REVIEWS,ANALYSES AND CRITIQUES 1
Faceless, Amma Darko’s third novel after Beyond the Horizon and The Housemaid, is the tragic story of street children in Accra, Ghana told through a chaotic urban fabric where pressing social issues like the gap between rich and poor, HIV/AIDS, broken families and the role of women in society are all-pervasive.
The story is an investigation of the death of Baby T, a child prostitute whose body is found dumped behind a marketplace, naked, beaten and mutilated. Darko skilfully reveals details about Baby T during the progression of the novel through her younger sister Fofo, herself a street child who comes into contact with group of women who run a documentation NGO called MUTE.
Baby T’s story is heartbreaking and entirely believable, not only in relation to Accra, but also in a global context. She is the third child of Ma Tsumu, born after a brutal beating intended to fulfil the ambitions of an abortion because the father believes that Ma Tsumu is “too fertile”. Kwei, the father, disappears after fathering Fofo, leaving Ma Tsumu to fend for herself with four children. The family manage alone with the two sons bringing home money from fish-related activities. But Faceless is a novel where things only go very wrong when men are involved and when Ma Tsumu takes a lover into her bed in the form of Kpakpo, who earns his keep by “dubious” means, the stage is set for tragedy.
The first consequence of the new lover is that the brothers, unable to stand the new nightly sounds of the shared bedroom, pack their bags and disappear. This leaves Baby T at the mercy of Kpakpo, who sexually abuses her. Hurt and confused, she confides in a family friend, Onko, who brutally rapes her. Ma Tsumu, a tragic figure destroyed by the men in her life, is unable to do anything but take money from Onko, who then continues to live in the same compound as Baby T. Clearly the situation is untenable and Kpakpo has the answer. Baby T can be sent away to a distant relative of his who is actually a Madame – in reality Baby T is sold into prostitution.
Discrimination against women is a constant theme of the novel and symbolically Baby T is representative of the sins visited upon all women in a society where from birth women are discriminated against and made responsible not only for their sins, but for those of men in society. As mentioned earlier, nothing goes right when men are involved and many of the male characters in the novel are murderers, child abuses, rapists – or simply good for nothings.
Even those not presented in this light are trapped in their perceptions of women as caregivers and housewives, such as NGO worker Kabria’s husband, who expects her to be waiting at the door to take his briefcase when he returns from work. Despite the fact that Kabria works a long day, she is still expected to manage the household, cook and take care of the children. Darko is keen to highlight this hypocrisy.
The response of women to their experience at the hands of men varies from Ma Tsumu’s “Because they are animals, They know no mercy…” to the positive engagement of the NGO MUTE, which is made up entirely of women as if to suggest that it is women who must be in control of their response to a warped male world.
But if the fate of women in society is a major theme of the novel, it plays itself out through a street children narrative which allows Darko the scope for powerful social commentary that demonstrates the personal tragedy of each and every child that ends up on the streets. As one of the characters says in quoting assassinated US president John F. Kennedy: “The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.” What is the hope, Darko seems to be asking, if societies can allow the conditions that result in the fate of Baby T?
Darko’s landscape is not entirely bleak: she does offer hope in the form of Fofo, who by the end of the novel looks set on the right road, and in the form of MUTE, whose members are the positive role models of the novel.
It might be said that the solutions offered by the novel are too simple, but Darko does leave enough in the air to suggest that nothing is certain. Indeed, the story is told with just enough skill to keep the reader guessing. While it is true that some of the characters sometimes feel a bit stereotyped, Darko is also capable of demonstrating some character complexity and contradictions, as in the case of the pimp Poison, who is also shown to be a victim through is own abuse as a child, but who now “no longer suffered the pain, he inflicted it.”
These criticisms aside, Darko succeeds in hammering home a powerful message that it is children and the way they are treated that are the true measure of how societies are judged. It is through their eyes that the answers to the myriad moral predicaments that society finds itself in, are to be found.
* Reviewed by Patrick Burnett…http://www.pambazuka.org/arts/faceless-amma-darko-0
REVIEWS,ANALYSES AND CRITIQUES 2
Faceless is the third novel written by Amma Darko, with an introductory essay by Prof. Kofi Anyhidoho. It tells of the death of Baby T, a child prostitute whose naked, beaten and mutilated body is found dumped behind a marketplace in Agbogbloshie, a slum area in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Details of the murder and Baby T’s life, are skilfully revealed by the author through two sources: one, Baby T’s younger sister Fofo, herself a street child; and through the rehabilitative intervention of an NGO, known as MUTE whose efforts through one of its Programme Officers, Kabria, unearth’s the proverbial can of worms that is the whole story of Faceless
Baby T’s story is heartbreaking. The third child of Ma Tsuru, Baby T is sexually abused by her mother’s live-in lover, Kpakpo. Confused and betrayed, she confides in a family friend and co-tenant, Onko, who takes advantage of her trust and rapes her. Baby T’s mother, Ma Tsuru, a tragic figure destroyed by the men in her life, is helpless to do anything. Weighed down by poverty, illiteracy and shame, she takes money from Onko, and matters take a drastic turn when Kpakpo, always on the loose for fast money manipulates Maa Tsuru and Baby T is sold into prostitution, to also appease his ‘guilt’. It seemed a nasty situation has been tidied up. But has it? Subsequent events, leading to the tragic death of Baby T proves otherwise.
Discrimination against women is a pervasive theme in the novel. Symbolically Baby T carries the sins of her parents, as well as those visited upon women in a society where culturally men are the masters and women bear the brunt of injustice; Maa Tsuru, Baby T’s mother whose husband abandons her penniless, as a result of a ‘curse’ is also a victim of discrimination whose hapless predicament is made more poignant by superstition, poverty and illiteracy. Thus though we have most of the male characters in the novel being murderers, rapists and irresponsible fathers, yet it is the female characters that suffer in a community of drifters and hustlers where characters like Poison, the local thug and Kingpin reign supreme.
Faceless is also the tragic, unfortunate story of a social canker in Ghana and indeed, the bane of developing countries, streetism in a metropolitan and urban environment; and a powerful social commentary and insight into the multifaceted issues underlying streetism, that is broken homes, rape, poverty, illiteracy AIDS, etc. She leaves no stone unturned in exposing and analysing the characters for their various behaviours and at the end, people like Maa Tsuru would receive thee sympathy of the reader and well some disgust, while Fofo would earn admiration for her brevity and courage in wanting to seek the truth and nothing but the truth behind her sister’s murder despite threats on her life from shady characters like Poison, who bring up only abhorrence. I do believe also that Kabria’and her children from the ‘urban posh’ environment are a foil to Fofo and her gang, the contrast created presenting a cruel view of the two worlds.
The fate of Baby T only strengthens her sister Fofo who, through the interventions of MUTE is given a new lease of life, so to speak. And the author seems to buttress this point further by quoting: “The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.” John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)
Faceless is a well-researched novel, with the narration drawing on real-life events and places/slums like Agbogbloshie, Market, Makola Market, Korle-Gonno, and the all-notorious Sodom and Gomorrah (named after the Biblical city that God destroyed because of its numerous sins) of all which are in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. The characters are real and believable enough and though some, like Poison are stereotyped I do believe the portrayal of such characters highlight the predominant truth and nastiness of the whole streetism and gang phenomena
The writing is brilliant, with simple easy to understand Ghanaian English, interspersed with the vernacular, giving the reader a feel of the Ghanaian culture and what makes her tick. I particularly like the narrative style, which though straight forward draws the reader in, building tension as the author takes us through dizzying moments of intrigue and suspense to reveal the hidden truth behind Baby T’s murder.
I believe Amma Darko is a force to reckon with and I recommend this book wholeheartedly.