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Tail of the Blue Bird [Paperback]

Nii Ayikwei Parkes
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 4 Jun 2009 --  

Book Description

4 Jun 2009

Sonokrom, a village in the Ghanaian hinterland, has not changed for thousands of years. Here, the men and women speak the language of the forest, drink aphrodisiacs with their palm wine and walk alongside the spirits of their ancestors. The discovery of sinister remains - possibly human, definitely 'evil' - and the disappearance of a local man brings the intrusion of the city in the form of Kayo; a young forensic pathologist convinced that scientific logic can shatter even the most inexplicable of mysteries.

As events in the village become more and more incomprehensible, Kayo and his sidekick, Constable Garba, find that Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill a desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind.

Tail of the Blue Bird is a story of the clash and clasp between old and new worlds. Lyrically beautiful, at once uncanny and heart-warmingly human, this is a story that tells us that at the heart of modern man there remains the capacity to know the unknowable.

Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Printing edition (4 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224085743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224085748
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,036,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nii Ayikwei Parkes is a Ghanaian writer and Senior Editor at flipped eye publishing. A 2007 recipient of Ghana's national ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy, he is a former International Writing Fellow at the University of Southampton. In 2009, his short story, 'Socks Ball', was highly commended in the Caine Prize for African Writing, and his novel Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape, 2009) was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Nii Ayikwei writes for children under the name K.P. Kojo and spends his time in Ghana and the United Kingdom.

Product Description


"An African whodunit that alludes to the troublesome relationship that lies between the modernity and custom ... Parkes has managed to write fabulously poetic and fresh prose that is both vernacular and contemporary." (Hisham Matar)

"In this tale of crime, punishment, and forgiveness Parkes' landscapes are filled with magic, his characters speak with the wisdom of the ancients; he has used his poet's sensibility to recreate for us the oral tales, fables and wonders of a world before time, a world overtaken by time." (Helon Habila)

"A deeply complex novel; each character, every line entices the reader into feeling the beating heart of urban and rural Ghanaian lives... Parkes' steady, assured writing weaves a cosmological mystery that keeps you guessing to the very last page." (Courttia Newland)

"There is a delightful book that combines the basic tug of the whodunnit with the more elegant pleasures of the literary novel. Like the best detective stories, it is has a questing hero, and a vivid sense of locale...Nii Ayikwei Parkes surely knows the effect the Ghanaian dialogue will have; he doesn't translate or explain, and this additional layer of mystery (for the average British reader) only adds to the strength of its lyricism and insight." (Jonathan Gibbs Independent)

"A beautifully written fable" (Adrian Turpin Financial Times)


An African whodunit that alludes to the troublesome relationship that lies between the modernity and custom ... Parkes has managed to write fabulously poetic and fresh prose that is both vernacular and contemporary.

Deftly executed

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It feels good to read an entertaining story like this: Tail of the Blue Bird by Ghanaian writer, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. He is presenting us with an original murder mystery, an adventure story that moves beyond fact-based evidence with believable, well drawn characters. Despite its fantasy-like cover image, Nii Ayikwei Parkes's novel is firmly grounded in modern-day Ghanaian reality that incorporates urban as well as rural life and with it the need to bridge the different cultural, linguistic and spiritual traditions. The author brings all the different narrative strands convincingly together and does so in a lively and engaging way.

Most of the action takes place in a remote village two and a half hours drive from Accra, the capital. The young forensic expert, Kayo, has been dispatched to the village with his police sidelick, Garba, to investigate the foul smelling remains of what appears to be of human nature. The solving of the case has political ramification for him and the police inspector in Accra. Time is of the essence... but evidence cannot be obtained or verified without the cooperation of village elders... and their world operates on different parameters than city people would assume.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes pulls the reader very quickly into this different world; his characters, Kayo and Garba, and the central figures in the village are very well drawn; their personalities are endearing and affecting and at times surprising in their own ways. The author's depiction of the northern Ghana landscape is evocative... and you can easily imagine the presence and the power of the ancestors' spirits. Just one caution, the language, especially the dialogs take a bit of getting used to for most of us. My recommendation: just relax into it and the fast paced story; it will become easy after a while. While terms are not directly explained, the author finds an organic way to let you know what they mean in due course.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This novella, a Ghanaian whodunit with a dash Magic Realism, is well worth reading. The opening chapter takes us straight to Sonokrom, less than 3 hours in a police car from Accra, the Ghanaian capital. A Minister’s ‘thiiiin’ girlfriend, who lives nearby and has arrived in a cream Benz while following a blue-headed bird, has found something smelling rather nasty in a hut belonging to Kofi Atta, a cocoa farmer. Her connections mean that 5 police cars soon arrive at the scene but the policemen find themselves ill-equipped to make sense of the mystery which is described by the village hunter Yaw Poku (or Opanyin Poku), who operates as both narrator and storyteller.

The second chapter introduces us to Kwadwo Okai [Kayo] Odamtten, an Imperial College-trained forensic pathologist, who has returned to Ghana in the hope that he could work as part of the national police force. Unfortunately the police do not want him, partly because their use of specialised ‘interrogation’ delivers the outcomes they want and partly because he was unwilling to offer a bribe to support his application. We find him working for the odious Mr Acquah’s company, Acquabio, analysing ‘sample after sample of agricultural chemicals, food ingredients and flavourings, human and animal fluids, new products for importers wanting to prove that they were meeting the standards of the Ghana Standards Board for whatever they were selling’.

Kayo is contacted by the police want him to carry out a forensic investigation in Sonokrom, but his boss will not allow him time off. As Police Inspector PJ Donker has already promised the Minister an investigation, and the right conclusion, pressure is put on Kayo to carry out the investigation.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an unusual find 10 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a real gem. The story follows an investigation into the truth behind mysterious human remains found in the Ghanaian village of Sonokrom. Kayo, a Western-educated forensic scientist, meets Opanyin Poku, an old hunter in the village. Through their interchanging narratives we learn more about the tragic incidents that have led to the existence of these remains. The explanation is not one that can be arrived at through logic. It is one that requires Kayo - and the reader - to be immersed in the atmosphere of the village and accept that it has its own ways of dealing with crime. The writing is as beautiful and unexpected as the story. The rhythm of it lulled me into another way of thinking, just as the palm wine lulls the characters into seeing things in new ways. Ultimately we are shown that justice can come about through storytelling. Whatever wrongs people do to each other, it is the stories around them that live on to teach us - and those stories can be as rich and fantastical as they like.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tail of the Blue Bird 1 Aug 2009
I just finished reading "Tail of the Blue Bird" and have thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a tale that ends all too soon, but what a story it packs in its 170 pages; this book is a page turner. The writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes, has managed to deftly weave a modern who dune it crime novel with a tale of African culture, mythology and folklore. His pen and storytelling ability is set forth with confidence; his knowledge of the local customs and land can be felt even if the reader is not familiar with the local terrain. The use of local vernacular to carry the story forward along with the English language is an interesting device which immediately transports the reader to the indigenous local of the tale. This book is a superb first effort by the author which I strongly recommend. I look forward to his next novel.
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