Good Morning Comrades is the delightful debut novel by Angolan author Ondjaki (pen-name for Ndalu de Almeida). Published in 2001 in Portuguese and engagingly translated by Stephen Henighan (2008), it launched Ondjaki's writing career that has brought him recognition and several international literary awards. For this novel, which tells the coming of age story of Ndalu and his school friends, Ondjaki mined his own memories of childhood and experiences while growing up in Luanda (the capital) during the conflicting and difficult times of Angola's early years of independence.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a growing boy, daily life, however, is preoccupied with school, games, friends and family. The parades, the power struggles between the regime and its opponents are noted but not understood and have little bearing on the daily life of the children. Their naïveté protects them from getting into trouble; they don't ask questions; the world is fine as it is. When, for example, Ndalu is chosen to make a May Day speech on the radio and his own prepared text is replaced by another text for him to read, he doesn't question this decision. Nor does he question the privileges of his own family in comparison to the poverty of others in his class. They are all together and support (as well as tease) each other. He does wonder, though, why his aunt, visiting from Portugal, does not know anything about ration cards and could, at home, buy as much chocolate as she liked.
The school features prominently in the novel, in particular classes with the Cuban teachers. They are often the subject of the children's discussions. Still, over time they develop a real affection for them – without questioning why they are there in the first place – and when they (like most other Cubans in the country at the time) leave Angola they are sad to see them leave. Their departure coincided with the year end of the last school year. The young people will be scattered into different directions and, for the first time, Ndalu experiences personal loss, sadness and insecurity about what the future will hold. The Cuban teachers leave the students with their philosophy: "…children really are the flower of humanity."
Good Morning Comrades is a simple, yet vividly told story. The reader easily connects with Ndalu and his friends. Below the surface, Ondjaki touches on many issues that the young country and its people had to deal with. Stephen Henighan's very informative Afterword is highly recommended reading as it places the novel in its historical context and greatly contributes to a deeper understanding of its importance in the literary treatment of Angola's early years as an independent country that was caught very much in the middle of the Cold War and its competing international interests. [Friederike Knabe]