On 13 June 1873 British forces bombarded Elmina town in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and destroyed it. To this day it has not been rebuilt. Later that same year, using seaborne artillery, the British flattened ten coastal towns and villages – including Axim, Takoradi and Sekondi. On 6th February, 1874, after looting the Asantehene’s palace in Kumase, British troops blew up the stone building and set the city on fire, razing it to the ground.
15-year old Kofi Gyan witnesses these events and records them in his diary. This novel, first published soon after the 140th anniversary of the sack of Kumase, tells his story.
Several historical characters feature in the novel: the Asantehene Kofi Karikari, the war correspondents Henry Morton Stanley and G. A. Henty and the war artist of the Illustrated London News, Melton Prior, who employs Kofi as his assistant.
The novel is illustrated with 70 black and white images, mainly from the Illustrated London News of 1873 and 1874
The image on the front cover is of a solid gold mask looted from the Asantehene’s palace. It now resides in the vaults of the Wallace Collection in London.
The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye is one of three winners of the 2013 Burt Award for African Literature in Ghana.
The Burt Award for African Literature recognises excellence in young adult fiction from African countries. It supports the writing and publication of high quality, culturally relevant books and ensures their distribution to schools and libraries to help develop young people’s literacy skills and foster their love of reading. The Burt Award is generously sponsored by the Canadian philanthropist, Bill Burt, and is part of the ongoing literacy programmes of the Ghana Book Trust and of CODE, a Canadian NGO which has been supporting development through education for over 50 years.
The Burt Award includes the guaranteed purchase of 3000 copies of the winning books for free distribution to secondary school libraries.
Techmate has Ghana print rights. All other rights are available.
The £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is open to entries from the Commonwealth. To qualify for the 2015 prize, books must have been published before the end of 2014, with entries submitted by 31 January 2015. “The judges’ criteria include originality and innovation, quality of writing, and potential durability… books must inhabit the past and enrich our historical understanding, at the same time as changing our perspective on the present.”
My publisher in Ghana, Techmate, will enter the novel for this prize.
I have examined Wikipedia’s lists of Novels about Imperialism, Novels set in Colonial Africa, War novels and other lists (including http://www.historicalnovels.info/Africa.html#ElAf ). I am hard put to suggest any work which bears close comparison this novel. Perhaps Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers; or perhaps it is, as Prof. Kwesi Prah suggests, one of a kind.
The Boy Who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye is a meticulously researched historical novel, beautifully situated in real events of late nineteenth-century Ghana. Manu Herbstein has done what the best cultural historians of Africa should do: that is, read between the lines of the colonial archives to imagine what it was like to be an African alive at that time, witnessing and interpreting events. He gives a voice to all the local actors, from small boys to big men, and he breathes life into Ghanaian history from the perspective of Ghanaian witnesses. This is at once a historical novel and a reflection on the future of Ghana as projected out of those significant conflicts of the 1870s. Prof. Stephanie Newell, University of Sussex, England. Author of West African Literatures, Ghanaian Popular Fiction and Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana.
This book takes history out of the recesses of memory and obscurity, and expresses it in vivid and dazzling light, for all to see and understand; providing educational details which substantially augment our perceptions of the past. It is well-researched and written in lucid language for the younger audience, but should be enjoyed by adults who need introductions to this salacious slice of history. Prof. Kwesi Kwaa Prah, Centre for Advanced Studies of African Societies, Cape Town.
Readers of this historical novel will be witness to a dramatic episode in Ghanaian history: the advent of British colonialism, with all the ruthless, cruel and absurd features that accompanied European penetration of the African hinterland in the late 19th century. Vividly written, thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated, the book gives a lively account of this African-European encounter, as seen through the eyes of an enterprising youth from Elmina/Cape Coast who accompanied the British campaign to Kumasi in 1874. Although a work of fiction aimed at a youthful readership, the book rests on firm historical foundations. Dr. Ineke van Kessel African Studies Centre, Leiden, Netherlands. Editor of Merchants, Missionaries and Migrants: 300 years of Dutch-Ghanaian Relations.
Kofi Gyan’s story is overdue: as a counter-discourse to the young adult literature of Empire for which Henty was/is famous, Kofi's perspective is crucial to the process of decolonization and will definitely challenge our views and perceptions. Dr. Mawuena Kossi Logan, University of the West Indies. Author of Narrating Africa: George Henty and The Fiction of Empire
This book is a highly instructive window into a critical period of Ghanaian history. The nuances of racial attitudes of the colonialists and their reasons for being in the Gold Coast unfold in simple language and paint a picture that is very relevant to conditions in Ghana today. Young Kofi Gyan conveys the experience of his world changing irreversibly and the questions raised along with lessons learnt make this a critical addition to the history curriculum of Ghanaian schools. Prof. Thaddeus P. Ulzen, Chair, Psychiatry and Behavioural Medicine, University of Alabama. Author of Java Hill: An African Journey.