The Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali

July 26, 2005
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The Prophet of Zongo Street
Mohammed Naseehu Ali

Amistad (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
2005
Hardcover/212 pages
ISBN: 0-06-052354-9
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“Ali?s aim. . . is to document Africa?s and Black America?s social, economic and political experiences.”

“Each story has its own unique theme revealing the taste and feel of life on Zongo Street.”

Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s aim in the The Prophet of Zongo Street is to document Africa’s and Black America’s social, economic and political experiences. The book contains short stories about Ghanaians living on Zongo Street, a densely populated section of Kumasi, Ghana’s most prosperous city. It also presents stories about Ghanaian immigrants in the United States.

 

Even though set in a coastal, tropical environment with a history of gold and slave trading, Ali’s vivid description of community and family life reveals a daily existence not much different than any other culture’s. In “The Story of Day and Night,” Uwargida, a widowed grandmother, tells “chilling” mythological stories to children gathered nightly in the compound courtyard as they gather around a fire, eating roasted groundnuts.

Kumi, the prophet, tells children the “white man” fabricated history to suit “their own greedy intentions,” but when the world ends, the black race will dominate. “The Manhood Test” is a tragic love story about Mr. Rafique who must demonstrate in front of a witness at the chief’s palace that he is not impotent or else grant his wife Zulaikha a divorce. With Ali’s skillful dialogue the reader becomes immersed in the village’s gossip and the couple’s brutal physical and verbal attacks against each other.

Each story has its own unique theme revealing the taste and feel of life on Zongo Street. There is Mallan Sile, the tea seller; Suraju, the swindler and “best drunkard;” Samadu, the neighborhood tough guy, and Yaro, a hospitalized twelve-year old “in a place sick people went to be finished off.”

I suspect Ali’s stories are in part based on his personal experiences. Felix in “Rachmaninoff” is an artist and writer, who claims he is not “black enough” to date black women. He finds himself one evening tripping out with a white woman, Greta, a “trust fund baby,” whose fantasy about black men “had finally congealed into one intense and irreversible desire…” He tells her that his sole mission is to document African’s civilization. In “The True Aryan” a musician encounters an Armenian Taxi driver who claims he is “the true Caucasian.”

Ali is a talented writer. He skillfully weaves his short stories, giving us insight into his culture. They are a pleasure to read. They are humorous, sad, insightful – and highly recommended.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla

 

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