Saturday, May 15, 2010


A Wreath For Udomo, Peter Abrahams, Alfred A Knopf, 1956

This is the South African Peter Abrahams. There is also an American Peter Abrahams who writes mystery thrillers and young adult mystery novels. Back when I used to read by the alphabet system, trying to read my way through the entire fiction section at the library, I came across both authors and was quite confused for a while because they are not at all similar. The South African Peter Abrahams wrote about racism, colonialism, and independence in African nations. He was responsible, in my reading life, for introducing me to this subject long before I was even aware of books like Cry, The Beloved Country by Paton or the early works of Doris Lessing, etc. In fact, until recently he was one of the only Black African novelists to have his works published in English.

I read A Wreath For Udomo way back in 1991. In those days, I had already started writing notes about the books I read but they were usually brief in the extreme. Here is what I had to say about the book:

Excellent book. Udomo is a liberator of an African country, educated in England. He is competent, intelligent, and a true leader. He has faults also and feels he must hurt others, including close friends, in a just cause. In the end he is killed but has achieved enough to ensure his goal for his country will come to pass.

Now I have also read the 1956 bestseller, The Tribe That Lost Its Head by Nicholas Monsarrat. So there in the same year are two contrasting looks at an African country reaching for freedom from colonial masters: one from the colonialists point of view and one from the native African. The rising up of Africans was a new development in the 1950s and shows up fairly often in the fiction of the decade. For me these novels fill in my woeful gaps in world history.

(A Wreath for Udomo is out of print. I found it in my local library. The cover shown above is a 1977 reprint from Faber and Faber, only available through used book sellers.)


  1. gastone ogutu12:15 AM

    The novel traces the political rise and fall of Michael Udomo, the inspiring liberator of the (fictitious) nation of Panafrica from British subjugation. Ironically, his ascendancy to power begins in London, the very capital of the British empire, where he arrives a bedraggled, hungry doctoral candidate after studies in Canada and Europe.
    Udomo’s education impels him to reject the heavy-handed rule of his colonizers, who would have him‘shine as another "new type of African, consciously and appreciatively learning the art of Western civilized government from his British mentors." Thus, arriving in London as a veteran student agitator, Udomo assists in organizing a Panafrican nationalist magazine, the Liberator, with four other like-minded Africans: Thomas Lanwood, David Mhendi, Paul Mabi, and Richard Adebhoy. In addition, he becomes an engaging speaker for Africa Freedom Group, Panafrica’s fledgling revolutionary committee.
    Despite temptations to settle in southern France and rear a family with his white mistress, Lois Barlow, Udomo hurries back to Queenstown, Panafrica’s seaside capital, after Adebhoy has secured enough supporters to finance a newspaper’s production. He promptly establishes the Queenstown Post in a sparsely furnished, ramshackle office. Unfortunately, his plans to foment a dockworkers’ strike are discouraged by the paper’s self-serving backers, who are using the publication to curry favors from Dr. T. T. S. Endura, the secretary of the Council of Chiefs and Elders. Rather than heed his patrons’ threats and print lies, he defiantly drafts what comes to be known by his countrymen as "the call," a passionate challenge to Panafricans to initiate a full-scale revolution. After Udomo is imprisoned by British security police and his incendiary editions confiscated, an underground network of compatriots organizes clandestine readings of the seditious manifesto, circulates proliberation leaflets, and recruits thousands into its banned Africa Freedom Party. Finally, when even the efforts of Endura, a British collaborator, have failed to undermine the resistance, the all-white Executive Council allows elections in which Udomo’s party carries a sweeping majority.

    As the first African prime minister of his country, Udomo must direct its transformation into an industrialized economy capable of harnessing water for power and mining its rich mineral deposits. Reluctantly, with the added opposition of key party members, he adopts a conciliatory policy of working with European imperialists whenever their money and expertise can advance Panafrica’s interests. This decision exacts its costliest toll when he betrays his dear friend Mhendi, who is leading a guerrilla war in neighboring Pluralia, in exchange for assistance from the racist white colonizers of that land. Thereafter, two of his own administrators, Adebhoy and the merchant woman Selina, accuse him of allowing whites to lord over the Africans and reap the rewards of black labor. Though Udomo views the tribalism promulgated by that faction as an impediment to Panafrican progress, ultimately he is defeated by it. Two painted, entranced dancers assassinate him as talking drums in the distance urge them on.

    Though it has an excellent plot the way it ends is quite a thriller otherwise its a good job by peter abrahams. Though he spend some little time with my countries first president mzee jomo kenyatta i agree with his notion that the guy wasnt fit to be our leader he was more of adeboy a true tribalist.

  2. Thank you Gastone for adding so much to my post here. I am honored to have you on the blog!

  3. That's great work. if you could write to show how udomo would be regarded as a tragic hero, it's one other thing i would like to read.