the nineteen-sixties in a sensitive and honest way. Though there is cognisance of the wider political machinations in Biafra, Nigeria and the UK during the period of the crisis, the work is really a personal reflection of the day-to-day difficulties and problems encountered by both Africans and Europeans as Nigeria raced headlong into civil war.

Despite being resident in Biafra for only a short time, this work captures the mood and relates some of the incidents that occurred during the build up to all out war in July 1967. These include the close surveillance of all foreigners by the Biafran secret police (an activity that caused many problems for the author); the difficulty he experienced with the Biafran military when the company driver was beaten close to death by drunken soldiers; the illegal and barbaric activity of the police and army personnel who manned the hundreds of road blocks; and the effect that all this chaos had on the lives of the people and the economy of Biafra. The work also reflects the feeling of vulnerability that pervaded the author’s daily life as the Federal Nigerian Army penetrated the northern and western sectors of the new republic and began to advance inexorably towards Enugu, the seat of power of the rebel regime.

However, it is not all gloom and misfortune. Many passages touch on the humour and grit of the ordinary citizens trying to cope with the chaos around them. The sections of dialogue written in the style of spoken Pidgin English will provide the reader with an intriguing insight into the use of English as a means of communication in a country where 250 languages are in daily use. The work is presented from the viewpoint of a young Briton, seemingly abandoned by his company, stranded in a rebel enclave, threatened by war and separated from his wife and child.

The climax of the book describes the author’s evacuation by road from Enugu to Port Harcourt. During the journey the civil defence volunteers manning the roadblocks subjected the author and the other Europeans in the vehicle convoy to many threats, and there is an account of the evacuees being dragged from their vehicles and lined up at the side of the road ready for a firing squad.

The author, together with over 800 other expatriates, was eventually evacuated from Port Harcourt to Lagos by sea on the MV Isonzo, a small, 7,500-ton Italian freighter. This was the last vessel to leave rebel held Port Harcourt and required a special agreement between the warring parties for its safe passage. Even at this late stage, however, the Biafran military continued to harass the evacuees as the ship steamed down the river Bonny on its way to the open sea.

The work will satisfy a wide spectrum of readers ranging from those interested in British post-colonial African history to the many who simply enjoy a good, true life adventure story. Though the outline for the book was written twenty-five years after the events, this does not dilute the impact of the story. Contemporaneous diary notes, a sharp memory, reflection and hindsight give the work an unusual strength and character.

This book will provide the reader with a detailed insight into the traumatic conditions that prevailed in Nigeria as the country embarked upon a bloody and cruel civil war. It was a war fuelled on both sides by the Western Powers because of the importance of Nigerian oil. No other British author has written an account of the misfortunes and sufferings of ordinary individuals caught up in the power politics and lust for oil revenues that broke the uneasy peace in Nigeria during the late sixties.

First Visit?

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , on 20/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
The Author

The Author

Welcome. Please have a look and find out more about my work. The fiction is primarily based on my own experiences whilst living and working in West Africa during the 1960s and 70s; whereas the memoirs are factual accounts of my apprenticeship and later my adventures inside secessionist Biafra. I will be posting news, extracts from each book and reviews to provide a flavour of the stories. If you like what you’ve read and wish to order any of them, they are available from a wide range of online bookshops in both paperback and e-book format – have a look at the “Ordering” section listed under “Information” at the top of the right hand column to see titles and availability. To return to this page simply click on the “African Tales” title situated at the top of every page.