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Shvoong Home>Books>Novels & Novellas>Call Me By my Rightful Name Review

Call Me By my Rightful Name

Book Review   by:Sam Awa     Original Author: Isidore Okpewho
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Call Me by My Rightful Name is a tale of a twenty-one year old young African American called Otis Hampton who embarks on a journey in search of experience, knowledge and self identity. The novel is written by a Nigerian novelist Isidore Okpewho who graduated from the prestigious Univesity of Ibadan in South West Nigeria with a First Class Honours in Classics in 1964. On the 21st birthday anniversary, Otis is treated to a bash by his fellow basket ball team mates and their coach. After the party, Otis and his Jamaican girl friend, Norma drives off into the night. As Otis tunes on his car stereo, drum music, ostensibly African, resonates enveloping them in its percussive force. Interestingly and strangely enough, the music produces a violently conclusive effect on Otis who begins to make some deranged chanting the meaning of which nobody understands. He soon afterwards regains his composure and control as though nothing unusual had happened. On a different day, Otis decides to go and have lunch in the restaurant called Tucci's in Boston. He encounters two African university undergraduates who have fakened what sounds like African language and immediately, he begins to sense a repeat attack of the strange sensations which has been giving him nightmares. As a matter of fact, he undergoes a far worse crisis later on Pleasure Island, a restaurant which is specialized in serving Caribbean cuisine owned by Guinea Man. Norma, an undergraduate studying Sociology meets Mr. Barrett who is a thorough bred Jamaican to enlighten her about their culture, especially the so-called menu culture in Jamaica. Guinea Man answers Norma's enquiry with the authority and candor of a specialist and no sooner had the music begun to play on Pleasure Island than Otis Hampton go into "chanting spell". Luckily, Norman fortuitously records on tape Otis's chant which is played later on to his shocked parents. Otis's father, a middle-class black professional engages the services of a white psychiatrist Dr. Fishbein who tries to use the conventional process of neurotic medicine to address Otis's predicament. Seemingly clueless about the novelty of the psychological condition, Dr Fishbein in his several sessions with Otis broached Otis's interests such as music, sport, his love life, among other things and goes on to hypnotizing in order to get to the root of his crisis. As a result, Fishbein only manages to dictate "certain strands that led to the contiguous point in family history." Therefore, having probed "buried sensations" in Otis, the psychiatrist engages "the hottest drunk artist of the day" by name Olatunji, a Nigerian whose performance equally provokes the usual gyration in Otis upon further consultations with leading psychiatrists and psychologists, it is learnt that Otis Hampton is suffering from "Xenoglossy" or "recitative xenoglossy", a psycho mental condition similar to speaking without prior training in an unknown language. Fishbein, having reached his wish end refers Otis to Professor Broadway, a scholar who had spent seven years studying deep Yoruba language among the native speakers in Nigeria between 1952—1959. Broadway reduces the tape chant to a script with the help of a dictograph. With the aid of both recorded oral chant and script, Professor Broadway is able to tentatively conclude that Otis’s "heavily corrupted test" is Yoruba-based song, otherwise known as "oriki orile" (a lineage panegyric chant). Despite using the latest trend in error analysis and transformational grammar, Broadway fails to bring the script to good semantic health. As usual with scholars, he refers Mr. Hampton (Otis's father) to a more informed and experienced hand in the profession, a certain Professor Bolaji Alabi, a home grown indigene who is on a Post Doctoral Fellowship program at Northwestern University, specializing in African studies. Professor Alabi, however, finally resolves the riddle and in a lengthy but highly explanatory letter explains to Mr. Hampton the problem with Otis: his chant "originated from somewhere in, possibly among the Ekiti, an ethnic sub group in north east Yoruba land." As a result, Otis, his father and the psychiatrist Dr Fishbein travel to Nigeria in order to solve Otis problem. The staff of US embassy in Lagos accompanies the three-some to Akure where they are joined by two American Peace Corps volunteers and a Yoruba drummer before heading for Ikere Ekiti in search of the Hampton family ancestral origin. As soon as the party gets to Akure, Otis's instinct comes strangely alive. Thereafter, Otis guides the rest of the group to the very spot in a thick forest in Ijoko Odo near Ikere Ekiti where three generations had earlier his forebear Akinbowale alongside his two younger sisters, Taye and Kehinde were finalizing the burial rites of their late father Akindiji, a hunter and warrior and also the "Baale" of the village, before Akinbowale was set upon by slave raiders and taken away as a captive to the USA. With the help of an herbalist called Akinwunmi, an indigene of Ijoko Odo, the "search party" is able to trace Otis's ancestral homestead in the village and curiously enough, the old twin sisters still alive. Otis is persuaded to remain in Ijoko Odo for about two years during which in spite of the resurgence of old antagonism towards his family he learns the Yoruba language and culture and join in completing the rites his ancestor Akinbowale was performing when he was captured by slavers. Armed with a recovered identity and a chastened wisdom in African culture, Otis (Akinbowale Hampton) finally returns to the US to play his part in the fiery civil right struggles of 1960s. The characters in Call Me by My Rightful Name are Africans, African-Americans and Americans. The major characters in the novel include the protagonist, Otis, his parents Mr. and Mrs. Hampton, the psychiatrist, Dr. Fishbein, Oti's girlfriend, Norma. Other characters are Professor Broadway, Guinea Man, Olatunji, Professor Bolaji Alabi, Taye, Kehinde, Akinwunmi, Crabs, the Fagbenros, McAdoo, Bigelow, Lamidi and Dubitsky. Some of the major themes x-rayed in Call Me by My Rightful Name are racism, knowledge, self-identity and culture. The motifs are language, music and sensation. The predominant symbol in the novel is also language. The author uses the herbalist to advance his language in terms of epistemology (theory of knowledge), religion, philosophy and history of the African people. The plot structure of Call Me by My Rightful Name is rather convoluted or scrambled. The entire narration is in episodic form. The novel is divided into three parts. Part One captures Otis predicament while in America. In Part Two, the events shift to Nigeria and in the third and concluding part, Otis is preparing to leave Nigeria for the United States of America. The novel is set in the 60s both in America and Nigeria. It has a high sense of verisimilitude. In terms of novel type, Call Me by My Rightful Name is an amalgam—it could be called gothic, historical, political or Bildungsroman. But it is best fitted into the genre of Bildungsroman—a German word for "novel of education or apprenticeship". It also has a lot of romance and fantasy c.f. the twins who live on several generations.
Published: September 01, 2007   
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