Wednesday, February 15, 2012

136. African Roar 2011 Edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor Hartmann


Title: African Roar 2011
Editors: Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor Hartmann
Genre: Short Story Anthology
Publishers: StoryTime
Pages: 214 (e-copy)
Year of Publication: 2011

African Roar has become an annual feature in our literary calendar with last year's publication being the second in the series after it debuted in 2010. It gives voices to new and emerging voices in Africa bringing together hitherto not-widely known writers and those whose writings have been recognised and appreciated with awards. The 2011 African Roar Short Story Anthology continued this tradition by bringing together new voices such as Ghana's Isaac Neequaye and established and award-winning writers such as the recent winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, NoViolet Bulawayo. This year's anthology consists of fourteen short stories with varied themes.

The anthology opens with Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudzo's Witch's Brew. Mai Chamboko has been described as a witch because she has lost her only child and had become successful in her trade. The narrator, a young club-footed boy who was himself a reject of society, found solace in Mai Chamboko and her cooking. This specially-gifted boy who sees beyond the natural world and could predict events knew that Mai Chamboko's goodness and selflessness would bring her into happiness. So that when her neighbour died and she forgot all that was said about her and went to cook for the family, using her own resources, everybody there gathered who ate the food commended Mai Chamboko. It was when she led the people through a series of traditional songs that the wall between them collapsed. Hands were shaken and past (mis)deeds were forgotten. The events in this story is very typical of many African societies where women who succeed, and especially when such women have no children, are considered witches. The delivery in Stanley's hands was striking especially when it was narrated by a young boy with similar fate.

NoViolet Bulawayo's Main is a graphic representation of Zimbabwe's erstwhile problem when long queues were formed to purchase essential goods, when shortages were the order of the day and restrictions regarding foreign exchange were in full force. This was the period of hyperinflation where a commodity like bread could cost several millions of Zimbabwean Dollars. The story also described police brutalities against the folks. There was the slow-motioned fall of a woman carrying a bundle of goods she didn't want to let go but which eventually rolled into a gutter after her fall, which resulted from having stood in line for too long. I couldn't help but notice that someone in the queue was wearing 'Obama for Change' and this aside having a political connotation also places the story into its setting.

A Writer's Lot by Zukiswa Wanner is a tragicomedy of a writer's life. Phiri is a novelist whose first published work has shot him to fame; however, this has not as yet translated into money. His publishers are delaying his royalties and he has not the money to support his fame. He receives frequent visits from Western journalists who are eager to interview him for their papers and magazines but are unwilling to pay him for the interview; initially Phiri thought this would make him famous. However, with time, he realised that they were just taking advantage of him to earn their living. Some even go ahead to ask for free tour of his town. It was through this frustration - frustration resulting from societal and familial expectations of a famous and published novelist and his inability to meet or play his part - led him into a darker world of connivance and robbery. This piece explores the life of a writer and the numerous entities that feed off such a person; the frustration and tedium that characterises the writing process, publishing and post-publishing period; and how 'overloaded' expectations can lead to destruction.

Grace Chirima has been sent abroad by his grandfather to further her education. As a patriarch, Grace's grandfather has sacrificed a lot for his family both near and afar. As Grace was trying to adjust to life in England, things suddenly changed: overnight hyperinflation in Zimbabwe had rendered all savings useless and her grandfather had also suffered a stroke. Now Grace must work in England to support her family home. As Grace goes through all these she began to miss his family back home wondering how best she could be useful to them, is it when she went home or stayed abroad? And she must depend on her flat-mate to keep her going. Hajira Amla's Longing for Home is a sad story which began on a platform of patriotism but ended on a slow acquiescence to the forces of nature and of man.

After marriage, Chukwudi promised to turn away from his hedonistic ways and debauchery and to stay true to his marriage vows though his wife believed otherwise and always asked him to protect himself should he involve himself in illicit affairs. It was at this International writers' conference that this promise was tested to its limit. Having been laughed at and pestered by friends Chukwudi tried as much as he could to stave off any amorous approaches and thoughts. But what happens when a woman bent on having her way with him got him into a room? Whilst trying to have it with this woman, he was chanced upon by the loudmouth of the group. Dejected for having failed and having broken his promise though nothing physical had occurred yet, Chukwudi left. Lose Myself by Uche Peter Umez is one funny story and a test of faithfulness. Did he fail because he succumbed though he never actualised it or he failed because he would have? The answers rest with the reader and perhaps the gender of the reader.

In Murenga Joseph Chikowero's Uncle Jeffrey a man's manhood had become limp and his fears had multiplied from a pending results from an AIDS test and a possible black magic wreaked upon him by a floosie he visited in a fleabag, when a police raid prevented him from paying the service provider and leaving behind one of his suede shoes - a personal item required in such black magic. Pestered by his wife to perform his connubial duty the man was caught between telling the wife the truth and possibly wrecking his family or finding excuses for the next three months when the second results would be in. Even then, there is also the problem of his limp manhood. It was this dilemma that took him to his village and a visit to his uncle, whilst all the time clutching onto his phone like it was an extension of his appendages, waiting for that important call from his doctor, and a tablet that would 'resurrect' the limped penis. Murenga's story would make the reader laugh especially when Murenga wouldn't leave his phone idle and his wife wouldn't stop pursuing him.

In The Times by Dango Mkandawire, a man has lost his son to the dreadful HIV/AIDS disease and has resolved to use the only thing he knows, writing, to expose licentious behaviour that has become the major means of spreading the disease. Caught in this name-and-shame trap are heads of parastatal institutions, CEOs, pastors and more. Richard, the owner of The Times newspaper, regards himself as Thomas Hast reincarnated. Every Friday people gather at news stands to get copies or crane their necks to read about the latest catch. As is common with such jobs, Richard receives threats from these big men who promise to take him out. When the General director of Malawi Water Board got the hint that his story would be in that Friday's Times he did everything possible to 'kill' the news.

Snakes will Follow You by Emmanuel Sigauke takes a look at prophesies delivered by leaders of spiritual churches. Or that's how I read this piece. Shumba had attended one of these spiritual churches with his brother's wife. The prophet had told him that some people in his family who don't want to see him progress are using witchcraft to destroy him and that they would be appearing to him in the form of snakes unless he moves to Harare or another town to continue his education. When a week later Shumba saw a sanke whilst reading Julius Caesar, he shouted for his sister-in-law. She confirmed and provided her own interpretations and commentaries on what should be done. The story also explores the relationship between the Shumba and his brother's wife who was in need in of a child.

Frank is a philosophy lecturer who fell in love with Beatrice. Beatrice's mother disapproved of the marriage; as a single mother she wanted a man rich enough to look after the family and her daughter and she saw it not in a university lecturer but in the military man. Ella, Beatrice's sister and a former student of Frank, is suddenly sick; she does not talk but when she does her words are incoherent. Beatrice called on Frank to help her sister and he obliged. The discomfort between Beatrice's mother and Frank was palpable anytime Frank comes to the house. But there is more: Beatrice's husband, the soldier, has something to do with Ella's situation. He had linked her to the Head of State and the Head of State had died in her presence. This is perhaps an allusion to Sani Abacha, the Nigerian Head of State whom, it is alleged, died from bouts of sex. Emmanuel Iduma's Out of Memory has a tinge of sadness running through. The personal discomfort of the people involved was clear. Beatrice wants to talk to Frank but Frank is almost taciturn in her presence and wants to push her out of his mind; Beatrice's mother sounds remorseful towards Frank but he pretends it is inconsequential. The beauty of the story is the tension it generates and the things not said.

Ivor Hartmann's Diner Ten is a unique story not only amongst the anthology; its uniqueness transcends the borders of the anthology into the sphere of writing, in general. Is it a science fiction or a fable? There is no best way of defining this story. Diner Ten is about Armageddon from a cockroach's point of view. Radic is a survivor and a helper. He's known by all his people and famous for his near-death escapes. He sees humans as intruders when they come out at night to have dinner. It was this one time that the human opened up a gaseous substance that has a picture of his ilk on it and sealed all openings. Written from the point of view of Radic, Ivor takes a tour of how these animals (or insects) see themselves and see humans.

Continuing the trend of presenting Zimbabwe's political and economic crises is Mbonisi P. Ncube's Chanting Shadows. This story is about the land reforms that sought to bring back some lands under black control. And here there is a clash of loyalty to a friend and to an identity. The issue of who is a Zimbabwean is also subtly raised. McNamara is a white farmer who describes himself as a Zimbabwean. In fact he is one in as many ways as a Zimbabwean could be defined. He was born in the country and has lived on this land all his life. Consequently, he is also linked to the land. His friend Mzala Joe, whom he brought up when the man had nowhere to turn to was caught between loyalty to his boss and friend and to the gathering youth who had already killed and destroyed some white farmers and their farms. As a show of friendship Mzala Joe stood by his friend against the raging youth and the two died together. In death they were considered as friends and not as a boss and a servant, thus overcoming the colour barrier.

Snake of the Niger Delta by Chimdindu Mazi-Njoku is about the developmental divide between the oil producing region of Nigeria and the country's capital. It shows how a precocious young boy coming from the region grew up to quell one of such fraudsters who have made defrauding the region their major occupation.

Ayodele Morocco-Clarke's Silent Night Bloody Night is a story of revenge. In this story the author hardly takes a stance or makes a judgement. The narrator, Ameze, is the daughter of a rich cocoa farmer in Nigeria. The family had travelled to their village in Benin-City for the Christmas. During their first night the house was invaded by armed robbers consisting of people whose parents had at one point or another worked for Ameze's father on his cocoa farm and had been, supposedly, cheated by the man. Thus, the leaders of the gang saw it fit to exact their vengeance on the man and his family. What ensued is bloody as the robbers demanded that the man slept with his daughter else they kill.

Water Wahala by Isaac Neequaye is a story about water shortage in an area in Accra. I read this story almost like an article because I live very close to the setting and I have a first hand experience of what the writer was describing; however, what made Neequaye's story exceptional and worth the read is the tension that water shortages could cause in the household between a man and his wife. It also explores how local politicians, most especially Member Parliaments, would often use the most needed amenity to campaign for votes but would end up doing nothing or would find that the problem is bigger than they had imagined. Kweku used to monitor the level of water in the tank. However, when the children leave for school that chore is handed over to his wife Agyapomaa. However, this time, Agyapomaa told Kewku that they had run-out of water when what is left could not cover both cooking and bathing: a choice had to be made. And Kweku had to go looking for water. Pestered by Agyapomaa's relentless demand (via phone calls and text messages) that there should be water by midday and the water-supplier's penchant for tricks, failure and outright lies, Kweku found himself between a situation he has absolutely no control over and Agyapomaa's simmering anger.

This collection is fun to read and addresses issues germane not only to the continent but also to humanity in a general sense. Like most anthologies some of the stories are more enjoyable than others though as a whole this anthology would bring to the reader a satisfying reading experience. A kindle version is available on amazon.

8 comments:

  1. sounds really neat. i enjoy anthologies for the variety they offer- and you can dip in a little at a time!

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    Replies
    1. that's one advantage of an anthology. you take it one story at a time.

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  2. A good review you have here. Last year, I did a review on the same anthology here: http://criticalliteraturereview.blogspot.com/2011/10/african-roar-2011-anthology-of-14-short_15.html

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    Replies
    1. Thanks SS. I visited your blog, great review you have there. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. A brilliant and indepth review, Nana. I'll try and get a copy as I've heard and read so much about African Roar 2011. Thanks.

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  4. Great review of all of the stories. I found the whole collection to be a bit too negative and with too much pointless (i.e., to me seemed to be there just for shock value) violence. Interesting read though so glad to see your review!

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    Replies
    1. I read your review of it. And I understand where you're coming from.

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