The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Amos Tutuola,1952 – I was a palm-wine drinkard
Welcome to Seventy years of books, where I’ll be blogging my way through the seventy titles originally compiled for the Big Jubilee Read. The first book is Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard.
Have I read this book before: No
Synopsis: Tutuola’s novel is the phantasmagorical story of an alcoholic man and his search for his dead palm-wine tapster. As he travels through the land of the dead, he encounters a host of supernatural and often terrifying beings – among them a gentleman who returns his body parts to their owners, and the insatiable hungry-creature. Mixing Yoruba folktales with what T. S. Eliot described as a ‘creepy crawly imagination’, The Palm-Wine Drinkard is regarded as a seminal work of African literature.
Books and stories I’m thinking about from that: Frankenstein, Myth of Persephone and Hades, Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice
I was a palm-wine drinkard
The narrator is an alcoholic who has never had to work as his father gifted him a palm farm and a tapster who provided him with all the palm-wine he could drink, which was a lot!
Home as a concept means very little to him, and he only cares about palm-wine and retrieving his tapster who accidentally died one morning after falling from the palm tree he was tapping. He is willing to travel any distance to get his tapster back. Home is where the wine is!
He is hugely nostalgic for his drunken past and dreams of returning to his old way of life in the future. For the time being though he is proceeding through a series of seemingly impossible quests brought about by his own claims of greatness.
At the time of his quest, towns and villages are very spread out in Nigeria so the narrator can go weeks without seeing anyone on his journey. It’s easy to visualise the story and there’s a sense of the passage of time as the narrator recalls how far apart communities were compared with the present day.
At the end of this chapter he has been provided with palm-wine by a generous host who has sent the narrator on a quest to retrieve his kidnapped daughter from a curious creature. Palm-wine definitely seems to be the beverage of choice for most people, as the narrator’s former life was full of many “friends” who would help him drink through his supply!
This week in 1952
Christopher Reeve who would go on to play Superman, possibly the antonym of the Palm-Wine Drinkard, was born on this day. The Adventures of Superman TV show, starring George Reeves, premiered just under a week earlier on the 19th.
Today was also the birthday of bell hooks, an author and activist who wrote the groundbreaking book, Ain’t I a Woman, which I read earlier this year.
Yesterday in 1952 saw the opening of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Salt Lake City, Utah. Feels like the Book of Mormon are missing a trick there…
On 19 September, silent movie star, Charlie Chaplin was refused re-entry to the United States.
1952 song of the week: Auf Wiedersehen Sweetheart, Vera Lynn
A lovely romantic song about saying goodbye. Apparently Vera Lynn heard the song in beer parlours while on holiday in Switzerland and had English lyrics written so she could record it. Perhaps the Palm-Wine Drinkard could sing this for his tapster as he ruminates on them meeting again.
1952 film of the week: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (re-release)
Disney’s first full length animated feature was re-released in 1952 as part of a tradition of Disney re-releasing films every seven years to raise funds following the War. It’s a sweet film and, like the Palm-Wine Drinkard, features bringing someone back from the dead.
1952 product of the week: Mr Potato Head
Mr Potato Head kits were first distributed in 1952, although the original product only consisted of our tubular friend’s facial features, with children using real potatoes to create their spudtastic pal. On 30 April, Mr Potato Head became the first toy to be advertised on television, revolutionising the marketing industry forever.
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