I bumped into my sweetest book ever over three decades ago purely by accident browsing in a downtown bookstore. As a sophomore in college at University of Zambia in the Capital city of Lusaka in Southern Africa, I had by that time probably read just over four dozen books mostly course text books including a few books as a senior at Chizongwe Secondary or High School when I took an English Literature class. This was not for my lack of interest in reading books but because I lived in a stifling reading desert and I was in constant search of a reading oasis so I could find that one book that would quench my insatiable reading thirst.
The year before as a freshman in college before I stumbled into my sweetest book ever, I had read one of twenty books for my English 110 class that absolutely turned my world upside down. I was reading the book so intently and so engrossed in it late one night in my dorm room that I forgot to jot notes. But at this point in the book, the more pages I turned the angrier I got. Somewhere in the middle of chapter twelve, I got so angry I slammed the book down and stormed out of my room.
It was dark and late at night and I didn’t know where I was going. I walked through the well-lit dorm parking lot and headed to the small path that led to the major highway next to the campus that went downtown City of Lusaka. I aimlessly walked under the street lights along the side walk going nowhere in particular. Why did they have to treat him so badly? Why did whites in America enslave blacks? Who the heck invented racism and just why? Why was there racism and apartheid in South Africa? Why did Europeans colonize Africans? Are all Whites evil? Are all human beings evil? What about all the good whites I knew including som of my professors who were my friends? Why are human beings so mean and cruel to each other? I had so many furious questions rushing through my mind that I wasn’t conscious of where I was going and was barely aware of the few cars driving by because I had a glaze of tears of fury in my eyes. I had a million furious questions about the world. I was angry at people, at God, at education, at myself, at history, confused, 18 years old, and was reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”.
It must have been the fresh air in the cool night. The fog in my mind cleared and I found myself calm and standing before the brightly lit magnificent Zambian National Assembly or Legislative building which would be equivalent to the American Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. I turned around and walked back to my dorm room. It was past midnight and my roommate was asleep.
I read so many heavy or serious books in political science, sociology and especially about the brutality of the racial history during Euroepan colonialism in Africa, race relations in the American society and the Black Civil Rights Movement. My life was turning upside down right in front of me. It was scary. I wanted a break.
One afternoon I wandered into and browsed in a bookstore downtown City of Lusaka’s main Cairo Road. The place was so dry I could not find any book that interested me. Then I saw this only copy of a book by Nigerian journalist Peter Ehahoro. I had been reading Enahoro in the “New African Magazine” which was the African equivalent of the American Newsweek at the time. I was hooked. He was my favorite. I bought the book. I was so thrilled with anticipation.
After completing my homework back in my dorm room that night, I got ready for the special treat. I took a shower, put on my pjs and crawled into bed to read my book. I felt so good reading it, that after five pages I carefully placed a bookmark and put the book away. It was like eating a rare delicious gourmet meal as I did not want to eat it quickly all in one bite. I wanted to savor and enjoy every small morsel at a time over many nights before I went to sleep.
So it was that I read Peter Enahoro’s “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” five pages only for over twenty days before I fell asleep every night. I enjoyed every page of it. Enahoro satirically poked fun at the absurdity, ridiculousness, and the conundrum of racism among Europeans, African Americans, Africans, humanity, and there are no sacred cows that he spared. He addressed many other tidbits on different topics. He even used some of the well-known mathematical principles in one of his light hearted arguments about race. He must have my sense of humor because Enahoro’s timeless satire is not just funny, witty, cutting, but in a very subtle and not loud gratuitous way.
Three decades later after easily reading perhaps at least a thousand books, “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” is still my sweetest book ever even though it is old, torn, and has yellowing tape all over it. What makes the book even sweeter for me is that it is so rare I have not seen a copy of it anywhere; not even in any antique bookstore that I know of. Reading it now and again and owning it is like being a member of sweet secret club in which I am the only member. Is there at least one other fan of “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” out there? Do you have your sweetest book ever which seems so rare you may be the only one who must have the only copy of it in the whole world?