Book review:  The Wishlist: Thoughts That Can Shape


Title:                                                    The Wishlist: Thoughts That Can Shape Society

Author:                                               Georgina Asare Fiagbenu

Publisher(s):                                       Buabeng Books

Year of Publication:                           2020               

Number of Pages:                               251                 

Reviewer:                                            Nana Kwasi Gyan Appenteng

The title of this delightful book presents us with a conundrum – one which is deliberate and functionally important for the author’s purposes. Unravelling that mystery of a challenge is the task of every reader who opens the book. A wishlist, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is a “list of things you want, often things that you know you cannot have.”

Thus, the title is visionary and aspirational and yet comes with more than a tinge of wistfulness or even regret. In essence, it is the tension between what the author wished she (and us had) could be or have knowing fully well that she would probably never have or be or have that wish fulfilled. It is this tension that has been so beautifully worked into a literary tapestry for us by Mrs Georgina Fiagbenu.

It is a real privilege for me to write this for two related reasons. One, I was present at the conception of the idea that has become this book, and two, I am grateful and happy to be at the bedside for its birth. In between the two events, I and I believe thousands of readers, have read the column that has yielded the stories in the book.

I was smitten by the title of the “IF I WERE…” column the moment Aunty Gina suggested it to me after I had urged to write a column for the best part of two years. I believed in her abilities as a perceptive individual and a good writer. In her work as a public relations specialist with a large company, she cuts to the core of issues and challenges almost without effort, although of course, that quality is the result of skill, experience and empathy. These are qualities necessary in the making of a public advocate, which is what she has become with the publication of the column and now this book.

Writing creative nonfiction is tricky business, whether it is a travel piece, biography, “a to-do’ list or commentary on current and national affairs, which is what the column did and continues to do. The writer has to combine the mundane task of commenting on events for “today” and at the same time keeping it fresh for readers “tomorrow”.

In effect, the writer of creative fiction of this kind has to combine the qualities of good journalism and creative writing. This is what this book does with excellence. The trick, which the author has mastered and deploys with deftness, is to combine the personal with the public, the local with the global and weave all the strands together like a kente master craftsman at work.

One of my favourite stories is about Ghana’s independence. It is titled ‘If I Were To Ask About The Relevance Of Independence Day Celeberation’. It starts with a personal story of her friend who breaks up with her husband after an unhappy relationship but still throws a party, apparently to “celebrate” her misery! In the context of the analogy, Gina asks this poignant question:

Ghana has been independent for so many years but is that really the case? Are we truly free or we are still operating under the shackles of mental bondage?

She then provides her take on the country more than six decades after independence:

In reality, declaring independence and attaining that independence may not be that easy. In my view, attaining independence without a strategy of how to attain economic freedom is re-dependence (this means you declare independence on paper and for the cameras only to be re-dependent on the person who granted you independence). It appears to me that we still do not have any strategy in place for attaining economic and social development after more than sixty years of being on our own as a country.

How can we claim to be free and independent when we still rely on the West and other countries for assistance to manage our country? During elections, they provide funds and even go to the extent of sending observers to come and monitor our own elections. So much for an independent country, right? We still receive grants and loans to provide the basic necessities of life to our people. Today, I can’t boast that our country is in a good shape.

Our lands are totally wasted and our communities are not well planned. Our environment is being destroyed, including our water bodies due to illegal mining activities of selfish individuals in government who do not have the interest of the nation at heart. Most villages in Ghana are without electricity and potable water; when politicians provide them, they catalogue them as part of their achievements. Our educational systems are deteriorating and our health centres are a sorry sight.

This is not the first time you are reading this sad commentary on our nation and it will most probably not be the last. But in the hands of this writer the story becomes personal and we have to own that question and find answers at the personal and collective levels.

The story about Accra’s fateful “flood and fire night” in June 2015 begins like this under the title IF I WERE THE MAYOR OF ACCRA:

IF I WERE THE MAYOR OF ACCRA … In June 2015, there was a heavy rainfall and fire outbreak that left the entire country in a state of shock and mourning. But to others, it is a day they will never forget because they lost loved ones and others suffered life threatening injuries. The reaction of city authorities to the crisis seemed to be disorganized and no one could really tell what was being done to prevent another disaster from happening in the subsequent years.

It is simply but beautifully expressed and full of sympathy for the victims but the disappointment that nothing has been done to prevent another disaster is all so palpable.

This book makes you think and the range of subjects and topics is astonishing. It ranges from politics to health to infrastructure to security…, you name it. It is a redoubtable tour de force about issues that must be discussed and addressed. This book must be part of Ghana, and indeed Africa’s conversation with itself. The Wishlist presents us with a sheet on which to write our own wishes – what we wish for our country and community and what we can do to make it happen. That, I think is how we resolve the riddle of the title.

I am delighted that Gina and other new writers are finding the space and time to make this contribution to our national discourse. In her case, it is even more astonishing because this high quality work has been produced despite combining her many roles as fulltime communication specialist, a mother of growing youngsters, a wife, a leader in her church and community and for some of us a very supportive friend.

More power to her pen (or laptop!)

>>>The reviewer is Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng is the Apagyahene of Akyem Ati Amanfrom, Kesewa Fie. He is also the Immediate Past President of the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and Former Chairman, National Media Commission

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