Behind the Story: A Zero-Mile Journey by Samuel M. Addae, Pharm D. | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Samuel M Addae

Samuel M. Addae, Pharm D.

Writing a novel takes imagination, descriptive powers, physical and mental energies, and patience. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t born into a family of connoisseurs of literature. Growing up in Ghana, my mother sold groceries at the market, and my father was in the military. Both of them didn’t have an education beyond middle school. And that wasn’t by choice. The reason for my mother’s truncated education was simple: middle school was sufficient for a girl who would marry one day and carry somebody else’s family name. My father, on the other hand, lost his mother at a young age. His father was absent, so he lived with his maternal grandmother, who died and willed her properties to him and his younger sister. My father’s uncle absorbed the inheritance. When my father passed the O’ level exam, he couldn’t go to secondary school because if his uncle’s children couldn’t pass the same exam to go to secondary school, then my father couldn’t.

Survival forced my father into the military; this wasn’t a good fit for him, so he had to find work elsewhere. With only a middle school education, he was at the mercy of luck. He knew the best chance for survival of his family of seven was life outside the country, as political corruption was suffocating every facet of life. He left Ghana for North Africa in the late 70s courtesy of his older half-brother, who had moved there. (After the colonial era, life abroad was seen by many as an avenue for survival, procurement of wealth, and how to be seen as somebody in Ghanaian society. The perception hasn’t changed as the recalcitrant gene of corruption that our leadership inherited from its forebears seems to have metastasized into today’s body politic.)

In the early 80s, my father came for my mother to work alongside him in North Africa, necessitating my siblings’ relocation to another town in the care of our mother’s uncle. Our sufferings continued there despite perennial remittances to our granduncle from our parents. Here, lunch was absent from our vocabulary. Sometimes food came once a day. I don’t remember if I weighed more than thirty-five pounds at age ten. One of my siblings developed a stomach ulcer from this austere home life. He contracted more than that: one day, his torn schoolbag gave away where our granduncle’s missing meat pie went.

A Zero-Mile JourneyOur parents eventually moved back to Ghana in the late 80s. Our financial life soured shortly after that because the family size had bulged to eight, and corruption-induced harsh economic reality persisted. My father set his sights on abroad again, this time the West, arriving in America in 1990, where the family is currently ensconced.

Walking the campus of the City College of the City University of New York in the late 90s, it dawned on me that I would one day write a book about life’s journey, with the above serving as the impetus. I knew it wouldn’t be autobiographical, though real-life events would inform significant portions. I didn’t fully know whether it would be non-fiction or fictionalized non-fiction, literary or otherwise. All I knew was that the story would be authentically African without the motivation to imitate another writer or novel.

The rigors of immigrant life put this dream on hold. In 2012 or thereabout, years after I’d started working as a clinical pharmacist, the dream was excavated. To prepare for this task, I didn’t read any book or commentary or attend lectures on how to write a book. I didn’t want my novel to come out following someone’s motif or convention of book writing. Instead, I read modern classics vis-à-vis One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marquez, Aké: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, The Famished Road by Ben Okri, I Claudius by Robert Graves, The Stranger by Albert Camus, Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee, etc. I didn’t want A Zero-Mile Journey and its sequel (sequel to be published later) to mimic any of these; I just wanted to know what defined a good novel—i.e., in my humble perception of a good novel.

The first draft read like listening to a million tortured voices. It was a disjointed mess of ideas and scenes. Distilling many ideas into a cohesive whole can be daunting. As I wrote sparingly, I thought working full-time shifts with on-call responsibilities was to blame. Frustrated, I dropped everything and read a book. Every time I stepped away from my writing, it gave me new insights into my novel. That didn’t fully erase my frustration, though. But Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 gave me hope. Here was an author whose first language was English. He also taught it at the Pennsylvania State University. Above all, he was a Fulbright Scholar writing about his own war experience, albeit a satire. I felt it should have taken far less time to write it than the eight years it took him. So why should I be frustrated when English is my second language? Why should I be frustrated when Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged took fourteen years to write?

Six years after I started, I felt I had a complete product. I gave it to a friend, an English instructor, for her opinion. After getting through a third of the novel, she commented, “Sam, don’t rush this book.” I didn’t know if what she read had a varnish of amateurishness or simply because she saw something—a potential! Her follow-up commentary alleviated my fears: It was the latter. I had other people read it, too. They pointed out things here and there—some obvious, others not so much. Of significance, as I discovered each time I read the novel, there are structural problems that an author may be better positioned to spot than a casual reader. So I kept reading and re-reading and was catching problems/errors others had missed. That is, until I was satisfied with the novel.

I’ve never read a perfect novel, so, at one point, I knew I had to stop trying to attain perfection. Eleven years later, the first part of the two-book series, A Zero-Mile Journey, was published—in November 2023. One of the curious questions I’ve been asked is, “How long did it take you to write it?” Though I haven’t asked what provoked the question, I assume these readers could see the effort that went into it. Perhaps, too, they were wondering how a full-time clinical pharmacist with on-call responsibilities had the time to write a novel.

(c) Samuel M. Addae, Pharm D.

About A Zero-Mile Journey by Samuel M. Addae, Pharm D.

A Zero-Mile JourneyA Zero-Mile Journey follows life in Enkoho—a small village in Ghana with mysterious happenings. Also known as the village that doesn’t exist, Enkoho’s struggles aren’t common knowledge to the outside world because even its inhabitants don’t want to make their association with it known. The mystery of Enkoho follows its inhabitants wherever they go. From Ghana to Guinea to Senegal to Britain and even America, the pull of the village is always within reach. Outsiders who visit risk being claimed by the village; such is how an American, Helena, comes to call Enkoho home against the intent of her mother, who brings her to the village as a child. Also in this village is Gyambibi: a conscientious, precocious boy. His family is the wealthiest around but a cataclysm changes that, killing many and devastating their agrarian livelihoods. A vast treasure that can rebuild the destroyed village is inaccessible because it’s also buried under the mystery that is Enkoho. Survival forces Gyambibi into the military, but the mysterious power of the village pulls him back. When opportunities open up for him to go to America, the village fights his efforts to leave to help those ravaged by hardships.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Born in Ghana, Samuel Addae moved to the US in 1995, first settling In New York City where he completed undergraduate degrees in Biology and Jewish Studies. Having relocated to Colorado for graduate school, today Samuel practices as a clinical pharmacist and instructor at a rural medical centre. He has a passion for literature and has amassed a large collection of novels spanning works from every continent. A Zero-Mile Journey is his debut novel.

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