A review of Ama Ata Aidoo's Our Sister Killjoy

Professor Jacqueline Banerjee, Ph.D., Kobe College, Nishinomiya, Japan

Excerpted by the author from her article the London Magazine, May 1978, pp. 95-96.

An established Ghanaian playwright and short-story writer, Ama Ata Aidoo has long been determined to expose the irrelevance of literary standards adopted uncritically from British academics by her compatriots. Why look for "universality" in work wrung out of the local, immediate realities of Africa, or applaud it in the products of Western culture, which seems to her to have failed to act on the basic premise of the brotherhood of man? As a colleague of hers at the University of Cape Coast in the early seventies, I experienced at first-hand her withering scorn for those "comatose intellectuals" who dare to oppose her.

This first novel is, almost inevitably, a working out of her rage against the white oppressors and their Ghanaian abettors. Sissie, the central character, is certainly a "killjoy" who looks at everything with a "black-eyed squint". Yet, as in the case of her creator, hers is a generous as well as a volcanic nature, "a wild heart but not a mean one", and compassion and humour, added to patriotism, help balance the bitterness and "negativism" which might otherwise be 'so corrosive".

The first part of the novel, concerned with Sissie's encounter with a young German woman who eventually tries to seduce her, is the most promising. Potentially more bizarre, it is handled more sympathetically than the heterosexual encounter between black and white in fellow-Ghanaian Armah's Why Are We So Blest! Marija's plight brings home to Sissie the fundamental loneliness of Western people. The sympathy is checked--"Why weep for them?"--but it exists, as does the laughter, albeit tinged with malice. The other two, shorter sections of the novel, have little to match the handling of [this] relationship. The next attempts to weave together Sissie's impressions of London with her disgust at the celebrated heart-transplant involving a black donor and a white recipient, and her mourning of another "been-to" who is killed in his imported car. The final part of the novel, "A Love Letter" to the boyfriend alienated by Sissie's "big mouth", is largely a defence of her passionate commitment to Africa. We leave her on the plane above the "crazy old continent" she now knows she has given her heart to.

Thanks to a new generation of Third World writers, we are not likely to be surprised, let alone shocked, by the uninhibited expression of Sissie's self-confessed "anti-West neurosis". [Instead,] we may begin to understand what it means to be bound with all the bonds of human feeling to one of the struggling peoples of Africa--an understanding which could only be elicited, whether Ms Aidoo accepts it as praise or not, by qualities in this novel which are not the preserve of any one race or side of the hemisphere.


Aidoo, Ama Ata. Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint. African Creative Writing Series. London: Longman, 1977. 95p.

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