Archive for Reviews

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

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

Review of Tribal Gathering “What a Wonderful Surprise!”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on 20/12/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

I have to confess I approached this book with some trepidation. A series of short stories about a fictional African country in the 1960s is hardly my bag, but I made the commitment to review the book and went into it with an open mind.

And what a wonderful surprise it was. I absolutely loved the book. The stories are set in the fictional country of Nibana in West Africa, but the situations and characters are very real. Each story has a clear beginning, middle and end, most of them ending with a grisly, almost Dahl-esque twist. Ryeland’s experiences of working in Africa in the Sixties certainly enriches the book with realistic touches, language and settings.

I wouldn’t recommend the book for those that are easily offended. It is hardly PC and creates the impression that many of Africa’s modern day problems are down to the end of Colonialisation and the corruption that self-government brought. Do not be mislead though, the book also highlights the attitudes of the white people who remained in Africa, making money from the indigenous people. Attitudes that occasionally led to un-rest.

My only criticism is sometimes Ryeland overuses back stories, which detracts from the story, and there are not enough women in the book, and for the most part (apart from the last story) are only on the periphery.

Minor criticisms though. This book held my interest and I would be happy to read anything else by this author.

***** (5 stars)

Karen Mason (I Heard it on the Grapevine)

Buy Tribal Gathering at Amazon.co.uk