Thursday, 7 January 2016


Review by Ishmael Mzwandile Soqaga

By a long chalk it has been generally accepted that Omoseye Bolaji's literary works remain invariably exhilarating.  Literary pundits who zero in on his cavernous literary contribution generally accede that Bolaji is a charismatic grassroots literary icon whose literary works are ebullient.

His noteworthy latest book - Cognoscenti (2016) is extraordinarily scintillating.  I humbly regard myself to be privileged by owning the copy of the book.  Umpteen aficionados of literature will certainly be delectable with the sensational essays that constitute most of the book.    

It could be possible not surprising to people who love literature, especially those who are passionate about Bolaji's books.  So to speak the success of this new book is a prodigious milestone for burgeoning quintessential literature.  Personally I always imagine the large number of people who are eager to have the book.  The early announcement of the new noticeably left many people surmising as to what the book actually contained.  Did the book contain one of the thrilling fictions of Omoseye Bolaji?  Or it is what we usually read from him nowadays- being transported and immersed in writing remarkable essays on literature?  In essence one could not avoid acquiescing about the enthusiasm and desire which people have, especially to sufficiently know about the book.

Over the years Omoseye Bolaji has been known by his outstanding literary proficiency he showcases in his many awe-inspiring books he wrote.  In recent times after he had achieved a lot in literature, some perhaps ruled him out in literature.  One will wonder whether what is purported about him mainly by some critics is really honest.  But for the fact that literature is quite dramatic, so the prospect can be unpredictable.  However in the African context Omoseye Bolaji's unprecedented works remain plausible and respected.  Insolence is something that is exotic and scurrilous.  I ponder the saying as quotidian, and I regard it as irrelevant inasmuch as the protagonist continues to write fine intriguing books, essays etc. 

For instance, in the zenith of the “Tebogo Mystery Series” (created by Bolaji) especially after the momentous success of Tebogo and the Bacchae we find the author declaiming: (in an interview in South Africa) “By the way I must confess that I was chuffed that I managed to produced a book like Tebogo and the Bacchae especially as a large number of “critics” seemed to believe that I was “finished” as a creative writer at the time! 

“Let me state quite definitely that I have no intention of killing off Tebogo Mokoena, a humane, fairly young, happily married sleuth!  If I can’t write the books again, so be it; but Tebogo will never be killed off... at this stage, weak as I am, I cannot say I am going to write further Tebogo adventures; but some six years ago, I never imagined four more adventure would be added to the series.  Like that (James) Bond movie made famous Never say Never again!”

Nevertheless, apart from his celebrated book of (fiction) “People of the Townships” (2003) I have always believed that the most inspirational books that Omoseye Bolaji wrote are “My Life and Literature” (2007) and “Kunle Apantaku” (2013).  These two awesome books expound unambiguously about who really Omoseye Bolaji is!  They candidly showcase precisely how Bolaji became influenced and passionate about literature.   To be honest these are the books that can definitely inspire and guide the literary neophyte. 

Concisely in his book My Life and Literature on page 7 Omoseye Bolaji elucidates:  "But at least reading for leisure was a painless exercise and I loved writing too.  I began to write my own short stories when I was about 10, and by 14 I had written a great deal of them.  The experts call it juvenilia, and that’s what it was.  But the writing continued, and by 16/17 I had written my first full long novel...

"Meanwhile, throughout my teens-which included my years in the university Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) I continued to read books, mainly novels, written by assorted authors, white, black, specifically African; etc..."

In Kunle Apantaku page 4 the literary mogul expounded that: "Now looking back on it, it is rather strange that we considered ourselves as “old” at that time, and even the themes of what we wrote reflected this: love, philosophy, sex, crime etc.  There is a very impressive corpus of African literature anchored on children’s books.  Even in those (old) days, the outstanding African writers like Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ama Ata Aidoo and Ngugi wa Thiong’o had penned some children’s works.  But although we had read countless Eurocentric works of this ilk some years ago (the Enid Blytons, Biggles series, Three investigators, Hardy Boys and the like) we now firmly considered ourself-even at 15 as mature, rather wizened wordsmiths!"

Omoseye Bolaji is a magnetic writer who unequivocally expresses his literary flair with profound enthusiasm.  Overall like I mentioned beforehand that much is anticipated from his new work.  Apparently, one will certainly comprehend his gargantuan essays he produced which are entirely fabulous.  I am already aware how zealous are literary pundits in yearning to see and read the book in order to gratify their literary desire.  Inevitably their impatience keeps them guessing as whether the book is likewise with Far Up! Far Out! Far More! Miscellaneous writings, It Couldn’t Matter Less etc.  Definitely the above mentioned books remain transcendent and profoundly consummate.  How about the oft-colourful titles of his pieces? From the Termagant, The Intrepid Okada Protagonist, Oloolu, The Man Died, A Man of the People, The Unsung Literary Catalyst, The Troughs of Sports, Deon’s Debut work, Basking in Global Rugby Fiesta! To D.H Lawrence: A Sublime Writer, Wordsmiths to the Fore! 

Nevertheless, apart from his sublime range of literary essays he used to write, in his latest book (Cognoscenti) we find a disparate type of writing.  The book almost acknowledges and celebrates African literature in enormous fashion.  It uniquely zeroes in on endowing literary world with magnificent wealth of knowledge about great African wordsmiths, et al. I find this resplendent.  Africa must be thankful to have the kind of calibre of writer of the likes of Omoseye Bolaji.  Very interestingly, his reluctance to allow African literature to be stagnant is conspicuously glaring in his book.  I find it worthwhile to read and re-read the book time and again.  Primarily he brings forth almost all the sagacious writers of the African continent.  

One thing that a reader can be suddenly engrossed about the book ‘Cognoscenti’ is its short potent introduction - by Henry Ozogula.  The way he narrates in the introduction can give the reader what actually inspired the book.  Ozogula has been eagerly honest and of course regards Omoseye Bolaji as a giant of literature.  It can be something bizarre in the West to see a popular writer being praised fulsomely, but here Ozogula is not coy to display how he admires Omoseye Bolaji:

"I really respect and look up to him so much, learn from him and his work every time; and whenever I see him now I’d prostrate in front of him and say: “Cognoscenti sir!” as for me he embodies incredible knowledge of literature.  And over 30 books published says it all..."

It is very interesting to understand that the name of the book and its existence comes from the enthusiastic Ozogula himself. How? He explains in his Introduction: "You can imagine what a thrill and pleasure it has been for me to meet a fantastic writer like ‘Uncle Bolaji’.  What he has done for me over the months is incredible and invaluable.  He has guided me, introduced me properly into the world of literature.  Reading his books of essays again and again has transformed my life."

In actual fact the book “Cognoscenti” is one that comprises essays that celebrate African literature but that simultaneously encompasses euphonious views concerning African literature.  The birthday tribute of Flaxman Qoopane at 60 is very winsome.  The protagonist (Bolaji) explains with superb literary dexterity how he spent his literary life with Flaxman Qoopane.  The tribute is one of the great tributes Omoseye Bolaji ever penned concerning a writer of the calibre of Flaxman Qoopane.  In fact the tribute is not just a mere birthday party tribute where all kinds of food and drinks will be appreciated with lot of cheers and jubilation.   Over the years Omoseye Bolaji had remarkably written excellent literary tributes by recognising the sterling contribution of other African writers.  One will reckon how he brilliantly appreciated Wole Soyinka,  Dambudzo Marechera, Mbulelo Mzamane and so on. 

Again in the same book, Chief Bolaji continues to share his literary background like he essentially did in other previous books where we learn about his involvement in literature.  Truly speaking Omoseye Bolaji is an exceptional writer whom one may appreciate his fortune of being part of the family that is conversant about literature.  In the essay The African witch by Joyce Cary, he unequivocally explains how his uncle introduced the book to him as a kid.  Imagine as young as he was when his uncle asked him that - did he ever dream in his life?  In fact the book was presented to him and it is very important to fathom how he reacted over the book. 

I will rather say here that Bolaji continues to demonstrate how enchanting literature is.  Whether a book is negative or positive he always admires literature wholeheartedly.  That is what is fascinating about him. In this his new work he dramatically discloses another part of his life in particular within his family.  It must be taken into cognisance that his father was also a great writer, but to reveal information about his uncle fondness to books centrally show that as he grew up he was surrounded by people who loved literature, hence the puissance of the magnetic prolific African writer himself.

However another alluring thing about the book is the number of contribution he expresses concerning African literature.  Like in “Onitsha Market Literature by Emmanuel Obiechina”:  "When Onitsha Market literature was at its peak decades ago, a large number of books with local colour was published regularly; many teeming readers availed themselves of the opportunity to buy these works and enjoy them; literacy was boosted in the process; and many writers emerged... Alas, this is no longer the case in most African communities.

Again in “Oiling The wheels Of Literary Fecundity”, the reader will be pleased to understand how literature functions with Africa as background.  Here Omoseye Bolaji unambiguously shrugs off the fallacy of certain "rogue" writers who try to blackmail or menace others and dupe others treacherously.  "Alas, in Africa it is a crying shame, a tragedy really, that a few ignorant, petty, or even cruel-minded people who claim to be “writers” have been known to claim that an ordinary “editor” of a work can magically be regarded as the author, and try to undermine the real author(s) of a work.  Such claims are in the real literary world senseless, barbaric, cruel, and smirk of illiteracy.  African must move ahead with the times and not allow a few misinformed, narrow-minded people to destroy burgeoning literature..."

It is edifying to read such superlative work by Omoseye Bolaji whom some misinformed critics have declared as "finished".  Although he may sometimes believe that but he really know that he cannot do without literature.  As we read from the introduction of this books how Ozogula had been pushing him, nagging him to bring out a new book – but he will just smile and say: “Boy, I am finished... I can’t write again.”  Nevertheless, again in this new book, Cognoscenti we see Bolaji appreciates Kola Onadipe, a brilliant African writer who writes to inspire the youth - among others. 


·        Introduction by Henry Ozogula
·        Flaxman Qoopane at 60
·        Africa my Music. By Es’kia Mphahlele
·        The Voice by Gabriel Okara
·        The African witch by Joyce Cary
·        The Adventures of Souza by Kola Onadipe
·        Onitsha Market Literature by Emmanuel Obiechina
·        The Instrument by Victor Thorpe
·        Kurunmi by Ola Rotimi
·        Because of Women by Mbella Sonne Dipoko
·        Jagua Nana’s Daughter by Cyprian Ekwensi
·        Tell Freedom by Peter Abrahams
·        The Wanderers by Es’kia Mphahlele
·        Oiling the Wheels of Literature Fecundity
·        Let’s Take a Walk Mama (Collection of poems by Tiisetso M Thiba)
·        Literary Profiles (Mandla Langa)
·        Chukwuemekaike
·        Gomolemo Mokae
·        The Literary Work of Ishmael Mzwandile Soqaga


  1. A wonderful review that digs deep not only into this new work - COGNOSCENTI - but also into the literary antecedents and gleaming radiance of the author. Worth reading over and over again

  2. with rich contents and background of literature pundits and their revere works, the new book of Malome Bolaji "Cognoscenti" is a must read.

  3. Mr Soqaga's progress as a major African literary critic has been astonishing. He brings many things to the table: eg honest endeavour, massive research, endless enthusiasm, and obvious goodwill. This his latest publication ticks all the boxes.

  4. Immensely satisfying and gratifying, teeming with sweet-trolley of literary delights, as it were. Indeed Ntate Soqaga has come on by leaps and bounds with profundity - to the delectation of African literature.