THE JUSTICE – BOOK REVIEW BY DR. ESI ANSAH
In her latest novel The Justice, Boakyewaa Glover is the engineer of a rollercoaster that takes its passengers on a thrilling, bone chilling journey. Unlike Glover’s previous novel Circles, which has been described as “Chick Lit”, the appeal of The Justice crosses boundaries, presenting its readers with a realistic, 3-dimensional tale of power, love, sex, politics, money and deception. It is a timely book that gives us much to ruminate on, amidst current and post-election theatrics in 21st century Ghana.
The plot of The Justice revolves around Chief Justice Joseph Annan, a well-respected personality who decides to run for the presidency. Justice Annan’s trip to the zenith of power begins smoothly, but it becomes particularly more intriguing as old demons come back into his life to roost. The stage is set when his daughter, Abby Annan confronts him about his decision to run for the presidency. Her feisty entrance captures the reader’s attention, making for an exciting start to a fantastic plot. Political allies and enemies alike become caught in a complex noose that tightens as the plot races along, giving us a sneak peek into the dramatic-but-very-real issues that embroil politicians and their families – even those with good hearts.
In this novel, Boakyewaa leads us into the world of election politics and the contradictory human forces of good and evil that puppeteer unsuspecting politicians. The most familiar facet of the world Boakyewaa has crafted is ‘the system’; a compression of everything she finds wrong with Ghana. When Caleb, (Justice Annan’s Chief of Staff) arrives in Ghana, he learns three important lessons that are as timely now as they are for him: “First, don’t fight the system; second, know the system intimately; third, nothing is more important than the system”. How true. The system can either be an ally, or a person’s worst enemy.
Boakyewaa goes on to touch on poorly-run state agencies in her novel, reminding us of a context where the broken ‘system’ is the ruler. One character voices out our reality that, “Even money and good intent couldn’t buy competence”, and we can all relate to it as we think of the service delivery we have in Ghana. One may wonder how crimes can be committed and never be resolved. Well, where there are no laboratories for forensic analysis, we are left to rely on eye witnesses who observe the aftermath, and not the actual event, leaving a trail of unanswered questions that only a trained mind like Caleb’s can attempt to answer.
Boakyewaa also uses this book to explore the inter-twinings of big corporate money and political interests. We are forced us to face the reality that such secret love affairs between global business giants and opportunistic local leaders do exist. And while such business giants, along with their western nations, profess integrity, they often take unscrupulous measures to gain footholds in new markets. As a result, though some business entities enter a foreign nation with exclusive intention of doing business and making profit, others aim to take over strategic sectors of government and become new, frenzied ’glocal’ forces to reckon with. Globalization is evident in The Justice, and while other novelists may dwell heavily on the cultural schizophrenia of the returnee, we encounter returnee professionals whose taste of a western lifestyle complicates life back at home, but that conundrum is presented in a subtle, matter-of-fact way that does not detract from the story. One encounters the patiently impatient, prying mother who is curious about her daughter’s relationships, but dealing with a 21st Century daughter, must tiptoe around the issue as though she were walking on eggshells in heavy metal stilettoes.
The Justice does not only tackle the overt and covert elements of election politics; it also dives into the lives of the players that constitute the system. We witness the schizophrenic lives of politicians and non-politicians alike; those with and without genuine intentions, those with multiple personalities, and those who are good and evil. We grow to understand, love and accept these characters as their stories are told.
As we read about the struggles these characters face, we are led to consider and weigh the consequences of hero worship in Ghana and Africa. We teeter between thoughts – should we continue to hold public leaders to high standards that their humanity cannot meet, or do we encourage them to bare it all – show us their shortcomings so we can come to terms with their humanity, and hold them accountable, focusing on the jobs we have elected them to do? And what about those vulnerable family members who are caught in the crosshairs of public scrutiny, like the mentally disabled?
As is commonly-said in Ghana, “Efie biara Mensah wo mu’. To wit, there is an odd person in every household. In this thriller, we meet characters who nudge us about an African reality where family members with mental illnesses are hidden away from the public eye, becoming unsavoury secrets that can be leveraged by enemies. We join the Annan family on a journey, which could easily be ours – the enviable family that seems to have it all, but has deep, dark secrets that only the power-hungry can unearth.
Despite all the political subject matter, Boakyewaa succeeds in weaving in romantic elements that make the reader’s heart race. Love is crazy in this book … the kind of love that is so real that it finds a weird legitimacy in its illegitimacy. It allows us to better understand and empathize with the characters. We watch one woman swing like a pendulum between two men, and we watch her relationship with them slowly evolve and become more and more confused. We also see otherwise stoic, business-minded men completely succumb to daughters of Eve, abandoning their steel exteriors, melting like wax and staying committed even unto the point of death.
Boakyewaa does a fabulous job all-round. The plot is thick, and as you read, you feel yourself spiraling down at a hundred miles per minute. She captures the art of ‘keeping it real’ in her writing—thus, in spite of itself, nothing in this novel smells of fiction. She carefully and skillfully uses familiar names, places and situations, maintaining an eerily familiar atmosphere with every chapter. Her use of names such as ‘Justice Annan’ the judge, ‘Kweku Berko,’ the journalist ‘Paa Kwesi Nsiah’ the politician and others, as well as familiar places in Ghana and in Washington DC titillates the curious reader, and we are left wondering whether the characters have live, 3-dimensional counterparts. That musing alone makes the book more enjoyable.
The sub-plots of the novel are provided with enough context, so that while the Ghanaian reader is drawn into the story by its reality, non-Ghanaians, who are presumably less familiar with references made do not get lost. Conversations in The Justice are all so real that you can literally hear the characters chatting away in your head as you read. Her characters are anything but flat, and we watch their evolution – through love affairs, through livid arguments, through explosive gunfights and level-headed conversations. There is Samuel the former president who seems to know exactly what he wants and how, and will stop at nothing to get it; the mysterious Linc, who shows up like a ghost and leaves more questions than answers in his trail; there is also that accomplice who is so well-concealed until the very end, and boy does that revelation deliver a powerful punch to bring the curtain down!
Boakyewaa elevates her game in this thriller and definitely serves her reader notice that there are more pleasant surprises waiting to come from her.