Wednesday, August 31, 2011

99. How Kamau Wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile by Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

Mukoma Wa Ngugui's How Kamau Wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile was shortlisted for the 10th Caine Prize award in 2009. It is the fourth in the list of five shortlist to be reviewed here. The itself was published in Wasafiri Volume 23, No. 2 in June 2008.

Kamau is a member of the Second Independence Democracy with Content Forum (SIDCF), a group that has been asking questions of their dictatorial government. He has been arrested and tortured on several occasions and has become immune to the fear exuded by military officials. One evening Kamau was visited by an army officer who presented him with a list of people who should be on the run, in case an impending insurrection fail:
'I ... we do not want to see more people dead. Especially the young people and even though we anticipate more trouble from the likes of you, you professional agitators, this is our country and your needed. Protect yourselves and your friends. We shall deal with each other later. Like men ... eye to eye. If you do not leave tonight, there is a chance you will be dead by tomorrow morning.'
That evening Kamau knew that he has no time left, if he should be arrested again torture would be the starting point, not the end. The remaining of the story follows Kamau on his way across the border, and into exile, under the guise of a Maasai warrior. It was on his escape that he witnessed the assassination of the coup plotters, including the man who presented him with the list.

The political tension in the country from which Kamau is running is not merely political but one mixed or influenced by tribal affiliations so much so that if a Gikuyu understands a Luo, he is considered to be
diluted, to be on the fence, to be compromised. It was to be dirty.
Even then it was the conversion into one of the least regarded and most abused tribes, Maasai, that saved his life as checkpoints increased and the police hunt for him, searching every corner including cigarette boxes.

Mukoma wa Ngugi's short story with its political overtones and ethnic undertone, is worth the read. He makes the psychological effects of exile on the life of the escapee and the people he leaves behind palpable, as was visible in the silent communication between Kamau and Wambui. This story reminds us of the ultimate power wielded by most leaders and how difficult it is for the people to come against it without facing, first, the might of the government.
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Brief Bio: Novelist, poet, and essayist Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Nairobi Heat (Penguin, SA 2009), an anthology of poetry titled Hurling Words at Consciousness (AWP, 2006) and is a political columnist for the BBC's Focus on Africa Magazine. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009. He has also been shortlisted for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition. Nairobi Heat is being released in the United States by Melville Publishing House September, 13 2011. (Continue reading)

ImageNations Rating: 4.5/6.0

Other Caine Prize shortlist: You Wreck Her by Parselelo Kantai

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

98. Look Where You Have Gone to Sit, Edited by Martin Egblewogbe and Laban Carrick Hill

Title: Look Where You Have Gone to Sit
Editors: Martin Egblewogbe & Martin Carrick Hill
Genre: Poetry Anthology
Publishers: Woeli Publishing Services
Pages: 63
Year of Publication: 2011
Country: Ghana

Look Where You Have Gone to Sit is a bold literary statement by young Ghanaian writers who have lived in the literary underground for a very long time. It is an anthology that brings hope to a literary scene which on the surface have become lethargic. This lethargy is not a manifestation of a lack of activity, but the lack of opportunity, of space, of medium, for the physical expression of the arts. This lack comes from two main sources: the sensationalism of our media outlets leaves no room for the acceptance and publication of literary arts (poetry, fiction etc). For instance, the most widely circulated newspaper in Ghana Daily Graphic has no room for poetry or fiction. This is taken care of by its weekly sister newspaper Mirror. Yet, a cursory glance through the latter shows that the arts have been reduced to nothingness. The second cause of this void is the gap between the elder generation of Kofi Anyidoho, Atukwei Okai, Kofi Awoonor and others and the newer generation captured in this collection. The sub-heading of this collection 'New Ghanaian Poets' attest to the latter cause. In effect, the latter generation of poets has been cooking their recipes in crevices, catacombs, subterranean cloisters full of stalagmites and stalactites making a push upward impossible. Yet once a person has been possessed by the arts like gods, that individual becomes its slave, its worshipper, unable to turn against it.

This dissociation has also led to the development of unique poetic voices and topics. This book, a representation of post-colonial literature, concentrates on our present lives: urbanisation and its influences; and in places where neo-colonialism sentiments are raised, and rightly so, some fingers are pointed to ourselves. Religion has also not escaped scrutiny and poets have resort to poetry for the answers. In spite of all these, it is the experimental forms that seek to break boundaries and enter into places previously unknown. From Darko Antwi's We Blacks to Teddy Totimeh's Evensong, Look Where You Have Gone to Sit is the definitive anthology of Ghana's literary future.

Opening this anthology of 36 poems by 20 poets is Darko Antwi's We Blacks where he defines what Africa is with a different view. Here he acknowledges our differences and show that it is in this difference that we become a people, just as the Ashanti forest is made up of different shades of verdant green. Using names like 'Apraku', 'Ngozi', 'Dibango', 'Makeba', and 'Yemi', Antwi defined what Africa is all about. In No Canto Nana Nyarko traces the art of writing poetry in a country where the opportunities for publication or readings is conspicuous in its absence. The inks are stuffed in 'dormant cages/muffled pieces lie about in globes,/brittle images pilot/fallen wings of rhythm... .

In don't you tell or you'll die, Nana questions the age-old moral norm of respect by children towards adults even when these individuals have clearly shown that they hardly deserve it. In this piece a girl gets raped and is warned, as is usually read about in several rape stories published by newspapers, not to tell anybody lest she dies. And here the girl is prevented from expressing herself. Though the theme is a known one, the treatment is not. This piece is highly experimental in the spirit of e.e. Cummings yet different from Cummings. Nana painted words instead of writing thoughts. Lines like these keep the reader thinking:
I am berated for being repulsed by the men who stole my early days,
for saying, a-b-c- to -f-a-r-k-u, (in silence)
when they ask "how are you?"
In another stanza, Nana writes
PEN
(h)/IS tongue reentrant
cancer
grown,
in paper bags            then plastic bags,             then the ocena
hugged to my juvenile nose
Finally, the girl who bares it all is
... thrashed for loathing men who want to break-in,
I remember their ID in alphabet
a-b-c to m-a-t-h-a-f-a-r-k-e-r-s!
Trotro Chronicles is one of the pieces on urbanisation and its ills. The beauty of Kwabena Danso's piece is its language tapestry, combining Pidgin, French, Twi, Ga, Hausa and English to form a complete coherent poetry. He chronicles what goes on in queues, at stations and in the trotros until the passenger gets to his or her destination. Here the economic level of many Ghanaians is brought to bear for even as the 'Tired lanky civil servants like jot' in the trotro pass by we see the traffic workers selling all sorts of things, from ice water to CDs:
Imliedzɔ eiIce... pure water for sweating brows and teary eyes
An entire drive through super market opens up before you
Wetin you dey search from plantain chips to brand new shoes
Dog chains, dogs, dolls, bofrot, CDs to car tools
This keen observation by Kwabena Danso deserves to be commended for every Ghanaian whether a passenger of a trotro or one who uses his own car have seen and been involved with this. This theme is quasi-present in Novisi Dzitrie's Ol' Driver Grand-Papa. However, Novisi in his advises the grand-papa to park his rickety car for it has done 'many a rocking to the bone!' Theresah Patrine Ennin's A Woman in a Taxi, treated this urbanisation and city-life with a twist. Here we are confronted with the usual solitude or individualism that seems to pervades city life. Is the girl in this poem afraid of the man beside her or is she worried about something, internally? Closely related to Kwabena Danso' is Crystal Tettey's Kokompe to Lapaz both of these are suburbs in Accra. Crystal paints the exactitude of events which go on in trotros.

Martin Egblewogbe's poetry is like his short stories. The poems could represent mystical equations of life, questioning and philosophising the ordinary (events) till it becomes extraordinary. A piece like A cigarette with Sonia as the fan went round and round begins with two people smoking cigarette and blowing the smoke into whorls, such a simple beginning but ended with:
Fellow travellers in this space ship
sharing the loneliness of our private gehenna.
Sonia and I, turning words into thoughts
And thoughts into words: ...
In Death and Friday night, Martin turns the usual Friday wake that follows the burial of a person and an old Ananse tale into a funny piece that borders on reincarnation. According to the persona, if he dies he will 'connive with the digger/when the mourners are all gone./Then in the night/I will open the coffin;/I will flee'. Even in the seemingly love piece the stars still shine despite the clouds loss and hope are juxtaposed and linked to celestial bodies in the universe. Is the author's background as a Physicist showing here?

Bernard Akoi-Jackson is an Artist. He describes everything he does as an Art. His two pieces are prophetic. For instance, in the sentence-long one-word-a-line poem Na Waa! he tells us that the things we have seen with our eyes are more than we could count. And here the question is 'what things?' The corruption? And credence is given to this by the title, which is a sigh of ruin/problem/quagmire that the person has no control over. Its more of an exclamation. The prophetic warning that he sounds in his poems is clear in Ena Akuba's Pots, which warns of the correlation between the upsurge in Petrol (Gas) Stations and the oil finds at the Western Region of Ghana.

Mercy Ananeh-Frempon's Susan Boyle shows the influence of television and the globalisation on the world. She portrayed how the judges and audience of the Britain's Got Talent Show reacted towards this contestant as she took the stage, because in their minds she does not represent a star; she can do nothing because she is 'improperly' dressed. However, a universal theme of this poem is to withhold judgement until the quality, the substance of the matter, has been verified. It behoves us to see beyond the physicality and outwardness. What comes out clearly from this piece is how stars are made and how star-life could be all faked up for if you break everything down, we are all like Susan Boyle.

One characteristic of this poem is its ability to be accompanied by drums, like Fredua-Agyeman's Finding my Voice, which is a search for a writer's unique voice; one that is not influenced by the 'Wesley chorales'. However, it is in Nii Lantey's Obunkutu, written entirely in Ga and translated into English, where rhythms of drums could easily be felt in the read. These invocations and chants, even in its adulterated English translation, depicts the past the present and the future of the country.

Teddy Totimeh rounded the collection up with his set of poems. Using words and sounds in Ghana Teddy tells us that if we wait and look, if we pause to listen we would find the 'colour in the squalor', 'the order in the odours', 'the humour in the clamour', 'of a suffering people/ waiting for progress.' If we pause and look, we would find that though the landscape is dry, the clouds are gathering. Elavanyo, better days are ahead!

The title look where you have gone to sit could be a play on a line in Atukwei Okai's 999 smiles, a poem about loss. In this poem, Atukwei Okai tells of a friend who has gone to sit on the other side and 'throwing stones at us'. Would the older generation be the ones to throw the stones this time at the new generation, or would they hold their hands, bridging this literary gap?

Each of these poems is unique. Each has something to say. Each would touch you in a different way. Each voice is fresh. This is an anthology worth the read and it is the first book to be published by the Writers Project of Ghana, a literary organisation formed to spearhead the development of literature in Ghana.
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Brief Bio of Editors: Martin Egblewogbe currently lives in Accra, Ghana. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Ghana and lectures at the university. For several years he hosted/produced the literary programme "Open Air Theatre" on Radio Univers in Accra, and organised "Just Imagine", a series of poetry recitals from 2003 - 2006. He currently hosts the Literary Appreciation programme on Citi Fm. He has also participated in several public book readings in Accra. He currently helps run both The Ghanaian Book Review (Kpoklomaja) and Ghana Poetry Project. He is also a co-founder of Writers Project of Ghana

Martin's writing has been featured in The Weekly Spectator and The Mirror, and his works can be found in a number of collections, including An Anthology of Contemporary Ghanaian Poems. He has won prizes for a number of short stories and spoken word performances. He has a short story collection Mr Happy and the Hammer of God to his credit.

Apart from Physics and writing, Martin is interested in Philosophy, Still Photography, and Computers (software, hardware).
______________________________
Laban Carrick Hill is the co-director along with physicist and writer Martin Egblewogbe of the Writers Project of Ghana, a nonprofit based in the Ghana and the US. Founded in 2009, the WPG promotes literary culture and literacy through creative writing workshops, readings, discussion groups, a reference library of world and African literature, and a small press. He is a core faculty member of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Low-Residency Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Hill's newest book Dave the Potter: Artist, Slave, Poet is a picture book poem illustrated by Brian Collier and appearing in September 2010 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. His award-winning America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's (also with Little, Brown & Co.) won the 2007 Parenting Publications Gold Award. The New York Times Book Review wrote, "Excellent." Howard Zinn praised the cultural history as "a phenomenal piece of work, extensively researched and visually stimulating; an essential resource for children and adults of all ages." America Dreaming examines the legacy of the sixties, and how the events that took place then inform our lives today.

ImageNations 5.5/6.0

Monday, August 29, 2011

Proverb Monday, #37

Proverb: Kooko kyεre pata so a, εgyae hene yε.

Meaning: If the riverside cocoyam is kept in the roof beam for a long time, it loses its ability to make you itch.
Root & Context: The fresh skin of the cocoyam causes skin irritation, but after a period it becomes harmless. Hence: if a man holds a position of responsibility for a long time, he tends to become less strict in his discipline.
No. 3504 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

97. You Wreck Her by Parselelo Kantai


Parselelo's You Wreck Her covers a lot of issues in a few pages, from human trafficking to prostitution and fraud. Right from the beginning the reader is confronted with a sleazy sexual encounter between our character who is a malaya (prostitute) and an mzungu (light-skin tourist).
You do not know how far you have fallen down in this world until you see yourself crawling up a karao's face on a Friday night. You are slobbering and gagging over your short-time, ignoring the after-taste of condom coming into your nostrils from the back of your throat, like Goort's coffee bubbling in the machine on a Sunday morning a long time ago. You lather and stroke. Your head bobs like a bar of soap in bathwater. You can feel he is getting close. There is a commotion far away, beyond the squeak of rubber screaming in your ears, and your short-time is fumbling around you like he lost something important in your pubic hair. He finds your breast. He is clutching you like a handbag thief on Moi Avenue. His thing grows larger in your mouth, then trembles and the thin in your mouth grows soft and your jaws are aching and there is a tap on the window. And right there, on the uniformed policeman's face you see yourself.
This imagistic scene sets the tone and landscape of what is to be a story of hope and hopelessness, of exploitation and reverse-exploitation. Our nameless character referred to throughout the story only as 'you' - and here the reader could insert himself or herself or imagine the description of our protagonist who is said to be
too tall, too skinny and too dark,
had left home after the death of her mother and sexual molestation by her father. Inserting herself into Kenya's night-life, the protagonist joined a growing number of malayas, not only from Kenya but also from Rwanda, Sudan, Congo and from far off countries like Benin, in the hope of being spotted by an mzungu, entering into his life and being carried away to Europe. This is every malaya's  dream. However, due to her tallness, skinniness and darkness, the protagonist is almost at the last rank of the ladder. Attracting only the sad customers with gasoline-leaking cars who rant and ramble about their sadness.

Then she met Goort at a pub. Goort was the mzungu she had been looking for, for Goort - a war photographer and an arranger of 'dramas' - bought her new clothes and was willing to give her a new identity. Except that this new identity would require a lot of fabrication and genealogical engineering. Promising to make her a model - like Alek Wek - and take her to Europe, the protagonist agreed. She was to
remember that you are a child soldier from Sudan whom I discovered resting under a tree in Yei County, near the border and not having eaten in three days. He said you have to remember that. Also do not forget that your mother was raped by soldiers and got pregnant with you only to die in a hail of bullets at childbirth. He said drama was what would make the world love you, such a beautiful creature rescued from such ugliness.
And that was how our protagonist found her way into Europe as a star with no education: her pictures covering several magazines. Things however turned on its head when Goort brought in another girl, this time from Angola, because that is where the drama was now, not Sudan. This new girl took her position and soon the protagonist was back home, and together with the karao (police), ripping off mzungus.

Parselelo panders not to any side of the divide: malaya or mzungu. This is strengthened by his use of an unnamed character, which created some form of detachment to the character. Yet, a named and relatable character would have increased the impact of his delivery. As an investigative journalist, Parselelo Kantai might have done a lot of research in this subject matter to deliver it as he did. He showed how people get on the street and remain on the street and the exploitation that goes on by people who pretend to offer help only to rip, exploit and degrade them further. Most of these exploiters are drawn by the helplessness, ignorance and expectations of these penury street girls. Yet, in the end these girls become something else. No one would enter this business and be the same. The initial shyness is the first to go, at least facially - though deep down they aspire to be something better than what they currently are. The erased shyness, timorousness and timidity is replaced by another superficial trait: temerity, the only requirement of this trade.

Parselelo Kantai's short story is worth the read and good enough to be, not only on the shortlist, but to win.
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Brief Bio: Parselelo Kantai has a flair for sounding the alarm. Formerly the editor of the East African environmental quarterly Ecoforum, Kantai wrote and oversaw the publication of "A Deal in the Mara," which shed light on the corruption in the management of the Maasai Mara. Kantai, one of Kenya’s most pointed investigative reporters, has contributed to a series of East African magazines and dailies and is currently working on a novel set during the 1970s Kenyatta years. In 2004, Kantai was runner-up for the Caine Prize for African Writing for his fiction piece ”Comrade Lemma and the Black Jerusalem Boys Band.” (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 5.0/6.0

Other Caine Prize Shortlist: Icebergs by Alistair Morgan

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner

[T]here is only one sin, only one. And that is the sin of theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that? ... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. ... There is no act more wretched than stealing. Page 19/20

A few times, I'd even come close to winning the winter tournament - once, I'd made it to the final three. But coming close wasn't the same as winning, was it? He had won because winners won and everyone else just went home. Page 59

But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie. Page 61

For you a thousand times over. Page 71

And that's the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too

I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

it always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place.

One time, when I was very little, I climbed a tree and ate these green, sour apples. My stomach swelled and became hard like a drum, it hurt a lot. Mother said that if I'd just waited for the apples to ripen, I wouldn't have become sick. So now, whenever I really want something, I try to remember what she said about the apples.
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Read the Review Here.

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.

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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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

95. Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women's Writing by Yvonne Vera (Editor)

Title: Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women's Writing
Editor: Yvonne Vera
Genre: Short Story Antholgy/Feminism
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 186
Year of First Publication: 1999
Country: Various

This is a collection of 15 short stories by African women from 11 different countries. The anthology includes Leila Aboulela's Caine Prize winning story The Museum. With the exception of a few stories like Crocodile Tails, A State of Outrage, The Barrel of a Pen, and The Home-Coming, the stories revolve around polygamous husbands, domineering husbands, rape, domestic violence, girl empowerment and combinations of these.

The collection opens with Ama Ata Aidoo's The Girl Who can, which is a story about a girl who was looked down by her grandmother because she has lanky legs. 
'But Adjoa has legs,' Nana would insist; 'except that they are too thin. And also too long for a woman. Kaya, listen. Once in a while, but only once in a long while, somebody decides  - nature, a child's spirit mother, an accident happens, and somebody gets born without arms, or legs, or both sets of limbs. And then let me touch wood; it is a sad business. [..] But if any female child decides to come into this world with legs, then they might as well be legs.' (Page 9)
The grandmother kept questioning what she could actually achieve or do with such legs until she proved that there is more that could be achieved.

Written in the first person (as most of the stories were) and in flashes, Deciduous Gazettes (by Melissa Tandiwe Myambo) is about the trials of Mrs Ncube and her friends in a polygamous marriage. Though this is basically Mrs Ncube's narration, she sometimes assumes an omniscient observer telling the stories of her friends with as much detail. So that when Mai Sithole came home to find a talk-show programme discussing the issue of polygamy, she
[P]icks up the telephone table and smashes it into the television screen. ... She picks up a chair and throws it into her reflection again and again until shards of glass slide to the floor in jagged geometrical shapes: triangles, pentagons, octagons. She drags the chair into the kitchen and hurls it into the stove. (Page 34)
So pervasive was the issue that even on the cover of magazines Mrs Ncube's friends, with whom she shares similar fate, sees the sexism being portrayed. For
On the outside cover [of the Horizon magazine] is a picture of a woman opening the door to her husband arriving home from work late in the afternoon. Two children run joyfully to meet him. The slogan across the top is, 'Hapana muphuwira unopfuura Chibataura' [There is no love potion better than sadza]. (Page 37)
Lindsey Collen's Enigma is about the reflections a girl living with an overprotective father who wants her to get a good education so that she can get a bon garçon or a suitable boy to marry testing positive for pregnancy. She is thinking of what her father would do to her if she finds out that she is pregnant, the beatings and more. And her homework lies undone. The Red Velvet Dress by Farida Karodia is a rather interesting and twisted story. Katrina, after serving 25 years in prison for killing her father (whom she accused of sexually molesting her and her friend) came home to find her mother dying from cancer. And a family secret: the man he killed was not her father, as she had always presumed. Uncle Bunty by Norma Kitson opens with
You could have said Uncle Bunty was the ideal husband: he was a good provider. (Page 58)
And ends with:
That's how Auntie Betty learned that Uncle Bunty had a whole other family in Durban (a wife and three sons, all real males) and how, at age 81, she got her divorce from Uncle Bunty and lives very happily now in her flat overlooking the Durban beach front and goes to America whenever she feels like it. (Page 65)
It also about a domineering man who lived a double and polygamous life. In Aboulela's Caine-Prize winning story The Museum, a Sudanese woman, Shadia, sent abroad by her would-be husband to further her education found redemption and identity after a visit to the African Museum in Scotland with a classmate whom she was somewhat growing to like. She realised that her understanding of what Africa is is far different from the Africa that is on display. The Africa on-show in the Museum is about Scottish warriors who fought in the land and the plunder they carried home and Africa's wildlife. From a letter a diplomat wrote from Ethiopia in 1903
It is difficult to imagine anything more satisfactory or better worth taking part in than a lion drive. We rode back to camp feeling very well indeed. Archie was quite right when he said that this was the first time since we have started that we have really been in Africa - the real Africa of Jungle inhabited only by game, and plains where herds of antelope meet your eye in every direction. (Page 89)
State of Outrage by Sindiwe Magona is about a peoples' reaction to HIV/AIDS and how a group of friends who have lost one of their members infected with disease not to the disease but to the insane reaction of her neighbours set out to fight this pervasive homophobia even though statistics and projections show that, if nothing is done, by the year 2000 every single family would have at least one member living with the disease. This is one of the few stories that veered away from the usual 'bad-men' themes.

Night Thoughts by Monde Sifuniso is the only overtly political piece in the collection. It talks about the cycle of oppression and corruption, of how every new leader makes flamboyant promises only to morph into a personality far worse than his predecessor: adding onto the atrocities of his predecessor. Set in Barotseland, the western province of Zambia, a new litunga has been installed after the old one, Sikita, abdicated his. However the first thing Liswani, the new litunga, did after promising a new beginning and some form of democratic-tendencies did was to improve his litunga position (which though was not explained but was obviously lower than a king) into King, his indunas becoming ministers and the ngambela becoming prime minister. After that he sets out to enrich himself and to arrest and persecute anybody who spoke against him.

The collection ends with The Home-Coming by Milly Jafta, which is a story about a woman who after spending almost all her life abroad came home to meet a daughter who, although a stranger altogether to her, was prepared to offer her what her supposed good-life abroad never gave her, respect and recognition.

As a collection of works by women, it is expected that issues concerning women would predominate. Yet I was put off after the third or fourth story. The problem is should every story by a woman be against men or a man? However, the second half of the reading provided a series of varieties from a theme that was becoming monotonous and mundane after every read. In spite of this one of my favourite stories in the collection The Red Velvet Dress is also a story with such a theme. The ending took the reader by surprise and though a short story, it contains a lot of turns; the other favourite is Night Thoughts because of its political theme and its humour. It also reminded of the famous story Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika's, ghost stories; the parallels could not be overlooked.

Though there were crowding around themes, a problem with most stories coming out of Africa, each story was delivered with verve and passion and thus most were realistic. On the other hand there were a few where the storyline or theme, I think, was overstretched losing its power. Overall, the collection is worth the read if one is very interested in issues affecting women and women empowerment. 
_______________________________
Brief Bio (Editor):Yvonne Vera, the Zimbabwean author, recently died in Toronto at the age of 40. She had moved there from Bulawayo in 2003, and was being treated for an AIDS-related illness. At the time of her death, she had published five novels (Nehanda, 1993; Without A Name, 1994; Under the Tongue, 1996; Butterfly Burning, 1998; and The Stone Virgins, 2002), several short stories, and an array of cultural, literary and social criticism. She had received numerous literary awards, including the Africa Region Commonwealth Writer's Prize in 1997, the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa in 2002 and the Swedish Tucholski Prize in 2004. (Continue reading)

Contributors
The Girl Who Can [Ama Ata Aidoo, Ghana]
Deciduous Gazettes [Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, Zimbabwe]
The Enigma [Lindsey Collen, Mauritius]
The Red Velvet Dress [Farida Karodia, South Africa]
Uncle Bunty [Norma Kitson, South Africa]
The Betrayal [Veronique Tadjo, Cote d'Ivoire]
The Museum [Leila Aboulela, Sudan]
The Power of a Plate of Rice [Ifeoma Okoye, Nigeria]
Stress [Lilia Momple, Mozambique]
A State of Outrage [Sindiwe Magona, South Africa]
Crocodile Tails [Chiedza Musengezi, Zimbabwe]
Night Thoughts [Monde Sifuniso, Zambia]
The Barrel of a Pen [Gugu Ndlovu, Zimbabwe]
A Perfect Wife [Anna Dao, Mali]
The Home-Coming [Milly Jafta, Namibia]

ImageNations Rating: 4.5/6.0

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reading the Caine Prize Shortlists


A blogger friend asked me once whether I've read the winning story of this year's Caine Prize. I was ashamed to have responded in the negative. Consequently, I have decided to read all the shortlisted stories from 2009 to 2011, the ones I have (or have downloaded). Reviews would be posted every Wednesday and Saturday till I complete them all.

About the Prize: The first prize was awarded in 2000, at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2000 in Harare, and the 2001 Prize at the Nairobi Book Fair in September 2001. The winner is announced at a dinner in Oxford in July, to which the shortlisted candidates are all invited. This is part of a week of activities for the candidates, including bookreadings, booksignings and press opportunities. (Read more here)

Proverb Monday, #36

Proverb: Aboa no pε kɔkɔɔ ayε nti na ɔde ne ho kɔtwere sie.

Meaning: An animal that wants to become red, rubs itself against an anthill.
Context: If you want to achieve something, you take actions necessary to do so*.
No. 943 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.
*If you want to achieve something you go to where you can achieve it or you associate with the right people or individuals who can offer that help (my own interpretation).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah

Homeward-bound from your great hunt, the carcass of an elephant on your great head, do you now dally on the way to pick up a grasshopper between your toes? Page 30

I have never seen the sense in sleeping with people. A man should wake up in his own bed. A woman likewise. Whatever they choose to do prior to sleeping is no reason to deny them that right. Page 37

[P]ower is like marrying across the Niger; you soon find yourself paddling by night. Page 45

Worshipping a dictator is such a pain in the ass. It wouldn't be so bad if it was merely a matter of dancing upside down  on your head. With practice anyone could learn to do that. The real problem is having no way of knowing from one day to another, from one minute to the next, just what is up and what is down. Page 45

Chris has a very good theory, I think, on the military vocation. According to this theory military life attracts two different kinds of men: the truly strong who are very rare, and the rest who would be strong. The first group make magnificent soldiers and remain good people hardly ever showing let alone flaunting their strength. The rest are for the swank. Page 46

Nations ... were fostered as much by structures as by laws and revolutions. These structures where they exist now are the pride of their nations. But everyone forgets that they were not erected by democratically-elected Prime Ministers but very frequently by rather unattractive, bloodthirsty medieval tyrants. The cathedrals of Europe, the Taj Mahal of India, the pyramids of Egypt and the stone towers of Zimbabwe were all raised on the backs of serfs, starving peasants and slaves. Our present rulers in Africa are in every sense late-flowering medieval monarchs, even the Marxists among them. Do you remember Mazrui calling Nkrumah a Stalinist Czar? Perhaps our leaders have to be that way. Perhaps they may even need to be that way. Page 76

That every woman needs a man to complete her is a piece of male chauvinist bullshit I had completely rejected before I knew there was anything like Women's Lib. You often hear people say: But that's something you picked up in England. Absolute rubbish! There was enough male chauvinism in my father's house to last me seven reincarnations! Page 88

There is no universal conglomerate of the oppressed. Free people may be alike everywhere in their freedom but the oppressed inhabit each their own peculiar hell. Page 99

[T]he cock that crows in the morning belongs to one household but his voice is the property of the neighbourhood. You should be proud that this bright cockerel that wakes the whole village comes from your compound. Page 122

When a rich man is sick a beggar goes to visit him and say sorry. When the beggar is sick, he waits to recover and then goes to tell the rich man that he has been sick. It is the place of the poor man to make a visit to the rich man who holds the yam and the knife. Page 127

A man whose horse is missing would look everywhere even in the roof. Page 177
________________
Read the review here

Thursday, August 18, 2011

94. The River Between by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

Title: The River Between
Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo
Genre: Fiction/Social Realism
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 152
Year of First Publication: 1965
Country: Kenya


The River Between is a story about leadership, changes and identity. It concentrates on social and political change at the onset of European invasion. As a colonial literature the story is set in the period where the Kikuyu highlands of Kameno and Makuyu was at its nascent stage of Christian European invasion. Though similar to Weep Not Child, the struggle in The River Between against Christian European revolves around the issue of tradition and identity.

The story opens with an omniscient narrator who tells of Kikuyu creation; of how Murungu created Gikuyu and Mumbi, the first man and woman. The narrator also debates which ridge is the eldest: Makuyu - where it is claimed that Gikuyu and Mumbi sojourned with Murungu on their way to Mukuruwe wa Gathanga - or Kameno, where they had stopped, as each ridge claims leadership based on its own story. However, a common river, Honia, runs through the valley between the two ridges. And it is by this river that the ritual of circumcision is practised. The river also gives life to the people of both ridges.

Chege, a descendant of a line of prophets and seers most notably of whom was Mugo wa Kibiro, led his son Waiyaki into a sacred grove to show him the secrets of the land and to tell him about the prophecy that would become Waiyaki's sole objective in life and his ruin for Chege believed that Waiyaki is the son in that prophecy. 
"Salvation shall come from the hills. From the blood that flows in me, I say from the same tree, a son shall rise. And his duty shall be to lead and save the people!"
However, these two ridges are now divided along religious lines:
Makuyu and Kameno still antagonized each other. Makuyu was now home of the Christians while Kameno remained the home of all that was beautiful in the tribe.
with leadership under different personalities. Mayuku's leadership is under Joshua and his fiery brand of Christianity whereas Kameno's leadership is under Waiyaki. Things came to a head when Joshua's daughter, Muthoni, died after she ran away from home to participate in the circumcision that would usher girls and boys into adulthood. Charged to bring these two groups together, Waiyaki vowed to use education as the tool to keep the village's identity and to keep the white man at bay whereas his detractor - Kabonyi, himself an ex-follower of Joshua - vowed to use political force. When Joshua's second daughter, Nyambura, falls in love with Waiyaki, things spiralled out of control for both sides of the divide for Nyambura has not been circumcised and a Christian and Waiyaki has sworn an oath to protect the traditions and secrets of the people. This internal struggle and autophagy blurred Waiyaki's vision for he was a man who paid no particular attention to such traditions as circumcision.

Could Ngugi be speaking to us metaphorically? So that the ridges today are nothing more than the diametrically opposing ideologues and ideologies running and ruining our countries and tribes. For instance, on the political front there is Socialism against Capitalism with the the latter abhorring everything about the former even if it presents itself as the best policy to solving a problem. And vice versa. However, if Kameno and Makuyu are metaphors for ideologies or ideologues, then they would aptly represent the socio-religious divide more than the political. For from the Muslim-Christian clashes in Nigeria to the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland, we are confronted by a group of people with equal eagerness to tear themselves apart to preserve their faith and not their humanity. And this is what gives this localised novel, an international appeal. 

This novel, though not Ngugi's best, emphasises his interest in social realism; in documenting the changes that are or have taken place. In this story, Ngugi shows a different method of fighting the oppressor: using the oppressor's own tools. He shows that education is not mutually exclusive to the preservation of tradition and not all rituals are important to preserving tradition and culture.

As an Ngugi, need I say it is recommended?
___________________
Brief Bio: Click Here

ImageNations' Rating: 4.5/6.0

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

93. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner (2003; 391), could easily pass as the best non-African authored book I've read this year, if not for 1984. The novel tracks the life and friendship of two individuals, Amir - the son of a Kabul merchant - and Hassan, the child of their servant, Ali as they grow in the affluent suburb of Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul. As their friendship unfolds, the history of a land that has been plagued by local and international wars unfolds. In fact, it is this very wars, leading to the overthrow of monarchs and governments, that dictated how the friendship between these two individuals went. Yet, the precursor of all the events is the age old tradition or practice of discrimination based on physical features.

Amir has slim face and nose and is a Pashtun so is considered to be aristocratic, worthy of ruling the land and Hassan his friend has a moon-shaped face, slit-eyes and a Hazara so is cast to be a servant forever. With only a year separating their births, Hassan - the younger - and Amir continued the friendship between Amir's father, Baba, and Hassan's father, Ali. Yet Ali and his son Hassan knew their place in Baba's household, always keeping to their hut and coming to the main house to only to serve. Though Amir plays with Hassan he actually does not consider him to be his friend; yet the latter is absolutely loyal to the former. 

Everything changed the day Hassan won the Kite championship. Hassan - an experienced kite runner - decided to bring Amir the last kite he cut that gave him the title to be kept as his trophy. When Amir followed Hassan and saw what Assef and his two friends were doing to Hassan, he stood aloof. Afraid. Did nothing. Saw the chance to claim his father's sole attention. And took it.
May be Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay to win Baba. Was it a fair price? The answer floated to my conscious mind before I could thwart it: He was just a Hazara, wasn't he?
Amir's inability to redeem himself led to more problems and complications. Later, accused of theft, Ali and Hassan left the Amir's household.

After a series of political upheavals and revolutions Baba and Amir moved to America. Living a fulfilled life in America, Amir received a call from his father's partner Rahim Khan offering Amir the chance 'to be good again'. This call took him back to Afghanistan through Pakistan to correct a past wrong; to uncover family secrets; to identify who he really is and if all his life has been lived in lies. 

Behind all these is the story of a country that was changing from a peaceful, stable, economically active country into a country whose name would forever remain synonymous with war, shari'a, death, foreign invasion and more. Khaled Hosseini traced the history of Afghanistan from the 1960s when the country was ruled by a monarch to the period of American invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban. Beginning with a fully-running country where religion is not a problem, the story ended with a country in ruins and desolation; a country where common food is the preserve of the elite rulers and their bootlickers; a country where people are stoned to death for not wearing the hijab. All because individuals and countries always think that they know what is best for this country. From the overthrow of the King, the entry of the Mujahideen, the Russians, the Alliance troops, the Taliban and finally the Americans, Khaled Hosseini shows how each of these groups and countries contributed to the ruins within which Afghanistan finds itself today.

Written in the first person, without unnecessary flamboyancy, Khaled has written a book that would remain with the reader for a long period of time. This is a story that teaches a lot and opens eyes. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see more than the current Afghanistan we know and want to know how the Afghanistan we now know came to be. I look forward to reading his A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Proverb Monday, #35

Proverb: W'anka sε wonie a, obi renka sε wowɔ hɔ
Meaning: If you don't say you are here, no one will say you are there
Context: If you don't stand up for yourself, no one else will
No. 4444 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Library Additions

Few books have come into my possession which I would love to share with you. As always.
  • Harare North by Brian Chikwava. Having been described as one of the 'exciting new generation of African writers' Brian Chikwava has moved on from strength to strength ever since he won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004 with his short story Seventh Street Alchemy. Brian has been one of the most recommended authors to ImageNations and even though I took the recommendations seriously the book proved elusive until I visited the Silverbird Lifestyle Shop located within the Accra Mall. What I have is a beautifully bound book (hardcover, of course!) from the stables of Jonathan Cape selling at GHC 28.5 or US$ 19. My only encounter with Chikwava is through his short story The Wasp and the Fig tree published at the Granta magazine.
  • Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz is a Nobelist. What more there is to say? His book Cairo Trilogy of which Palace Walk is the first is also on my list of Top 100 Books. Besides, since I have not read the required three authors to effectively take a country out of the Africa Reading Challenge, this book would also qualify for this challenge, that is if I read it in time.
  • A Place of a Beautiful Nonsense by Alba Kunadu Sumprim. This is a new book by the author of The Imported Ghanaian. I have to really talk about this book (before reviewing it) in my new books category. I have known the author for a while now and the day she read this book to me, one-on-one, I told her 'you've sold me'. It's a graphic representation of life in Ghana written in satire. She illustrated the book herself.
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Who wouldn't buy this book, a book that had sparked several controversies, a book that led the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to issue a fatwa on the author on February 14, 1989. This is the greatest valentine a writer could ever have in his writing career. I haven't read any Rushdie and though I have Fury it is an Advanced Reviewers Copy and I have certain fear of ARCs; a fear that they might not be the final deed. If read before the issue, good. But after the final publication? not for me! I hope to enjoy this book. And by the way it is also hard-cover. The book is also on my Top 100 Books to be read list.
  • Theatre by  William Somerset Maugham. This author was recommended to me by Kinna of Kinna Reads when I was preparing my Top 100 Books Challenge. And since Kinna never really mentioned any particular book of his and so I supposed that any book I pick would be okay. Consequently, I added Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence to this challenge. However, having found Theatre means that at least I can replace one of the books on the list. Thanks Kinna and I hope it doesn't disappoint me.
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo. After watching the three-part movie I decided to read his books but I have not been able to actualise it; however, now that I have the book on my shelf I believe I am a step away from this.
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I know you have started scratching your head, asking if this reader is serious. I am, dear reader, very serious. In Dan Brown I am not seeking exquisite prose. If this is what I want I would go to Proust, Flaubert, et al. In Brown, I seek controversy, issues that could require further research. I read and loved Da Vinci Code; through this book I came to know Phi (the golden number that is so rampant in nature), fibonacci sequence, Priori of Sion (whether they existed or not), and many other things. 
These are the books I have acquired and my reason for purchasing them. Reviews of these would be posted here though considering my 'almost' chronological reading pattern, it might take some time. Though sometimes my mood changes and I choose a recently-acquired book for reading.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Mema by Daniel Mengara

[Y]ou can say that the person over there was my wife, but you can never say that the person standing over there was my brother, my mother or my father.  (Page 24)

Wisdom has spoken through your mouth and we all know wisdom is sacred. (Page 25)

We have come to beg back our daughter and wife. And we are doing so openly. Is there shame in begging for what you have lost in foolishness? (Page 26)

In the privacy of the bedroom, however, women were said to be the real masters of the household. It is in the secrecy of the conjugal room and bed that the real decisions were made, and such decisions, the rumour went, were decisions imposed upon the village by women. Women ran the village, but gave the men the false honour of carrying the empty title of leaders of their households in public. (Page 33)
________________

Thursday, August 11, 2011

92. Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe

Title: Anthills of the Savannah
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Fiction/Tragedy/Politics
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 233
Year of First Publication: 1987
Country: Nigeria

Anthills of the Savannah, a 1987 Booker Shortlist, is the fifth book of Achebe's oeuvre I have read. This novel is quite different from the first four of Achebe's books in terms of the narrative style, the prose, the setting and to some extent the theme. Had Achebe not written Things Fall Apart  and my favourite The Arrow of God, this book alone would have established the Man Booker International Prize winner (2007) as one of Africa's literary giants.

In this very unique novel, Achebe treats the issue of despots, male chauvinism and power from a rather different and unexpected perspective. He opens up the struggles that goes on behind the power scenes and how easily an innocent, generally good individual could easily transmogrify into an absolutely demented despot. Anthills of the Savannah is a tale of three friends: Sam, Ikem and Chris and the girlfriends of the last two: Elewa and Beatrice (BB) respectively. The story begins with Sam as the head-of-state following a coup d'etat. Sam is an army General and since his school days has never failed in anything he does. And so could take any advice and follow through with success and he did when he 
fell [...] under the spell of [their] English headmaster who fought the Italians in Abyssinia in 1941 and had a sword from an Ethiopian prince
and so enrolled in the cadet corps in the country and went on to train in Sandhurst. As head-of-state with democratic tendencies in a military rule, his colleagues encouraged him to seek 'life presidency' through a referendum. Though this was not his original idea and he initially resented it (and Chris, the Commissioner for Information and Ikem, the editor of the National Gazette were both against it), it was the unsuccessful bid for this life presidency coupled with other events that set the platform that would eventually lead to tragic events for these three Lord Lugard College friends. 

However, when Sam got to know, through these other 'colleagues' that his childhood friends were jealous of him because they think they were the ones who should have been occupying his current position as head-of-state, he decided to assert himself and put them in their proper place. First Ikem was suspended and Chris refused to write the suspension letter. He was later accused of organising thugs and presenting them to His Excellency as people from Abazon who want to meet the head-of-state to talk about the drought in their area. Abazon, an area north of Kangan - the fictional country where the story is set had earlier resisted the president's quest for life-presidency. This 'subversive' behaviour invigorated with a speech Ikem gave at a university. According to the State Research Council, he had advocated for 'regicide' when after his lecture a student had asked him if it were true that the Central Bank of Kangan was working to put the president's image on the nation's currency, to which Ikem had answered
Yes I heard of it like everybody else. Whether there is such a plan or not I don't know. All I can say is I hope the rumour is unfounded. My position is quite straightforward especially now that I don't have to worry about being Editor of the Gazette. My view is that any serving President foolish enough to lay his head on a coin should know he is inciting people to take it off; the head I mean.
So when after several vain calls through to Ikem the next day, Chris and Beatrice visited Ikem's apartment only to be informed by his neighbour that Ikem was taken in handcuffs the night before in a military Jeep, Chris new that his friend was in danger. And when it was reported that 
In the scuffle that ensued between Mr Osodi and his guards in the moving vehicle Mar Osodi was fatally wounded by gunshot
he knew Ikem Osodi had been murdered and that his own life is in danger, after all 
[I]nvestigations are still proceeding with a view to uncover all aspects of the plot and to bring to book any other persons or persons, no matter how highly placed, involved in this treasonable conspiracy...
This set a series of tragic events that involved a nurse, a student leader, Chris, Elewa and Beatrice, leading to the denouement. Chris had to travel incognito out of Bassa, the capital of Kangan. And this particular section of story is similar to what Achebe's country man, Wole Soyinka, had to go through as set out in his memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn. 

Though a significant portion of the novel was narrated by an omniscient narrator, the narrative started off in the first person with Christoper Oriko, Ikem Osodi and Beatrice telling their individual stories on how they became involved in Sam's government and how deep their friendship ran with several tangential stories all linked to the main story. The narrative also made sparing use of punctuations and though I was worried a bit, it accentuated its literariness. There were some places that I felt the author's quest to achieve literary 'gemstones' were overstretched, thus sacrificing ease of comprehension to beauty of language. It was as if, Achebe, set out to make Anthills of the Savannah a literary masterpiece and it is therefore not a wonder that it made the Booker Shortlist.

However, is there any Achebe that isn't worth the read? If so, I have not yet come across one even as I work gradually into his works.
_____________________________________
Brief Bio: Albert Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe (born 16 November 1930) popularly known as Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian novelistpoetprofessor, and critic. He is best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised by Christian parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Achebe writes his novels in English and has defended the use of English, a "language of colonisers", in African literature. In 1975, his lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" became the focus of controversy, for its criticism of Joseph Conrad as "a bloody racist". In 2011, The Guardian of London named An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever written.(Source: Wikipedia; edited links)

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5/6.0

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

91. Eno's Story by Ayodele Olofintuade

Title: Eno's Story
Author: Ayodele Olofintuade
Illustrator: Bolaji Liadi
Genre: Children Fiction
Publishers: Cassava Republic
Pages: 46
Year of First Publication: 2010
Country: Nigeria

Eno's Story by Ayodele Olofintuade is anything but a 'child's' story. It is our story: the story of adults, the story of men, the story of women, the story of pastors, the story of traditional leaders, the story of humanity. It is THE story, one worth being told and Ayodele has done it with finesse.

In few and simple words Ayodele has tackled one of the most widespread problem facing 21st Century Africa, a continent with a high rate of technological advancement that is perhaps paralleled only by the rate of growth of churches. Thus, in Africa the collision between science and religion has begun and representatives from both sides have questioned the others capability to question its importance. Yet, when an institution that literally preaches superior moral uprightness leave sloughs of castaways in the wake of its growth, one cannot but question its own morality and responsibility to the people it serves. Though the motive of churches has always been to fight the evilness of traditional practices - as is their claim - it is this same belief (in evilness and their ability to spot them) that has given credence to traditional practices and beliefs, thus exacerbating the problem of witch-labelling. So that today, the belief in witches and the ability to spot witches, not from a reference manual like malleus maleficarum, but from simple behaviours and characters has led to several children and adults been cast out from the society within which they live. Most of the time, and like in previous times, people with exceptional abilities are considered witches. This is the theme of Eno's Story.

Eno has been tagged a witch by her uncle though to her father Eno is a princess. Her uncle points to Eno's mental ability, coming first in class after staying a month away from school, her love for cats and the passing away of her mother as that which make her a witch. So when Eno's father did not return home one day, her uncle was left to his devices to confront Eno's witchery. Sent to a pastor for deliverance, Eno's life spiralled downwards until she ended up in an uncompleted building.

The beauty of this story lies in the point of view of its narration and its ability to reduce a national problem (disgrace) to its barest threads - stupidity. Most stories treating this subject are told from the adults' point of view or are treated with the heavy-handedness that it deserves, rubbishing the practice without showing how the young 'witches' feel or think of their new supernatural status. And this is what Ayodele has tackled with finesse. And to think that she did this with several doses of satire capable of making uninquiring minds bow in shame, makes the story enjoyable. For it was fun reading what Eno would have done had she had the power to make things happen as she was being accused of.

Complete with illustrations and targeting children between four and (perhaps) ten, Eno's story is germane to recent sightings of archaic practices, practices that cannot stand up to a 21st Century world and writing it for children, Ayodele presents us with a unique opportunity to solving this problem at root level before it should blossom in the minds of future adults.

Eno's Story was shortlisted for the NLNG Prize - the Nigerian prize for Literature. 
_______________________________
Brief Bio: Born in Ibadan in the early 70's, Ayodele Olofintuade spent her holidays with her grandfather who lived a stone's throw from Olumo Rock. He nurtured her young mind by making her read Yoruba classics like Ireke Onibudo, Irinkerindo ninu Igbo Elegbeje, Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irumole to him. She read Mass Communication at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu.

She is a teacher and editor, who has been a graphic artist, sales girl, cybercafe attendant, dance instructor, librarian and information technology teacher. She has worked with children in one capacity or the other in the past 13 years and is a volunteer counsellor at Salt 'n' Light camp, a camp for teenagers for close to 10 years. She is passionate about children and their issues.

She is the mother of two boys, 13-year-old Alexander and 17-month-old Ifeoluwakiisa. She presently works in Ibadan International School as a Creative Writing teacher and lives with her children and her cat, Kit-Kat.

ImageNations Rating: 5.5/6.0

Ayodele has agreed to be interviewed on ImageNations.
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