Monday, January 30, 2012

131. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Hitting Budapest by NoViolet Bulawayo

Hitting Budapest is the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2011. The story is about five young girls, mostly pre-teen, moving from their shanty town of Paradise to the estates of Budapest in search of guavas and anything that matter. As they make their journey towards Budapest they converse as all children do. It is through this that we get to know that Chipo, a girl of ten years, has been impregnated by her grandfather.

At Budapest they met a white woman of 33 years who had just come from London, eating ice-cream. They looked longingly at this ice-cream only for her to throw what is left of it into the dustbin and take a picture of them. On their way back they shared their dreams with each other: to travel to America, get big houses and cars. Whereas IMF is a street at Budapest, AU is a street at Paradise, the shanty town.

Back at Paradise, the children went to ease themselves in the bush where they saw a woman dangling from a rope - a possible suicide. The children decided to remove the shoes the dead woman was wearing and sell for it for bread.

Initially, this story reads as a metaphor where some Africans in search of better lives travel abroad. Again, Paradise and Budapest represent the economic duality that we have in most countries where extreme poverty exist side by side with all the skyscrapers and glass-houses. However, as the story unfold, the metaphorical view changed.

As the children journeyed in search of guavas as food, they discussed Chipo's pregnancy. Most of them did not know how babies are made with some thinking that God puts it there. However, these same children knew about terrorists who hijack planes. They also know that most people who go to America clean poop in nursing homes. I found this a bit difficult to take.

Like most of the winning stories in the Caine Prize for African Writing, there was defilement, poverty, extreme hunger, dejection, and many more. Whereas some readers, including myself, have bemoaned the trend of the winning and shortlisted stories others have equally embraced them. Irrespective of my belief that even such stories could be written in a different way or from a different angle to make it new, this story reads nicely. The story can be read here.
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Brief Bio: NoViolet’s stories have won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and shortlisted for the 2009 SA PEN Studzinsi Award. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Boston Review, Newsweek, The Warwick Review, as well as in anthologies in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the UK.

NoViolet recently earned her MFA at Cornell University where her work has been recognized with a Truman Capote Fellowship. She currently teaches creative writing and composition at Cornell. NoViolet was born and raised in Zimbabwe. (Source)

11 comments:

  1. Nana, it seems to me that there's a 'type' of story that wins awards. I know of an African writer who submitted her work to a non-African publisher and was told it wasn't ethnic enough. A little surprising to me, but when you really think about it, perhaps it's not so surprising.

    Hitting Budapest, sounds like a story with many layers, which should definitely be interesting to read

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    1. Yes. African writers have been boxed in such a way that if one writes anything outside this box one is not an African writer. The question is who is an American Writer? Or what is an American story? Once this cannot be answered there shouldn't be anything as an 'African story'. But what I've found is that most African writers have also subscribed to this definition of 'being ethnic enough' and are writing to suit it with some (or most?) refusing to go beyond this box. Is it the publishers or the writers?

      All the same, Hitting Budapest has something within it. And like you said, it is a multi-layered story if one is willing to look hard enough, though there was no hope lingering at the end, which I didn't expect though. My only problem is the interaction between the children and the white lady from London and the ten-year old girl who had been defiled by her grandfather. What? Sometimes it makes it looks as if our world is so patriarchal that we are bordering on insanity. I don't think that even in a deeply, parochially traditional society a grandfather would impregnate his grand-daughter and be left alone. These things do bother me. Or am I not in Africa?

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  2. The story sounds similar to Slumdog Millionaire (2008) except that's a movie.
    I wonder how much say Africans have in judging the winners for such prizes...

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    1. Slumdog Millionaire is a movie adaptation of the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup. And can I say this story is similar? it is similar perhaps in the poverty and slums. And not in the actual events.

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  3. Using children's perspectives to reveal the horrors of the world is a technique often employed by Ondjaki in his own short-stories. He often lacks the "defilement, poverty, extreme hunger, dejection" you speak of; his fiction is subtler and more inward-gazing. One actually gets the impression he had a happy childhood - I know, a horrible sin for writers :-)

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    1. I agree Miguel. Children's perspectives are effective when one wants to portray the horrors in our societies. It has been used effectively in several books. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of such. And recently, a lot of short stories tells from this point of view. It's good. I haven't read Ondjaki yet. I might have to search for his works. And in this work, one might decide to look at everything metaphorically; however, doing so would lead to the same conclusion of decadence that prevails in the story.

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  4. Perhaps, the author intended that the innocense of the children, seen in their analyses and descriptions of events, would hilight the opposing rot and decay prevalent in the slum of their existence. Certainly, thier dreams of traveling to the USA, get big houses and cars, is childlike in it being just that, dreams, that more likely keep them going. But who knows, some children follow their dreams and make them into reality and that is where hope can probably be found in this novel.

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    1. I believe you have a point here. However, most often I would wish that that hope of a better future would not be embedded in travelling abroad, that in placing the hope not in the person but in an entity external to him creates the mentality that nothing good can come out of the continent or the person.

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    2. I agree with you Nana. Hope in a person can be realised anywhere a person finds himself. What is vital is the determination to succeed.

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  5. I've read another of Bulawayo's stories to know that she has talent and will develop into a wonderful writer, if she is not that already. However, the problem with this story is its deep roots in reality. Which would not be bad except the many issues of development and abuse that it focus on results in overkill. It felt like a charity ad for an international NGO. Because she touches on issues and does not allow of much commentary and then moves on. Case in point is the story of the pregnant girl. It's just dropped there. And while what happened to the girl might be normal and not raise any eyebrows in her community, it raises alarms when we read it because it is not normal and should be addressed.

    Am I making any sense? And that's why it was given the povery porn descriptor.

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    1. I get you Kinna, like a soup of atrocities. Or perhaps leaving the ten-year-old-grandfather-impregnated-girl's story was a way of saying that it is common and accepted requiring no further investigation. Could her limitation be the general problem of the genre within which she was operating? My major problem was the last scene where the children decided to remove the green shoe the woman who was hanging from the rope was wearing to sell for bread. My thinking was would children as young as ten and mostly preteen and early teens be that bold to do that? Or they were forced into it by that animalistic instinct of survival. Then again, I really want to read a story from Somalia or the non-endowed parts of Ethiopia.

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