The first opening sentence or paragraph in a novel almost represents the aroma of the cooked story. If the aroma is inviting and drags you by the throat, you are likely going to stay for a long time, anticipating a meal and eventually eating it. If the aroma is bad, your interest in the meal may be disrupted. To writers and readers, quite often, the opening sentence can spark writing or reading interest to a great extent. The opening part is one part of a book or story that lingers in the mind. One of my favorite openings of all time has been Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger. “I got my things and left” hunted me for many years and it has stayed with me as a writer and reader.
While I am aware that a lot of readers do not care about the opening words, phrases or sentences and would rather read the entire story to fully appreciate a work of art, the petty readers whose association some of us belong to love fascinating openings. Whether you like a fine opening or not, its presence can’t truly be overlooked. I am sure you’ve come across some interesting openings in your most preferred genre. Some of them are traditional, while others are not. I’ve been able to bring to your attention some of the popular and not so popular but fascinating openings in fairly contemporary novels written by Africans, Colombians and people of the Caribbean. The list isn’t exhaustive.
It is my hope that you would add to the list and share some of your most preferred openings in the comment section.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Wouldn’t you be most shocked that I am starting a list of fascinating openings of fiction writings from Africa and the rest of the world and would not begin with Things Fall Apart owing to my leaning as a lover of African literature? Well, the opening of this story would be best appreciated when you understand the style of writing and the setting of the story, and why this background which serves as opening was given.
“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.”
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
As expected, Gabriel opens us into the world of magical realism with words that details the becoming of a generation and the events. It starts ordinarily but becomes complex as you read about Macondo and the events that makes it.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
- Season of Anomy by Wole Soyinka
Soyinka’s ‘difficult’ novel might as well have an esoteric opening that shows his mastery of the English language and it doesn’t matter how confused it makes you but you should read the rest of the novel and appreciate it.
“A quaint anomaly, had long governed and policed itself, was so singly-knit that it obtained a tax assessment for the whole populace and paid it before the departure of the pith-helmeted assessor, in cash, held all property in common, literally, to the last scrap of thread on the clothing of each citizen, such an anachronism gave much patronizing amusement to the cosmopolitan sentiment of a profit-hungry society.”
- The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
This love story begins with a rather unforgettable opening, describing the separate upbringing and memories of the lovers in the story.
“Let me tell you a story about a game called Frustration. A dog used to follow me around when I was ten, one day, my father had his driver run this dog over in plain view of the house. I watched from my window. The black car purring on the grit, the driver’s hands shaking as he prepared himself for a second hit and my father, sitting in the back seat, watching.”
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Marlon James combines different genres to make A Brief History of Seven Killings. Whether the killings in the book were of key players who attacked the singer – a character that is said to represent some real people, the introduction is interesting. And the 700 pages book should be read so you can adequately appreciate the story and style.
“Listen. Dead people never stop talking. Maybe because death is not death at all, just a detention after school. You know where you’re coming from and you’re always returning from it. You know where you’re going though you never seem to get there and you’re just dead. Dead. It sounds final but it’s a world missing an ‘ing’. You come across men longer dead than you, walking all the time though heading nowhere, and you listen to them howl and hiss because we’re all spirits or we think we are all spirits but we’re all just dead.