The Ghosts of Eden - Andrew J.H. Sharp

Three young boys, three adult men: a story of kinship, hardship and bonding.

No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place Maya Angelou

Michael Lacey is a successful British surgeon. He is returning to Africa to deliver a lecture at the twelfth conference of the Lake Regions Surgical Association in Uganda after leaving the country as a young boy with no inclination of ever returning. 

Yet, here he was, many years later, approaching his destiny and history with an indifference and arrogance he thought might protect him. His childhood memories floods back in astonishing detail. He meets Felice, a woman who becomes the bearer of all the supressed truths and wisdoms he never wanted to consider ever again, demonstrating the power of love and kinship he refused to acknowledge.

For the first time he trusts someone enough to share his story. But it would not happen as he planned and his eventual confrontation, with himself, will happen in a place he never thought he would become part of, yet, is inevitably destined for. Mother Africa did not forget him. He was just not interested, nor prepared, to accept it until he finally had to confront his old wounds which he, as a perfectionist and surgeon, could not heal himself. It would all be triggered when he had to save a life and was confronted by who he thought he was, and who he really was. 

This is the story of three boys. Between them, they represent the multiculturalism of Uganda. Michael the protagonist, was an English missionary child. As a young boy in Africa he was emotionally ripped apart by two major tragedies. The events would lead to a long line of broken relationships, a loss of his faith and innocence and an emotional sterilized state in which he felt safe.

Michael’s talent for memorizing text came in handy when he had to attend a party – a trick to compensate for his lack of small talk. He could recite long passages from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’,Gray’s Anatomy, even the three chapters of the prophet Habakkuk or some other obscure part of the Bible. He wondered whether his gift was innate, or whether – a dark thought rising again – it was acquired through having to learn memory verses at his religious school.

There were the two brothers, Stanley and Zachye Katura of the Bahima tribe, growing up attending their father's cattle, learning to believe and respect the traditions of their ancestors as it was passed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years. But changes were coming: Stanley, the smaller and weaker brother, was to be sent to school, while Zachye must stay behind to tend their fathers wealth, his cattle. There was initially only enough money to send one of them into the British educational system offered in the local schools. But Zachye, as the oldest, insisted in going as well in competition with his brother.

The three boys would meet twice: as young boys, and again as adults. The first incident would shape their future through the choices made on their behalf by the adults in their lives. 

The second would finally define them as adults through their own choices in dealing with their pasts.

It’s a grand opera in Africa and anyone can be big on our stage – although,’ his tone darkened, ‘we have to accept that, as in opera, high drama is the norm.’ 

This is one of those narratives that invites the reader into an Africa that is not sold with much fanfare, nor elaborate pomp and ceremony. The story enfolds the richness of souls and minds superseding all the hype presented to the world. It explains and celebrates the heart of a continent in its diversity and richness instead. It explains why the people of Africa have no equal anywhere in the world; why everyone who ever touches her soil, never want to leave again and if they do, often do so heartbroken... 

The book brings a warmth and compassion for all the characters, good and bad. It explores the different meanings of happiness and love. It is one of those books about Africa that establishes a respect for the continent and her people, their values and history, without boring or losing the reader in the well-executed narrative. It is a blend of Alexandra Fuller's memoirs and that of Abraham Verghese, with a touch of Alexander McCall Smith added for good measure. Africa as Eden is confirmed, through the beautiful prose, for those who love her and for others who want to find her gentle soul. This is clearly not a book written by an outsider. This story comes from within and it shows.