On Saturday 5th November 2016, Vamba Sherif visited Fitzwilliam to discuss his book ‘Land of My Fathers’ as part of the ongoing ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series.
This guest blog is by Dabi Olu-Odugbemi (Law 2016).
At the time of the launch, I was halfway through the book and already so captivated by it that I was eager to meet the author himself and pick his brains about his motivation for writing the book. Vamba turned out to be a really intriguing man with a fascinating story. As a young boy, he had lived a privileged life, growing up with a love for books that later sparked his desire to write. Although born in Liberia, he and his family moved to Kuwait when he was still very young and became entangled in the first Gulf War, forcing them to seek asylum in the Netherlands. While studying law there, Vamba decided to try his hand at writing, and the result of this experimentation was ‘Land of My Fathers’, a novel about war and friendship that resonates with the country of Liberia to this day.
‘Land of My Fathers’ centres around three main characters from completely different backgrounds who end up becoming inextricably linked by their desire for peace in a land consumed by the chaos of war. The novel begins with the story of Edward Richards, a man originally born into slavery, who travels to Liberia in the hopes of creating a home for himself and his lover, as well as spreading the gospel to the local tribes. In Liberia, he meets Halay, a remarkable man with a penchant for peace so strong that he is willing to sacrifice his life to ensure that is protected. Halay’s sacrifice is supposed to be an ultimate one that will ensure Liberians never suffer the famines and deaths that come from war; yet a century later, Halay’s and Edward’s descendants find themselves caught up in a war that threatens to destroy everything.
Vamba explained that his inspiration stemmed from the desire to understand why a country could possibly want to wage war on itself. After hearing Vamba’s story, however, it is very difficult not to draw parallels between the novel’s characters and Vamba himself. There is a key theme concerning the prevention of war that resonates through the entire book and it is clear that this comes from Vamba himself. Vamba also discussed the links between members of his family and characters in the novel, for example, Vamba’s brother read the novel and felt as though Edward’s story was his story.
The book itself ended on an open-ended note, and that left me asking myself a number of questions. I contemplated the post-colonial nature of various African countries as well as the effect that the slave trade had on them. It left me wondering whether the cracks in the foundations of countries such as Liberia can ever fully be mended or whether such countries simply have to start anew. Finally, it made me consider that aspect of human nature that seeks to block out or fight that which it cannot relate to because it is different. Throughout the novel, I was struck by the tensions between the various groups of characters and how many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they did not try to understand each other, but instead sought to impose their way of life on each other. How much easier things would be if there was more tolerance and appreciation of others, in place of animosity and violence.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The proud Republic of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth century with the triumphant return of freed slaves from America to Africa. Once back “home,” however, these Americo-Liberians had to integrate into the resident tribes—who did not necessarily want or welcome them. Against a background of French and British colonialists busily carving up Mother Africa, while local tribes were still unashamedly trading in slaves, the vulnerable newcomers felt trapped and out of place. Where men should have stood shoulder to shoulder, they turned on each other instead.
Dabi Olu-Odugbemi is a first year Law student at Fitzwilliam College.