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Monday, May 17, 2021

The Broken Reed

kisses and hugs from their parents and played football with their friends. Like with the ‘backway’ goers, while some might be pushed by the get-rich-quick syndrome, others might have been forced by painful experiences to mature overnight. These kids have dreams. They work under unbearable climate in pursuance of them. The money they make is not just for them; they feed many starving mouths. Could this be the Gambian version of Lempedusa? There’s regional disparity and young men are drifting in droves to the urban areas for reasons which range from economic to ecological. This is one of the first lessons that one is likely to learn in the novel, The Broken Reed.

Published in 2012, The Broken Reed is written by Mr Dawda Faye, a seasoned journalist with a leading newspaper, The Point, and the Gambia Press Union Best Health Journalist awardee of 2011. Dawda had been a regular contributor to the (defunct) ‘Tell me a Story’ programme on Radio Gambia, submitting many short stories for broadcast. This was decades ago, when he was a student at Gambia Hotel School. 

The Broken Reed, a novel of 46 pages and 13 chapters, is his first published book, though it was soon followed by another novel, Bad Blood. The story in the book follows a chronological order, allowing the reader to read through to the end of it without missing any vital link.  

The book has a wide range of characters in different socio-economic and political settings. This exposes the reader to how life is in different areas of work or life, including farms, prisons, courts and households. 

The protagonist is a young boy, whose aging and lonely mother allows him to go away in order to be saved from himself and his own people. Dropping out of school due to financial constraints, Jegan consequently leaves his mother in their distant land and travels down to the urban area, where he has no family or friend to shelter him. He seeks refuge in a public market where he meets a considerate old man as night watchman. But it would not take him long time before he encounters the other, ugly side of this beautiful yet unforgiving part of his nation. 

However, through perseverance, commitment, luck and guidance, the young man transforms from a broken reed to a role model. The journey is rough. He starts as a Banjul-Banjul boy and graduates into a conductor in a mini bus. He abandons the roads after an accident and accepts a job as a garden boy. He later becomes a waiter; then a wheelbarrow pusher; then a student; then a doctor; and then the CEO of a health centre, before reaching ‘the pinnacle of his achievement’ when he was voted into parliament with an overwhelming majority by his people.

Jegan is not perfect and his journey is not without missteps. He would, for instance, bite the finger that feeds him by impregnating the school-going girl of the man who picks him from the streets, shelters him, and pays his school fees.

Overall, The Broken Reed is a display of spellbinding story-telling on the part of the author, Dawda Faye. Though fiction, the book depicts scenarios that happen in real life. 

Through it, the author exposes us to a courageous and faithful woman who refuses to avenge the murder of her husband by an unlikely man; a man who marries Jegan’s sister. 

The author manifests the thinking of journalists as having a bird’s eye view of goings on in society. For, he zooms in on the inadequacy of healthcare services and many other irregularities. As he puts it: 

“Having completed his studies abroad, he [Jegan] started work for the national hospital. He was given a high post. But the hospital is always overcrowded. Patients would be seen queuing to be issued with medicines. Time and again, a patient would lie on the veranda, vomiting. There was lack of [adequate] beds in the wards.”

As a journalist with over ten years of experience in court reporting, the author made no surprises when he exposes the prejudices of the court system, even against children. This is what happens between the magistrate and Jegan.

What is your occupation?

I am unemployed.

So, you left your village to come here only to be indulging in drug abuse?

No, your worship.

A boy of your age should have been in his class by now. But you are a drug addict, you decided to be out of school. 

Apparently, the magistrate who supposed to protect the innocence of the teenager unless proven guilty, as required by law, delivers his verdict even before hearing the details, against a wrongly accused young boy. 

Furthermore, the author also puts under the microscope the brutality of law enforcement agencies. The following takes place between Jegan and a prison warden at the central prison: 

“The warden slapped him viciously and said: ‘Don’t be silly. You have to do as the prisoners are doing.’ Jegan was now weeping. He was knocked again in the face and kicked in the stomach. He lost his balance and fell, blood oozing from his mouth… ‘you can do as you wish, but I can’t continue cutting those logs’, Jegan cried. The warden became furious. He threw the boy heavily on the ground, kicked him in the buttocks and then dragged him into the cell. Jegan wept and wept.”

This mistreatment was meted out on the young boy even though he is just on remand. He isn’t a convicted criminal 

In addition, in the book, the author goes further to reveal the exploitation in the hospitality industry when Jegan gets punishment for refusing to share his salary with a senior staff; and the hurly burly of local politics when a contender tries to use mystical powers to kill him.    

This book, The Broken Reed, is a must read. Although not a thriller in the strict sense, it is quite un-put-down-able of sort. It is slow-paced, yet the dramatic twists and turns keep the reader in suspense for the most part. In the choice of words, the author adopts the KISS – keep it simple and short – formula, which makes it appealing to all categories of readers. The book itself is not voluminous, even though it contains a lot of information. The reader can leaf through its pages in just one weekend. 

The Broken Read is for students who want to improve their grammar and their currency with social and political issues. It is for policy makers who need to keep an eye on the health and justice systems, especially for children. The book is for an entrepreneur who wants to do things different as Jegan does, when he sets up his own health centre. The book is for anyone with a goal to make it in life. 


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