A Storm Blew in from Paradise by Johannes Anyuru - book review: Searingly poetic style rescues the mbleakness of living in exile

Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, sentimentality is averted by the lyricism of the language and a skill for surprises

Amanda Hopkinson
Tuesday 19 May 2015 17:11 BST

Johannes Anyuru is not yet a known name here. It is one name that hints at his origins (born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and a father from the Ugandan Langi people). Yet A Storm Blew In has taken Scandinavia by storm. In part the story of a search for identity, in part mourning its loss in that of a father, family, homeland across two generations the lyrical longing of the writing countenances a globalised world in which everywhere could be anywhere, where nobody is wholly at home.

The book falls into two halves, two lives. The first belongs to P, as enigmatic and objectified as Kafka's K, caught up in events he cannot control through choices he has no memory of making. Born into a rural family in East Africa, a region broken by civil war that scar and determine his life, the orphaned P escapes extreme poverty – and his brutal elder brother – to train as a fighter pilot in Greece. The colonels who seized power there in 1967 make pacts with already decadent newly Africanised regimes. P's story is related in flashbacks under interrogation by "socialist" Tanzanian torturers, exploiting P's political or tribal connections with Presidents Obote, Okella, and Museveni.

Flight and exile follow, receding into the backdrop of the story of I, the son who assumes the narrator's mantle. His love for his dying father is painful; that from father to son is pitiable. Sentimentality is averted by the lyricism of the language and a skill for surprises. In a sleight of hand as astonishing as it is adroit, Walter Benjamin is invoked: "The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed to pieces. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise, and has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them."

The angel is propelled backwards into the future by a storm called Progress. P too spent a lifetime trapped by the wings of a storm, dragged from one place to the next, arriving nowhere. Unlike Bunyan's Pilgrim, P has journeyed on without progress; the 20th century's myth is a lie, its sophisticated inventions harbingers of death. P sought to fly above the storm: even under torture, he tells himself: "He is a pilot. He will fly again. He will flee."

Anyuru's searingly poetic style rescues his writing from bleakness and sentimentality alike as he confronts the lies we live by. "I don't want to escape history but life. I want the wind to have brought us out of nowhere and I wish we were on our way to another nowhere...That the homeland is a lie. That our homeland is... merely hours, seconds, instants, that there is no origin."

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