Murder in the Cassava Patch is a very good african literature work, and tells the story of a toxic relationship that ends in murder. Gortokai, the main character, is madly in love with Tene, a coquettish woman who likes to string along several men at the same time.
Kai (short for Gortokai) is not at all aware of this side of Tene and he has no qualms in marrying this woman that he is head-over-heels in love with. He has paid the dowry and seems to have convinced their entourage of his intent. However, slowly but surely he encounters unexpected issues, leading to a disturbing revelation when he consults a witchdoctor – Tene has other men in mind.
This is where Gortokai’s ordeal starts. In despair, the young Liberian resorts to the witchdoctor, asking him to do some ‘workings’ on Tene to ensure that the girl will fall into his snare. But it’s no easy task.
Gortokai not only is tasked with finding complicated objects and getting hold of delicate body parts from Tene’s body (such as hairs), he also gradually realises that the girl is still very difficult, despite the spell.
Along the way, the young man stumbles against a few enemies, such as Tene’s sister Kema, a haggish whore who not only apparently wants to sleep with him at first, but is also trying to convince her sister to set her eyes on richer men.
Kema’s influence turns out to be the worst of them all when it comes to Kai’s interests, as he slowly discovers that his platonic love is actually an ‘evil woman’. But it’s not only Kema; Kai soon finds out that his supposedly best friend, Bubu, doesn’t actually like him that much.
To make matters worse, Tene falls pregnant by another man. What’s more, Kai accidentally hears Tene frivolously utter words that denote a lack of respect for him. To top it off, Kai then discovers that Tene regularly receives clothes and jewels from a rich man. Everything is ruined.
Now in utter despair, the young African drifts aimlessly for a while, then take refuge in alcohol and negative thoughts, becoming evermore violent and filling his head with aggressiveness. That is, until one day, he ends up murdering Tene in a cassava plantation. Before the murder, Kai trips over and hurts his head. The author, i.e. Kai himself, therefore seems to insinuate that his mind was negatively altered for a few moments, leading him to commit the crime.
I must say that, generally speaking, the book entertained me although I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked it.
It is written in a simple, direct and clear way and it is well-paced. What we have here is clearly a lesser work in terms of literature, but the fact that it addresses an issue that so many people can identify with make it accessible to the universal reader.
On the other hand, Murder in the Cassava Patch, has some structural problems, which means that sometimes the pieces don’t fit together. But the structure includes some interesting aspects nonetheless. These appear at the end, when the reader finds that the story has been cut short – out of the blue, as if there were an interruption or dispersal by mistake.
Nevertheless, the reader discovers the explanation behind those unexpected disjointed scenes further down the line when they appear once again in the exact same way, but this time accompanied by a much-needed expounding background.
So everything falls into place in the end. However, despite this literary pirouette, I am not fully convinced by its implementation (especially the literal repetition). It is worth adding that the story begins at the end: Gortokai narrates the events from his prison cell at South Beach in Monrovia.
In addition, the novel contains some typical African ingredients, such as Kai’s wanderings around Liberia, aimlessly walking for the sake of it. Secret societies and ‘workings’ also have their place. In this respect, the book directly or indirectly defends the theory that those ‘workings’ are not always successful, and can in fact lead to obsessions and fatal errors.
Slavery is also mentioned: Kai is the son of a slave of the Spanish crown. Alcohol also plays an important role (of course it is not exclusively African): Kai and the other main characters always end up drunk sooner or later.
Regarding the characters, although they are not brilliantly accomplished, they can distinguished. The dialogues are also well devised. Lastly, I’d like to underscore the main subject of this novel: toxic love. Many people have been through the experience of falling in love (or thinking that they have) with a person who turns out not to be good for them.
And yet the person in love and in despair insists on going after the ‘bad guy’ or ‘bad girl’, believing that they can transform them and design them to their liking, which almost never is the case. This type of ‘love’ causes much suffering, significantly lower the self-esteem and tending to end in a mess.
Many human beings are attracted to pursuing what’s bad for them; they do anything for the sake of feeling.