Summary and book reviews of My First Coup d'Etat by John Mahama

My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Mahama

My First Coup d'Etat
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2012,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: May 2013,
    288 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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Book Summary

My First Coup d'Etat chronicles the coming-of-age of John Dramani Mahama in Ghana during the dismal post-independence "lost decades" of Africa. He was seven years old when rumors of a coup reached his boarding school in Accra. His father, a minister of state, was suddenly missing, then imprisoned for more than a year.

My First Coup d'Etat offers a look at the country that has long been considered Africa's success story. This is a one-of-a-kind book: Mahama's is a rare literary voice from a political leader, and his personal stories work on many levels - as fables, as history, as cultural and political analyses, and, of course, as the memoir of a young man who, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, would grow up to be vice president of his nation. Though nonfiction, these are stories that rise above their specific settings and transport the reader - much like the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Nadine Gordimer - into a world all their own, one which straddles a time lost and explores the universal human emotions of love, fear, faith, despair, loss, longing, and hope despite all else.

OF SILENCE AND SOLIDARITY

It was with much consternation that we came to realize that the brand-new member of our class 3 group was a bona fide bully. It took a while, at least the first few weeks of the term, for that truth to come to light because initially he tried to blend in. I think it was his way of studying us, taking note of our individual constitution and our collective consciousness, so that when he was ready, he would know how far he could go — because people will push you only as far and as hard as you allow them to. Feigning kindness and friendship was his due diligence.

The boy's name was Ezra, and despite his best efforts to fit in, it was apparent from the start that it would be a most difficult task. There were ten of us in our dormitory, and Ezra was the tallest. He was a couple of years older than us, and even though I'm sure the other kids were curious as to why he was even in our class, nobody asked. It would be impolite and in poor taste. And it would ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Mahama dedicates My First Coup d'Etat "to the memory of my father, Mr. E. A. Mahama, a man of humility and integrity, who lived in service of his family, his people, and his nation." Give some examples of the elder Mahama's "humility and integrity." How did he impart these qualities to his nineteen children?
  2. Mahama writes, "A number of us who stayed during the 'lost decades' and lived through the difficulties, whether by choice or force, discovered that it was, ironically, during this time that we found ourselves, our voices." How did the hardships of the "lost decades" shape Mahama's personality, politics, and sensibility?
  3. As a seven-year-old student, the phrase "coup d'etat" was intriguing to Mahama, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Part memoir, part history lesson, My First Coup d'Etat is a collection of true stories by a Ghanian man who grew up close enough to his country's politics to have some real insight into Ghana's historical events. At the same time, he was far away long enough to have a spectator's perspective. What makes this collection even more interesting is that shortly after its release, the author, John Dramani Mahama, was sworn in as Ghana's newest President.

   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

Full Review Members Only (1105 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana's recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes.

Kirkus Reviews

Sensitive, honest autobiographical essays… A wonderfully intimate look at the convulsive changes, and deep scarring, in post-colonial Africa.

Author Blurb Aminatta Forna, author of the Commonwealth Book Prize–winning The Memory of Love
Warm and engaging. The view of a complex world in microcosm.

Author Blurb Ngugi wa Thiong'o, author of Weep Not, Child
Mahama's stories lure the reader into an unforgettable journey in which he interacts with history as a living tissue. The characters and the episodes are part of the everyday but one imbued with magic and suggestive power that go beyond the concrete and the palpable to hint at history in motion.

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A Brief History of Ghana

The modern country of Ghana is named after the kings of a medieval civilization in West Africa, the Wagadugu Empire. Later absorbed into the Mali Empire, they were a significant power in trans-Saharan trade, with their capital city on the southern edge of the desert being a major port-of-call for traders and political movers and shakers. Much of Ghana's population today can trace their roots back to this ancient state. Ghana was reputed as having the richest gold mines in the world -- hence the Colonial name for the region, "The Gold Coast."

ghana Attracted by the country's riches, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in Ghana looking to trade in gold, pepper and ivory. To consolidate their position, in 1482, the Portuguese built one ...

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