Monday, October 31, 2011

Proverb Monday, #46

Proverb: Akokɔhwede da Firaw ho nso ɔdware mfuturo
Meaning: The francolin lives near the Volta River, yet it bathes in the sand.
Context: You may have plenty of something and yet not choose to use.
No. 3324 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Call for entries: Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize

The Commonwealth Foundation has made the call for entries for the new Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The prizes are part of a new initiative, Commonwealth Writers, an online hub to inspire, inform and create a community of writers from all over the world. Together with the prizes, Commonwealth Writers unearths, develops and promotes the best new fiction from across the Commonwealth. Awarded for best first book, the Commonwealth Book Prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published between 1 January and 31 December 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000. The winners will be announced in June 2012.

Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said “The significance of a prize such as this becomes greater with each year. It is vital to encourage and celebrate the talent of newly emerging novelists whose words have the potential to inspire and enrich the entire literary world. Searching out and promoting the best first books of fiction internationally is a serious task, a great honour and a wonderful challenge.”

Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Bernardine Evaristo said “This wonderful prize will turn the spotlight on the increasingly popular short story form and aims to support and encourage short story writers worldwide.”

As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s culture programmes, Commonwealth Writers works in partnership with international literary organisations, the wider cultural industries and civil society to help writers develop their craft. Commonwealth Writers is a forum where members can debate the future of publishing, get advice from established authors and ask questions of our writer in residence.

Commonwealth Foundation Director, Danny Sriskandarajah said “As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s flagship projects, I’m delighted that we’re putting the prizes firmly on the contemporary map of new writing and launching a dedicated Commonwealth Writers website to extend our global reach.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Weep Not, Child

My third reading of this book was for a Book Club discussion. The review here was written thirteen years after my last reading in 1998. Thus, I don't know whether I should review it again, now that the story is fresh in my mind or I should leave it just as it is. However, enjoy the quotes that came to me:

...[T]ime and bad conditions do not favour beauty. [3]

'Don't worry about me. Everything will be all right. Get education, I'll get carpentry. Then we shall, in the future, be able to have a new and better home for the whole family.' [4]

A fool, in the town's vocabulary, meant a man who had a wife who would not let him leave her lap even for a second. [9]

'Blackness is not all that makes a man,' Kamau said bitterly. '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 others less endowed. ... A rich man does not want others to get rich because he wants to be the only man with wealth.' [21]

'... A white man is a white man. But a black man trying to be white man is bad and rash.' [21]

[A] mother's silence is the worst form of punishment for it is left to one's imagination to conjure up what is in her mind. [35]

Education was good only because it would lead to the recovery of the lost lands. [39]

'... All white people stick together. But we black people are very divided. ...' [75]

'... Besides do you really think you'll be safer at home? I tell you there's no safety anywhere. There's no hiding in this naked land.' [83]

Yes. Sunshine always follows a dark night. We sleep knowing and trusting that the sun will rise tomorrow. [95]

'... Unless you kill, you'll be killed. So you go on killing and destroying. It's a law of nature. ...' [102]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

115. In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata by Lauri Kubuitsile

In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata first published as part of the The Bed Book of Short Stories  by Modjaji Books SA in 2010 was shortlisted for the 12th Caine Prize for African Short Stories in 2011. It is also part of the Caine Prize anthology for 2011, To See the Mountain and other stories.

When alive McPhineas Lata was a lover of married women. He was an expert in making women happy, sexually. In fact, he died having sex with another woman. This makes the husbands in the village of Nokanyana an angry and bitter lot. They were therefore glad that he was dead. Consequently, whereas the women were
full of dramatic fainting and howls of grief echoing as far as the Ditlhako Hills
the men were so much so happy that some carried their own shovels to the cemetery and when the time came to cover up the body, it was carried out in record time. But another problem remained
a dead and buried McPhineas Lata didn't mean dead and buried McPhineas Lata memories. [emphasis not mine]
Every morning, the men see their women running to and humping the grave of McPhineas. Worried by this sight, they set out to investigate what made this dead man famous with their wives. They grilled Lata's friend: Bongo and Cliff but found nothing worthy of experimentation and subsequent use. The men of the village therefore set out to find it out for themselves. Each one was given a task to experiment on his wife and come out with the results for discussion during their meeting.

In the course of these investigations we found that the men had lost all that they used to do. Others were also clumsy and know of nothing, infuriating the women even more. But RraTebogo found something. He discovered that rubbing his wife's shoulder for three minutes followed by four strokes on the right worked on her. This he shared with his fellow men who also practised it on their wives.

With time and more learning and experimenting, visible changes were seen amongst the women. Less and less of them were trooping to McPhineas' grave. The women began speculating of McPhineas' ghosts inhibiting the bodies of their husbands. For there was no other means of explaining why all their husbands should change overnight; and all loving them in similar ways.
'He's here ... with us. I knew he couldn't just leave like that. McPhineas Lata has taken up the bodies of our husbands. He has taken spiritual possession of the husbands of Nokanyana.
Henceforth, both men and women live in anticipation of night to explore their new discoveries in between the sheets.

Written in a folktale-like narrative, In the Spirit of McPhineas tells the gradual decline in sexual life that beset marriages. In a convoluted way, Lauri advises men to be sexual explorers, to not relent on that which they used to do when they were young men. Reading this story after McEwan's On Chesil Beach (to be reviewed soon), I was surprised of the stark similarities and differences. The differences lie in the place of sex in marriage and the similarities, in the vindication of women and the freedom to pursue whatever they want. For this novel, written in a tone similar in refinedness as any of Mia Couto's short stories, requires the suspension of belief to appreciate. On the other hand, Lauri might also be testing the pulse of feminine adultery, though this direction of exploration did not go farther enough for any reaction or conclusion to be made.

In the Spirit of McPhineas, like Soulmates by Alex Smith is a different kind of short story. But having not read all the short stories in this shortlist I am not sure if this would be my favourite, though I must say I appreciated this very much. The story could be downloaded here.
Brief Bio: Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer from Botswana. She has thirteen published works of fiction. She has also written two television series for Botswana Television and her short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines around the world. She has won numerous writing prizes including the Golden Baobab Prize junior category (2008/2009) and senior category in 2010, the BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest (South Africa- 2007) and the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture’s Orange Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing (2007). She was recently chosen to be a writer in residence in El Gouna Egypt for the month of May 2010. She blogs at ‘Thoughts from Botswana’. (Source)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

114. The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Title: The Trouble with Nigeria
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Non-Fiction/Socio-Political Articles
Publishers: Heinemann
Pages: 68
Year of First Publication: 1983
Country: Nigeria

Read for Amy's BAND

The Trouble with Nigeria is a book of frustration of what could be termed as the Nigerian (African) Condition. In this book, Chinua Achebe spelt out, without playing around with proverbs, aphorisms, and such  curlicued manner of speech, the reasons why Nigeria, and perhaps most African countries, are facing such ginormous and seemingly unsurmountable developmental challenges. In 'Where the Problem Lies', the author specifically identified and attributed the problem. He writes 
the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. the Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. [1]
And what more could be said. In most homes in Ghana, the contents of this little book have been discussed by people who are not even aware of its existence. Thus, it could be deduced that the problems facing most developing countries are similar and intersecting.

Tribalism, illusion, indiscipline, corruption, and others were identified and discussed as the major problems facing or hindering the development of one of Africa's most populous country. Using succinct examples Achebe explains why tribalism leads to inefficiency, most especially when tribal people are hired for a position instead of competent and efficient people. Being modest of oneself is another problem the author identified. Here, Achebe seems to be proposing a complete behavourial change, advocating less talk and more work; he seems to prefer some form of conservatism whilst delivering on them than having inconceivable optimism and fantastical imaginations and doing nothing. The author describes it best:
One of the commonest manifestations of under-development is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations. This is the cargo cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about - a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing. [9]
In 'Leadership, Nigerian-Style' Achebe compared statements from the biographies of two of Nigeria's veteran politicians: Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo. The underlying idea of both statements is the aggressive and wanton acquisition of unimaginable and superfluous wealth. This, according to Achebe, shows an
absence of intellectual rigour .. [11]
and a
tendency to pious materialistic wooolliness and self-centred pedestrianism [11]
Which produces not selfless leaders but leaders hunched with corruption. And this, Achebe continues (quoting James Booth), shows 'a poverty of thought ... [that] is in contrast to the expressions of ideology to be found even in the more informal works of Mboya, Nyere and Nkrumah!' 

This 'absence of objectivity and intellectual rigour' was even present at the nation's formation, Achebe argues, when the founding fathers chose On Unity and Faith as the new Nation's motto; concepts which are not absolute in themselves but 'conditional on their satisfaction of other purposes'. Achebe argued that such vague non-absolute concepts like Unity and Faith must be questioned: Unity to do what? And faith in what? He questioned why they never chose such absolute concepts such as Justice and Honesty which can not 'easily be directed to undesirable end'.

Even concepts such as 'patriotism' is questioned. He writes
Spurious patriotism is one of the hallmarks of Nigeria's privileged classes whose generally unearned positions of sudden power and wealth must seem unreal even to themselves. To lay the ghost of their insecurity they talk patriotically. [16]
Several issues germane to the development of a country are discussed in this book. He mentions the issue of traffic and the way and manner in which road-users break all the rules. Such is the rampancy of their acts that to be seen to be doing the right thing, such as being in your lane rather than follow those using unauthorised routes, is tantamount to being folly, a stranger, or a combination of these. And this he attributed to egoism; each person thinking of his own self interest at the expense of the others. At the waiting-lot, the one who comes late thinks he is the only one in a hurry and therefore would push all others to get onto the car, when it arrives. The most indiscipline of them all are the leaders, who think that they are above the law and the people, behaving like the animals in that Orwellian novel. They seek preferentially treatment anywhere they go. Even in traffic, they move when the traffic shows red and dare that policeman who tries to arrest him. By their act, they give stamp and legalise illegalities, authorising the citizens to follow suit.

The most revealing topic of all is the chapter on corruption. In this chapter, Achebe presented graphic details of the amount of money that are siphoned from the system in the form of plain theft by politicians, inflated contract figures, salary payment to ghost-workers, and more. He demonstrates, comparatively, what it amounts to and what edifices that could have been built with such resources. Such was his frustration that when the then Nigerian president Shehu Shagari said that corruption in Nigeria has not as yet 'reached alarming proportions', Achebe responded:
My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country. [37]
In just over sixty pages Achebe defined and showed what he thinks is the trouble with Nigeria, but which has become trouble with Africa. This is a book that's worth the read by all who want to cause changes and lead this continent to achieve its potential.

Having not read this book, I wrote an article on this blog on July 07, 2009, that the reader might also be interested. I titled it Facing our Demons, where I discuss the major problems facing us as a country, Ghana. And I was shocked to see the overlapping causes.

ImageNation Rating: 4.0/6.0

Monday, October 24, 2011

Proverb Monday, #45

Proverb: Akɔdaa hunu ne nsa hohoro a, ɔne mpninfoɔ didi.
Meaning: If a child knows how to wash his hands, he eats with the elders.
Context: If you act responsibly, you will share privileges.
No. 3208 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

113. What Molly Knew by Tim Keegan

Tim Keegan's What Molly Knew was shortlisted for the 12th Caine Prize for African Writing Prize in 2011. It was part of the crime anthology 'Bad Company' published by Pan Macmillan SA in 2008. It has also been included in the Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 anthology To See the Mountain and other stories.

What Molly Knew is a story that is difficult to define. It's is a crime story but not as we know the whodunit genre to be. Here the crime is not solved and the victim or the individual who stands to gain from exposing or getting the murder solved destroyed the only evidence involved; and the investigative part too is not shown. It is, however, a typical story whose plot could be predicted to a large extent once the characters and their associations or relationships with each other are known.

Molly's is currently married to Rollo, after the death of her husband. Molly's daughter Sarah sees the step-father as an intruder, or so Molly thinks. Then came along Tommie Nobrega, a psychologist into the Retiefs' household, who married Sarah against the wishes of Molly and to some extent Rollo. From there on the relationship between mother and daughter became strained.

Molly also suffers from domestic abuse and has chosen to remain with her abuser because of fear of becoming financially destitute. Molly seems to support the husband ahead of the daughter even though the husband isn't perfect and does things to her. She seems not have listened to her daughter or inquired about her problems and what was happening when Sarah was living with them. She defined all of Sarah's abhorrence of Rollo, the 'gulf of misunderstanding and mistrust, charge and recrimination', that existed between she and Sarah as a resentment of the 'speed with which her mother remarried'.
Alright, Rollos wasn't perfect: he drank too much; he stayed out at night playing darts at Wally's Bar in Koeberg Road; he'd visited prostitutes in his time, had girlfriends. And he had a temper, used his fists when he was boozed up, used foul language. The neighbours sometimes called the police in. But what was she supposed to do? Move out and starve? Go and live in a shelter? At her age?
And this is from Molly's perspectives.

Then Sarah died. Shot through her head, from behind. And Molly pointed accusing fingers at Tommie, Sarah's husband. It could only be Tommie, who else had access to the third floor? And who separated her from her daughter? Besides, Tommie is not from the country. He's a Mozambican. He is also a cross between black and white parents, but leaned more toward black than white. He also always wore ANC shirts. Above all he's a psychologists who knows how to convince people. But Inspector Duvenage has no concrete evidence to work with. Not a single mark to begin investigation as Tommie has been keeping to his script and the neighbours, though collaborative, haven't provided any clue yet.

But Molly was to find an envelope addressed to Rollo Retief under a pile of decomposing mowed grass. In this envelope is a letter, written two days before Sarah's murder, addressing Rollo. The letter warns Rollo to confess what she did to Sarah when she was young. It also threatens or mentions a confrontation in the presence of Molly, so that she - Molly - would know what he did to her. And finally, Rollo should ask for forgiveness so that Sarah would be free. With this piece of evidence found, one would have thought that the case will be solved or that it will lead to it and Molly would become free of oppression and abuse. But Molly destroyed it. All through the story, we see that Sarah had something to tell Molly but Molly was not listening. She preferred to lose a daughter than a means of sustenance.

What Molly Knew is a story that makes you question the reasons behind certain actions. Was Molly justified in choosing herself over her daughter? Was she justified in living under the complete control of a husband who, not only dictates to her, but also abuse her consistently? And why didn't she walk out finally when she found the evidence that will link her husband to the crime? And since her daughter was a nurse, financial concern alone could not be the reason. The reason could be that Molly, herself, might be suffering from a psychological problem that has transformed the fear she had for her husband to absolute reverence. Besides, from Rollo's conversations with Molly it was pretty clear that he considered Sarah a hindrance and her death, a good riddance. Here I am reminded of a Dean Koontz's book I read, False Memory, where the characters, under psychological control, worked against themselves. 

I found it difficult to connect to any particular character in the story. Both viewpoints from which the story is told did not give much insight into what was unfurling. The sad thing with Molly's behaviour and thought-trends is that they are real and present in most women's life. Initially, she was pitiful but all sense of sympathy fizzled out when the reason for tolerating Rollo's abusive behaviour was exposed. Inspector Duvenage was no where near solving the case and had no clue. We only get to know what he feels about such cases as Sarah's death and that was all. Molly, around whom the majority of the story revolved was dull and almost stupid in behaviour. I almost felt like pushing her to act.  For those interested in the Caine Prize shortlisted stories, the story could be downloaded here.
Brief Bio: Tim Keegan was born in Cape Town in 1952. He matriculated at Bishops and then majored in history at the University of Cape Town. He obtained his PhD in African History from the University of London. After living and working in the UK and America he spent five years in the African Studies Institute at Wits University before going to the History Department at the University of the Western Cape. In the mid-nineties he left his post as an associate professor there to continue research and writing. He has published a long list of articles and reviews in academic journals and many chapters in academic publications. Around 2002 he began writing fiction, not very seriously at first, but with increasing enthusiasm and commitment. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 4.0/6.0

Friday, October 21, 2011

Quotes for Friday from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

Anyway, it was December and all, and it was as cold as a witch's teat, especially the top of that stupid hill. [4]

Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules. [8]

Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad. [52]

That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. [73]

I think I really like it best when you can kid the pants off a girl when the opportunity arises, but it's a funny thing. The girls I like best are the ones I never feel much like kidding. Sometimes I think they'd like it if you kidded them - in fact, I know they would - but it's hard to get started, once you've known them a pretty long time and never kidded them. [78]

He's so good he's almost corny, in fact. I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it. [80]

New York's terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. [81]

'If you was a fish, Mother Nature'd take care of you, wouldn't she? Right? You don't think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?
'No, but - '
'You're goddam right they don't,"... [83]

I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes thought I was terrific, I'd hate it. I wouldn't even want them to clap for me. People always clap for the wrong things. [84]

Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting him down. [99]

Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell. [113]

... I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do. Some of the good ones do, in a very slight way, but not in a way that's fun to watch. And if any actor's really good, you can always tell he knows he's good, and that spoils it. [117]

If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don't watch it, you start showing off. And then you're not good any more. [126]

And I have one of these very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up. [134]

You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they're mean bastards at heart. I'm not kidding. [140]

Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody. [155]

It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to. [157/8]

You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won't wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she'll hear you. She's nervous as hell. [158]

But what I mean is, lots of time you don't know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn't interest you most. [184]

The man falling isn't permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. [187]

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one --Wilhelm Stekel [188]

But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they're brilliant and creative to begin with - which, unfortunately, is rarely the case - tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. [189]

If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. It's impossible. [202]

It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. [214]
Read the review here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

112. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Written in a conversational and informal tone, devoid of the refinedness that characterises first person narrative form, The Catcher in the Rye (1945; 214) is a book that explores human behaviours and relationships, and the falsities that have clouded our daily lives, making us impostors or phonies of our true selves.

It is this true self that Holden Caufield - a sixteen year old boy and son of a lawyer - sought after in a world of phonies, so that when people displayed outright deceit, refusing to be who they are or making others know what and how they are, he became physically affected. Caufield has just been thrown out of Pencey for flunking all his subjects. He had previously been thrown out of Whooton School and Elkton Hills for poor performance. But his parents, believing in the importance of education has always put him back into school whenever is thrown out. However, Holden Caufield's story is about his life told within the period of his journey from Pencey to his home in New York. In telling us this we get to know Caufield's foibles and dislikes; his intolerance of phoniness, of pretence, of lies and misrepresentation and therefore of the world as we have it now. And Caufield sees these phoniness everywhere and in everything. He sees it in an audience that clap for a not-so good pianist; he sees it in Jesus's disciples; he sees it in urban- or city-living; he sees it in too good actors; and needless to say, in school. So for instance he doesn't like actors because he believes they cannot act like people; those who are good are the worst because they know that they are good and that spoils everything.
I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do. Some of the good ones do, in a very slight way, but not in a way that's fun to watch. And if any actor's really good, you can always tell he knows he's good, and that spoils it. [117]
They didn't act like actors. It's hard to explain. They acted more like they knew they were celebrities and all. I mean they were good, but they were too good. When one of them got finished making a speech, the other one said something very fast right after it. It was supposed to be like people really talking and interrupting each other and all. The trouble was, it was too much like people talking and interrupting each other. [126]
And it could be said that, the author, not wanting to be a victim of his character's dislikes produced a conversational narrative form that mimics actual speech; for as I earlier said, it is devoid of any inverted sentences and elegance that pervades and characterises most writings. Here, we get to read all the slangs, swear-words, 'dirty' words, generalisations and exaggerations and the sexism that shaped Caufields speech and most of our speeches, a result of our environment. It is this narrative style that hooked me for it made the story flowed smoothly. 

Caufield considered that school and all will turn him into an adorer and worshipper of wealth, which he also found to be phoney. He speaks of moving out and finding a job that will provide him daily sustenance while living in cabins and all. Here he seems to be preferring the naturalness of pastoral living to the complexities and lies surrounding urban living.
Take most people, they are crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, they're always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that's even newer. [130/1]
He sees school as a make-believe factory where everybody sort of tried to fit in by denying his true self and those who stick to their true self are labelled and rejected. He sees this as a predominantly male behaviour developed in their days in school where everybody pretends to care so much about something even when they do not give a dime. 
You ought to go to a boys' school sometime. Try it sometime. ... it's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques. [131]
He is also a guy who could not stand rules and dogma. For instance, he does not understand why his Oral Expression teacher does not want his students to digress in the telling of spontaneous stories. He argues that shouting Digression when a person deviates from his chosen story line is not the best because for most of the time 
you don't know what interests you ... till you start talking about something that doesn't interest you most. [184]
As Caufield is 'frightened and confused and sickened by human behaviour' he also sought help from people he believed he could trust, like Mr Antolini, his former teacher at Elkton Hills. And even though Mr. Antolini tried to define his problem and advise him on what to do he ended up complicating it with his own 'perverse' actions.

However, filled with generalisations and exaggerations, one does not know where Caufield's subjectivity ends and where his objectivity begins. For instance, Caufield is quick to use 'always', 'never' and such absolutes to generalise for the whole that which he had observed in just a person. His generalisation with women in most cases is also a sign of his age. But what one cannot take away from him is that he has a keen sense of understanding of his environment and how much people are never true to themselves. As Mr. Antolini rightly puts it, Caufield is
looking for something their own environment couldn't supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn't supply them with. [187]
Caufield's life is one we have all gone through before, albeit with different level of awareness and/or at different intensities. It is one that has destroyed many, those who couldn't adjust to what the system demands but still lost their footing and their direction, and has also turned others into genius, those who did not adjust but found their direction and their footing in the world. With time we forget their troubled lives and focus on their achievements, the latter I mean. This book is already a classic. I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Julian Barnes, 2011 Man Booker Prize Winner

Julian Barnes has won the Man Booker Prize for 2011 with his book A Sense of Ending. It won from a shortlist of six including: Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues, Carlol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie, Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, which had a Ghanaian character named Opoku, AD Miller's Snowdrops and Patrick deWitt for Brothers Sisters.

Though there had been several debates surrounding the shortlist with some describing it as a "dumbing down" and others establishing a new literature prize to rival The Man Booker for what in their view is the Booker's "now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement", readers and followers of the award unanimously agreed on the winner.

About Julian Barnes: Julian Barnes is the author of ten previous novels, three books of short stories and three collections of journalism. Now 65, his work has been translated into more than thirty languages. In France he is the only writer to have won both the Prix Médicis (for Flaubert's Parrot) and the Prix Femina (for Talking it Over). He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2004 and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2011 for his lifetime achievement in literature. Julian Barnes has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times previously, for Arthur and George (2005), England, England (1998) and Flaubert's Parrot (1984). He lives in London

Read the full announcement here.

Better luck to Esi Edugyan who was keenly supported by ImageNations because of her Ghanaian roots and also because her book received great reviews. Besides, once a book has been shortlisted it can equally win.

Ghana Voices Series: Elizabeth-Irene Baitie, Guest Writer for October

This month, we will be featuring Elizabeth Irene-Baitie, author of the novel, “The Twelfth Heart”, which won the first prize in the Burt Award for African Literature (Ghana) in 2010.
Elizabeth-Irene Baitie is a Clinical Biochemist and runs a medical laboratory practice in Adabraka. She grew up in Ghana. She attended Achimota School, and has a degree in Biochemistry with Chemistry from the University of Ghana, Legon, as well as a postgraduate degree in Clinical Biochemistry from the University of Surrey in the UK.
In 2002, her novel, “Lea’s Christmas”, was short-listed for the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa (Senior readers). Four years later, her children’s story, “A Saint in Brown Sandals”, won the Macmillan Prize for Africa (Junior readers). She has just finished another novel for young adult readers which will be published next year.
Elizabeth will be reading from her novel, “The Twelfth Heart”, which tells the story of fifteen year old Mercy, in boarding school for the first time. Mercy  knew the sort of friends she wanted to make — certainly no-one who would remind her of the small town she had left behind — poor, ugly or dull. How was she to know that the least likely of the girls in her boarding house would come to mean the most to them all?
This event offers the opportunity to listen to and interact with Elizabeth Irene-Baitie. There will be a short discussion session after the readings. Copies of the book will be on sale.
This programme is organised in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, Accra.
Date: Wednesday, 26th October Time 7:00pm – 8:00pm. Location: Goethe-Institute Accra, 30 Kakramadu Road, (next to NAFTI ), Cantonments, Accra. 
Admission is free.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Library Additions

Unexpectedly, and perhaps as a sign of appreciation - am I beating my own chest here? - of what I've been doing on this blog, several individuals - both far and near - have gifted me with books. I have already talked of those I received from Martin and Geosi. For me, as a reader, the best gift one can give me, and which I'm bound to always talk about, is books. I love them. My wife keeps saying that it seems my books come first, though it only SEEMS so. Okay, so I've received several books within the past month, which I want to share with you.

From Martin: Martin had already given me these books. He also left these books at our fortnightly meeting place for me to pick up:
  • I Write What I like by Steve Biko. I had already purchased a copy of this book. However, his has a different foreword and clearly more spacious and well-trimmed texts that doesn't look like the ink soaked the paper. Steve Biko is a black South Africa political activist during the apartheid regime. He fought the government but was assassinated in a very crude manner at age 30. At 30 this man had done a lot for his name to remain permanently in history. It makes me wonder what I have done that will keep my name on the lips of people forever since I'm as old as he was, if not older, when he died.
  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. This author is on the list of authors I want to read. I have glanced through the book and it looks it might be interesting. Besides, a random search on the net showed that this book is famous.
From Anonymous: I received an email from an anonymous reader asking me if she could send me a Morrison because she found out that I love Morrison and I enjoyed Beloved. What! Which bibliophile would say no to this! It's like offering sugared water to a child. So I jumped and she did send. I got more than a Morrison:
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I have read and loved and enjoyed and appreciated, the poetic language Morrison used in, Beloved and Song of Solomon. I have promised to read every Morrison I come across. Not only is she a Nobelist, which in itself speaks of nothing for there are several Nobelists who wrote averagely and whose works tapered into obscurity, but she's the only one who could breath life into words. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph seems different and independent of each other. Yet, together, they tell a story. And above all, she knows she's good. She has stretched the boundaries of the novel and this is what we need to do (not necessarily copying or imitating) in literature coming out of Africa. Gathering around a theme is not enough.
  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. Who would reject a Faulkner. I will not though I have not read him before. This book is on the list of Top 100 books reading challenge
  • The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes. This is a recommendation from the friend.
From Emmanuel Sigauke:
  • Writing Free by Irene Staunton (Editor). This is a book I won from Wealth of Ideas. Entrants were to write about what they think of the topic 'Writing Free'. The book contains essays from fifteen Zimbabwean writers who were each asked "to describe how their story embraced the idea of writing free." This is the editor's remarks on the idea of writing free: "... words that perhaps offer a small provocation, a small change to writers to extend their boundaries, to think of something through from a lateral perspective, to approach to a topic differently, to turn a perspective inside out ..." This will be for the Non-Fiction reading challenge.
So these are the books I received freely from friends (seen and unseen). I thank you all for making my reading life enjoyable and successful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Proverb Monday, #44

Proverb: Kasu ne kagya nni aseda
Meaning: Say-and-weep and promise-and-fail, have no thanks
Context: You don't thank the one who has hurt you or is indifferent to your feelings.
No. 3048 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Tsitsi Dangarembga's The Book of Not

I couldn't mark enough passages, paragraphs and or sentences from this book; there are a lot of interesting lines though. The following were the few I was able to mark or the few that spoke to me when I had my pencil with me.

So I went on planning my life while life was planning an insurgence. [27]

Or was it merely the fury of a vicious spirit at those enduring containments that define different beauties which made some people tear off other people's extremities? [97]

Could anyone bear a brother or sister going off and killing people because they looked like this and not like that, singing all sorts of hideous songs about smashing in their heads! [97]

'Order,' ... 'belongs to a lower class of mind. In fact, a lack of randomness denotes an abysmal spirit.' [133]

The perpetual rage was unbearable for me. I considered myself a moral person. In fact, as a moral woman I did not intend to harbour such uncharitable, above all, angry, emotions. To ensure that I did not commit any atrocity upon my landlady, I began to spend, soon after my furious urges surfaced, long hours at the school I did not want to teach at, in order to lessen the time spent in my landlady's house. [199/200]

A man with biceps as big as her beauty would without moving a muscle be labelled a bully. [213]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

111. The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Title: The Book of Not
Author: Tsitsi Dangarembga
Genre: Fiction/Socio-Political
Publisher: Ayebia-Clarke
Pages: 250
Year of First Publication: 2006
Country: Zimbabwe

Tsitsi Dangarembga's The Book of Not  is a sequel to Nervous Conditions. It continues Tambu's story as she begins her life at Sacred Heart school, hoping to improve her lot through education. In this sequel, there is a slight change in narrative structure; perhaps to reflect Tambu's growth and education though this also made the reading somewhat tedious, in the beginning and at some places, as it looks very refined, even though the story was written in the first person narrative. But some places are conversational, where the author addresses the reader directly.

If Nervous Conditions is a colonial story or set in a colonial period with less emphasis on political activity and more on the social connections, taboos, and traditions,  The Book of Not is this and more. The more is in its political focus. It is a story that traces the conception, birth, growth and quasi-death of a nation: from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. A conception that is fraught with losses: mental, infrastructural destruction, insane killings, in a country that has lost its touch with humanity and with that ethereal substance that makes us relate and feel and see and believe that what need not be doneto  us must not be done to others by us. This second book opened with the war for independence and Tambu's sister, Netsai, having lost her right leg in an explosion and Babamukuru, Tambu's uncle (her father's brother), having been summoned by the Vana mukoma - elder siblings or the fighers - for being a mutengesi - betrayer because his niece is at an all-white school, irrespective of the fact that his daughter, Nyasha, was not. Babamukuru, the no-nonsense, opinionated man, who sought nothing but extreme or pure excellence and would not even fully follow the imposed curfew, almost lost his life. These incidents marked the beginning of Tambu's life at Sacred Heart. They also served as the reference point in her life, a tributary of sorts. 

Tambu had always thought of education as the key that will liberate her from the kind of 'entrapment' her mother seemed to be under and possibly from that of Maiguru who, in spite of her higher education, was still under the control of Babamukuru. Tambu's friends were her books. She was had no room for amorous thoughts. However, Tambu, whose education became possible only because his brother, Nhamo, died, was haunted by the sounds of war beyond the mountains and the images of Netsai's lost legs and Babamukuru's near death encounter, putting this aggressive friendship under threat of collapse. In Class, her mind would involuntarily drift far and wide, far from what was being taught at the moment and any question would be wrongly answered or even not answered at all. She became a nervous wreck, acting impulsively before feeling contrite afterwards. The effects of the independence struggle, which made the killing of freedom fighters (terrorists) seen as gains and the killing of whites seen as tragedies, widened an already deep racial cracks between the handful of blacks and the white-majority in the school. So deep was this discrimination that black African girls, at assembly, had to be careful not to touch the white girls or even bump into them. With some teachers exhibiting racist tendencies, the small group of black African girls were exuding palpable fear with every call to the Headmistress office akin to a drag towards the guillotine. Tambu became a candidate of mild depression and when she sought therapy through weaving clothes for government fighters, the, hitherto cordial somewhat shaky relationship she enjoyed with her fellow black students, escalated into physical and acrimonious fights and unspoken animosity.   

Lonely, a psychologically wrecked Tambu gave up not on her quest for academic excellence, lest she falls no farther than her mother, in life. The Book of Not though about Tambu's unfulfilled goal in life, is also about her unrecognised and unacknowledged achievements. And it was this non-recognition that was to push Tambu downhill so that as she
... went on planning my life ... life was planning an insurgence. [27]
The first of two major non-recognition was when she lost the award of being the best O'Level student, after getting so many ones, to Tracey, because - according to Sister Emmanuel - Tracey was an all-round student. The loss of something she had worked an entire five-years for, fighting over bouts of depression, isolation, and more to achieve, contributed to her giving up in life. After this a series of bad results followed: A'Level and Bachelors. The second non-recognition led her to resign her position as a scriptwriter in the advertising agency where she worked, even though she had nowhere to go. This was after another colleague was awarded for something she had worked on, which had earned the company several contracts.

This story could be read at several levels. As a book on Zimbabwe's history, the events in Tambu's life have symbolic meanings in the new nation's life. For instance, very symbolic is the gunshot that paralysed Babamukuru on the eve of independence. Does this signify the end of the Babamukuru era, those who worked hard to earn themselves positions, albeit low, during colonialism and the rise of  the noveau-riche, those who fought not, not the Netsais who lost their legs  instead of gaining freedom, but those who took advantage of the vacuum created by the departing white population? This is symbolic, in that the rise of the parvenu is always followed by putrefaction: moral and economic.
Babamukuru had been struck by a stray bullet that ricocheted off a flag post during the twenty-one gun salute while they lowered the Union Jack and raised the Zimbabwean flag at the Independence celebrations. The bullet lodged in his spinal cord. When he was not supine in bed, he sat in a wheelchair, which rendered him yet more full of umbrage and more cantankerous than usual. So to the scars of war were added the complications of Independence. Neither he nor any of any of my family came to campus to celebrate my graduation" [198]
Some of the white Rhodesians, afraid of falling standards that succeed independence, left the country. And it is these falling standards, in education, that allowed Tambu to earn a university education, after several odd jobs. Tambu, at several points began to question the deaths that led to independence, something that is now common in post-colonial African literature. Most see it as senseless. Most associate the attainment of independence to other causes and other than the struggle per se. And even though Tambu was not blind to the racism and discrimination at that point in time she also thought so.
I emerged from my studies to a new dispensation. I could never, after all the years at Sacred Heart and Fridays in the town hall, bring myself to believe Rhodesians had died; definitely they had not done so in sufficient quantities to cause a great blimp in the course of history.  .... Convinced it was not the deaths of Rhodesians that had caused Mr Mugabe and Mr Smith to talk to each other with some degree of sincerity, I assured myself happily that the phenomenon was due to a bigger and better motive on both sides: a desire to desist away from chopping away lips, ears, noses, and genitals from the bodies of people's relatives by the elder siblings; a desire to develop a larger, kinder heart on the part of Europeans. [198]

Is it easier to trivialise the fight for independence after it has been won? This is a question that could only be answered on an individual level. Tambu lost what she wanted to be: an independent and educated woman at the core of the new nation contributing positively and in a big to life, nothing like her stereotypical mother who thinks a woman's place in this world is the husbands house (or specifically, kitchen). She almost became the exact economic replica of her at independence. And this is partly due to the negative aura or energy that filled her mind making her think that she deserved nothing good in life. She practically lost her will to fight, her ambition. And all emanated from the emotional neglect she suffered.

With Zimbabwe's history - or struggle against independence - as the background, this story provides a crush course on Zimbabwe from the perspective of one whose vision was crashed as a result. It is worth the read except that the story would not have a normal distribution if one superimposes the events and timelines on such a distribution. For instance, whereas Dangarembga showed enough of what Tambu went through during her O'Level days, though the last three years was rushed, we hardly ever got to feel enough of her A'Level days. However, this does not take anything from the story. And even though it is a sequel and one's understanding is enhanced if one has read Nervous Conditions, I think one could also read this as a stand alone book. 

ImageNations Rating: 4.5/6.0

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Library Additions

Most of the books I have reported on (or received) lately, with the exception of one or two titles, do not fit the vision and mission of this blog, so that if I should review them in that order, people will begin to question my tagline Promoting African Literature. To keep true to my vision, whilst fulfilling my challenges and reading aspirations, I hit the bookshop to restock my depleting African titles.
  • Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka. This book is on my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. It has also been read for Amy's Nigeria Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Challenge.
  • The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe. This slim book of essays was purchased with Amy's Bloggers Alliance for Non-Fiction Devotees (BAND) in mind. I want to use this group/challenge to read a lot of non-fiction.
  • Madmen and Specialists by Wole Soyinka. This is another of the Nobel Laureate's play. 
  • Burning Grass by Cyprian Ekwensi. I have heard a lot about his Jaguar Nana. I hope this would be measure up as that was all I could find by him.
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba. This would be my first reading of Senegalese author and so would fit two challenges: Africa Reading Challenge and the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. This very book has be recommended by several bloggers who commented on my Africa Reading Challenge.
  • As the Crow Flies by Veronique Tadjo. I have skipped this book at various bookshops, though I have read and enjoyed her The Shadow of Imana, however reading Amy's Review meant I give this book try. It would also count as a Translation literature.
  • I write what I like by Steve Biko. These are political essays by the late Steve Biko, an apartheid freedom fighter killed in the exercising of his duty during apartheid South Africa. Also for BAND.
  • The Imported Ghanaian by Alba Kunadu Sumprim. I bought her second book A Place of Beautiful Nonsense but decided to get this and read before the second book. It is a satirical non-fiction of certain observations about Ghana. Also for BAND.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Proverb Monday, #43

Proverb: Kora a εda nsuo mu nsuro awɔ
Meaning: A Calabash lying in the water, does not fear the cold.
Context: If you are already in trouble, you don't fear it.
No. 943 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman (II)

Continuation from last weeks quotes cum proverbs.

[W]hen the elephant heads for the jungle, the tail is too small a handhold for the hunter that would pull him back.

The sun that heads for the sea no longer heeds the prayers of the farmer.

When the river begins to taste the salt of the ocean, we no longer know what deity to call on, the river-god or Olokun.

No arrow flies back to the string, the child does not return through the same passage that gave it birth.

A dog does not outrun the hand that feeds it meat.

A horse that throws its rider slows down to a stop.

The river is never so hight that the eyes of a fish are covered. 

The night is not so dark that the albino fails to find his way.

It is the death of war that kills the valiant, death of water is how the swimmer goes, it is the death of markets that kills the trader and death of indecision takes the idle away. The trade of the cutlass blunts its edge and the beautiful die the death of beauty.

What we have no intention of eating should not be held to the nose.

The river which fills up before our eyes does not sweep us away in its flood.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden wins Nobel Laureate in Literature

Swedish author Tomas Tranströmer has been announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the Nobel websiteTomas Tranströmer was awarded because 
because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality. Read more here
Born on April 15, 1931, Tranströmer is a "Swedish writer, poet and translator, whose poetry has been deeply influential in Sweden, as well as around the world." (Wikipedia)

His probability of winning the award was perfectly predicted by ladbrokes, who pegged him at 4/1 odds winning over Bob Dylan at 5/1. He is considered as a hometown favourite. According to the announcement, Tranströmer was a full-time psychologists who found time to write.

With some of his books having been translated into English, I expect some of you might have read him. Anyone?
Earlier there was a hoax from a similarly designed site that Dobrica Cosic has won. This post has been removed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The New Face of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and Short Story Competition

The Commonwealth Foundation are (have) reviewed the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Short Story Competition.

Commonwealth Book Prize
Awarded for best first book, this prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published in 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000. 
Both prizes will aim to unearth new writers from across the Commonwealth, with the Writers' Prize giving awards for the best first book only. The prizes will also be complemented by a series of outreach activities in identified countries in order to support aspiring writers.
Thus, unlike previous years when awards were given to both best first book and first book, the new look will only consider 'best first book.'

Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction. Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000.

The new look prizes will be launched in October and request for entries will be opened on October, 18.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Library Additions

By some strange coincidences, I have been offered a lot of books for the past month. Geosi of Geosi Reads has given me a pack of Booker-Winning books to help me achieve my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. Some of the books are not on the list but are on the authors to be read list, which is not - in essence - a challenge but one that guides me in my purchases.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This books is on my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. Apart from being a winner of the Booker, I was drawn to this book by the word 'Pi'. I had always imagined it to have something to do with mathematics or at least geometry, until I read the review some time ago. Yet, I still think of the book in such realm.
  • Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. This was a late addition to the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. This book replaced V.S. Naipaul's In a Free State. 
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri. A friend sent this book to me but a mistake in the postal address ensured that the book never got to me. It is also on my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.
  • Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. This book is not a Challenge book but the author is on the list of authors to read.
  • July's People by Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer's The Conservationist has been my target. However, haven't not read a complete novel or novella from this Nobelist, it is only a matter of 'correcting-the-wrong' that I should read this. I have read two books from her fellow South African (now Australian) Nobelist, the recluse J.M. Coetzee.
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This makes it two of White Teeth on my shelf now. I would give one away. I have been looking for this book for sometime now. Just when I found one, I have been gifted with another.
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith. This makes it the second Zadie.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This book and its author on neither of the above-mentioned lists. The title sound interesting and Geosi says it is.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. There are three of Atwood's books on my Top 100 Books list: The Handmaid's Tale, which I have already reviewed, The Blind Assassin and The Year of the Flood. I have read Oryx and Crake
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This book is also on my Top 100 Books list. It will also help me reach farther into India. I wonder why most of the Indian writers are now in England or the US, just like African writers. Talk of Salman Rushdie et al.
  • Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. This author is on the list of authors to read but I wasn't too keen to read him. I have my own reasons; however, the book will also not remain on my shelf unread. Reading it would help strengthen or weaken my argument.
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I now have two of the three Rushdies on the list of Top 100 Books list, Satanic Verses being the other I have and Shame, the one I don't.
  • The English Patient by Michael Ontaadje. This is not a Challenge book but the author is on the list of authors to be read, per bloggers' reviews and recommendation.
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I listened to the author on the BBC World Book Club and fell in love with her book.
  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. This is an outlier It belongs nowhere as I haven't made up my mind to read any play by a non-African writer. However, since Ola Rotimi's The gods are not to blame is based on this play, I guess I would have to read this too.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Proverb Monday, #42

Proverb: Kora a abɔ nsa nsa
Meaning: A calabash that is cracked can't collect palm
Context: If you are sick, you can't work properly.
No. 3513 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

September in Review, Projections for October

September wasn't a bad month for reading, though I encountered several hitches and have not read a word in three days. I set out to read four books and four single stories (Caine Prize Shortlist). Books projected to be read included: The Shadow Catcher, The Book of Not, A Grain of Wheat, and Excursions in My Mind. Some of the projected books were read others were not:
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I began this book in late September. This is the third in the Robert Langdon's series. It follows Robert Langdon as he fights his way to save his friend Peter Solomon whilst protecting the Mason's pyramid from destruction by Mal'akh. Similar to the others, this book is full of codes and cliffhangers.
  • A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. This colonial literature traces events that occurred a few days to Kenya's independence day. It also predicts the disaffection that would later befall the real freedom fighters. Read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.
  • Excursions in My Mind by Nana Awere Damoah. This is a motivational and inspirational book with local and personal examples. This book was read for BAND.
  • Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka. This is a play that tells of a true event. It tells of the repercussions that occurred after a colonial District Officer intervenes in a ritual suicide. This book was also read to celebrate Nigeria's independence day book reading/reviewing organised by Amy and also for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.
The following Caine Prize short stories were read:
Currently, I am reading The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga. I didn't read The Shadow Catcher. Within the month, I also reviewed a book and a short story read in the previous month:
So far, I've not selected the books I'd be reading; however, for the non-African authored book, the choice will be between The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. Towards the end of the month, I will concentrate on Ghanaian-authored books for the Ghana Literature Week to be organised by Kinna of Kinna Reads proposed to take place from November 14 - 21 2011.

Follow me on twitter, facebook and/or blogger for updates. You can also subscribe by e-mail. Note that I do not pretend to have academic insight into all the books I read. Even academics do disagree as often as they get to express their opinions. Every book I review or discuss is my personal reaction to the story. Thus, if you disagree, express it and let's discuss. If you think I didn't do a great job or understand the story, express it. However, don't come in with a quarrelsome motive, especially if you aren't the author of the books and cannot explain the author's mind. In effect, we all speculate what we think the author meant and that's the essence of reading and its appreciation.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

110. Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka

Title: Death and the King's Horseman
Author: Wole Soyinka
Genre: Play/Tragedy
Publishers: Spectrum Books Limited
Pages: 77
Year of First Publication: 1975
Country: Nigeria

Death and the King's Horseman is one of Soyinka's best known plays. Voted as one of Africa's Best Books of the Twentieth Century, it has been more admired than it has been performed, according to a 2009 Guardian article. This play, according to the Author's Note, 'is based on real events which took place in Oyo, ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria, in 1946', though certain changes have been made in 'matters of detail, sequence and ... characterisation [and the setting taking back] two or three years... for minor reasons of dramaturgy.' An important note, before present readers make the same mistake, sounded by the author was that this work should not been seen as a 'clash of cultures', which is 'a prejudicial label which, quite apart from its frequent misapplication, presupposes a potential equality in every given situation of the alien culture and the indigenous, on the actual soil of the latter.'

The Elesin Oba, the King's Horseman, by tradition, has to follow the King, upon the latter's death, to the afterlife. And this must be done willingly and at a particular time, using the moon as a guide. Failure on the part of the Elesin Oba to follow the King would spell utter disgrace and shame for him and his family and upon his death is bound to live a degraded life in the hereafter. Meanwhile for the larger community, Elesin Oba's failure means showers of catastrophic events perpetrated by the King's spirit, which unable to cross into the afterlife, would wander amongst the people, torment them and cause cosmic disorder. 

Death and the King's Horseman begins with the Elesin Oba, amidst drumming and dancing, walking through the market, on expensive clothes of damask and alari spread on the ground by the market women, as he prepares to leave the earth after the death of the King. The Elesin Oba has come to understand the meaning of this step and has willingly accepted his fate. He knows that greater is his reward if this deed of ritual suicide is carried through. His praise-singer eggs him on, reminding him through metaphors, fables, and riddles, the reward of this step and why it must be done.  The Elesin Oba, as a final request and perhaps a fortuitous gratification one, on seeing a young woman walked into a market stall, asks the girl be given to him. But because 'only the curses of the departed are to be feared. [And] [t]he claims of one whose foot is on the threshold of their abode surpasses even the claims of blood [for which] It is impiety even to place hindrances in their ways', Iyaloja granted the Elesin Oba his final wish, even though the girl is betrothed to her son. However, before handing her over to the Elesin Iyaloja warns him
The living must eat and drink. When the moment comes, don't turn the food to rodents' droppings in their mouth. Don't let them taste the ashes of the world when they step out at dawn to breathe the morning dew.
IYALOJA: You wish to travel light. Well, the earth is yours. But be sure the seed you leave in it attracts no curse.
And to these the Elesin expresses shock at how the 'Mother of the Market' 'mistake [his] person. And that when he is gone they should let 'the fingers of [his] bride seal [his] eyelids with earth and wash [his] body'. 

The news of the ritual suicide reached the British Colonial District Officer, Simon Pilkings, who sent his men to arrest the Elesin, deeming the act as barbaric and counter to the law. Thus, the Elesin who had promised the women that nothing would hold him back when the time comes found himself in custody at the DO's house where his wish could not be fulfilled. Iyloja blamed the Elesin Oba, for loving the earth too much, and Pilkings, for misunderstanding the traditions of the people. Iyaloja to Elesin:
You have betrayed us. We fed your sweetmeats such as we hoped awaited you on the other side. But you said No, I must eat the world's left-overs. We said you were the hunter who brought the quarry down; to you belonged the vital portions of the game. No, you said, I am the hunter's dog and I shall eat the entrails of the game and the faeces of the hunter.... IYALOJA: We called you leader and oh, how you led us on. What we have no intention of eating should not be held to the nose.
To District Officer Pilkings, Iyaloja says
Child, I have not come to help your understanding. (Points to ELESIN) This is the man whose weakened understanding holds us in bondage to you. ... 
Elesin's son who had come home, from his study abroad, to bury his father when he heard of the King's demise 'proved the father..'. To avoid the shame of the father and avert any calamity that would befall the people as a results of his fatehr's failure to perform the ritual, Olunde took his father's place and committed ritual suicide. The King's body with Olunde, the son who became the father, was brought to Elesin for a final ritual to be performed; however, seeing his son by the King, Elesin also committed suicide. But Elesin's death has become useless and 'his son will feast on the meat and throw him bones.' Refusing to go at his appointed time he is bound to live a lowlife in the afterlife.

All through the texts the reader discovers that whereas the people and Elesin understood the essence of what he has to do, Simon and Jane Pilkings did not. For instance, Olunde argued that it is not different from the war being waged by the British and that their greatest art 'is the art of survival.' Yet they have not the humility to let other's survive. Shocked Jane asked 'through ritual suicide?' and Olunde responded:
Is that worse than mass suicide? Mrs Pilkings, what do you call what those young men sent to do by their generals in this war? Of course you have also mastered the art of calling things by names which don't remotely describe them. ...
OLUNDE: Mrs Pilkings, whatever we do, never suggest that a thing is the opposite of what it really is. In your newsreel I heard defeats, thorough, murderous defeats described as strategic victories. No wait, it wasn't just on your newsreels. Don't forget I was attached to hospitals all the time. Hordes of your wounded passed through these wards. I spoke to them. I spent evenings by their bedside while they spoke terrible truths of the realities of that war. I know now how history is made.
Through the arguments between Olunde and Jane Pilkings and between Iyaloja and Simon Pilkings, Soyinka showed how much similarity exists between these two cultures and their attendant religions. It is all a matter of how you look at it and from where you stand when looking.

Soyinka's plays are often times difficult to explain, for though on the surface they may seem easy to grasp, beneath them would be simmering something powerful. Thus, I would recommend that, if possible, one reads this piece himself/herself.

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