Book Review: Throne of The Ghost, Modou Lamin Age Almusaf Sowe, 2016, reprinted 2023
By Hassoum Ceesay
In reviewing this book, I feel like starting by looking at the title, starting with the word Throne. It symbolizes power, authority and control. It also connotes ceremonial, sovereignty. Throne is therefore sacred, sought after. The desire to get to the throne can lead us to elections, selections and in many cases, coups, riots and similar races. Ghost, the next word, is about an apparition, a lookalike. Ghost are like things like the imp, spirit, and the dead.
Therefore, the two words that make the title are oxymoronic. That is to say, ordinarily the two words should be opposites, not complementary. The fact that the author has wisely made the words chime is the start of the literary prowess of the author.
The author is a budding writer and literary activist. His poems, short stories and essays have been published in book form and in newspaper columns and literary journals. He has gone through prestigious writing Residencies such as the PenPen Africa Writers Residency in Nigeria. He has founded a National Storytelling Contest. Sowe is a mentoring writer.
This book shows all these qualities. The book is a play, drama, divided into 22 scenes. There are 20 odd characters, some major, some minor.
But I wish to say from the onset that the story is about royalty, death, mortality and power. This is indeed a dizzying mélange! In a good book review, we are expected to decorticate and only adumbrate the contours of the story, plot and characters but not to narrate the plot.
The main character is the Burr, Saliman. He is a potentate who foretells his demise and the start of the fall of his empire. ‘My Kingdom is feared all over the world as a result of its strong men and rich culture, but the big tree firmly holding these fruits in a garden with only two ripe fruits on it is about to lose its roots’, he says on page 13. An empire loses its roots when it is about to fall.
The writer does not have to tell us that Saliman is the main character in the play. He is eulogized on page 14 by cherno, the court jester and diviner as the ‘mightiest, the mahogany, the man of substance…. These are the panjandrums for a mighty ruler. Female Characters make up 13 out of the 19 characters. Therefore, the play is gender sensitive. Awa is prominent in the plot not only because of primordial role as first wife of the potentate; she asks questions. It seems that whenever she opens her mouth, she is inquiring, asking, using beautiful parables laden language like ‘what is the termite doing in a meeting of lizards, p.14. Her inquiring mind symbolizes confidence.
The setting of the play does not exude confidence. It is dystopic-conjures up images of darkness, chaos, trauma, diseases etc., p.12. Through this pessimistic weather, we get the forecast of the way the kingdom is heading-doom.
The optimistic antidote to this dark lining is the romance that builds up in the story like the Mariama and Maimuna banter on page 36.
We are not told in the story the temporal setting of the play. No timeline is given. But since Saliman is described as King of Niamina, we can surmise that the period is precolonial, before the demise of our kingdoms.
I will end my review with a brief note of the diction. The language the author uses is that of the Burr of yore. It was parables, proverbial, and riddle. It is demotic and highly knotty. Cultural worldview is needed to untie them.
I commend the hardworking author. He is a hopeful talent. His precocity is tangible. He has strong attachment to literature and writing. For this we say Bravo!
I strongly recommend this book to the general reader, to all connoisseurs of Gambian literature.