No Ordinary Book

I’m getting a fair bit of reading done here in Bangui, where there’s frankly not a huge amount to do what with the security restrictions. One book I polished off yesterday was ‘No Ordinary Book’ by Phillip Saunders et al, and seen as it’s one of the few books in English that talks extensively about Ivory Coast, I thought I should give it a mention here.

The first thing to say is that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, because it’s essentially the memoirs of a missionary family who spent a couple of decades learning the Kouya language (an ethnic group who live in centre-west Ivory Coast) with the goal of translating the New Testament into Kouya. For many of you who don’t share the authors’ beliefs, you’ve probably already concluded that this isn’t for you, and it probably wasn’t written with you in mind.

In it’s favour though, I would say that although missionaries in Africa are often stereotyped as arrogant know-it-alls, such memoirs are actually far more open-minded and humble than many journalistic accounts. There’s very little politics, and there’s none of the Western journalists’ frequent desire to ‘explain the African’ or give cut-out solutions to the highlighted problems. Instead we meet real people, we learn about cultural differences and similarities, and we come away with a far more human account well removed from the ‘othering’ frequently found in western literature on Africa, whether it be by anthropologists or journalists. In short, I found it a far truer account to the the Ivorian life than many others, even if my Abidjan-life was far removed from the village.

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