Friday, July 29, 2011

89. Underground People by Lewis Nkosi

Title: Underground People
Author: Lewis Nkosi
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Ayebia Clarke
Pages: 308
Year of First Publication: 2002
Country: South Africa

Lewis Nkosi's second novel coming after the award-winning debut Mating Birds is a unique story. Its uniqueness lies not in any attempt to create something which has never been done. Nor does it turn every sentence into a literary masterpiece, though each word, sentence, paragraph is a relish to read. The uniqueness of Lewis Nkosi's Underground People lies in its beautiful, fast-reading, and tension-building prose. And his ability to satirise South Africa's apartheid system whilst still keeping its seriousness, its human suffering closer to the reader.

Cornelius Molapo is a high-school teacher, amateur poet, speaker, a jitterbug dancer, a passionate lover and a lover of cricket. He is also a peripheral member of the National Liberation Movement, the movement fighting to end apartheid rule in South Africa. When the Pretoria Government began ceasing lands from the natives of Tabanyane for the white farmers and the NLM wanted someone to lead their field operations being carried out with the local resistance group in Tabanyane against both the Pretoria Government and the usurper to the Tabanyane throne, Sekala Seeiso, the NLM called on its most unlikely candidate, the high-school teacher, amateur poet, speaker, jitterbug dancer, passionate lover and lover of cricket, Cornelius Molapo. So when Cornelius was not seen for many days, people reluctantly suspected that he might be one of the many individuals who are being 'incommunicado' by the Johannesburg Government. The NLM, however, made a formal proposal to the Human Rights International to help them find Molapo, a party member. Anthony Ferguson, a representative of the HRI, was born and raised in South Africa but has been away for fifteen years. Having carried out successful assignments across most warring countries in Latin America and other parts of Africa,  Ferguson found that there are several reasons why this home-assignment would be no small an assignment. First Ferguson was not sure how far things have changed in South Africa and there is her celebrity twin sister, Hazel, to deal with. There is also the several winding South African laws that, though white, could entangle him.

What happens when a Tabanyane-born university-trained school teacher who has lived most of his life in Johannesburg is thrust into the mountains to fight the armed-to-the-teeth apartheid government and its local stooges for several months? Naturally, Cornelius Molapo, came to appreciate the predicament of his people; he identified with them in a way far different from what he had been inciting his listeners to do; he lived their lives and understood what it was to be a native. With time, this jitterbug dancer shed all traces of his 'city flesh' and his timorousness, taking on the hardened life of a guerrilla fighter and prepared to fight to death than give up on his people.

Set in the years - perhaps the very late 1980s to early 1990s - leading to the release of Nelson Mandela, whom in the book was referred to as Dabula Amanzi, during a period where the Immorality Act has been suspended and mix marriages were taking place with increasing frequency after forty years of apartheid and the government was losing the fight against the freedom fighters whilst finding it increasingly expensive to implement discriminatory laws, this story differ from many others that treat the subject of apartheid. In most of such stories, the struggle is peripheral to the story, shown through a broken home, through the arrest of the family head and the disintegration of the family. In such stories, the effects apartheid is what is told not the struggle, not the intentional and willing sacrifices people made to create a 'new social order'. In Lewis Nkosi's Underground People this 'struggle is the story'. However, the story is not only about THE struggle. It is also about the people in the struggle: their fears and aspirations. The breadth of Nkosi's paint brush was equal on all sides. Besides, though the subject matter is serious there are several humorous lines found scattered in the text. Describing her uncle, Sekala Seeiso, to Cornelius, Madi Seeiso said
The day you come across my uncle Sekala no-one will need to point him out to you! Try to imagine a monster six-foot-ten, with a face like a train locomotive or the front of Mount Taba Situ, and you have the exact image of my uncle. Children have been known to cry when he has but looked at them; an attempt at a smile from him is likely to send children running for shelter behind their mother's skirts. When he makes a joke he smiles so hard that his eyes seem to close up and vanish, bringing to perfection his exceptional ugliness! (Page 195)
Even the way the whites expected the natives to behave was comically presented and to know that this was actually how they were expected to behave made it all the more funny and absolutely mind-boggling. So that Joe Bulane, a lawyer by profession had to dress like a 'native' in order to outwit the authorities.
At first, Anthony did not recognise the man from the central committee. Bulane was dressed in faded old khakis, somewhat soiled and torn and sprinkled with mud, and although this was the height of summer on the highveld and the sun would soon be scorchingly hot, he was swathed in a thick army coat that looked frayed and moth-eaten, like something which might have been bequeathed to an importunate servant by a jokey employer. His face concealed behind dark glasses framed in red plastic which made him look like a friendly gargoyle. In spite of the sombreness of the occasion Anthony could not stop himself from laughing. Helpless, he leaned against the door of the car. 'Oh Mr Bulane, what a sight to greet the plains of Tabanyane!'
 Bulane peered shortsightedly at his fellow traveller: 'Perhaps you might start off by addressing me properly,' he said gravely.
'Yes, sir!' Anthony responded, unable to stop laughing.
'From now on', Bulane said, 'I am not Mister Bulane. Just plain Bulane, your native boy.' 
This is a novel that would make you laugh and think in equal measure. Its representation of life leading to the overthrow of apartheid is very vivid. Highly recommended.
Brief Bio: Lewis Nkosi (Dec. 5, 1936 to Sept. 5, 2010) is known chiefly for his scholarly studies of contemporary African literature, and is the author of the novel Mating Birds (1986). Critics enthusiastically praised Nkosi's prose style and narrative structure in Mating Birds, and several have compared the work with Albert Camus's The Stranger. Nkosi was born in Natal, South Africa, and attended local schools before enrolling at M. L. Sultan Technical College in Durban. In 1956 he joined the staff of Drum magazine, a publication founded in 1951 by and for African writers. In his Home and Exile and Other Selections (1965), Nkosi described Drum's young writers as "the new African[s] cut adrift from the tribal reserve--urbanised, eager, fast-talking and brash." According to Neil Lazarus, the description fitted Nkosi as well. "Nkosi's whole bearing as a writer," he wrote, "was decisively shaped by the years in Johannesburg working for the magazine." In 1960 Nkosi left South Africa on a one-way "exit permit" after accepting a fellowship to study at Harvard University. Now living in England, he teaches and writes articles on African literature. In addition to the novel Mating Birds, he has also produced several plays and collections of essays, including The Rhythm of Violence(1963), Malcolm (1972), The Transplanted Heart: Essays on South Africa (1975), and Tasks and Masks: Themes and Styles of African Literature (1981). (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 6.0/6.0

Thursday, July 28, 2011

NLNG 2011: Six Books Shortlisted

In 2009 there was a no-show for the NLNG shortlisted authors. In that year, the award was to go for a poet and even though there was a shortlist of authors, none of them was deemed good enough to win the award, according to the Advisory Board.

On Friday July 22, 2011, the Advisory Board for The Nigerian Prize for Literature approved an initial shortlist of six out of the 126 books for the 2011 edition of the NLNG prize.

Making up the shortlist are:
  • Uche Peter Umez winner of the 2006 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and runner-up for the 2007 The Nigeria Prize for Literature with his book The Runaway Hero;
  • Philip Begho, author of over 70 books and two-time contender for The Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2004 and 2010 with his Aunty Felicia Goes to School;
  • Ayodele Olofintuande with Eno's Story;
  • Chinyere Obi-Obasi with The Great Fall;
  • Mai Nasara with The Missing Clock; and
  • Thelma Nwokeji with her debut Red Nest.
The children’s literature prize does not favour any genre- prose, poetry or drama; only good writing is rewarded. The prize sifts the huge array of children’s books which come out every four years, short listing only the mind-snaring originals. Professor Akachi-Ezeigbo said the judges were particularly careful to avoid poorly edited books, books with low moral thresholds, junk reads, thrillers or books which can be read on auto-pilot. The emphasis is on good books that stay with you long past the point at which you put them down, she said.

The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara, founding father of modern Nigerian poetry, revered octogenarian Mabel Segun for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Ahmed Yerima, for his classic, Hard Ground, and Esiaba Irobi who posthumously clinched the prize, last year, with his book Cemetery Road.

Professor Banjo said a second shortlist of three books will be announced in September and a winner, if any, in October. The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. The 2011 prize goes to children’s literature. This year’s prize has a cash value of US$ 100, 000.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Additions to my Library

It's been a long time since I went into a bookshop. However, thanks to the Writers Project of Ghana's monthly book reading titled Ghana Voices Series, I have purchased two autographed novels from the June and July readings.

The first book I purchased was Ama: the Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Manu Herbstein. Manu Herbstein is a South African who has lived and worked in several countries including India, Nigeria and Ghana, but has been living in Ghana for sometime now. His novel won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize Award for Best First Book. From GoodReads:
Thrust into a foreign land, passed from owner to owner, stripped of her identity. This is the life of Nandzi, who was given the name Ama, a name strange to her and her tribal culture. A life of struggle and resignation, bondage and freedom, passion and indifference, intense love and remorseless hate. Though forced into desperation, Ama never lets her soul be consumed by fear. While the stories of individual slaves have been blurred into one mass, Ama's story personifies the experience of eighteenth-century Africans in an unforgettable way. Her entrancing story of defiance and spiritual fire starts from the day she is brutally seized, raped, and enslaved, and ends with her breathing the pure air of freedom. AMA is a deeply engrossing and colorful novel, packed with violence, sex, and action. The resiliency of her spirit will grip readers from the first page to the last of Manu Herbstein's spellbinding novel.
The next book I purchased was the one read by Fiona Leonard titled The Chicken Thief. Fiona is an Australian living in Ghana. She's worked with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has spent some time travelling around the world and writing speeches, ministerial briefings, reports and press releases. From the book's cover:
Alois is The Chicken Thief, an intelligent young man struggling to find his way in a southern African country wracked by political unrest and a crumbling economy. A chance encounter gives Alois the opportunity to make some fast money, and hopefully improve his future. However, his assignment goes horribly wrong, and he unexpectedly finds himself in the midst of a complicated and perilous struggle to rescue a war hero and transform the political landscape. Though something of an unlikely hero, Alois ultimately learns that both dreams and justice are within his grasp.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Man Booker Prize 2011 Longlist

I have been monitoring twitter for the past four hours for this announce. According to the announcement:

A total of 138 books, seven of which were called in by the judges, were considered for the ‘Man Booker Dozen' longlist. They are:
  • Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
  • Sebastian Barry On Canaan's Side (Faber)
  • Carol Birch Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
  • Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
  • Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
  • Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
  • Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger's Child (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
  • Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
  • Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
  • A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
  • Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
  • Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • D.J. Taylor Derby Day (Chatto & Windus - Random House)
The chair of judges, Dame Stella Rimington, comments:
We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion. The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest, and includes four first novels.
The four first time novelists on the list are Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness. Canadian author Alison Pick, like McGuinness, is a published poet and is joined by fellow Canadians, Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan, on the longlist.
The shortlist of six authors will be announced on Tuesday 6 September at a press conference at Man Group's London headquarters. The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 18 October at a dinner at London's Guildhall and will be broadcast on the BBC.
The winner will receive £50,000 and each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, will receive £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their book.
The judges for the 2011 Prize are writer and journalist, Matthew d'Ancona; author, Susan Hill; author and politician, Chris Mullin and Head of Books at the Daily Telegraph, Gaby Wood. Dame Stella Rimington is the Chair.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Proverb Monday, #32

Proverb: Yεmfa y'ani na εka nkwan hwε
Meaning: We don't use our eyes to taste soup
Context: Don't judge by appearance
No. 2247 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Quotes for Friday from George Orwell's 1984

Curiously, the chiming of the hour seeming to have put new heart into him. He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long, as he utter it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.
Page 26

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that  Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as your years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. "Reality control," they called it; in Newspeak, "doublethink."
Page 32

His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all , to apply the same process to the process itself - that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce consciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.
Page 32/33

"When you make love you're using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don't give a damn for anything. They can't bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you're happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three Year Plan and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?"
Page 110/111

To hang on from day to day and from week to week, spinning out a present that had no future, seemed an unconquerable instinct, just as one's lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available.
Page 126

"... Do you realize that the past, starting from yesterday, had been actually abolished? ...
Page 128

The end was contained in the beginning.
Page 132

The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.
Page 165

There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
Page 179

Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. 
Page 205
Read the review here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

88. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 (1949) is perhaps the greatest work of English Author, Essayist, Journalist and Political and Literary Critic, Eric Arthur Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell. This 'futuristic' dystopian book is more of a prophecy than a novel. It is everything but fiction.

In Orwell's 1984 world of Oceania, present day England, society has lost its humanity to politics and the rule of the all-knowing, all-seeing, immortal Big Brother is in full swing. The proles have been conditioned to accept whatever Big Brother tells them and because Big Brother controls all sources of information and able to rewrite the past, his control over the thoughts and minds of the people is complete. In Oceania 2+2 could be 5 if Big Brother says so. Similar to most Socialist countries, production is centralised and all human needs and wants are rationed and even though there are shortages the people do not notice it because Big Brother speaks of over-production and meeting production, not shortages. So great was the control and dominance that a new language, Newspeak, was created to eliminate ambiguous and double-entendre statements. In doing so, the past was reshaped and rewritten, or in most cases entirely erased for lack of words to describe it. 

The key to survival is to adopt doublethink so that Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery, and War is Peace are boldly espoused by the Party, INSOC or English Socialism. And when individuals are arrested they are sent to the Ministry of Love for torture and sometimes sentenced to hard labour at Joycamp. Doublethink is the ability:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself - that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink. (Chapter I; Section III, Page 32/33)
Orwell (1903-1950), having lived through two world wars and several conflicts and unrest, all inspired by ideological differences and their imposition on the people, became weary of the political system of the day. Governance system such as Socialism and its varied forms in Stalinism, Communism, and Nazism were at both their nascent and dying stages. What Orwell did was to extend anyone of these variants and follow it through to its logical conclusion. 

In the novel, we meet Winston a worker at the Ministry of Truth where documents are 'corrected' of 'errors' so that they are in-tune with actual happenings. Winston is struggling to hold onto his sanity by holding part of his past with him. He seems to be one of the few who still remember life before the revolution. 

Though written in 1949 for a world perceived in 1984, Orwell's fears are as much a part of today's world than any other book. If doublethink was the key to the Party's survival and, by extension, the survival of the proles, then the party is more visible today than ever. Most dystopian novels begin with a revolution, which ends with a new form of governance system supplanting the old one, which in most cases is democracy. In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a somewhat theocratic government supplanted democracy, in this novel it is socialism. Thus, people have always imagined such dystopian world to be possible only under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Yet this is not the whole truth. Totalitarianism in today's world has evolved in democracies and the actual beneficiaries or rulers aren't political parties or families or even blood relations but capitalist corporations. Corporations that can and do fund both sides of wars; that are neither Democrats nor Republicans, Labour nor Conservative, Property-owning nor Social Democrats; that have lost all sense of humanity and would go to all lengths, required, to wield absolute power. They fund all competing political parties and their candidates in an electoral and gubernatorial campaigns. These are the Big Brothers. These are the ones whose policies go through parliament and approved by government as laws because they are able to pay huge sums to lobbyists or make some important phone-calls; and in the end such policies are seen as the people's decisions. Sometimes they get the support of the people by causing fear and panic. They  determine the kind of 'truth' to give to the people and how to discredit all other sources of information. So that any who do not hold in truth their 'truth' become a Winstonian, a raving mad man.

Today, we are grappling with phone-hacking scandals in Britain, the setting of Orwell's book, which in the end would see no one, especially those at the top, in prison. 

It is these powers of mind control and the use of doublethink that make a 'peace-loving' country create wars in other countries; that make the production of weapons the largest contributor to GDP even as they go about spreading their "peace". It is this doublethink mentality that makes pastors pray for soldiers departing their homelands to fight in other countries.

Is Big Brother watching? Today, in democratic countries, emails are read at will, phones are tapped and security cameras and scanners monitor our every move and search individuals to the bone, thanks to 9/11. Softwares to impersonate multiple people on forums and spread their information, tweaking public opinion, directing what the masses should think have been developed. Privacy is not a word in Oceania, a country rife with telescreens, and is definitely not a word in today's world. Countries which are signatories to anti-torture laws, or which even participated in the writing of the laws employ torture, sometimes leading to the deaths of victims, when it suits them and then investigate torture claims and set all involved free for lack of evidence.

Today, Big Brother can make legitimate and illegitimate leaders. So that rebels could become governments and governments rebels, whilst massaging the unified mind of the people through filtered and targeted news, completely false news and half-truths whilst, simultaneously emasculating all other sources of news. If you are against BB, you are an enemy that has to be eliminated. If you lick his burnished boots, you are the friend whose back is patted. There are only two choices: be with them or against them. In response to questions, they refuse to be straight, confusing the proles with garbled messages full of doublethinks to hide their intent. After all,
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. (Source)
1984 is a book we must all read for in it, George Orwell has shown us how our governments, every government for that matter, operate.
In our societies, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest remove from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane. (Page 177)
Read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Day I will Write about this Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

I first heard of, and met, Binyavanga Wainaina at the American Corner of the Legon Centre for Foreign Affairs (LECIA) of the University of Ghana. He had come there with another literati, Kojo Laing, whom I was also meeting for the first time. In his white linen trouser and long-sleeved round-neck top and green shoe, I settled to listen to this eccentric author in the company of friends. He informed the audience that what he was going to read would be from the manuscript of an upcoming memoir. Like most authors, he brought out his Apple laptop with care and set it on his lap. Opening it, he set out to read to us paragraphs. All I remember now from the reading is the tiny voice he had used to read to us pictures from his childhood and, most importantly, the loud laughter that followed every line.

The very next day I requested to be his friend on facebook. For those who are still not sure of whom he is, Binyavanga Wainaina is the author of, arguably, the most referred to satirical article on writing 'about Africa' titled How to Write about Africa. He is also the 2002 Caine Prize winner and founding editor and publisher of Kwani?.

I was therefore happy to read about the publication of his memoir One Day I will Write about this Place. According to Granta Magazine:
Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colourful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlour, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson - all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own. In this vivid and compelling debut, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his failed attempt to study in South Africa, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. Resolutely avoiding stereotype and cliche, Wainaina paints every scene in One Day I Will Write About This Place with a highly distinctive and hugely memorable brush.
Similarly, Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Binyavanga Wainaina is a singer and painter in words. He makes you smell, hear, touch, see, above all, feel the drama and vibrations of life below the brilliantly and concretely captured surface of things in Kenya and Africa. The memoir bursts with life and laughter and pathos in every line and paragraph.
The book is available on Also, be sure that when it becomes available in Ghana, ImageNations would bring you his views on and review of this book. Until then, I would want to say that if you want a different narrative about Africa, read this book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Proverb Monday, #31

Proverb: Ogyatanaa, wokɔ ho na w'annwene wo se a, wokyea wo ti.
Meaning: A flaming fire, if you go near it you either show your teeth or turn your head.
Context: You have violent reaction to a dangerous situation.
No. 2491 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

87. Weep Not, Child by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Title: Weep Not, Child
Author: Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Genre: Fiction/Colonial
Publishers: Heinemann
Pages: 143
Year of First Publication: 1964
Country: Kenya

To begin with, this is a book I last read almost seven years ago. It is also one of the very few books I have re-read. Though I only review books I have just (within the year) read I feel the need to share this with you.

The story revolves around Ngotho and his children and their relationship with Jacobo and the Howlands. Ngotho was a man filled with emotions and loneliness. The type of emotion one cannot do anything to assuage its excruciating pains. As a patriarch Ngotho hurts from the knowledge that even though his children show great potential he cannot help them to fulfill. Worst of all is his inability to stand against Jacobo, the anglicised local man for whom he works. And when he remembers that his son, Boro, fought in the second Big War, his impotence becomes hurting sore; it stares starkly at him. When Boro ran into the bush to fight with the fighters, Ngotho finally gathered some Okonkwo-like bravery and attacked Jacobo. This attack led to a series of disasters. As Ngotho became spiritually alienated and emotionally disturbed; as he became weaker, his enemies, Jacobo and Howland became stronger.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Weep Not Child is a story that examines the relationship that existed between blacks and whites and within blacks themselves prior to independence. It explores several socio-economic issues such as access to education, jobs and the universal right to life. It also explores the Mau Mau bush-fighters and their struggle for an independence in Kenya. When access to social amenities is unequal and others have rights that are lost to others, there is a class struggle and a type of caste system is created. For instance, and here note the play on words, whereas the Ngothos were dead-poor and representative of the Kenyan proletarians, the Jacobos were rich farmers who worked for the white farmers, the Howlands. And names become important. From a very typical and native name of Ngotho, the poor and the masses, we move to those who have sold the land to the whites and serve them. Those who bow before them and in doing so shame the black race. These are called the Jacobos - a localised name for the English name, Jacob. Then the Lord of Lords, the colonialist is represented by Howland... How Land?

This classification were strongly implemented by all the individuals involved. So that even though Kamau wanted to learn carpentry and his 'black' master would not show him all he needs to know he complained bitterly, insinuating that this was the reason why - Ngotho - his father prefers to work for the whiteman;
Blackness is not all that makes a man ... There are some people, be they black or white, who don't want others to rise above them. They want to be the source of all knowledge and share it piecemeal to other less endowed. That is what's wrong with all these carpenters and men who have a certain knowledge. It is the same with rich people. A rich man does not want others to get rich because he wants to be the only man with wealth ... Some Europeans are better than Africans ... That's why you at times hear father say that he would rather work for a white man. A white man is a white man. But a black man trying to be a white man is bad and harsh. (Page 22)
And this is where the crux of the issue lies. The Africans in the novel who adopted the lifestyle of the colonialists were harsher and brutal in their treatment of fellow blacks than the colonialists themselves. Thus, Ngugi here is not piling up the blame at the doorsteps of the colonialists or Europeans but also showing that the ability to do good is inherent and that it is not necessarily true that the oppressed race is always vulnerable and pitiable. But most times that they inflict the pain by themselves on themselves. That on several occasions, in order to please their masters, those who pretend to have the masters' 'colour and manners' go to the extreme in their maltreatment of their very own tribesmen. This observation by Ngugi is not different from many other views, like Mia Couto's The Russian Bride in his short-story collection  Every Man is a Race, where the slave boss treated the others harshly to impress his Russian boss.

Again, this novel could be a precedence to Matigari, even as it precedes it in publication. For in Matigari, which was set in the period following Kenya's independence, we see that it was the rule of the Jacobos and not the Ngothos, even though it was the latter who had fought with their lives for independence. The Ngothos (or Matigari ma Njiruungi) remained an oppressed group and even though there was a change in government (in Matigari) the land was still being misappropriated by the same Jacobos (or John Boys) for their friends, the Howlands (or Williams).

Are these symbiotic relationship different from what prevails in most countries on the continent? Are they different from the today, where governments sell national assets for nothing, if only the capitalist entrepreneurs would promise their children good university education abroad? Or where governments refuse to see the harm being wreaked upon its country because that's where his personal sustenance comes from? Is it different from the present era, where the paunch is put before development or where the "I" supersedes the "We" even when the resource is a Common Resource?

To really understand the development quagmire, within which most African countries seem to be stuck or better still wallow, a reading of these two novels would suffice. For it is only when our present actions bestow positive externalities on posterity that we can hit our chest and say 'yes we've done well'. However, as it is now, we are light-years away from attaining such feat. Ngugi by this book alone has provided us with the solution to our problem by diagnosing what the problem is.

If you have not read this novella, whose title was taken from Walt Whitman's On the Beach at Night, perhaps well-chosen for the subject it addresses, then kindly do so. It is one great novel.
Brief Bio: Ngugi wa Thiong'o, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. He was educated at Kamandura, Manguu and Kinyogori primary schools; Alliance High School, all in Kenya; Makerere University College (then a campus of London University), Kampala, Uganda; and the University of Leeds, Britain. He is recipient of seven Honorary Doctorates viz D Litt (Albright); PhD (Roskilde); D Litt (Leeds); D Litt &Ph D (Walter Sisulu University); PhD (Carlstate); D Litt (Dillard) and D Litt (Auckland University). He is also Honorary Member of American Academy of Letters. A many-sided intellectual, he is novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and social activist.

The Kenya of his birth and youth was a British settler colony (1895-1963). As an adolescent, he lived through the Mau Mau War of Independence (1952-1962), the central historical episode in the making of modern Kenya and a major theme in his early works. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 6.0/6.0

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are not to Blame II

This is a continuation of the 'proverbial quotes', which began last week.

All lizards lie prostrate: how can a man tell which lizard suffers from bellyache? In time, the pain will make one of them lie flat on its back, then shall that which has been unknown be made known.
Page 23

A chicken eats corn, drinks water, swallows pebbles, yet she complains of having no teeth. If she had teeth, would she eat gold? Let her ask the cow who has teeth yet eats grass.
Page 26

Is it not ignorance that makes the rat attack the cat?
Page 28

The hyena flirts with the hen, the hen is happy, not knowing that her death has come.
Page 29

The lion's liver is vain wish for dogs
Page 37

Because the farm-owner is slow to catch the thief, the thief calls the farm-owner thief.
Page 46

The mangrove tree dwells in the river, but does that make it a crocodile?
Page 51

Can the cockroach be innocent in a gathering of fowls?
Page 53

The toad likes water, but not when the water is boiling
Page 60

Secrets of the owl must not be known in daylight
Page 62

When the wood-insect gathers sticks on its own head it carries them.
Page 72

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kwei Quartey Launches Children of the Street

On July 12, 2011, Children of the Street, a new novel by the Ghanaian mystery writer and physician, Kwei Quartey, went on sale. Children of the Street is part of the Inspector Darko Dawson series. Copies could be purchased from bookshops or downloaded onto laptops, smartphones, Kindles, iPads, Kobos and other tablet devices. The first book in the series is Wife of the Gods.

Praise for Children of the Street

“Quartey cleverly hides the culprit, but the whodunit’s strength is as much in the depiction of a world largely unfamiliar to an American readership as in its playing fair…” —STARRED Publisher’s Weekly
“Searing and original and done just right . . . Inspector Darko Dawson is relentless, and I look forward to riding with him again.” —Bestselling Author Michael Connelly
“Darko Dawson, with his secret struggle to stop smoking marijuana and his son’s chronic illness, is one of the most engaging characters this reader has ever encountered. The police work, the unexpected reveal of the murderer and the motivation for the killings, and the clever interactions among characters of widely different professions and social classes will completely satisfy readers who enjoyed the first book and intrigue newcomers.” Library Journal
CHILDREN OF THE STREET is a fast-paced rollercoaster through Accra…” - Kate Childs
But don’t take their word for it, try it and be the judge yourself. If you absolutely hate it, let me know by replying to this email and I will email you an Amazon gift card for the amount you paid for the novel. Depending on where you buy it, it runs between $9 and $15. There is no hardcover edition this time, making it much more accessible and affordable to everyone. Most hardcovers run between $24 and $30, which is a lot to pay for a book.
Anyway, I’ll shut up now so you can get to reading, and while you’re sinking into the story, I’ll go buy some sparkling apple cider to celebrate.
Read ImageNations' interview Dr Kwei QuarteyClick here to visit the author's website.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wole Soyinka is 77 Today!

Africa's first Nobelist, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka - commonly referred to as Wole Soyinka, is celebrating his 77th birthday today. According to Cassava Republic, a list of literary events have been planned to celebrate this great personality.
In Abuja, the Arojah Royal Theatre will be hosting a series of readings from Soyinka's plays and poems, as well as talks around the theme "My Favourite Wole Soyinka Book". [courtesy: Cassava Republic]
Over here at ImageNations - and this is something we would be looking out for, henceforth - I bring you links to Soyinka's books that have been reviewed here:
I also treat you to Soyinka's famous poem Telephone Conversation, wherein he treats racism with humour and sarcasm.

            Telephone Conversation

            The price seemed reasonable, location
            Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
            Off premises. Nothing remained
            But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
5         “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”
            Silence. Silenced transmission of
            Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
            Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
            Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully. 

10         “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
            OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
            Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
            Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
            Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
15         By ill-mannered silence, surrender
            Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
            Considerate she was, varying the emphasis— 

            “ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
            “You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?”
20         Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
            Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
            I chose. “West African sepia”—and as an afterthought,
            “Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
            Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
25         Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding,
            “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.” 

            “THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
            Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
            The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
30         Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—
            Foolishly, madam—by sitting down, has turned
            My bottom raven black—One moment madam!”—sensing
            Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
            About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
35         See for yourself?”


Happy 77th birthday Soyinka... Ogun, the god of Iron, bless your path and lengthened your days on this earth, that whilst you leave you would still be with us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NoViolet Bulawayo wins 12th Caine Prize for African Writing

I had always known that the announcement of the Caine Prize for African Writing would fall on my birthday. However, in joyful and thoughtful moods that birthdays always bestow upon its adult celebrants, I entirely forgot to follow the announcement on twitter. Thanks, however, to the internet I have been able to retrieve the announcement of the winner.
Press Release
Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo has won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story entitled ‘Hitting Budapest’, from The Boston Review, Vol 35, no. 6 – Nov/Dec 2010.

The Chair of Judges, award-winning author Hisham Matar, announced NoViolet Bulawayo as the winner of the £10,000 prize at a dinner held this evening (Monday 11 July) at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Hisham Matar said:
The language of ‘Hitting Budapest’ crackles. Here we encounter Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho, a gang reminiscent of Clockwork Orange. But these are children, poor and violated and hungry. This is a story with moral power and weight, it has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary. NoViolet Bulawayo is a writer who takes delight in language.
NoViolet Bulawayo was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She recently completed her MFA at Cornell University, in the US, where she is now a Truman Capote Fellow and Lecturer of English. Another of her stories, ‘Snapshots’, was shortlisted for the 2009 SA PEN/Studzinski Literary Award. NoViolet has recently completed a novel manuscript tentatively titled We Need New Names, and has begun work on a memoir project.

Also shortlisted were:
  • Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana) ‘In the spirit of McPhineas Lata’ from The Bed Book of Short Stories published by Modjaji Books, SA, 2010
  • Tim Keegan (South Africa) ‘What Molly Knew’ from Bad Company published by Pan Macmillan SA, 2008
  • David Medalie (South Africa) ‘The Mistress’s Dog’, from The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories, 1996-2010 published by Picador Africa, 2010
  • Beatrice Lamwaka (Uganda) ‘Butterfly dreams’ from Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham, 2010
The panel of judges is chaired by award-winning Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, whose first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published by Viking this March.

He is joined on the panel by Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey, publisher, film and travel writer Vicky Unwin, Georgetown University Professor and poet David Gewanter, and the award-winning author Aminatta Forna.

Once again, the winner of the £10,000 Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, Washington DC as a ‘Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence’. The award will cover all travel and living expenses.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Sierra Leonean writer Olufemi Terry. As the then Chair of judges, Fiammetta Rocco, said at the time, the story was 
ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative. Olufemi Terry’s ‘Stickfighting Days’ presents a heroic culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception. The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future.
Previous winners include Sudan’s Leila Aboulela, winner of the first Caine Prize in 2000, whose new novel Lyrics Alley was published in January 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, as well as Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya, who founded the well-known literary magazine, Kwani?, dedicated to promoting the work of new Kenyan writers and whose memoir One Day I Will Write About this Place will be published by Granta Books in November 2011.

You can read the winning story here.
[Courtesy: Wealth of Ideas]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Proverb Monday, #30

Proverb: Onipa dɔ wo a, ɔdɔ wo ne wo nkwaseasεm.
Meaning: If a person loves you, he loves you with all your nonsense.
Context: You don't judge those you love, but you love everything about them.
No. 4444 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nana Brew Hammond in Essence

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace and a fashion aficionado has granted Essence an interview. In it she talked about her book, her background and her work as a fashion editor at According to the Magazine:
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with in the unforgivably competitive literary world. A cum laude graduate of Vassar College, sh ehas become a trailblazer in African literature and has risen to the challenge with her new book, "Powder Necklace." What began as a potential memoir ended up morphing into a striking portrayal of multi-faceted character whose eclectic cultural background and layered life experience created a story that is hard to forget. Currently the Style Editor for, this modern day fashionista and author had quite a bit to share with ESSENCE on her career, fashion philosophy and what it takes to stand out in the crowd.
Read the full interview at ESSENCE

Saturday, July 09, 2011

WPG Call for Submissions (for 2012 Anthologies)*

The Writers Project of Ghana intends to publish two anthologies of Ghanaian writing in 2012.  There will be one anthology of poetry and another of short stories. You are welcome to be a part of this.

Poetry: Send in five poems on any theme to . Maximum length of any poem is 120 lines.

Short Stories: Send a short story between 400 – 4,000 words, on any theme to .
 The target readership is young adults and older. 
The language of choice is English, but works in other Ghanaian languages are welcome.
Submissions should be received by 30th September, 2011.

Our 2011 anthology of poetry, look where you have gone to sit, is available at the following places:
EPP bookshop
University of Ghana Bookshop, Legon
Citi FM, Adabraka
*Edited: July 09, 2011 @12:38 PM

Friday, July 08, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are not to Blame I

Though the title says 'quotes', the following quotes are more of proverbs than quotes. The richness of a culture, the values a group of people hold and their philosophies, distilled through time tested means, are quickly learnt from their proverbs. And every culture has one.

It is not changing into the lion that is hard, it is getting the tail of a lion
Page 7

Kolanut last long in the mouths of them who value it
Page 7

Joy has a slender body that breaks too soon
Page 8

When the chameleon brings forth a child, is not that child expected to dance? As we have made you King, act as King.
Page 9

When the rain falls on the leopard, does it wash off its spots? Has the richness of kingly life washed off the love of our King for his people?
Page 10

My people. Children of our fathers. Sickness is like rain. Does the rain fall on one roof alone? No. Does it fall on one body and not on another? No. Whoever the rain sees, on him it rains. Does it not? It is the same with sickness. 
Page 10

It is sickness that man can cure, not death
Page 12

To get fully cured one needs patience. The moon moves slowly but by daybreak it crosses the sky.
Page 14

By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from tree to tree without falling.
Page 14

The horns cannot be too heavy for the head of the cow that must bear them.
Page 20

Until the rotten tooth is pulled out, the mouth must chew with caution.
Page 21

When the frog in front falls in pit, others behind take caution.
Page 23

Thursday, July 07, 2011

86. Dew in the Morning by Shimmer Chinodya

Title: Dew in the Morning
Author: Shimmer Chinodya
Genre: Fiction/Pastoral
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 218
Year of First Publication: 1982 (this edition, 2001)
Country: Zimbabwe*

Shimmer Chinodya's first novel, Dew in the Morning, deals with the gradual changes that engulf individuals, villages and the environment as population increases and the carrying-capacity is exceeded. Set in a small rural community in northern Zimbabwe, Dew in the Morning tells this story from the point of view of Godi, a young boy whose father lives and works in the city but also keeps a farm and family in the village.

As crops failed and life and the general agrarian economy began to suffer after seven years of adverse weather conditions, the government moved people into the northern parts of the country where the land is fertile and the forest virgin. This massive exodus of the derukas - newcomers - into existing villages, which hitherto had remained closed to outsiders, led to the degradation of the forest and of the people's lives, the tension in values and the adaptation of new cultures. Godi leads us through the changes that took place in the village life like replacing forests with buildings and farms, fencing off farms to prevent destruction by grazing cattle and above all the fight for more land as the village's population increases. Even fruits, which at first were picked from beneath the trees, were now harvested in their green state and stored for ripening to take place. In the middle of all these is headman Jairos, a sloven patriarch whose requirement for land lies in the provision of alcohol and cigarettes.
Now the forests were gone and people had become restless. The owls did not hoot anymore. The huge trees where they had perched had been cut down for firewood. Ten years previously, owls had been part of the village, but now when an owl hooted people woke up, with throbbing hearts, to listen. Snakes no longer came slithering across compound clearings attracted by firelight. They kept away from the tread of human feet.
Village children shook the once-respected fruit trees, battering their trunks with rocks to make them shed their fruit. Some children even collected green fruit to ripen at home and sell to the bus passengers on the road. Gone were the days when children believed that shaking fruit trees would get them lost in the forest and that walking with upturned axe blades would anger the Gods into withholding the rain.
In all these, the one thing that never changed but was strengthened by the strange deaths that took place was the belief in spirits and witchcraft. When mysteriously people began to fall dead in matter of hours and days without showing symptoms of sickness in previous days, headman Simon who had succeeded Jairos (after the latter became mad), decided to call in the best shaman in the locality to sniff out the witches and wizards. In fact, this is one book that provided an unadulterated, non-prejudicial, non-judgemental view of witchcraft and its place in African societies. Where most writers would have exhibited their 'modernity' through derision - showing off their 'progressiveness' - Chinodya remained true to the core belief and attitude towards spritism. So that even though Godi and his mother were Christians, they submitted to the shaman.

All through the narration we observe the personal changes that Godi was going through; his affection for this one lady she swam with sometime ago and the frequent Sunday visits he made to her village, half a morning's walk away from his. Chinodya also brought out clearly the gender disparity that existed. Whereas Godi and his brothers were being educated in the city, coming home (to the village) only when on vacations to help their mother with farm work, the girls were always with their mother, working on the farm. Thus, a greater theme of this novel is one of change(s): environmental changes, cultural changes and sociological changes. And whereas some of these changes - the first two - took place within the pages of the book, the latter - as it deals with gender and accessibility - might have taken place outside of it.

Overall, this is a good book especially if you really want to know how rural life is. The author presented it as it is and unlike many of such novels refrained from assigning ascribed needs to rural denizens and portraying them as in dire need of things they know nothing about. This being positive though, could as well be seen as negative by some readers who are likely to classify the novel as a pastoral romanticism. However, written by an 18 year old, such sentiments are likely to be genuine.
Shimmer Chinodya
Brief Bio: Chinodya Shimmer (b. in 1957), is a Zimbabwean writer and has won the 2008 Noma award for literature for his latest novel "Strife". The novel Strife is a rich and densely written novel that explores the life of a large family growing up in Gweru whose father aspires to be an enlightened Christian man. He sees his children through school and college where they do well but as adults, they are struck by a mysterious illness which hinders their personal development. Was born in Gweru, Zimbabwe, in 1957, the second child in a large, happy family. He studied English Literature and Education at the University of Zimbabwe.  After a spell in teaching and Curriculum Development he proceeded to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (USA) where he  earned an MA in Creative Writing. (Source)
* Zimbabwe, after this post, is no longer part of the African Reading Challenge

ImageNations Rating: 4.0 out of 6.0
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