APIRE, a failed student-turned-rebel, returns from his bush exploits to find his wife in the bed of a parish priest, the Rev. Fr. Dila. He executes both of them and hands himself over to the Police.
This is the thematic gist of Fate of the Banished - rebellion, religion and despair. Apire, his wife and Fr. Dila are the central characters upon whom this story, told in pure African English, rotates. Like in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, you cannot fail to distinguish the African overtones, even if the story is told in English.
Although Ocwinyo says at the beginning of the book that events in the story have no connection with true historical occurrences, through deduction and nomenclature, we can authoritatively state that the book is set in Teso.
The reference to cattle raids and a rebellion, which Teso once experienced, all back up this assertion. The author critically analyses the question of religion, especially the tenets of the Catholic Church like celibacy, wondering whether they are still relevant.
Through a lengthy critique (ironically authored by Fr. Dila), questions are raised about modes of worship, the nature of sermons and their relevance in the African context. The book may not be as damning on the Catholic Church as Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but it also raises critical questions that the Church may need to think about. The novel’s plot is uniquely backward-looking. It opens with the scene of the murder of the priest and the adulterous wife, but only at the end of the book, are we able to know why this gruesome act has happened. Ocwinyo does this with great narrative skill and suspense that you cannot help but keep turning the pages.
Other notable narrative skills include episodic incidents, dialogue, situational and dramatic irony, characterisation and allusions, especially biblical.
Through Apire, Ocwinyo tackles the plight of many people who, because of fate, end up where they should not. His father is murdered as the family watches. His mother becomes a celebrated drunkard. Apire drops out of school after picking a fight with a teacher and when he gets a job as a driver, he cannot keep it because the boss’ wife, like was the case with the Biblical Joseph, wants to have sex with him.
The way events turn out, it looks like Apire was banished from the word go. That explains the relevance and pregnancy of the title.
The story Ocwinyo tells is not entirely new, but we must credit him for how he tells it. And that could explain why our National Curriculum Development Centre, which is known to resent local authors, could have relented and put the book on the A’ Level syllabus. It is crucial that schools opt for it. If not for the closer-to-home nature of the story, then at least to support one of our own.