Monday, February 2, 2015

Review of "The Golden Baobab Tree" by Kenneth Fomenky

The Golden Baobab Tree (Rating: 4/4) – January 27 2015

Review by Kenneth Fomenky.

To write for children is to write for posterity. When a writer takes upon himself the task of writing for children, and does so with aplomb, the result can be the spark that most children need in order to fall in love with books. Nkiacha Atemnkeng sets out to teach children a simple lesson, but it is a timely lesson, particularly for children in Cameroon, where African languages are dying a slow and painful death. The lesson is for children to learn their mother tongue. This reviewer, though not a child, would do well to heed that lesson.

In The Golden Baobab Tree, Mr. Atemnkeng seeks to infuse 21st century realities with traditional realities, and he does; he wants us to care about our lingua franca, and we do. He wants us to know that our local languages are useful even thousands of miles away from home. But in advocating for the continued use of our traditional African languages, Mr. Atemnkeng’s work fails to insist on the need to read and write, and leans towards the undying art of oral story telling.

This is not a fault of the book; it is a fault of our mostly unwritten languages. In a fast-paced world, our languages will be increasingly difficult to retain. Because language transmits culture, our cultures and traditions will continually combat against the relentless force of time. We must learn foreign tongues to access education and employment. We must learn foreign tongues to find a place in 21st century earth. For the children in The Golden Baobab Tree, the tale presents less sinister dangers, and more recognizable foes. But for the readers, and I suspect, for Mr. Atemnkeng, the message in the book is one that questions the place of African culture today.

Should our schools teach our local languages? Should our governments promote the preservation of those languages? Most would answer those questions in the affirmative because of a natural human yearning for preservation, rather than destruction. Nevertheless, by enforcing school learning and government promotion, would our languages not become mere artefacts in the endless museums that will rise and rise as this century progresses?

By asking our readers to learn their local languages, Mr. Atemnkeng is bypassing these concerns and striking at the heart of learning: family. It seems then that the writer is asking parents and guardians to protect what is left of Africa’s languages. It appears that Mr. Atemnkeng, by asking children to care, is truly only urging those who, like me, can neither understand nor speak an African language to learn one.

Mr. Atemnkeng achieved that goal because his writing style is simple and clear. He succeeds in making me care because he allows the story to proceed quickly and effortlessly. It is a testament to his writing that my 3 year old son, a boy who began reading 8 months ago, picked up the book and could immediately read the first few lines with ease. Unfortunately, the longer African languages remain unwritten, the harder it will be for a new generation of Africans to learn and protect their languages. Perhaps Mr. Atemnkeng will fix this problem by writing his next book entirely in his lingua franca.

Bio: Kenneth Fomenky is a prolific reader and an aspiring writer who lives in Texas, USA. He is a practicing attorney and an amateur historian. When he is not reading on history or politics, he enjoys reading fiction.