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Haakayoo N. Zoggyie. In Search of the Fathers: The Poetics of Disalienation in the Narrative of Two Contemporary Afro-Hispanic Writers.

Haakayoo N. Zoggyie. In Search of the Fathers: The Poetics of Disalienation in the Narrative of Two Contemporary Afro-Hispanic Writers. New Orleans: UP of the South, 2003. 238 pp. $49.95.

The volume written by Zoggyie intends to trace the importance of the African heritage in the work of the Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella and Panamanian Carlos Guillermo Wilson, specifically in their respective novels Chango, el gran putas (1983) and Chombo (1981). Aptly subtitled "The Poetics of Disalienation," Zoggyie's excellent study offers a very updated rendering of the problematic issue of identity construction in the Afro-Hispanic diaspora, addressing related topics such as the rewriting of history, the linguistic barriers or the creation of an African space, a locus amoenus in the author's words, which allegedly helps to interpret Zapata Olivella's and Wilson's intentions in writing the aforesaid novels. In order to fulfill both writers' objective, namely "to recreate the African world that preceded the Transatlantic Slave Trade," their narratives present an environment that does not alienate black characters and seeks to restore a sense of dignity and pride in their African legacy. As a whole, Zoggyie succeeds in confirming that African presence and the manifold ways in which both authors purposely "endarken" their texts by means of an exhaustive analysis of the thematic and formal devices herein highlighted.

The first chapter attempts to define and delimit the nature of the text by grounding the author's claims and acknowledging the theoretical insights it draws from, concretely the so-called "theories of alienation" starting from the classic studies by Hegel, Marx, and Durkheim to turn eventually to Frantz Fanon and Abiola Irele. The latter's pertinent analyses prove very useful for Zoggyie's views since they shed light on the way in which alienation constitutes a unique experience for individuals from the Afro-Hispanic diaspora, who constantly need to negotiate between Africa and the Americas. Quite logically, their ideas pervade and confer unity to the present volume, despite the obvious differences between both thinkers that the author skillfully discusses.

After a somewhat abrupt transition, the second chapter is supposedly devoted to the theoretical definition of the "poetics of disalienation," as the title indicates. This poetics centers in fact on Wilson's Chombo and its paradisiacal depiction of Africa. Embarking on a project of "self-rehumanization" (in the author's phrase), this compelling portrayal of the African component of the novel challenges conventional stereotypes of black Panamanians springing from a Western standpoint, while simultaneously enabling a profound revision of the parameters or defining traits on which the notions of black ethnicity are built. Thus, the portrayal concretely rewrites the history and the endorsement of religious and cultural practices. Similarly, chapter three engages in a perceptive study of Zapata Olivella's Chango, in which the focus on the black world continues and expands the concerns of the previous novel. In this case, Zoggyie also examines the writer's straightforward commitment to the African traditional worldview as superior to its Western counterpart, but he admits its limitations. Indeed, Zapata Olivella is more aware than Wilson of the mixture of races (not only black and white, but also Indian), and thus of the fluidity of cultural identities, recalling Stuart Hall.

Hence, the central aim of these two chapters can be assessed as twofold. On the one hand, the exploration of the conception/s of black identity dictated by the dominant status quo leads to the deconstruction of the racist substratum that underlies Western epistemology and the practices that derive from it. In this sense, there is a blatant denunciation of the construction of black ethnicity as the exact counterpart to whiteness in Western hegemonic discourse and, as such, that construction is viewed as intrinsically negative. On the other and as a direct consequence, the novels claim a new cultural space that can debunk the old hierarchies, and replace them with fulfilling and sustaining categories rooted in an African-centered standpoint. Nevertheless, the author is also careful to theorize evident negotiations with the Western world in both texts, although he only briefly mentions them without actually delving deeply into them (granted, though, deep study is obviously not his main purpose). Perhaps future research could probe into those negotiations in greater detail, and allow for a more nuanced reading of the novels.

The next two chapters, "Setting the Records Straight" and "A Voice of Our Own," closely focus on history and language respectively, clearly broadening the appeal of the previous chapters and adding layers of meaning to these two concepts. The first of these chapters includes a very enlightening reassessment of the significant contributions of blacks to the historical accounts of both Panama and Colombia, along with the deconstruction of traditional "white" heroes. The second of these chapters effectively comprises a defense of the linguistic idiosyncrasy of both countries, in which the author makes much of the presence of an African voice that constantly intermingles with Spanish. Truly comparative as they deal with those topics pairing both works at the same time, Zoggyie is able once more to demonstrate his impressive command of African traditions and languages in the precise examples and poignant comments.

The last chapter persuasively touches on two other novels authored by Zapata Olivella and Wilson: Chambacu, corral de negros and Los nietos de Felicidad Dolores. The former, published in 1967, is regarded by Zoggyie as a clear antecedent, as it anticipates many of the concerns featured in Chango. The latter one, issued in 1991, is undoubtedly a worthy successor to Wilson's later work for its unquestionable commitment to grant visibility to "Blacks in the historical discourse of Latin America and the Americas in general." However, the scope of the book would have been enhanced if more comparisons had been drawn with other texts of the African diaspora, especially texts concerned with the "revolutionary image of blackness" that, according to Zoggyie, is present in all four novels. For instance, the "Negritude" movement is barely alluded to and, although there are several references to Harlem Renaissance writers, the author fails to mention crucial work by renowned African American figures from the "Black Arts Movement." Those contributions had an undeniable impact on African-descended peoples the world over, articulating a pioneering notion of racial pride that subverted all denigrating stereotypes by reconnecting back to the African motherland. Despite shortcomings, both movements heralded a new dawn for the conception of black diasporic consciousness and should not be easily overlooked.

All in all, In Search of the Fathers: The Poetics of Disalienation in the Narrative of Two Contemporary Afro-Hispanic Writers is a significant contribution and welcome addition to the growing field of studies on Afro-Hispanic literature and on the African diaspora in general. Its interdisciplinary approach to very contemporary and controversial issues will surely pave the way for fruitful research and investigation into the nature of culturally constructed ethnic identities.

Mar Gallego

University of Huelva, Spain
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Author:Gallego, Mar
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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