Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Laughter--An African Paradox by Enoch Christopher Osei Tutu

During my junior year in college, I became very interested in African history and current issues. Hence, Enoch Christopher Osei Tutu’s Laughter—An African Paradox (2010) caught my attention. This slim book takes the form of a theatrical dialogue in which two ordinary African village folk discuss the present state of Africa. Although the issues—mainly leadership, marriage, and environmental destruction—they discuss are serious, their mannerisms are quite humorous.

A few pages into the book, I began to see a strong resemblance to Waiting for Godot. For those not familiar with this play, Godot is a comical play by Samuel Beckett’s in which two homeless men, Vladimir and Estragon wait for someone named Godot. Critics often describe Godot as the play in which nothing happens because it purposely lacks a plot. Tutu’s work is somewhat similar to this. The main characters, Merry and Brainy remain seated on two benches while several visitors pass by and enter into their conversation. The reader learns that its 9 a.m. when the play opens and evening when it ends. There is no explanation as to why the two men are there. This characteristic really made me enjoy the book. It’s as if Tutu picks up the audience and drops them in the midst of two average African’s lives.

Just to note, there are several other similar motifs between Laughter and Godot. A tree plays an important role in each. Laughter opens and ends with Brainy and Merry scampering up a tree to avoid some “danger,” while Vladimir and Estragon are seated under a tree that seems to magically grow and lose its leaves. Both sets of characters are waiting for something: Godot and the Whistleblower respectively. Since Godot is one of my absolute favorite plays, I was excited to see these similarities.

Tutu’s purpose for writing Laughter is to bring attention to the controversial issues facing Africans by employing comedy. Very early on, Tutu tries to correct the misconception that Africa is one unified place. When asked to describe Africa in one word, Merry replies, “Sorry, I cannot give you one word that best describes the whole of Africa” (5). I think that when most people consider Africa, they believe it is one completely unified place. Moreover, it is not uncommon to hear someone refer to Africa as a state opposed to a continent.

It’s impossible to give a rundown of all the issues that Tutu addresses. Much of the play consists of Brainy asking questions and Merry responding. Therefore, many issues are quickly brought up. For example, Tutu attributes Africa’s problems with poor leadership. He tackles the problem of environmental destruction and the desertification of Africa. After reflecting back, the issue that stands out most to me is same-sex marriage. While Merry is faithfully married, Brainy seems repeatedly commits adultery with almost every woman in their village. However, both characters are strongly against same sex marriage. Perhaps this just stood out to me because I personally support gay marriage.

I would definitely recommend Tutu’s Laughter—An African Paradox. There are so many great parts too it. I would have to say his environmental arguments are my favorite. While the book is physically thin, it manages to touch on a tremendous number of issues. You can easily finish the play in one quick sitting, but its messages will remain in your mind for quite some time. Tutu deserves quite a bit of praise for this book.

You can pick up a copy at the online bookstore:

I received a complimentary copy of Laughter—An African Paradox as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

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