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Review: The Combat by Kole Omotoso

October 28, 2011

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
Rating: 4.5/5
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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011 11:08 am

    This sounds fabulous. I love satire, and the foundation of the fight in this story seems really unique and appropriate.

  2. October 28, 2011 2:31 pm

    Oh wow, this one does sound like it works on a whole bunch of different levels, and I am rather curious about it now. I loved the way that you explored it in your review, and though I probably would have never picked it up on my own, now I want to look for it! Great review today, Amy!

    • October 30, 2011 8:51 am

      Thanks Zibilee, I’m so glad you liked it. I found it so hard to explain exactly why I loved it. So much that could be discussed but I didn’t want to give too much away either!

  3. October 30, 2011 6:06 pm

    I have this on my shelves I m sure if not I ll get a copy sure got it saw it second hand sure I brought it when I did ,great book by sound of it ,all the best stu

    • October 30, 2011 9:28 pm

      Oh so glad to hear that you have a copy Stu! I hope you really love it.

  4. November 1, 2011 11:22 am

    What is the name of these used bookstore? It sounds interesting and I need to get myself a copy.

    • November 1, 2011 6:43 pm

      There were 2 on 7th St in Melville, almost across the street from each other, that weren’t great but with some hunting found a few interesting looking books. The other one was fantastic but I forget what it’s called Geosi. Someone at the office took me though so I’ll ask him the name and address for you. It was much better!

  5. November 2, 2011 2:17 am

    What a fabulous sounding read, Amy. You always bring great, under-the-radar stuff to my attention!

  6. November 3, 2011 3:44 am

    I have never heard of this book, imagine. Now, I’m tired of the demands placed on African writers to write about one thing or the other. They should just write. That is all that we can ask for. Thanks for the review.

    • November 3, 2011 11:11 am

      I’m glad to have been able to bring it to your attention Kinna. I hadn’t heard of him previously either but definitely want to find more by him. Even just his afterword was absolutely fantastic.

  7. June 27, 2013 9:09 am

    I just came across this author today and was looking for a review of this book. Sounds good and its on order. Thanks!

  8. Olorunmaiye Peter D. permalink
    December 1, 2016 8:35 am

    I love reading the novel whenever i’m sad because it’s full of thrills and bitter satirical moments.

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