he story in ‘Half God of Rainfall’ focuses on Demi, the son of Modupe an African High Priestess and the violent god Zeus. It’s an epic tale of love, violence, family, hopes, dreams and fear. There is much more to this book than ‘just’ the exciting plot, the fantastic imagery that is conjured up by Inua Ellams’ extraordinarily poetic and evocative language.
The text is a fertile ground on which various understandings, readings, and interpretations can grow. This epic story makes worlds and cultures clash with each other, old and new gods meet, European hegemony and colonial violence are shown in action through Zeus’ behaviour towards Modupe and his son Demi. It’s a mixture of African and European mythology and cosmology, which is, at the same time, firmly rooted in our present day, making it relatable to present-day audiences.
It is unlike anything I have ever read, and, while reading it, I realised that I was doing it a disservice by reading it silently. Ellams’ text needs to be read out loud, it needs to be performed, embodied and displayed. That is why I felt so privileged to hear the author himself read parts of this awe-inspiring book out loud at the book launch. It made me reconnect with the text, it re-evoked the powerful imagery in my head, and made me want to return to the text and read it to everyone around me.
One of the aspects that I liked the most about this book is the author’s exploration of, and focus on the female characters and their experiences. I was surprised at the insight with which he had managed to portray and open the discussion of gender and sexual violence, all while avoiding the trope of the ‘female victim’. On the contrary, the female characters Ellams has created in this epic poem are strong, fierce, and determined, in spite of the treatment they have received at the hands of the powerful god Zeus or at the hands of world because on their gender.
During the launch, Ellams explained that his insights into the female experience came through long talks with women in his life. What struck me the most was the fact that he, intentionally or not, made it clear that his role in this exploration of the female experience was that of the LISTENER. All too often do we hear of well-meaning men who want to ‘hear us’ and our experiences as women, but end up dominating the narrative that is not theirs. I feel like the author’s efforts have really come to fruition in this book.
The possible interpretations of the wonderful lines in this book are almost endless, which is what marks out great poetry, or literature more generally. I hope that this book will reach a wide array of readers (and interpreters) because there is much to discover, learn, and enjoy in it.
*This book was gifted to me by the publisher 4th Estate Books with no conditions attached. I have written this review out of my own free will.