Azucar, Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Azúcar (sugar) is a novel about belonging in a world where all things are on the move: people, ideas, foods and not least music.
Oswald Kole Osabutey Jnr, henceforth Yunior, leaves his family in Accra to travel to the mythical Caribbean island of Fumaz (think tobacco) where the revolutionary philosophy of peopleism just about keeps its flame alive against the forces of an old-style command centre political bureaucracy and a stifling trade blockade from the big imperialist neighbour to the North. Yunior brings the knowledge of the scientist, the skills of a farmer and the heart and invention of a musician to his life in Fumaz. As scientist, he must find some way of rescuing the island’s famed sweet rice industry from collapse; as a farmer, he sees how much of his West African food has journeyed across the Atlantic to make the island’s unique cuisine; as musician he becomes part of the spirit that puts the island on the world stage, out of all proportion to its size.
This is a novel of ideas – how much is accidental in the world? How much can be planned? It has much to say about the impact of colonialism on the fragile ecology of the island – but it is the pursuit of love and the tragedy of death, the interweaving of moments of harmony and moments of conflict and the motives of vividly drawn characters that are the drivers of this sometimes zany narrative. And there is always the texture of the language to enjoy in a book whose prose is as flowing, elegant and heartfelt as the music that moves freely back and forth across the seas between Africa and the Caribbean.