Wednesday, August 24, 2011

96. Icebergs by Alistair Morgan

Alistair Morgan's Icebergs was shortlisted for the 10th Caine Prize for African Writing, in 2009. The story was published in The Paris Review No. 183 in 2007.

Dennis Moorcraft has moved to his plush retirement home on the coast of Cape Town after several years of work in Johannesburg. He has lost his wife to cancer and his children are abroad and the daughter who continued to live in their Johannesburg home had refused to vacate that place to join his father in Cape Town; coming only to visit. Consequently, the father is alone in the huge apartment after his wife made him promise not to give out their dream home for another person to occupy.

One late night, the FOR SALE on the house next to his came down. Mr. Moorcraft now has a neighbour. An enigmatic neighbour whose comings and goings were as sublime as the man himself. However the two individuals met and after several shots of alcohol started talking. Interests were shared and Moorcraft got to know that Bradshaw loves painting. Moorcraft told him of her artist daughter, Melissa, who comes to visit once in a while, promising to introduce her to him when she visits.

It was during one of Melissa's Cape Town visits and her father's introduction that the two: Melissa and Bradshaw, a man old enough to be his father, struck a relationship to the chagrin of Moorcraft. But Bradshaw has his secrets and when they started coming up, through several media outlets, the concern Dennis Moorcraft could no longer sit whilst his daughter is taken advantage of. But the daughter has decided and the relationship between father and daughter is already a strained one. 
"I'm just worried, Melissa. Can you understand that? Can you understand someone else's feelings for once?"
"Fuck you."
"Please. Melissa. Why don't you come over and we can talk about this properly?"
Melissa would become embroiled in political mudslinging that threatens her very life and of which survival meant giving up everything she had and those she had laboured for, the least of the two being her father, to live incognito.

This short story is a beautiful story and one I would have voted for to win the 2009 award. It packs a lot of emotions and intrigue within its few pages and shows how much more there is to Africa than the archetypal stereotypes cemented in most writers' and readers' minds. It exudes hope for African stories and even though there is political corruption lurking somewhere within its pages, it does not takeover the story. The main events surrounds the relationship between a single lonely father who still cares about his children, want the best for them but still have to decide where childhood ends and adulthood begins and her daughter set in her ways with unshakable thoughts and decisions. Should one leave ones child into the jaws of doom even when the child insist that he or she is no longer a child and his or her decision must therefore be respected? Could you sit idle, hands folded between your thighs, when you know that a particular decision would lead your love one into trouble even if that person insist on being left alone? At one point or the other we have been in both situations, and that is the beauty of the story and of life. Children always think they know what is best for them, parents always think that having acquired experience they know the effect of certain decisions and also they know the ways of the world. This is supported by a proverb in Twi which when translated is it is adulthood that no one has reached before and not childhood. This is a superb story and has all the ingredients of a short story.


Brief Bio: Alistair Morgan was born in South Africa in 1971. He is the first non-American to win the Paris Review's George Plimpton Prize. His debut novel, Sleeper's Wake, was published in 2009 to much acclaim. He lives in Cape Town. (continue reading). His short stories: Departure and Icebergs have appeared in The Paris Review. Icebergs was selected for the O. Henry Awards anthology for 2008 and Departure was also selected for the National Magazine AwardsYou can read it at The Paris Review's Site or get the pdf at the Caine Prize for African Writing Site.

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5/6.0

Other Caine Prize 2009 Shortlist: The End of Skill by Mamle Kabu


  1. The relationship between Melissa and her father sounds so sad, and I bet that the sadness of it just ripples off the page. Great review here today. This sounds like an impressive book!

  2. Sounds like a really great story, the winning story must have been truly fantastic to beat it!

  3. @Zibilee. It's sad but that's how the world has become. To insist on their rights parents have become things children trample upon. A concerned parent is one that bears the brunt of disrespect the most. And this is endorsed by society's reaction to such incidents. When the child turns out bad these same parents are blamed. But the beauty is that every child, if he or she doesn't die early, would become a parent and would be served with his or her own pills, unless he chooses not to bear children or to be an uncaring parent.

  4. @Amy. It's almost not always the case.

  5. This sounds like a wonderful story. I hope I can find a copy!

  6. Yes Marie, it is available for free downloading at the Caine Prize site. Also check the link provided in the first paragraph

  7. Hi Nana. I really appreciated you highlighting a Caine shortlist that was NOT about poverty! What I like about this story is that it presents a universal story in an African context.

  8. I agree with Sarah completely. I like the story. Must go in search of it. I haven't started my reviews yet. Hmm...

  9. @Sarah. I was happy to have read and review this. However, I must say that there are a lot of such issues in the Caine Prize short list. I hate to say this but then they are the ones that win too.

  10. @Kinna, when you get the time schedule all your reviews. I do this often when I find the time. Reviews and blogging is fun but also difficult if you don't want to just do 'something' but to get people appreciate what you are doing.

  11. Nana, read this and thought should have picked the prize too. Putting the theme aside, I think what made me to like the story was the descriptions, they were so vivid...

  12. I have read the winning story but I have scheduled all the winners to be reviewed last in the series. Thus for 2009 I would review all the shortlist and end it with the winner. Not to give away nothing, I agree with you absolutely.


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