Review: The Combat by Kole Omotoso
Title: The Combat
Author: Omotoso, Kole
Length: 115 pages
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Publisher / Year: Penguin Modern Classics / 2007 – first published in 1972
Source: Used bookstore in Johannesburg
Why I Read It: More new (to me) Nigerian literature.
Date Read: 19/10/11
This is a short work of satire that takes two men – one a reader and intellectual who repairs automobiles and the other a taxi driver who thinks that reading is a complete waste of time. They are friends and roommates and have been friends since they can both remember. When the taxi driver runs over a young boy the reader decides that he must apologize. When the taxi driver refuses, they decide that they must fight to the death. Behind this event is an underlying issue of a woman they both slept with and a child whose paternity they are trying to both claim for themselves.
What results from this is a hilarious (and sad) look at what happens when countries break up into civil war. Everything else shuts down, the spectacle becomes the biggest thing, workings of the country are ignored to the detriment of everyday life. Each side goes to get assistance from other countries and is courted by others, turning the fight into something completely different.
There were so many fantastic parallels drawn in the book between this fight and between the way actual civil wars break out and work. This would be a book that could be discussed for hours with so much more to bring up every time a paragraph is re-read. Especially interesting were the types of support both chose to go for and the way that this was portrayed. Even though initially there is a right and a wrong, by the end there is no easy answer and both sides have become complicit in wrong actions.
The author includes an afterword in which he discusses African literature and the way that so many Africans write about politics. He says on page 106:
Declarations of political commitment, which have never been scrutinized in detail by anyone, were allowed to permit the writers to libel their compatriots who were attempting to make the best of the bad job, with no previous experience of running anything or governing anyone, including themselves. The Africans one sees here look so much like the Africans portrayed by the Conrads and Carys of English Literature.
It is a really interesting look at what he thinks African writers should be doing – which is providing solutions instead of just ridiculing those in power. Without the large variety of types of novels, and without an examination of problems with solutions offered, what are these writers really doing, he asks.
I highly recommend this little book as a great examination of how people are pulled apart and choose sides, and also as a great satire. I also recommend you find this Penguin edition that includes the afterword because it is very worth a read as well.