Friday, June 29, 2012

Quotes for Friday from Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy

An incompetent traitor is no danger. It is rather the capable men who must be watched. [197]

It is an affair of a romantic idiot; but even a romantic idiot can be a deadly when an unromantic rebel uses him as a tool. [198]

[I] would remind you that there is a difference between boldness and blindness. [209]

Gratitude is best and most effective when it does not evaporate itself in empty phrases. [259]

The thanks of a weak one are of but little value. [259]

The mistiness of the distance hides the truth [312]

But if you're going to pretend you're nineteen, Arcadia, what will you do when you're twenty-five and all the boys think you're thirty? [407]

[H]e used to say that only a lie that wasn't ashamed of itself could possibly succeed. [415]

He also said that nothing had to be true, but everything had to sound true. [415/6]

The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise. [419]
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

30-32: The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

The Foundation Trilogy (Del Rey) contains three of the four foundation stories by the prolific writer - who wrote and published under every one of the major Dewey classification system, Isaac Asimov. The three stories are: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953). These stories were the first hard-core science fiction I've ever read and because it deals not with aliens but with technology and conquering - two things that rule the world today - I could easily follow the plot.

Asimov's writing is definitely not the best of prose I've ever read but his ideas are top notch. His description of equipment and the technology behind them is amazing and my limited knowledge of technology shows me that most have been realised. The story is about the history of a the galactic empire and how one man Hari Seldon - a brilliant psycho-historian - worked out the probabilities and pathway of saving a generation that is destroying itself. In Today's world, Hari Seldon would have been described as a God, for he projected what will happen to his people, took deliberate care to solve the problem - given the estimated probabilities - and appeared to them at epochal periods given them instructions of what to do next.

Each story has a villain who worked to save the day and most of their actions were accounted for by Hari, though dead several centuries ago. When Hari foresaw the collapse of the Galactic Empire, he took a group of scientist from Trantor to the farthest end of the Galaxy to work on an encyclopaedia that would document all the knowledge that exists; they were not tasked to add to it, at least until Hardin intervened. This became the Encycloepaedia Foundation and they ruled the Foundation. These group of scientists were all physical scientist and not a single psycho-historian was included. They survived threats through their technologies, delicately balancing the powers in the Galaxy. They lacked almost every necessary resource need to survive but they had the intellect and so survived and flourished but also became prized-objects for the Kingdoms in the universe.

In the Foundation and Empire the major threat came from the main galaxy from which they had come and it was directed by the mutant Mule whose appearance was not predicted by Hari's psycho-history estimations. The Mule's strength lies in letting people do whatever he wants without protest or fight. He was a somewhat mind-bender. In the end the Foundation fell to the Mules mental energy. But the Mule had heard of the second Foundation, something which the Foundation itself don't know about and whose existence was hidden from anyone. The Second Foundation - unlike the people of the first Foundation - were mostly made up of psycho-historians who follow Hari Seldon religiously. Their task was to keep the Foundation people safe and protected and to keep themselves hidden whilst controlling affairs. However, the Foundation people saw these group as threat to their own survival.

These stories could easily be supplanted onto the current world situations. It also portrays the ways of the world with countries/empires rising and falling and world domination roller-coastering among countries. The Foundation Trilogy is Asimov's greatest achievement and it needs to be read.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Look at the Caine Prize Shortlist


The shortlisted stories had none of the poverty-porn that has plagued the Caine Prize for African Writing. Generally, the stories were interesting and varied, but can they be assumed to be the best coming from the continent? Well, that's a discussion that should be raged by those who have read wide. As it is, some are some are not. 

Melissa Myambo's story La Salle de Depart is about acculturation, family expectations, alienation, home - the typical emigre's story with a touch of ingenuity. A young man who has spent all his life abroad comes home to meet his sister who also wants him to take his son abroad, to provide him with the necessary step the boy needs to make it. However, this young man wants nothing of the familial entrapment associated with living abroad. 

Constance Myburgh's story Hunger Emmanuel is a whodunit of a kind. It uses the no-way-ahead type of detectives to investigate the death of a prostitute except that here the investigator is not a police officer but an ex-security officer. The story failed to work, for me, on several fronts.

Urban Zoning by Billy Kahora is about a drunk who is capable of controlling himself in his drunken state. He is somewhat cunning and an intellectual and when he missed several days of work and was about to be dismissed, he used that to his advantage.

Bombay's Republic by Rotimi Babatunde looks at the psychological and physical effects of war fought in an unknown land for an unknown cause. It also feeds into the numerous story of how the African realised he is colonised and needed independence after the second World War. However, it also shows how such fight for independence led to some freedom fighters becoming autocrats in the newly independent countries.

The story of the two Malawian gays whose sentencing became an international issue leading to the aid-cuts and subsequent strangulation of the Malawian economy under the presidency of Bingu wa Mutharika is the theme (and story) of S. O. Kenani's Love on Trial. The story replays the incident providing arguments why homosexuals should have their freedom respected and how homosexuality does not contradict any social norms or Christian values.

The Caine Prize will be announced on July 2, 2012. Personally, I think the award, if it is devoid of sensationalism, will be between Myambo's tale of the young emigre in La Salle de Depart and Rotimi Babatunde's Bombay's Republic. Between these two, I will choose Rotimi's story ahead of Myambo's.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

SHORT STORY: Love on Trial by S. O. Kenani

Love on Trial is the last of the Caine Prize Short I am reviewing. The story was published in the For Honour and other stories anthology by the author. Love on Trial extracts from a real incident that took place in Malawi. It is about the arrest and sentencing of two Malawian homosexuals to fourteen years in prison; an incident that got the whole world shouting and cutting aid to the country which led to their pardon. 

In this story, Charles is a third year law school at the university. He has been stumbled upon by the village drunk, Mr Kanchingwe, when he was having an affair with his lover in a school lavatory. Charles was seen and had to face the villagers whilst his lover bolted not to be seen or heard of in the story again. Mr Kanchigwe has become something of a cult-hero for having stumbled upon the two and so, for a tot of the local gin, Kanchigwe will give some details of what he saw. For, the details more tots have to be provided for him and his growing crowd of friends. The author explored society's reactions to what is normally described as 'evil' and 'foreign'. Charles hardly had any sympathisers as most saw his actions as ungodly, though none question the numerous corruption, bestiality - as someone was quoted to have slept with a goat - and other evils that go on in the country.

In an interview with the MBC, the nation's broadcasting corporation, Charles was outspoken and argued with the host, showing maturity in thought and in observation. It was there that he refuted the argument that he had become homosexual because he had at a point in his life come into contact with a westerner; to him, he was born with it and that was his natural orientation. Whereas the host quoted the bible to speak against him, Charles also quoted the story of David and Jonathan to support his sexual orientation. He gained some support after this interview, though his enemies were immeasurable. This argument sought of put the writer  on a higher pedestal, pointing accusing fingers at everybody, telling them they are hypocrites and that they either be with the accused or suffer, which was the direct import of the fable at the end of the story. The argument in the dialogue between Khama, the interviewer, and Charles was dogmatic and trite. It was ineffective in carrying out what it was meant to do and will do more harm than good. For instance, in presuming that everybody in the society was evil, he implicitly quoted  evil to support his quest making it seem, in the text, as if homosexuality is evil. A quick glance at the characters showed how Kenani put them below Charles: the villagers were in torn shorts, the adults were mostly drunkards, the pastors were sleeping with their flock, some of the villagers were sleeping with animals, etc.

Whereas a story like this plagues most countries on the continent and therefore unique with few authors like Tendai Huchu writing about homosexuality in his novel The Hairdresser of Harare, Kenani's prose is too journalistic and jarred at certain points. The author depended too much on the real story instead of using it as a canvass to paint his, taking away the plot and tension that could have been part of such a story. For instance, what happens if the main character isn't a Law student and therefore capable of quoting and refuting? What happens if he is an illiterate in the village? Again, we are told that Charles, the most brilliant student in his class - have been approached by several female lovers - an issue that usually comes up in such discussions; but including the daughter of the President? I think stretching and overstretching sometimes make stories difficult to take in. During Charles's interview he relied mostly upon the text-book western-natural dichotomous argument that plagues any discussion of homosexuality.

So great was the effect of what happened on the story that the author went further to describe breakdown in the economy due to aid-cut and how the country struggled and almost became bankrupt due to the sentencing of Charles. In fact, Kenani suddenly made Kanchigwe got infected with HIV so that the cut in aid (in cash and in kind) meant no provision of retro-viral drugs and hence a decline in his health and possible death. This part of the story was not necessary as part of Love on Trial. For instance, donors can threaten to cut aid on any issue not only on a breach of human rights. They could and have chosen to do so even if governments refuse to do something of great importance to their countries that is against the interest of the donors. As much as every individual's right has to be respected, so must countries be left to decide on whatever they want to do and not be coerced by aid-cuts. This threat of aid-cut has cajoled countries on the continent to act in line with donor-countries' prescriptions. Following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika and the assumption of power by his vice Joyce Banda, the rights of gays and lesbians - in general LGBTs- has been almost granted as she has pledged to repeal the law and donor aid has started to flow. The issue is, would Banda surrender to donors on every issue when aid is threatened? And would Kenani write in support of a threat of aid-cut by a foreign government that wants to purchase a mining-company the country owns, assuming Malawi has one?

The story itself, not the theme, is plain and had it not being a short story would have been boring to read. It was predictable at several places; for instance, I predicted and was shocked though when Kanchigwe became a victim of a story he helped popularised. That should this be chosen as an exemplar writing - prose-wise - of African writing? No. It is what others have referred to as polemic and this does not necessarily make it a stellar prose. Though I wish it doesn't win to avoid other writers thinking that writing on mere polemics translates into stellar writing, Kenani has written a story on a theme that few has written about but which everything points to its eventual crowding. Kenani as a writer seems - as two (those I've read) out of many (those he has possibly written) is not enough grounds to make a sure judgement - to hover around stories of love as shown in his story Happy Ending which was included in the Caine Prize Anthology A Life in Full and other stories.
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About the author: Read about the author here. Read the story here. For a deeper analyses of this story visit here. The author share most of my views.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

29. Writing Free by Irene Staunton (Editor)

Title: Writing Free
Editor: Irene Staunton
Genre: Short Story Anthology
Publisher: Weaver Press
Pages: 138
Year: 2011
Country: Zimbabwe

Writing Free is a collection of fifteen short stories by fifteen Zimbabweans both at home and abroad. The objective of the anthology was '... to approach a topic differently, to turn a perspective inside out. ...' What came out of this project is a successful and bold anthology that completely redefines and expands the width and depth of Zimbabwean literature; one of the best anthologies I have read of all time. Regardless of the usual flagpoles that has become pervasive in Zimbabwean literature, making the country assumes a character-role in most stories, regardless of these flagpoles such as hyperinflation, land reclamation, apartheid, economic depression, politics and finger-pointing, maltreatment of the citizenry by government, several authors took bolder steps to create stories which not only are experimental in nature but are mature both in style and in narration. The authors have fished out ideas from different seas and rivers and streams and lagoons. Unlike previously, when one would have expected a crowding around of topics, here the liberty granted by the objective saw the authors exploring farther. 

From Jonathan Brakarsh's Running in Zimbabwe to Emmanuel Sigauke's African Wife, the authors have written a story that would serve as the new motif, the new canvass upon which future writings coming out of this country could possibly be judged. In Tendai Huchu's Crossroads, it is not only the choice of location for the future couples that is keeping them at crossroads, neither is it how much each has to give up to make the possible marriage work that is the crossroads, but the pitching of the past and the present presented in an alternating manner. As the man - a black man - reminisces about his childhood in a town in Zimbabwe he finds ways and means of disabusing his fiancee's mind that his country is not all that negative. Human characters that develop from a reaction between us and our environment play a key role in this dithering; for whereas the man wants a place where people know him and where he can interact, the woman wants a quiet place to raise her children. The Situation by Donna Kerstein presents the state of Zimbabwe as seen from different perspectives, except that they both converges into hope and a new beginning. There are three voices in the story and each should be read through to the end. Here, the Zimbabwean situation was presented with a different kind of eye. The author was candid and pleased neither sides. The first tread ends with 'Perhaps finally the situation is looking up.'; the third ends with 'Exiles are slowly returning: life is coming back.' This third thread was written like a BBC reporter reporting from Zimbabwe and though the reporter tries hard to skewed the facts, he/she couldn't change most of the facts forever and so in the end had to succumb to these facts. Written in a very poetic voice, this story is one of the most interesting in the collection. The situation is alternatively presented in Jonathan Barkarsh's Running in Zimbabwe, which presents different scenarios of people on the run: metaphorically or literally. The story, however, converges into a demonstration against the government resulting from the epileptic supply of electricity and water and a decline in sanitary conditions. Eyes On, by Fungisayi Sasa, follows the format of Kerstein's story; however, this is a bi-racial love story, between a black guy and a white girl, from two different perspectives. These perspectives are interwoven in the story and should be read individually. The girl's voice is again poetic and brilliant. The author voiced out the girl's thoughts. The boy has been told by his mother never to bring a white woman home as a wife and if he can't find a good Zimbabwean girl to marry he should inform her, she - the mother - will get one for him. But the boy fell for a white girl. In the story it was as if this girl was following her, but it could be his imagination playing tricks with him. Emmanuel Sigauke's African Wife is about the struggles of young man who married a white American girl and moved to Sacramento. The struggles were about finding work - his certificate is worth nothing here - and fitting in with his African 'brothers' who considered his union with the white lady as a marriage of convenience (to get him the required papers) with no guarantee of happiness.

Ignatious Mabasa's The Novel Citizen is one funny story that expands the meaning of 'writer's block'. What do you do when characters you've created leap off the page and refuse to be written about? In this story we meet one such writer who has refused to be written about and demanding freedom (of speech and of action) from the writer. He bemoans why writers put words into their mouths and kill them whenever they want. Miss McConkey of Bridgewater Close by Petina Gappah is about an encounter between a student and her teacher years after an incident caused the school's apartheidist policy to breakdown. The story explores the early days after independence and few blacks were entering into what previously used to be white-only enclaves and schools opened up to black pupils. It has hints of the latter stages of the struggle. Shamisos by NoViolet Mka is about an emigre who was burnt to death during South Africa's xenophobic uprisings. The pathos in the story comes from the knowledge that this event - not exactly that which has been described - was true. It shows how our failing economic conditions can easily suffocate our humanity. Ethel Kawabato's Time's Footrpints is about a man who went to exile after being chased by government forces. Back home his wife succumbed to cancer. The author somewhat succeeded to turn this semi-political story into a domestic one; for it was more like the man rejected the family after he went into exile.

Each of these stories carries enough verve around it. The Donor's Visit by Sekai Nzenza is about a community that has been summoned to gather at a place for (food) handouts with some of the girls being used for research studies by the donors. More importantly, it highlights Zimbabwe's inability to feed its people and the gradual decline from a food-surplus nation to a food-deficit one that needs handouts to survive. The political bifurcation - ZANU-PF and MDC - was mentioned. Christopher Mlalazi's When the Moon Stares tells the story of a family that was burnt to death for differing political support. The story was narrated by a child whose parents are related to the victims. Danfo Driver by Ambrose Musiyiwa is about the loss of ones aspirations due to poverty. A boy is asked what he will be in future and he says 'A combi driver'. Blessing Musarir's Eloquent Notes on a Suicide: Case of the Silent Girl, which is a quasi surreal story about a girl who committed suicide. Several years prior to her death, the girl went silent and never talked to anyone. The investigator suspected foul play from her parents, and the author provided hints of a foul play though nothing was discovered. Could this girl be a metaphor for Zimbabwe? 

An Intricate Deception by Daniel Mandishona and The Missing by Isabella Matambandzo complete the collection. The former is about a man who is having extramarital affair and the problem it is causing his marriage. He stays away from home one night, on his usual drinking and womanising spree. He meets one of his several girls whom he takes home. Then there was a power cut and the man, unwilling to do anything with this girl, decides to go home to his pregnant wife. A commentary of world events is given alongside the man's story. The latter story is more about a search for an individual. Isabella's story is best captured in her own words:
My story, 'The Missing', focuses on a couple's romantic reminiscences which are disrupted by an unexpected, yet common event. Set in a country where ghosts still live, this is an intimate story about children in search of their mysterious past. A truth they can never quite know, or discover. A truth that cannot be laid to a peaceful rest but one that will certainly set them free.
Though the borders of the story were expanded in this collection, they were relatable. A common theme that runs through this anthology is this characteristic. This collection of short stories deserves to be read.
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Monday, June 18, 2012

SHORT STORY: Bombay's Republic by Rotimi Babatunde


Bombay's Republic looks at war and its aftermath, especially the psychological effect of a war fought for an unknown cause in an unknown land. Bombay, the main protagonist, has returned from Burma where he had fought at the 'Forgotten' front of the Second World War. But Bombay had not returned quietly and innocently and wholly as he had left. He has come back to his village in Nigeria as a man transformed, with scars all over his body and also with silence. Upon his arrival he has made it a point not to tell any of the news-seeking folks the ordeal he went through in the war and how prejudice against him helped saved his life. He has refused to tell these adult folks how tiger-leeches stuck and sucked out his blood as they waded through rivers; how his comrades were caught in traps that snapped off their heads and carved through their bellies. He has not told anyone any of these including several acts of bravery that earned him three medals of honour including the prestigious Victoria Cross which is awarded for 'conspicuous acts of bravery.' However, what Bombay has refused to tell the adults he has not denied the young - infusing his stories with tall tales. 

Bombay's participation in the war exposed him to several realities of life. The first is the quest to be independent and this he would become regardless of the colonisation yoke still hanging across the neck of his country. The other reality, which in some way paved the way for large-scale freedom struggles and which is the basis of the former, was that the ilks of the District Officer could also die and could utter complete nonsense. Thus, they are not the all-powerful folks they make themselves seem to be. They are not immortals. In fact, his killing of one earned him that enviable third medal - Victoria Cross. And he had seen one descend into insanity after denigrating every member of his battalion. So when Bombay acquired a disuse jail-house and turned it into his republic - Bombay's Republic - he declared his vicinity independent and therefore avoided paying taxes and property rates to the local government, in the hands of the colonialist. His possession of a gun and his assumed invincibility together with his acts of bravery saw him through. And it was behaviour such as these and more that pointed to a man completely transformed by his participation in a war; for his transformation is not only the body marks that turned him into a spotted leopard but there was a mental and emotional transformations as well. And the latter was the most significant.

Mirthfulness - such as the soldier who descended into delirium - and pathos - such as Bombay's own descent into partial insanity - punctuated this beautifully written story; there were several brilliant lines that is bound to cling onto the minds of readers. The imagery employed by Babatunde made some areas grisly and scatological. Yet, this is required for the only constant in war is grisly deaths and scatology. Babatunde has written a story that shows - though not its main objective - the role of Africans in the Second World War, something that has either been silent or been down-played by most historians. Sometimes watching documentaries and movies on this war, one is tempted to think if there was an African presence in it at all. 

Another inventive method employed by the author was the reference to Okonkwo in Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Some readers might see this reference as merely a link towards the popular, an attempt to hang on to - at all cost - the shoulder of the more established, widely known story of Okonkwo for popularity's sake. A reader who comes to such a conclusion might not be far from wrong; but this reader would also find that the analogy that brought in Okonkwo worked well in the story and was germane to it at that point, most especially because the reference wasn't to a novelist's character but to one who lived and did what was ascribed to him. 

Does this story deserves its place in the shortlist? Perhaps. It's an interesting read and got me laughing at several places. The author set out to describe a man affected by a war he was indirectly conned to participate voluntarily. He shows what the ravages - emotional, psychological and physical - of war could possibly be, on the individual. However, stories of the whiteman's weakness having been discovered through Africans' participation in the WWII abounds in several stories, including Daniel Mengara's Mema. Similarly, the idea of creating a Republic within a country was thought of and achieved by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti when he established his Kalakuta Republic and made it a no-go area for the authority until it was raided and burnt down by the Obasanjo's men in uniform. Regardless of these, Bombay's character is unique for having fought in a war he came home to live in a jailhouse where he was the sole citizen, who won all the elections he alone organised and voted for the only candidate that was himself. Is this a reflection of freedom fighters taking over the reigns of office and becoming its sole rulership until death do them part? Or is this whole story a metaphor for that species of leaders that abound on the continent? However, it shouldn't also be forgotten that Bombay gained his independence before the country as a whole; hence this could also be philosophical interpretation to the story.
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About the author: Rotimi Babatunde's fiction and poems have been published in Africa, Europe and America in journals which include Die Aussens des Elementes and Fiction on the Web and in anthologies including Little Drops, Daybreak on the Land and A Volcano of Voices. He is the winner of the Meridian Tragic Love Story Competition organised by the BBC World Service and was awarded the Cyprian Ekwensi Prize for Short Stories by the Abuja Writers Forum. (Source)

Friday, June 15, 2012

SHORT STORY: Urban Zoning by Billy Kahora

Urban Zoning by Billy Kahora is a story that is difficult to place, that is categorise. Not that categorisation is needed to understand a story nor that it is necessary in and of itself. But Kahora has written a story so simple that it becomes complex in a way that is not easily attainable. The story, to me, is different and unique in the sense that it takes one man, tells of his idiosyncracies in an almost surreal manner; or should I say mental, for Billy's protagonist achieves notoriety beyond the realms of the physical. The title itself is proof. In this story, 'Zoning' has nothing to do with apartheid or any form of physical separatism or quarantine; yet, it does. His - that is, Kandle's (the main character's) separatism is from the reality of this harsh world, its troubles and its gloom and doom, through alcohol.

Kandle is a man of unique character: though he drinks and gets drunk he is able to control himself from going over the edge; he is a controlled-drunk, if there is such a description. He wells himself with alcohol, at levels that have proven devastating and sometimes deadly to some of his colleagues, and yet never gets so drunk that he couldn't hold an intelligible conversation or put himself together and go home. And he never sways, not even imperceptibly. But Kandle is not a street drunk. He works at a bank. And it is this occupational affiliation that makes his personality different. For he is described as an industrious worker, one who has never-missed a day at work. At least never, until he did so in a way that is stunning and cunning in equal measure. And that is the crux of the story.

Billy's Kandle puts the states one attain after getting drunk into two: the Good and the Bad. The Bad State is when one loses control of oneself and go on doing things that disgraces oneself or could potentially result in ones' death. The Good State - which is where Kandle always work to place himself - requires mastery, like any other art. It calls for controlling the stable state to suit oneself even after one has gone drinking continuously for a week. But Kandle - a young man with several sobriquets - did not just get to this stage in life. Like everyone, he has gone through many situations in life and this has shaped his personality.

As a student - in the boarding house - he had dreamed of becoming a rugby player; even now, he day-dreams about being the best and winning the girl of his heart. This aspiration remained intact until it was shattered by an incident that would further proved devastating to him, alienating him into the world of alcohol and imprisoning him in his own zone.

With this story, Kahora has provided another angle for the gossips who never tire of describing and tagging the cause of every individual's problem. The story is worth the read.
__________________
About the author: Billy Kahora is the Managing Editor of Kwani? He also writes fictioin and completed an MSc. in Creative Writing with distinction at the University of Edinburgh as a Chevening Scholar in 2007. Before that Billy studied and worked in South Africa for 8 years and in between worked as an Editorial Assistant for All Africa.com in Washington D.C. He has a Bachelor of Journalism degree and post-graduate diploma in Media Studies from Rhodes University. His short story, Treadmill Love, was highly commended by the 2007 Caine Prize judges. He has recently edited 'Kenya Burning', a visual narrative of the Kenya post-election crisis published by the GoDown Arts Centre and Kwani Trustin March 2009. His extended feature, The True Story of David Munyakei, on Kenya's biggest whistleblower has been developed into a non-fiction novella and released by Kwani Trust in July 2009. Billy was a Regional judge for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. (Source)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

28. The Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano's Last Evenings on Earth (1997; translation (by Chris Andrews), 2006, NDP; 219) is a collection of 19 short stories. The stories are set in various countries including Mexico, Spain and the United States and sometimes, briefly, Chile. They are stories about Chileans in exile. Though the stories are varied on different themes, the issue of incapability, of the impotence to affect the status quo runs through all. In all of these stories, Bolano carried through to the reader the frustrations, agitations, mental breakdown and restlessness of individuals who, through political instability, have been thrown into different countries. The stories were all set during the overthrow of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet and the arrests and killings that followed.

Most of these fourteen short stories are about writers struggling to survive in the exiled countries, those at the twilight of their careers and life. Another unique feature of the collection is the use of letters to represent names and mostly the use of Mr B, perhaps in reference to Bolano himself. Several narrative voices were employed; however, the first person narrative dominates the collection. Most of the stories were also written in the present tense making their effects felt strongly by the reader.

The first story Sensini is about a man who enters a short story competition and came fourth and after reading the first three stories found out that the third story was better than the first and second winning stories. A friendship developed between Sensini, the man in question, and the narrator and through exchanges Sensini told the stranger his life: of how he lives in exile and senile; of how he wishes to see his homeland; of how he looks forward to meeting his first son who is presumed death. The relationship between the two, though frank, was not an easy one. Sensini shared with the narrator not only his life's story but also techniques and tricks about entering into writing competitions. It was clear that Sensini survived solely on such competitions. Henri Simon Leprince also traces the life of a lower middle class individual who has failed as a writer and in almost everything. He ekes his living from a gutter press where he apes the writings of those he regard in high esteem. During the World War II he provided immense help to several individuals and eminent writers, yet each never regarded him more than what he is. Enrique Martin is also about a failed poet who later became a science fiction writer and who later committed suicide. Desperation, depression and frustration virtually ooze off the pages of this work of Bolano. A Literary Adventure, one of my favourites, is about a lesser-known writer, B, who parodies a well-known writer, A, but instead of the usual verbal hassle he expected, he received rave reviews from this author. Has this writer seen himself in the work? Is he pretending? B writes a second book and before the book will come out A has reviewed it. This behaviour of A creates extreme apprehension in B who is eager to meet A. I like the way this particular story went. The fear and anxiety were palpable. Anne Moore is one story which is an exception to the rule: it is not about a Chilean in exile, neither is it about a writer; however, the Anne went to and met several Spanish writers and other individuals. The story records the somewhat Bohemian and epicurean life of a young girl who, with much promise and a good beginning, almost lost it all. It traces the life of Moore (and sometimes her sister) from when she was young into adulthood. My favourite story in the collection is Dance Card which was written in the first person and has been claimed to be a chronicle of an incident in the writer's life. The narrator tells of how he was arrested by government forces only to be rescued his former classmates and even though he was not tortured he heard the cries of others being tortured. The title story Last Evenings on Earth tells of the vacation a man and his son B take at Acapulco, Mexico. The man, an ex-boxer in exile, felt freer and at home whereas his son was more calm and restrain.

There are other stories of suicide by a depressed man in exile (Days of 1978); of a traveller's discovery of how young boys are castrated and sacrificed to the gods (Mauricio ("The Eye") Silva); of a writer taking up a writers workshop in an isolated place in Mexico (Gomez Palacio); of a boy who shuns classes to read at a park and who strikes a quite odd acquaintance with "the grub" - a man who sits at one place and who seems to dream of faraway places (The Grub); and more.

Bolano, through all the stories, showed his leftist/socialist inclinations and his strong political attachments. Also, at several times, he points at the failure of a generation of writers. One thing that was clear was that Bolano didn't set out to write 'plot-moving' stories but one that captures the mood of the times they were living in. So that though some of the stories had no clear plot, they were nevertheless interesting to read and the common mental state of dejection was felt. The lucidity of the write (or of the translation) made reading this collection a joy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

SHORT STORY: Hunter Emmanuel by Constance Myburgh

Constance Myburgh's Hunter Emmanuel is a noir story of sorts. The story was somewhat hard to follow especially due to the technique - or approach - adopted by the author where she mixed dreams and the surreal with reality in a way that doesn't really work. Not that one cannot identify where the dreams end and where reality begins but the parts worked like two immiscible liquids, with one sitting on top of the other. As a story capable of evoking lip-curling grisly imagery, it works; however, it fails on the front of a whodunit. That's how the parts failed to work. Yet, it is possible that the author had nothing of these in her mind.

There is no murder per se that requires investigations; but a woman's leg has been severed at the hip level and, fortunately, she has survived and recuperating in the hospital. The severed leg has been tied to the branch of a pine, in a pine forest that is undergoing harvesting. The discoverer of the leg, like in most film-noir or mass-market whodunits, is a former security officer - Hunter Emmanuel - who knows not what he's doing with his life. Hunter Emmanuel realises that the person the leg belongs is a whore and consequently, the police will not conduct any thorough investigation; this he makes known to Zara, the woman in question. He wants to investigate but he has no reason why he wants to, except that according to him '... a man must investigate'. Or was there some attraction between the pair, especially of Zara to Hunter? Regardless of Hunter's eagerness to solve the case, he was shown as incapable, lacking the requisite elements of the trade to track the perpetrator of that heinous crime. In fact, Hunter was not created to be loved or pitied and neither was Zara. There was a kind of distance between the characters and the reader, no affection, no eagerness for Hunter to succeed.

The question however is, was it necessary for Hunter to investigate this crime, since it was clear from their conversations that Zara knows who had cut off her leg and why but she's not telling and the reason why she wasn't telling was not easily obtained in the prose. The closest Hunter Emmanuel came to finding out, he was blacked out and woke from coma in the hospital.

The dialogue between Zara and Emmanuel sounded a bit artificial and forced. The author had a lot to offer in this story, using the technique of hiding to reveal and to involve the reader in story so that the reader works his or her way into the heart rather than being supplied with all the necessary information. However, it looks as if Constance hid too much so that the story seemed a bit jarred. This personal observation might arise from my own defiency in appreciating such stories and therefore should not be the basisfor judging this story. But is Constance's story therefore empty? The answer is no. Like Nii Ayikwei Parkes' Tail of a Blue Bird, there was no resolution to the crime, which happens to be one of my best endings for crime stories. Again, the language was street-smart. Some may criticise it for being uncough but how many times do we speak those polished Shakespearean English, aside on the English stage of English Theatres.

Hunter Emmanuel might work for others, like most stories. There is something in it that works, which made the judges to shortlist it; not that every shortlisted story works but Hunter Emmanuel seems to (want) tosay something and it might take more to hear it out. It all depends on how it is read and appreciated after all there is always a thin line between a great work and a failed one.
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About the author: Jenna Bass, writing as Constance Myburgh, is a South African filmmaker, photographer, writer and retired magician. Her award-winning, Zimbabwe-set short film, 'The Tunnel', premiered at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and continues to screen internationally. She is currently engaged on her debut feature, 'Tok Tokkie', a supernatural noir set in Cape Town. Jenna is also the editor and co-creator of Jungle Jim, a pulp-literary magazine for African writing. (Source)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

SHORT STORY: La Salle de Départ by Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

The announcement of the 2012 Caine Prize shortlisted stories promised African fiction that is 'beyond the more stereotypical narratives'. It promised to offer alternatives to the famous, widely known, tales of Africa. If these are the motives, and the two stories I've read are anything to go by, then they are on course.

La Salle de Départ by Melissa Tandiwe Myambo is a story about family responsibility, acculturation and home. As most immigrants stories are about. It also fits into that generalised stories where the emigre moves to America, lose his innocence, assimilates the alien culture, comes back home and becomes a caricature of hybrid proportions. Those stories where travel becomes the right of passage into adulthood and where alien characters, sometimes through formal education, at other times through street-education, are adopted and 'mis'-used. In other situations, pathos is played upon and here the story will show how the emigre's incapability of 'fitting' into the system oppresses him to the point of insanity and destitution. It was there in Brian Chikwava's Harare North and in several other short stories by African writers.

However, Myambo's story has a unique feature, besides its setting, that will resonate with most African communities. This uniqueness lies in the responsibility aspect of the immigrant story. It depicts, clearly, the communalism that pervades most homes in Africa. Home in Africa is more than a wife/spouse and children. It goes beyond the addition of a mother and a father to include aunts, cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces and those of whom there is a deficit of vocabularies to define and whose associations are only made using interconnections of a brother's sister's husband's son. Yet, it is through these associations that lives are lived and responsibilities shared. In fact, the current streetism that has become a major feature of Africa's conurbation has been partly attributed to the partial collapse of these communalism, resulting mainly from the adoption of modern ways of life, especially the nuclear family system that insist on using the word 'I and me'. Thus, in Africa, the individual is responsible for more than his children if he happens to come into some form of wealth, relatively. It is the depiction of this and how it played on the emotional cords of the main character, Ibou, and his sister Fatima that makes Myambo's piece an enjoyable read. Ibou has arrived from America and almost everybody wants something from him. But he is a changed man, after having spent almost half of his entire life in that country. He sees them not as his responsibility, including his sisters son - Bababcar, whom she wants him to take with him to America. Ibour makes this known to his sister but his sister also reminds him that he also benefitted from similar arrangement when their uncle took him at a tender age to live with him in America.

Another aspect of the story, which has been typical of the African way of life but which is also going through the rapid changes, is the education of only the male members of the family to look after the rest, mostly the females who are programmed to marry. This pervasive phenomenon sometimes breeds anger, quarrel and regret for its usefulness is solely dependent on the one who has been educated to offer handouts to the others. In this case it was Fatima's education which was sacrificed so Ibou would get more education, a better job, and become the breadwinner of the family, something he is currently fighting against.

The story demonises neither Ibou, for neglecting or fighting against a system he has benefitted from, nor Fatima from demanding that Ibou carried out his responsibilities which saw her rooted into the soil of the land, which saw her become the sand blown about at the whims of the winds, whilst he - Ibou - becomes the wind itself. For who should fault a woman who is bent on getting the best in life for her son. The question that remains to be asked is wouldn't Babacar - an eleven year old boy - become himself assimilated by the very culture that had morphed his uncle into an unidentifiable entity? But when the future is under discussions all 'what ifs' dissolves into nothingness especially when the alternative is an eternity of poverty and destitution. 

Ibou's alienation wasn't only against the institutions that established and made him responsible for a family he hardly knows or understands; his alienation or internal struggle was against everything: his dressing as subtly described was of a baseball cap, jeans (perhaps, sagging) and an iPod. In fact, these descriptions when supplanted on the French country of Senegal - the setting of the story - where the majority of people including Ibou himself are traditional Muslims, makes an interesting sight. Not that Ibou cares much about his religion as he doesn't even observe its basic tenets such as fasting during Ramadan. And in all these, Fatima suspects Ghada, Ibou's live-in girlfriend; that she's the one confusing Ibou, causing him to spew philosophies and issues he doesn't himself understand. All through, the difference in understanding regarding the use of language was palpable. For instance, when Ibou said there was no space in their lives for Babacar, Fatima thought he meant 'no living space' and therefore laughed it off, suggesting that her son will sleep in the living room. This threw Fatima in utter confusion rather than anger so that whilst Ibou was unable to converse with his sister, his sister misunderstand the few sentences that passed between them.

Myambo's story, set in Senegal when Ibou was en-route to the airport back to America, is filled with tension and more importantly, it was non-judgemental. The best way to read it relies on where the reader's allegiance lies. Personally, I found Ibou to be inconsiderate and somewhat stony; for he who has benefitted from a situation must not deny others, regardless of the burden that confronts him. Was Ibou afraid of Ghada? Possibly.

This is an interesting story. I will make my judgement of the possible winner after I read all the five stories on the shortlist. However, this story could be accessed from here.
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About the author: Melissa Tandiwe Myambo is the author of Jacaranda Journals (Macmillan South Africa, 2004), a collection of short stories set in Zimbabwe. Her work has also been published in Prick of the Spindle, The Journal of African Travel Writing, 34th Parallel and Opening Spaces: an Anthology of Contemporary African women's writing.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Quotes for Friday from Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter

There are always sources of desolation that aren't taken into account because no one knows what they will be. [15]

Strong emotion - faith? - has different ways of being manifested among the different disciples within which people order their behaviour. [33]

The blackman is not fighting for equality with whites. Blackness is the blackman refusing to believe the whiteman's way of life is best for blacks. [163]

The main reason why we're still where we are is blacks haven't united as blacks because we're told all the time to do it is to be racist. [163]

-Our liberation cannot be divorced from black consciousness because we cannot be conscious of ourselves and at the same time remain slaves - [164]

When the body is no longer an attraction, an expression of desire, to bare your breasts and belly is simple; you lay like dogs or cats grateful for the sun. [239]

-But there's no indemnity. You can't be afraid to do good in case evil results. [296]

-It'll be enough to take your mind off your stomach. - When lovers cannot touch, they tease each other instead. [298]

Our children and our children's children. The sins of the fathers; at last, the children avenge on the fathers the sin of fathers. Their children and children's children; that was the Future, father, in hands not foreseen.
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Read the review here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

27. Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer

Title: Burger's Daughter
Author: Nadine Gordimer
Genre: Fiction/Race/Struggle
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 361
Year of First Publication: 1979
Country: South Africa


Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter is not an easy read. The author, probably mirrored the lives of the people: natives and the whites who were against the apartheid system at the time, in her prose. For reading this seemingly melancholic novel, the reader would feel the desolation, the destruction, the emotional torture, the emasculation of ideas and of works, the impotency of one filled with verve without a vent or valve. The reader would go through several tortuous moments, reflecting the lives of a people who would not bend to division, destruction and death no matter how well it is shrouded and how white the shroud is. And these feeling of pain, emanating from the book, does not result from the use of verbose adjectives or adverbs but the use of language itself. The pain is in the read. In this book, Gordimer, somewhat answers partly a question that has been bothering some observers of South African apartheid system and which was also the centrepiece of Steve Biko's I write What I like; the question of whether the South African Liberals, those who vociferously and vituperatively spoke against apartheid, were for real and why they never forwent the privileges that were preserved specifically for them. Fictitious as this story may be, it still shows that there were several white South Africans who were willing to brave death to see the collapse of that vile and humongous system than to live and partake of it.

The book explores the issue of struggle and what it takes to be the child of a revolutionary father and more especially a white revolutionary fighting and dying for policies and laws, changes that would benefit blacks. It also explores the loss of childhood that most of these fighters and their children go through; how they suddenly become adults, unbeknownst to them, and how the struggle charts their lives. Another question, more importantly a puzzle, which is currently been portrayed in the Kony 2012 Campaign, which the book attempted to resolve without seeming success is the issue of the equalness of human value. Most of the time, an issue becomes a concern to the world - or the international community as they are referred to - only when a single white person has been subjected to it, regardless of the fact that those prevailing conditions, of which this white individual suffered, is the reality of several non-white folks, in this book, blacks. For instance, when Lionel Burger - Rosa Burger's father - was jailed for life for his alleged treasonable conduct and died in prison, Rosa Burger became a star attraction at most of these human-rights-freedom-fighters-liberals luncheons and dinners, even though countless blacks had suffered similar fate. This issue converges into the suspicion that blacks harboured even for whites who could be seen supporting or working for their cause. It is also that which makes the black men in the police be seen as victims of circumstances and therefore not part of the enemies that white policemen were.

Gordimer also investigated what it takes to be a clean-conscience white South African and if such a thing is possible regarding the prevailing conditions. Here, she was much more concerned about the sins of the fathers following the children; how people would perceive an individual - a white - who says he or she is a South African. Do people link you to the atrocities taking place? Or would they treat you in isolation? This identity-burden is one of the themes covered in the story.

The story, written in different narrative styles alternating between an omniscient narrator and Rosa Burger's own first person narrative, is divided into three parts. The first part concerns Rosa's parents and her life in South Africa. Her parent's involvement in the fight against apartheid, life in their home, and their visit to and from prison and sometimes imprisonment was the subject. Rosa's home was teeming with blacks and whites. It was a place - even when the separate places policies was in full swing - where the race border breaks down. Even though the Burgers lives were not like other white South Africans, they had to contend with every day mishaps life showers on people. They went through the loss of a young son and friends and betrayal. However, Cathy and Lionel stood firm in their belief in their chosen paths. Even then young Rosa understood, without any indoctrination, what her parents were doing and accepted it. In the first part, Rosa's narrative mostly addressed a man she had a brief affair with, Conrad. When her parents were alive, she felt shielded, somewhat, and even participated in some of their clandestine activities. During this period, she never thought of leaving the country, and because she had been named together with her parents she was not entitled to a South African passport. Outside the Burgers' home, they had to contend with state policies especially in public institutions over which they had no control; so that even though Rosa and gone to school with Baasie, Lionel's black comrade, the two had to separate as they moved from the kindergarten/primary stage. An event that would later come to haunt her in faraway Europe. After her father died in prison and her mother died from a debilitating disease and the house was sold, Rosa would move from one place to the next until, a few years after, she would decide to leave South Africa, altogether. Rosa had worked in South Africa as a physiotherapist.

The second part deals with Rosa's foray in Europe, mostly France and how she deals with her father's first wife and life in general. Here her ability to stay away from liberal activities will be tested. Rosa will have an affair with a married man (her first lover), working on his doctoral thesis; however, this will not be the defining moments in her life. The defining moments would come when she met Baasie at a programme organised by liberals. In this chance encounter, when Rosa was not able to identify his childhood friend, sparks would fly for definitely Bassie, whose father had also died in prison, had gone through several transformations whose complexities have, probably, been exacerbated by his colour. Baasie's accusation of Rosa was based on her using her father's death as a launch-pad for fame and that this is a singular event a white man suffered; an event that is the reality of countless whites. Fumed by this clearly abrasive accusation Rosa countered and enumerated all the sufferings they had to bear for what they believed in. But it would not be what Baasie said that would get her visiting South Africa, it would be what Rosa herself told Baasie. Rosa's narrative, in this section, addressed her father's biographer.

The third part is when Rosa came back to South Africa. She went to work as a physiotherapist but the activities of her father, and the name Burger and her inability to dissociate her personal struggle from the overall struggle that would come haunting. In 1976, the Soweto uprising was in full force and the police also met them fully prepared. What followed were countless mangled bodies and broken bones. A year later, Rosa would be arrested and charged for her participation in advancing the cause of the ANC and inciting the revolt. Rosa mostly called unto his father, in this period.

Gordimer's creativity was at its best. She unleashed the full force of her creative prowess, and gave the reading public the beautiful narrative that would, if it had not already, become a classic. Yet, what this book achieves is not the beauty of prose or lines, but the documentation of a period of life in the lives of a people that need not be repeated, no matter what. 

Again, this is a relatively difficult book but one that deserves to be read.
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About the author: Read it here.

ImageNations' Rating: 5.0/6.0

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

May in Review, Projections for June

My entire May was taken up by travel. Consequently, I did very little reading. One would ask 'why can't you read more if you are away from home.' The answer is precisely that: 'away from home'. From May 3 to 19, I was in Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenya). These are two new cities (countries) I've visited. As my regular readers would know, my earlier job took me round Ghana and I did well - as judged by myself, lol - to update you with the fun aspect of my travels. My current job takes me to some countries in Africa (and sometimes beyond). So I was in Kenya and Uganda and I couldn't come back home and have nothing to say about these countries; hence, reading was sacrificed for roaming and exploration. In Uganda, I was invited by Beatrice Lamwaka, author of the Caine-Prize nominated short story Butterfly Dreams to attend a poetry performance by the Kenyan poet, Sitawa Namwalie. This turn out to be one of the best poetry performance I've ever seen. The fluidity between the sections, the themes ... it was as if the whole hour or more show was one giant poem, instead of being several poems. The day before, I had missed a performance by Nii Ayikwei Parkes - author of Tail of the Blue Birdat the National Theatre (of Uganda). Nairobi was different; more exploration, less reading. And nothing literary.

Between May 27 and June 1, I was in Helsinki, Finland. Again, this being my first travel to Europe, I wasn't going to ensconced myself into books. Instead, with the help of a sleepless day (my first time of seeing the sun rise at midnight), I roamed the city at the end of everyday's programme. Again, no reading.

These aren't a detail report of what I did - for instance I've not mentioned of going to the source of the Nile in Jinja (in Uganda) nor the travel by boat on the Nile and also in Helsinki nor the travel my motor (or boda boda) in Uganda. Regardless of all these I did some reading:
In all I read a total of 940 pages, the lowest in the year - lower than the previous month. What this means is that my reading is declining, though my target remains unaffected - not yet. And I couldn't meet my reading target set out in May. I also fell short of the 'at least 50 pages per day' target, recording only 30.3 pages per day.

June will be a mixture of things: first I will be in Dare es Salaam from June 5 to 11 (or so). However, I expect to take some days off after I return, giving me ample time to catch up. I will continue with the unread books I projected for May. These are:
  • Journey by G.A. Agambila - currently reading this
  • The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
  • If I'm so Successful, why do I feel like a fake - The Impostor Phenomenon by Joan C. Harvey with Cynthia Katz.
  • Paradise by Toni Morrison
I'll also be reading all the five (5) Caine-Prize shortlisted stories, at all cost. I need to read these and review them before the prize is announced on July 2.

Monday, June 04, 2012

26. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan's Atonement* (2001, Anchor Books; 351) carries several themes. In addition of it being a story of childhood, forgiveness and love, it is also a book about writing. The story follows the Tallises from before the war (WWII) to the later part of the Twentieth Century. In particular, it follows Briony and Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner as they come against each other which will later change the lives of those involved.

Robbie Turner's mother works for the Tallises. Jack Tallis, an absentee father and husband, has taken it upon himself to pay for Robbie's education. Robbie's age-mates is Cecilia and after Cambridge, the former having performed better than the latter to the subtle disgust of Emily Tallis - their mother - had decided to pursue further education in medicine. However, there is an unacknowledged affinity manifesting itself in some sort of sexual tension but one of which the man knows and acknowledges his status in the household, as one of a servant and not a parvenu; the reality that fairy tales belong to the imagination and it isn't always that the beast marries the beauty. Thus, Turner keeps his space and offers Cecilia the respect her surname demands, as any provider of provisioning will demand. This attitude of his infuriates the lady so much so that she openly shows her disgust.

As both were going through their personal teenage stress and thinking of each other in the privacy of their minds, Cecilia's younger sister, thirteen year-old Briony, was also making a huge jump across teenage-hood into adulthood. This precocious child, too old for her age and yet too young to understand the trappings of adult life - one of those who mentally put themselves into positions their biological development cannot support, will do one thing that would hang over the family and would destroy the relationships that exist between them all. 

Briony - an imaginative, self-opinionated, naive and manipulative girl - will witness three things and, in a period where people could be jailed for mentioning certain body parts or for expressing wantonness, her inchoate understanding will be her downfall. The first will be when Briony saw or thought she saw Robbie commanding her sister beside the pool so that her sister almost naked herself before him. The second was Robbie's own mishap when he sent Briony with a letter - with a single word - to be given to Cecilia and the third, the last bit of evidence needed to complete her story, was when she caught the them in the Library. So that when the twin's - cousins of the Tallis children who had come to stay with them because their parents had separated - escaped one night and during the search Briony had come upon Lola - the twin's elder sister, older than Briony but younger than Cecilia - who was claiming someone had nearly raped her, Briony knew or thought she knew whom it was or might be.

What happened next was a series of silences, pretenses, intentional oversights, that saw Cecilia cutting ties with her family and Briony living through a life of penance. Like On Chesil Beach, McEwan set his story in a period when issues of sex, marriage and any such thing was adult-rated so that children make up their own minds, learn from whatever sources they could possibly get information from and for most cases it is from themselves, which led to a lot of theorising and conjecturing. Briony might have acted childishly and naively but she also acted out of misplaced love; for it is only love that would have made her decide to protect her elder sister. However, it was her feeling of superiority complex and the family's neglect of her emotional development and her own hyperactive mind and a self-righteous attitude, that transformed her love into something utterly negative. The family disregard of her development meant that she was left to her devices and she began to think that she was more matured and far better than all the others in her family. Yet, it was her refusal to tell the absolute truth by making her assumptions of what she thought she 'saw' the fact that destroyed her. And Briony is difficult to love at least for the first part where she played a major role. She has all the things that would make an older sibling hate her. But Cecilia was also too quiet, the exact opposite of her sister. 

The second part of the book follows Robbie as he journeyed through bombings in France as the second world war was in full swing, virtually dodging death and surviving on a promise Cecilia had given him. Haunted by the life he had to live because of a little girl's statement against his and the ravages of war, Robbie had to form the right associations if he is to it to London. The author had a way of not releasing too much information to the reader; he builds the story with the reader who had to invest into it and come out with whatever he can. Robbie was not just a character in a book, his feelings, actions and reactions were true to life: he hated Briony and still encouraged Cecilia to forgive her family.

In Atonement, McEwan took a simple scene, which could have remained a rumour, a perception, and investigated its other frays. The beautiful thing about the book is that the reader is never really sure what actually happened. 

As a book about writing, McEwan used Briony's love for writing to deal with the subject of writing: the plot, the character development, diction, narrative, rejection and the final success. In fact, the therapeutic effect of writing was also somewhat touched upon. It was a great read except that McEwan could stretch scenes and he could do so without making the read tiring. Loved it.
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* Read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge

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