Recently, I ordered a copy of writer Vamba Sherif’s novel, Bound to Secrecy. Originally published in Dutch, it was republished in English by London’s HopeRoad Publishing on April 23, 2015. Due either to the built-up fervor in me to sample the author’s work—which until this book, had not been available in English, or perhaps because of the deceptive lure of the book’s relatively short length—it is all of 162 pages, or both, I breezed through it in under three hours, in one sitting.
Just like that, I had assuaged my burning passion. Or so I thought. For in no time, in my heart, a haunting sense of injustice replaced the vanquished passion. The speed with which I had read the book robbed me of something important. I hadn’t absorbed the essence of the literary brilliance contained in the compact volume. I resolved to read it again which I did over a whole week’s time, albeit in a more methodical fashion. For this second effort, I underlined passages, took notes of characters’ actions and inactions, and digested the story and its profound implications much more deeply, with a lot more cognizance.
Alas, I am the better for it!
Sherif’s Bound to Secrecy is a gem in the tradition of the great African novels of times past. From the beginning of the story, when William Mawolo, the central character, arrives in Wologizi, to the very end, when he vanishes into thin air just like Tetese—the man whose disappearance he had come to investigate, the author is effortlessly silver-tongued in plotting the complicated ebbs and flows that lend pulsating urgency to the tale. He employs crisp, concise language to create in the reader, at once, an ever-present and intense sense of anxiety, exhilaration, optimism, and disenchantment. With his skillful use of language and incredible depth of thought, Sherif constructs a narrative that is as enthralling for its unrelenting hold on the reader as it is relevant for its message of the uncomfortable dynamics that characterize the imbalance of power in an African setting as remote and as steep in sorcery as his fictional Wologizi.
Exuding the easy eloquence of a well-practiced lyricist, Sherif chooses his words carefully, imploring each to sow seeds that develop into eventual contexts for understanding how power and all its attendant trappings are abused in Wologizi, which, to the astute reader, is not particularly unlike the realities of the not-too-distant history of Liberia, the country in which the fictional story is set.
Through shrewd examination of the strengths and frailties of characters such as William Mawolo, Hawah Lombeh, Old Kapu, Makemeh, Corporal Gamla, and the ill-fated Tetese, Sherif succeeds, abundantly, in exposing the imperfections and susceptibilities of two distinct yet interconnected worlds: a world of an unmitigated ‘civilized’ rulership—to which William Mawolo belonged where even an honest desire to extinguish corrupt practices breeds further corruption,—and a world of servitude—even if not so recognized by the oppressors and the oppressed—which is deeply rooted in a tradition of wizardry, in a place as remote and as unconnected as Wologizi. Bound to Secrecy, even as a fictional depiction, illustrates the destructive combustion that ensues when these opposing worlds collide.
The book’s lineal progression borders almost on the academic, but even that approach is appropriate for it provides a critical sense of predictability that is indispensable when weaving twists and turns of plots that are as complicated and shifting as Sherif so confidently ventured to tackle.
Bound to Secrecy, by Vamba Sherif. London: HopeRoad Publishing, 2015. 162 pages. Reviewed by Momoh Sekou Dudu.
This review was originally published on MDSEKOUBLOG