Benjamin Kwakye is a voice to be heard. The Ghanaian novelist has written four works of fiction and countless short stories. His first novel, The Clothes of Nakedness, won the 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, best first book, Africa. The Sun by Night won the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Best Book Africa. But his novel The Other Crucifix won the 2011 IPPY award.
The Other Crucifix charts the life of Jojo Badu, a Ghanaian studying at an elite liberal arts university in the USA. Jojo is there thanks to a scholarship and the story tells of the challenges Jojo must face as an African newcomer to the western world, from the academic routine, to making friends, to living like an American student, partying, drinking, dating, even protesting while fitting work into a hectic schedule.
During his first week at school, The University Review, a student paper prints a notice:
“The University celebrates the admission of a Freshman Class of thirty international students from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. We need not indulge in much imaginative thinking to know that this desire to increase the presence of international students comes, for the most part, at the expense of lowered academic excellence.”
Jojo is one of the few Africans at the university and immediately recognises his minority status and a possible hostility towards them. The story charts Jojo’s evolution from a naive, proud African student into -essentially- an immigrant who wants to stay in the States despite being unable to find a job worthy of his education after he graduates.
Benjamin, like his protagonist, also studied in America and served as President of the International Students Association. With this fantastic novel, Benjamin opens up several themes for his readers to explore through what is considered to be a thinly-veiled biography Africa’s post-colonial legacy, the diaspora immigrant experience, racism in the States, identity and, as World Literature Today put it, “…the more generalized experience of the modern African man.”
photo credit: Under the Neem Tree