Saturday, March 31, 2012

NEW PUBLICATION: Chapters of Me: Deep Thoughts vol.1 by Ben Hinson

Ben Hinson
New title from Musings Press - Chapters of Me:Deep Thoughts vol.1 by Ben Hinson.

Ben Hinson is a once-in-a-lifetime find. The Ghanaian native has lived in Ghana, Nigeria, England, and numerous locations within the United States. He captures his growth and observations on life in beautiful free verse and poetry in his first collection, Chapters of Me: Deep Thoughts vol.1. From his time as a cadet in a military academy in Pennsylvania, to living on the mean streets of Detroit Michigan with gang members, working overnight shifts as a laborer in warehouses, writing and directing theatrical performances, to eventually working as a manager and advisor for some of the top names in real-estate performance analytics and advertising in New York City, Ben Hinson has amassed a vast wealth of experience, which he channels effectively into this new collection. Each piece in the book highlights a unique theme, and is written in a raw and honest style, while at the same time being balanced with carefully constructed wordplay that makes the book nothing short of unique.

We encourage you to watch these videos that Ben himself produced and directed to promote his book by clicking here and there. You can also learn more about Ben by visiting his website or keep up with him and his events on his official Facebook page.

Chapters of Me: Deep Thoughts vol.1 is available online in both paperback and eBook formats for the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle.
Author: Ben Hinson
Publisher: Musings Press
ISBN: 978-0615521091
Pages: 98
Paperback Price (Amazon): $8.93
eBook Price: $3.99
*Leads to amazon

Friday, March 30, 2012

Quotes for Friday from Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values

Powerful lobbyists, both inside and outside government, have distorted an admirable American belief in free enterprise into the right of extremely rich citizens to accumulate and retain more and more wealth and pass all of it to descendants. [3]

Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. [8] 

This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact. [8]

... A country will have authority and influence because of moral factors, not its military strength; because it can be humble not blatant and arrogant; because our people and our country want to serve others and not dominate others. And a nation without morality will soon lose its influence around the world. [59]

There is a strong religious commitment to the sanctity of human life, but, paradoxically, some of the most fervent protectors of microscopic stem cells are the most ardent proponents of the death penalty. [78]

More than seven Americans out of a thousand are now imprisoned - most of them for nonviolent crimes. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world, exceeding Russia's former record of six per thousand. Among the busiest construction industries in many states is building more jail cells, and job opportunities for prison guards have skyrocketed. [79/80]

Perhaps the strongest argument against the death penalty is the extreme inequity in its employment: it is biased against the poor, the demented, and minorities, and designed or least applied to protect white victims. It is not surprising that since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 76 percent of those sentenced to death, even in federal courts, have been members of minority groups. [84]

The fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted black men the right to vote in 1870, ninety-four years after the declaration "All men are created equal." It was fifty years later that American women finally won the same right... [86]

While I was leading a Carter Center delegation to Havana the following year, Bolton announced falsely that Cuba's pharmaceutical industry was involved in the production of biological weapons of mass destruction. The Cubans immediately offered to permit US scientists to inspect the facilities, but there was no response from Washington. When he could not force intelligence to corroborate his statements, Bolton attempted to have them discharged or transferred to other posts. This action epitomizes the politicization by top policy makers of intelligence information, which led to the fiasco over incorrect claims that Iraq had massive arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. [97]

"It is a big mistake four us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so - because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States" by John Bolton, United States' ambassador to the United Nations [98]

"[T]he United Nations is valuable only when it directly serves the United Nations." by John Bolton, United States' ambassador to the United Nations [98]

Either before or soon after 9/11, he [Richard Cheney] and his close associates chose Iraq as the first major target, apparently to remove the threat to Israel and to have Iraq serve as our permanent military, economic, and political base in the Middle East. [100]

Although there are many other complicating political factors, the tendency of fundamentalists to choose certain emotional issues  for demagoguery and to avoid negotiation with dissenters has adversely affected American foreign policy. One notable example is that some American political leaders have adopted Fidel Castro as the ultimate human villain, and have elevated the small and militarily impotent nation of Cuba as one of the greatest threats to our nation's security and culture. [102]

American policy toward our entire hemisphere has been misshaped by this obsession. It has become almost impossible for any career diplomat who does not demonstrate a near-fanatic commitment to the isolation of the Cuban people to acquire a high post in the State Department, and this philosophy permeates American embassies throughout the region. [104/5]

The ICC charter, signed in 2002 by 139 nations, was carefully drafted to prevent punishment of Americans for genocidal acts overseas, provided US courts will address any such crimes. However, the United States is now attempting to force subservient nations to guarantee blanket immunity for American military personnel, contractor employees, and tourists. [106]

An April 2005 public opinion revealed that 29.5 percent of South Koreans consider United States to be their greatest threat, compared with 18.4 percent who named North Korea. Among university students, 50.1 percent saw America as the major obstacle to peace in the peninsula. [111]

Two months in advance, as customary, I notified the State Department and the White House of my travel plans, and almost immediately received a call from the president's national security adviser. He informed me that Syria had not been cooperative in some issues involving the nearby war in Iraq, and that US policy was to restrict all visits to Damascus as a means of putting pressure on President Bashar a-Assad. After a somewhat heated discussion, he requested officially and on behalf of the president that our visit be canceled. [113]

Following the attacks of 9/11, the US government overreacted by detaining more than twelve hundred innocent men throughout America, none of whom were ever convicted of any crime related to terrorism. Their identities have been kept secret, and they were never given the right to hear charges against themselves or to have legal counsel. Almost all of them were Arabs or Muslims, and many have been forced to leave America. [118]

After visiting six of the twenty-five or so US prisons, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported registering 107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old. The Journalist Seymour Hersh reported in May 2005 that there were "800-900 Pakistani boys 13-15 years of age in custody." [119]

Military officials reported that at least 108 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and  other secret locations just since 2002, with homicide acknowledged as the cause of death in at least 28 cases. The fact that only one of these was in Abu Ghraid prison indicates the widespread pattern of prisoner abuse, certainly not limited to the actions or decisions of just a few rogue enlisted persons. [122]

"The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has authority as Commander in Chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogations, up to and including torture" Department of Defense [127]

"In my judgment, this new [post 9/11] paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions" by White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General, the chief law enforcer of the United States [127]

The techniques of torture are almost indescribably terrible, including, as a US ambassador to one of the recipient countries recipient countries reported, "partial boiling of a hand or an arm," with at least two prisoners boiled to death. [128]

The primary goal of torture or the threat of torture is not to obtain convictions for crimes, but to engender and maintain fear. Some of our leaders have found that it is easy to forgo human rights for those who are considered to be subhuman, or "enemy combatants". [129]

He [Alberto Gonzales] justifies an extension of the program permitting CIA agents to deal with suspects in foreign prison sites by claiming that the ban of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment does not apply to American interrogations of foreigners overseas. [129]

There are now almost 30,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, of which the United States possesses about 12,000, Russia 16,000, China 400, France 350, Israel 200, Britain 185, and India and Pakistan 40 each. It is believed that North Korea has enough enriched nuclear fuel for a half dozen weapons. [135]

"I would characterize current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous." Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense [136]

US policy is threatening the effectiveness of international agreements that have been laboriously negotiated by almost all previous presidents. Perhaps even more disturbing as a threat to the maintenance of global stability is the unprecedented adoption of a policy of preventive war. [149]

Exaggerated claims of catastrophe from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction kept fears alive, with Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly making false statements, such as "Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of war." National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice backed him with horrifying references to mushroom clouds over the cities of America, and Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to make a conglomeration of inaccurate statements to the world. The administration later claimed that its information was erroneous, but intelligence sources were rewarded, not chastised. [151]

We and our British allies have made an official decision to refrain from counting or estimating the number of civilian deaths, and there are wide ranges in the published  numbers. A respected British medical journal, Lancet, has reported that allied forces (especially the air force) have killed a hundred thousand Iraqi noncombatants. [157]

Another example is Washington's official announcement of one of its most noteworthy achievements:  that more than forty-one thousand AIDS victims in Botswana have received life-extending treatments from the United States. Top managers of the Botswana's treatment program were irate, reporting that no American money had arrived and calling the US claims "false, and gross misrepresentation of the facts." the more accurate number of patients in Botswana who had been put on treatment because of American help: zero. [188/9]

The annual United States foreign aid budget for fighting malaria, for instance, has been $90 million, but 95 percent is being spent on consultations and less than 5 percent on mosquito nets, drugs, and insecticide spraying to fight the disease[188]

Another indication of the growing division between the rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries for corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker's pay. Even though there was a strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation - the first such drop in many years. [193]

While there is a sharp downward trend in worldwide expenditures for weapons during the past twenty years, the United States has continued to increase its military budget every year. It now exceeds $ 400 billion annually, equal to the total in all other nations combined. [198/9]

American presidents have intervened about fifty times in foreign countries. In addition to supplying our own military forces, America's arms manufacturers and those of our NATO allies provide 80 percent of weapon sales on the international market. [198]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

149. Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter

Most often people who have spoken against America's foreign policies have been described as anti-America. People who have gone ahead to question certain decisions such as why corporate tax has always been lower and quick to be reduced than income tax and who have suggested that a certain cabal is ruling America have been described as Conspiracy Theorists, which currently tantamount to speaking gibberish or simply, insanity. And for those of us non-Americans, especially Africans who raise such issues, our own compatriots, fascinated by the dazzle of power, or perhaps more appropriately by the suit-and-tie of American leadership and their zeal to live in the beautiful country and so would betray everything they are, would tell you, 'you are a fool'.

I don't know what I expected to find when I picked this book. I never though an American president would criticise his own country's policies, a country he has led before. I thought that criticisms meant being 'against'. Yet, Jimmy Carter's book, with subjects ranging from religion to nuclear weapons, has shown that those of us who speak or criticises aren't necessarily 'anti-' but rather we all seek the good of mankind that never again will one race, religion, people, stand up and rule the others in the way they seem fit.

In Our Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005; 231), Jimmy Carter made compelling arguments without unnecessarily philosophising. He talked about his personal beliefs as a Christian and how he separated his belief from the office he was holding and so passed policies that leaders of his church thought were secular. He questioned the motive of such individuals and classified them as 'fundamentalists' who argue narrowly and forcefully only when it suited them. In fact he questioned why such individuals would argue against abortion and almost unanimously support the death penalty, even when the bible says 'thou shalt not kill'. In 'The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism', Jimmy Carter provided or described some of the prevailing characteristics of these fundamentalists. He writes:
Almost invariably, fundamentalists movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers. [34]
He argued that some political parties have almost become the political wings of these religious fundamentalist implementing policies to suit them. For instance, he questioned why certain issues, such as abortion, are supported by the majority of Americans but has not become law yet. He also discussed his opinions on the separation of the state and the church. And here he proffered such valid arguments on why the two should be separated. On 'Sins of Divorce and Homosexuality', he again discussed the hypocrisy of some Christian fundamentalists who accept divorce but not homosexuality. He argues that to protect equal rights for citizens the state could allow 'civil unions' for gays and 'holy matrimony' for church congregations. The idea that 9/11 was the result of the sins of lesbians, gays, abortionists, pagans, was ridiculed, intelligently. One thing Carter did, which helped this book, is that he backed all his statements with quotes and statistical figures.

However, this fundamentalism - not necessarily religious - have gripped the entire American government so that most of its foreign policies are changing to reflect this iew. For instance, he quoted the then United States ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as saying
It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so - because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States. [98]
These and others show how the country that boasts of international laws and always quick to invoke them when it suits them views such laws. Again, Bolton was quoted as saying that 'The United Nations is valuable only when it directly serves the United States.' This is not just the opinion of an individual but that of the US's ambassador to the UN. And not that Carter is saying anything different from what people who really care about the peace and human rights of people in this world are saying; what makes Carter's different is that he has been there and knows more about the American government than any non-American and most Americans. The issue of America's lies regarding the invasion of Iraq and how Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice lied consistently, using graphic images to deceive the people and Congress, and the subsequent killing of over a hundred thousand Iraqi noncombatants (as of the time the book was published, 2005) were discussed.

"Although there are many other complicating political factors, the tendency of fundamentalists to choose certain emotional issues for demagoguery and to avoid negotiation with dissenters has adversely affected American foreign policy." This begins the chapter on 'The Distortion of American Foreign Policy'. Here Carter described how lucrative 'hating' Fidel Castro and Cuba has become for America's career diplomats as he who is able to show the 'greatest' hate gets the 'lucrative' posting. Discussing America's motive in the establishment of the ICC, an issue that has come up again and again but which some people have tended to brush away, it was clear that the ICC is the 'legal' wing of America's military invasion. Here Carter showed how the formation of the institution was made in such a way as to exclude the prosecution of American Military who commit genocide overseas provided US courts will address any such crimes. In addition, the Non-Surrender treaty was signed with individual countries that expanded this clause in the ICC's formation to cover ordinary citizens. On the whole we can say that an American citizen who commits human rights atrocities is above an African president who do so (or is alleged to have done so).

On other issues, it came as a surprise that the US has the largest prison population in the world with 7 out of every 1000 people incarcerated, greater than the all time record held by the Soviets: 6 out of 1000. It was also heart-wrenching that there are prisoners as young as 8 years in American prison. 
After visiting six of the twenty-five or so US prisons, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported registering 107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old. [119]
A careful reading would point to the US interest in the current Syrian crisis and their possible influence. For the United States had had problems with Syria for not
been cooperative in some issues involving the nearby war in Iraq... [113]
The book mince no words in describing the appalling human rights records of the United States, something that has been on the decline since the 9/11 catastrophe. 
Following the attacks of 9/11, the US government overreacted by detaining more than twelve hundred innocent men throughout America, none of whom were ever convicted of any crime related to terrorism. Their identities have been kept secret, and they were never given the right to hear charges against themselves or to have legal counsel. Almost all of them were Arabs or Muslims, and many have been forced to leave America. [118]
The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the Pentagon have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse. In addition to personal testimony from children about physical and mental mistreatment, a report from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib, described a visit to an eleven-year-old detainee in the cell block that house high-risk prisoners. The General recalled that the child was weeping, and "he told me he was almost twelve," and that "he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother." Children like this eleven-year-old have been denied the right to see their parents, a lawyer, or anyone else, and were not told why they were detained. A Pentagon spokesman told Mr. Hersh that "age is not a determining factor in detention." [120]
Even though the US intelligence accepts that 70 to 90 percent of prisoners in Abu Ghraid were held by mistake, torture and death in such prisons are common.
Military officials reported that at least 108 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and  other secret locations just since 2002, with homicide acknowledged as the cause of death in at least 28 cases. The fact that only one of these was in Abu Ghraid prison indicates the widespread pattern of prisoner abuse, certainly not limited to the actions or decisions of just a few rogue enlisted persons. [122]
Death to Iraqis are not limited to civilians, suspected terrorists and mistaken identities but also including Major Generals.
Iraqi major general Abed Hamed Mowhoush reported voluntarily to American officials in Baghdad in an attempt to locate his sons, and was detained, tortured, and stuffed inside a green sleeping bag, where he died from trauma and suffocation on November 26, 2003. [122]
Perhaps open-minded Americans reading this book would come to a realisation of what their government really is and what it does in their names. In fact, torture has been sanctioned by men of the law and at the highest level of government such as the Department of Defense. 
The techniques of torture are almost indescribably terrible, including, as a US ambassador to one of the recipient countries recipient countries reported, "partial boiling of a hand or an arm," with at least two prisoners boiled to death. [128]
The blatant disregard for nuclear non-proliferation and the increasingly rising military budget which was around $400 billion dollars, greater than the combination of the rest of the world, was also touched upon. However the most important topics to developing countries are the issues of aid and subsidies. Cotton farmers in Mali has suffered greatly because of American subsidy to its cotton farmers which decrease their cost of production relative to farmers in Mali and suppress world prices to levels below Malian production cost. This makes Malian cotton farmers poorer by the day, unable to earn profits. Regarding aid, the deception was uncovered. For instance 95 percent of money allocated to malaria control are spent on consultations, the remaining 5 percent are spent on necessary products from American companies. Again, some claims of help are blatant lies as in the Botswana AIDS victims claims where the US announced officially that it had provided forty-one thousand AIDS victims in Botswana with life-extending drugs only for the managers of the program to challenge them for proof. It came out that America's contribution was zero. Carter reported that 
According to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN Millennium Project, ... ,annual US aid for sub-Saharan Africa was about $3 billion in 2003, of which "only $118 million was left for US in-country operations and direct support for programs run by African governments and communities ... for investments in health education, roads, power, water, and sanitation, and democratic institutions in the region" [189/90]
Again, the gap between the rich and the poor is at its all time high. Was it this that led Bill Gates to talk about moral capitalism? Whatever be the case, it is now clear that the current wealth gap between the rich and the poor is not sustainable and as if to slap the people in the face whereas the rich benefits from tax cuts, the poor get their income halved by income-tax increases. 
Under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000, for every dollar in reductions for a middle-class family, the top 1 percent of households will receive $54, and those with $1 million or more in income will benefit by $191! During the first three years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while the income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped by 10 percent just in the year 2002.  Another indication of the growing division between the rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries of corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker's pay. Even though there was strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation - the first such drop in many years. [192/3]
This book is an eye-opener. It shows that it takes more than being a president to change things in America or in most countries for that matter. In most cases it is clear that corporations with personal interest are those ruling the country so that even when the police and several individuals wanted the gun-control policy to be extended, Bush scrapped it. A double-standard policy creates an unsafe world. If America today is unsafe, it should question its policies, for the shedding of blood will create more enemies as Carter wrote about that the raging war in Iraq is serving as a recruitment ground for Al-Qaeda. Recommended for those who want to know more about how our world is run. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

148. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Mr Oliver by Mamle Kabu

Mamle Kabu's Mr. Oliver is a story about the relationship that exists between the rich and the poor and the fake camaraderie shared among the rich and high-society folks, who keep up appearances to please their fellow glitterati and the socialite.  

Written in the first person singular, Alex's wife tells of how things aren't going well between her and her nouveau-riche husband. Oliver is the mason working on the extension of their house and belongs to the early wealthy folks whose third generation children are languishing in poverty. Like most artisans he knows that the Alex's wife is 'soft' when it comes to money; hence, even though he had been provided with all the necessary materials required to complete his job, he went to her for the money-equivalent of a bag of cement. Alex's wife, fascinated by Oliver's eyes, was surprised how such a man could also be an alcoholic and wonders what actually happened to him, especially their branch of the famous Oliver family. Her reveries are filled with what she would have done had she had the heavy-hooded type of eyes that Oliver has. As she thinks about this, Alex calls her to inform her he is at the airport and will soon be home and that he should prepare herself for a party.

Later that evening the two would attend a party, together with other bigwigs, hosted by the new American ambassador. There, Alex would introduce his wife to people whom he only knew by title and not by name and who would also live up to the phoniness and the charade their lives have become to such an extent that one lady actually asked her,
How are your adorable children?
even though they had no children. And the absence of children in the marriage was also because Alex, wanting to be considered civilised and abreast with current trends, was playing the 'let's wait for some time' game so that when the time came that he really wanted children, the marriage had, unknown to him, gone somewhat sour and his wife was also no more interested, unprepared to remove the birth control implant. The faux relationships were glaring with each one present trying hard to fit in and be counted. Alex had put on his false American accent to impress. In this way the story reminds the reader of what Holden Caufield was ranting about in The Catcher in the Rye.

All this while, Alex's wife was thinking of Oliver and how they should pass by his house and pay him the rest of his money. When she brought up this issue up again on their way home, Alex was furious - thinking more of what he would be doing to her wife. She insisted and he succumbed. At Oliver's residence in a rundown neighbourhood, Alex would deduct the money he had taken from his wife from the remainder of his fees. Overhearing what his husband had said, she would forcefully open the gate of the hummer and jump out; and would give the poor man all the money she had in her handbag.

All through this story, there were subtle references on how the rich maltreat the poor and how they unconsciously keep them poor. It was like Oliver was no human. Again, Alex was full of himself; he effused an arrogance that was disturbing. In this short story, the conscious or unconscious relationship between these two extremes of wealth was aptly portrayed.
About the author: Mamle Kabu was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2009 for her short story The End of Skill. She grew up in Ghana and later in the UK where she studied at Cambridge University. She has had five other short stories published. She currently lives and works in Ghana and is a mother of two. 

Read ImageNations interview with the author here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

147. Birds of Our Land by Virginia W. Dike

Virginia W. Dike's Birds of Our Land (Cassava Republic Press, 2010 (first pub., 1986); 40) is an illustrative and colourful book on birds found in Nigeria and by extension, perhaps, across West Africa. This carefully written book provides insights into the habitat, habit, identification, and nature of several birds including the Plantain Eater, Parrot, Kite, Sunbird, Egret, Finch, Guinea Fowl, Crow, Coucal, Owl, Pipit, Mannikin, Whydah, Thrush, Kingfish, Roller and more. The book is directed towards young children, probably between the ages of five and fifteen; however, adults could learn a lot from if for how many of us know the birds we have been seeing by name. However, through the clear picturesque illustration by Robin Gowen one is able to identify several of these known birds by name and description.

The book opens with a definition of a bird accompanied by a well-labelled illustration. Following from there is a brief description of the birds, systematically, with each bird followed by its illustrative representation. The text is precise, poetic, and seems to tell a story. The sounds that these birds make have been carried through. The names of the birds have been translated into three main Nigerian languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. And the reader could perhaps compare these translations with what they call it in his or her own native language, if he or she has one. For instance, a Parrot is called Ayekooto in Yoruba, Icheoku in Igbo and Aku in Hausa; in Ghana the Akan Twi speakers call it Akoo. I couldn't help but notice the similar sounds the name has among all the local languages, the alliteration and assonance is not oblivious to the reader.

Though this book is geared towards developing the scientific knowledge and conservation concerns (or habit) of the reader from a tender age, it could also serve as a reading book due to the simplicity of the text and the beauty of the write. None of the words used are difficult and beyond pronunciation. The author did well to do away with the jaw-breaking scientific names these birds carry, relying instead on the common names.

After describing twenty-five birds, the author concluded with a checklist for bird watchers and how to help in the conservation of bird population and bird habitat. Knowledge of this is very important even as we struggle to understand the world we live in and make the best use of it whilst protecting it for posterity. The author, Virginia Dike, also provided a list of what to look for when observing a bird. To conclude this, it is best to quote the author
This book aims to: (1) familiarise children with their environment by introducing the variety of birds around them; (2) help build habits of careful observation; (3) stimulate inquiry about the natural world; and (4) develop communication and critical thinking skills. Its use can help children acquire language and mathematical skills by expanding their vocabulary and providing opportunities for classification and measurement.
And in forty pages the book does this and more. This comprehensive book, with guides to both parents and educators, is likely to build the reader in more ways than one. Whilst acquiring scientific knowledge, the reader will at the same time be appreciating the environment within which he or she lives and appreciating language also. This is very much recommended.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Quotes for Friday from Brian Chikwava's Harare North

Truth is like snake because it is slippery when it move and make people flee in all directions whenever it slither into crowds, but Sekai don't know. [8]

Your house is like your head, she say to sheself, you have to keep sweeping it clean if you want to stay sane. [14]

You always know more than you believe in but always choose what you believe in over what you know because what you know can be so big that sometimes it is useless weapon, you cannot wield it proper and, when you try, it can get your head out of gear and stop you focusing. [43]

Money is like termite. The more desire you have to catch it, the more you scare it down into its hole. You don't try to catch it by its head, but let it crawl out of the hole first. [68]

The past always give you the tools to handle the present. Add small bit of crooked touch to what you do and everyone soon get startled into silence and start paying proper attention and respect to you. Every jackal boy know that style; drop in crazy laughter in some crazy place during the interrogation and any traitor will listen up. It's not accident that 'skill' and 'slaughter' start with a crooked letter. Every jackal boy know that too. Remove the crooked touch from each of them those two words and suddenly you kill laughter. [69]

Don't rush to swallow things before you have even chew them proper because you will choke and get us very worryful. [73]

Pubic hair is like your future; you have to find out by yourself what colour it become when time has move on. [88]

As you like to say, fear is like demon; throw it at them and watch. But never let fear stalk you or it end up being overfamiliar with you. Spit on its face. [113]

[H]is trousers is coming apart on the seam along his bum crack and I think it have start to look like comedy trousers because the trousers is black and last time Shingi have used white thread to repair the seam. [115]
Read the review here

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

146. Harare North by Brian Chikwava

Title: Harare North
Author: Brian Chikwava
Genre: Fiction
Publishers: Jonathan Cape
Pages: 230
Year: 2009
Country: Zimbabwe

The narrative in Harare North is unique; it dealt away with the entire grammatical caboodle that burdens the writer when using a character who is not versed in the English syntax because it is not his first language; or even if it were, because he has adopted and adapted it to suit his daily needs. Brian Chikwava's protagonist is not burdened with the flowery, indulging, and literary complications of the English language; he has given the layman's English as it is spoken and understood by the majority of non-English speaking folks whose formal education was cut short before they could imbibe the whole grammatical rules. In this way, Chikwava has created a character who is not only believable in his actions but also in his speech and thought. Perhaps this is the closest, and the boldest, one has come to delineating between the two levels or standards of spoken English. The Nigerians do it a lot, but mostly in the dialogue. However, since Brian's narrative is in the first person, this sort of language - again not Pidgin as in the case of most Nigerian authors, but of one struggling to speak English as it is known - runs through the entire 230 pages.

The narrator - unnamed - has come from Zimbabwe to London, or Harare North as it is referred to in this book, at a time when Zimbabwe's land reclamation policy is in full swing. Like most African migrants he came under the pretext of fleeing political persecution as a member of the youth wing of the opposition party in his home country even though it is him who have committed a grievous crime back home, as a member of the government's Green Bombers, and fleeing prosecution. His entry into the country was scrutinised by the immigration officials at the port who only allowed him entry after several checks, but warning him not to work until his asylum claim is fully granted. Again, like most Africans, this new immigrant has relatives in London and it is his cousin's wife, Sekai, who picks him from immigration and into their house.

Brian Chikwava painted a different story of London. His brushstrokes are not the usually white and sea-blue or red and yellow; they are not the replication of postcards featuring the eye of London, the Buckingham Palace, the London Bridge, the doves feeding from people's hands, great statues, Big Ben, Harrods, and all those fanciful things one is likely to see in the tonnes of pictures that newly-arrived migrants show their folks in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya etc. Chikwava does not play the 'all-things-are-beautiful-all-problems-are-solved' kind of London - the path that many writers have chosen to portray, where characters who run away from home to such places suddenly become settled and begin doing great things; where the most these writers give to their characters in terms of anything negative in London is the snow, which when it falls makes them nostalgic; and sometimes racial discrimination. Chikwava presents the ghettos of London; the London that is unpopular but real; the London that has swallowed many immigrants into its ginormous belly, turning people into junkies, scavengers, predators and preys amalgamated into a single entity; the London that transforms, not only a person into a selfishness so that he or she is afraid to share a loaf of bread, but it can tease out that latent primeval soul to inhabit the body so that one begins to live like an animal, unawares.

This nameless narrator's relatives, knowing the extra cost the family budget is going to swell by, played the cold-dumb-and-silent game. Not responding to questions, not providing food, and complaining at the least misplacement of his step, by his cousin's wife especially, who seemed to be the head of the household, the narrator set out to look for his old classmate, Shingi who had been in London for sometime now and whose email address, and others, he has kept with him.

The narrator finds his friend living with four other people - including a young girl, Tsitsi, and her child. In this congested household are rules; the first being: don't eat what you did not buy, the second is a repetition of first, the third is don't eat what is not yours, the four: if you don't work you don't eat and the fifth is about washing plates after eating. Like most immigrants, our narrator also has a target or an aim: to get US$ 5,000 to clear his problem back home, US$4,000 to make the murder case against him go away and US$1,000 for the uncle who paid for his ticket, and then go back home. But everybody's story begins like this yet few has been able to catch this mirage. Because as almost every non-paper-bearing illegal immigrant knows the key to survival is to capitalise on one another at the least opportunity, compatriot or not. For instance, though Aleck received the squat his compatriots were living in for free habitation, he charges each person 35 pounds a week rent. The narrator would also blackmail his brother's wife - Sekai - when he caught her in bed with a Russian. Sekai would counter-blackmail him to neutralise his after her visit to Zimbabwe.

The people in the household are all doing odd jobs: digging, masonry, hiring out babies (only Tsitsi does this) to women applying for council homes for single women, BBC (British Buttocks Cleaning, which is caring for the aged) and yet no one wants the other to know exactly what he does. The protagonist - illiterate, military-trained, opinionated - is not interested in very debasing jobs like BBC and during periods when jobs are scarce prefers to live off Shingi. Just as their compatriots can and do cheat on them so do their employees. Knowing very well that they have no legal status in the country, they pay paltry sums, and threaten those who complain with sack. Gradually, as the narrator and his friend moved in and out of jobs, and life became unbearable, Shingi - who was already suffering from AIDS after his imprisonment in Zimbabwe, entered into drugs; the narrator on the other hand becomes homeless and somewhat insane.

The story began on an almost satirical note, gradually exposing the rot, the plight and the miserableness of being an illegal immigrant in London; of how you become food for those who specialises in cheating. The credibleness and beauty, albeit it sorrowful, of this story could be attributed to the careful and slow development of the characters; of how things moved gradually into rot and how one thing led to the other. The metaphors and similes are also fresh. Through the narrator and Shingi the author is able to compare life in Zimbabwe with all its 'crises' and life in London as an immigrant. So that as the immigrants in London struggle to make ends meet (the unreliability of jobs, the monstrous demands by relatives back home, the fear of being arrested by the authorities for not having the correct papers), their relatives back home also struggles with the government's ejection of entire populations to allow for mining, land reclamation from, terrorising from the government's youthful supporters. In all these, the narrator seems to think that the report about his government in the newspapers is pure propaganda. And that
You always know more than you believe in but always choose what you believe in over what you know because what you know can be so big that sometimes it is useless weapon, you cannot wield it proper and, when you try, it can get your head out of hear and stop you focusing. [43]
This story brings the harsh realities of life abroad; that it is not all rosy whether you are legal, like Shingi and Aleck, or illegal like the narrator and Tsitsi. That the demands on you from home and from the system can be so enormous that it can drive you insane, making you pliable to other peoples' caprices. It also brings out one thing: learning, for at the beginning the maxim of the Green Bombers was Punishment is Forgiveness but in the end when things got worse and the protagonist had to carry his cardboard suitcase he had brought from Zimbabwe around the streets like all homeless people do, he realised that forgiveness is the best form of punishment. In running away from the authorities, in refusing to face justice, in not seeing what his government was doing to his people even though he had played his part, he also ran from himself and lost himself in the rubble of London, in that densely populated region where 'each for himself' is the ultimate maxim.

But what if Zimbabwe is a character in the novel that takes on the ghetto-life of London?  

My only problem with this story is that, like most stories coming from the region, it plays on the 'Mugabe-demon' ideology. That kind of thoughts common in the West; perhaps land reclamation is a bad policy so that the minority whites continue to own the largest and most fertile portions of the land. Or perhaps it is a good policy badly implemented. Or perhaps Mugabe is the Zimbabwean problem. Whatever the case may be, I believe that most people are forgetting or forgiving the earlier days and unity has ensured that we give more of ourselves. Again, aside being another story of migrant adjustment, Chikwava treated very salient issues like the gradual descent into insanity, drugs, the family-demand burden, individualism and more. A good read.
About the author: Brian Chikwava's short story Seventh Street Alchemy was awarded the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing and Chikwava became the first Zimbabwean to do so. Brian is among the exciting new generation of writers emerging on the African continent. Although born in Bulawayo, Chikwava's formative years were spent in Harare, where he attended university and frequented the popular artistes' venue The Book Café. He has been a Charles Pick fellow at the University of East Anglia, and lives in London.

This story was recommended to me by Ivor Hartmann when I read and reviewed Brian's short story The Fig Tree and the Wasp published in the Granta magazine.

Monday, March 19, 2012

145. SHORT STORY MONDAY: A Life in Full by Jude Dibia

Jude Dibia's story A Life in full, the eponym of the anthology, is one that plague many a household in this part of the world where children are valued above all else, so that one can have all the properties in this world, acquire all the knowledge that one can possibly acquire and still be considered useless, or having lived a life in full, if one does not have at least a child. 

Victor has completed his university degree, has a good job, and lives comfortably in his Lagos home. However, Victor's entrenched stand on marriage has created (or is creating) a chasm between him and his mother. Mabel, Victor's mother, don't seem to understand why a man like Victor, with all the things one needs to live a comfortable life, will refuse to marry. When Victor complained of sickness and his mother went to visit him and stayed to cook for him and keep the house tidy, two things became clear: Victor wouldn't allow his mother to talk to him about marriage issues with him and Victor wants no intrusion into his personal space.

But Mabel, who wants her eldest child to bear her grandchildren, had also gone through a bitter marriage experience with her husband, George, whom she is still married to. She had married young - the reason why she accepted Victor's excuses of wanting to settle down first - and had forfeited her university education for marriage. Ironically, it was her father who had sponsored her husband's education. However, after marriage, the two realise how difficult life is and sometimes Mabel has to go to her family's homestead. Their room was small and could not accommodate the growing family size. Finally, George turned out not to be the man he was prior to marriage and so Mabel was to be sad throughout marriage, at least up to when the children became old enough to cater for themselves.

It was after a conversation with Thelma, her daughter domiciled in the US, that it dawned on her that perhaps she had overstayed her welcome and that perhaps her gloomy marriage might have affected her son. Thelma also offered possible reasons why Victor had not as yet married including the possibility that he might be a homosexual, or might have been hurt by a lady when she was in school. So that night after the conversation, when Victor for the first time came home extremely late and trudged along into the house, Mabel made it a point to leave for his home at Asaba and to her husband, George; to leave Victor to himself and the vegetable garden she had failed to raise to fruition to the devices of the weather. 

The parallelism drawn between Mabel's consistent failure with her tomato garden and the failure to convince her son to marry is interesting. It is as if the success of this garden will translate into victory in her son's life. The issue of marriage and of bearing children after marriage is crucial to the African and have led to several divorces. Though there wasn't any twists and turns in the story and that the educated son will not succumb to the mother, the idea of personal space broadly seems foreign in an African context. It is expected that the African, having been enmeshed in the extended family system, will hardly complain of a 'personal space.' But his Africanness, an inherent part of him, reared its head slightly when he was unable to directly confront his mother that she should leave but indirectly made his point by telling her not to sit in a particular seat and not to touch his things anyhow. This form of modernism is gradually showing up in several African stories, exposing the gradual transformation the African is going through at several levels.
About the author: Jude Dibia is a Nigerian-born novelist. He has a B.A. in Modern European Languages (German). He is the author of three novels: Walking with Shadows (2005), Unbridled (2007), and Blackbird (2011). Walking with Shadows is said to be the first Nigerian novel that has a gay man as its central character* and that treats his experience with great insight, inviting positive response to his situation. Unbridled won the 2007 Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Prose and was finalist in the 2007 Nigeria Prize for Literature. His short stories have appeared on various online literary sites including and One of Jude's short stories is included in the anthology One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

NEW PUBLICATION: Birds of Our Land

When the author moved to Nigeria in the early 1970s with her young family, she discovered that Nigeria has so many fascinated birds that she wanted to share with her children and other children.  But she couldn’t find books on Nigerian or West African birds.  Instead, the bookshops had lots of books about birds from the United States and Britain.  This gave birth to Birds of Our Land*, a child’s guide to West African birds with the aim of introducing children to some of the many fascinating birds around them. It explains the basic features of birds and key things to note in observing them and is accompanied by beautiful paintings by illustrator Robin Gowen of 25 birds representing the major species in the region. Most of these are birds that children are likely to come across in most parts of West Africa, while a few are less familiar but amazing in some way.

Through its rich, poetic descriptions Birds of Our Land offers children a gateway to the natural world by introducing them to the basics of bird watching. This book also includes activities relating to birds and a guide for teachers and parents. It is more than a great read. Birds of Our Land is the perfect tool for parents and educators encouraging children to spend more time outdoors exploring the world of nature and giving them an appreciation of the beauty and interdependence of all forms of life.

Virginia Dike is a professor and head of the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  She grew up in the United States and has a BA in History from Harvard University and an MA in Education and an MSc in Library Science, both from Columbia University. She is a founding member of The Children Centre Library at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.  She is an American by birth and Nigerian by marriage and has five children.
*The book is published by Cassava Republic

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quotes for Friday from W. Somerset Maugham's Theatre

I know that you can act me off the stage, but we get on together like a house on fire, and when you do go into management I think we'd make a pretty good team. [32]

I don't care. I'd rather marry him and be a failure than be a success and married to somebody else. [40]

A woman attracts men by her charm and hold them by their vices ... [113]

Only a woman knows what a woman can do. [134]

No, they don't, they mean pain and anguish, shame, ecstasy, heaven and hell; they mean the sense of living more intensely, and unutterable boredom; they mean freedom and slavery; they mean peace and unrest. [149]

Oh, my dear, life is so short and love is so transitory. The tragedy of life is that sometimes we get what we want. [193]

The bitterness of life is not death, the bitterness of life is that love dies. [196]

It's our weakness, not our strength, that endears us to those who love us. [217]

If one stripped you of your exhibitionism, if one took your technique away from you, if one peeled you as one peels an onion of skin after skin of pretence and insincerity, of tags of old parts and shreds of faked emotions, would one come upon a soul at last? [217]

One thinks the aristocracy are a bunch of nitwits, and then one of them suddenly comes out with something like that that's so damned good it takes your breath away. [240]

'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' But there's the illusion, through that archway; it's we, the actors, who are the reality. ... They are our raw materials. We are the meaning of their lives. We take their silly little emotions and turn them into art, out of them we create beauty, and their significance is that they form the audience we must have to fulfil ourselves. They are the instruments on which we play, and what is an instrument without somebody to play on it? [241]

They say acting is only make-believe. That make-believe is the only reality. [242]

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

144. Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham

Theatre (Vintage, 1937; 242): Julia Lambert is a famous actress. She and her husband, Michael Gosselyn - also an actor and manager, had been together ever since they met at an acting academy. Julia was attracted by Michael's beauty and genteelness and was determined to become married to him at all cost. So much was she in love with Michael, who was rather dumb and blind to her schemes, that she was prepared to marry him and become a failed actress. However, Michael's dumbness was a resolve not to have any amorous relationship with any of the actresses he works with. To him it was purely work and nothing more. With persistent schemes and open demonstration of her love, the two finally married and worked their way into the heart of London's theatre enthusiasts. So even though Michael was not a great actor, only drawn to his audience by his exceptional beauty, he was able to get the best out of Julia, for there was nothing he knew not about acting.

Things were rosy, beautiful and smooth until after Roger was born. After this event, the spark in their marriage seemed to have extinguished but one thing remained: both partners, apart from the attention and love shown them by the people, remained faithful to themselves and the other, almost. At least they did so until a twenty-two year old accountant was given to them to manage their books. Michael as an astute businessman and a totally honest but thrifty one, set up accounts for himself and for Julia, always bearing the household costs whilst Julia's accounts grows. It was his frugality that got him closer to Thomas Fennell, who used his knowledge of the tax system to show him how to save a dollar here and there. But Tom became more to the family than a mere tax man. He loved the limelight and read about London's socialite and glitterati in magazines. He was eager to meet them or fall in love with some.

Tom met Julia through Michael, when the latter invited him to lunch. Once the introduction was done, the rest was in Tom's hand to lead. He first invited Julia - whose sex life with Michael is finally dead but which Michael seem not to notice because he was too keen keeping the books in shape so that they could continue living their life of comfort - to his single-room in an obscure corner in London, a name that got Julia laughing and only responded out of curiosity and adventurism. It should be said that at that point Julia didn't love Michael but only kept him for his looks, his physique, and the fact that through Michael's exceptional management skills she became a toast for London's theatre-goers.

One thing led to the other and before Julia - who had at one point wanted to tell Tom that she had a son almost his age - knew she was deeply in love with him. The two had sex with at his flat several times, drank together, visited restaurants, parities and more, together. Famed for her faithfulness, there was no initial suspicion about the two. And Julia, a natural actor, could act her way out of every difficult situation. Dolly de Vries is the friend of Michael and Julia. As a widow, she was the one who helped them set up on their own when Michael wanted to go into management. And Dolly loved Julia very much. It was that exceptional kind of love that borders on amorousness so she sensed the change in Julia and began digging. What she found shocked her. Having known that her only competitor for Julia's love, aside the husband which was natural, was Charles Tamerly - a man who loved Julia most but with whom she never slept with, Dolly devastated that a boy of twenty-two who makes only four hundred pounds a week could offer such a stiff competition. She would approach Michael with her information and the dumb as he was would refute every single thing and would claim that Tom was their accounts person.

Later Julia would destroy the career of Tom's girlfriend, Avice Crichton, and through that would destroy the relationship that was budding between the two young ones, even though Avice was clearly an opportunist and did not really love Julia. And it was through this that Julia would set herself free from Tom and from all the people who entered her life. 

Julia is a complicated figure who couldn't dissociate her acting from her real world. All through her life she was acting so that what she actually thinks and what she finally does were always at variance. And even when she abhorred Michael to the last of his atom, she played the part as if he was the blood that ran through her veins. With Charles Tamerley she pretended she loved him not as much as he did and at any opportunity would invoke her marriage to Michael as an excuse, which was clearly not true. This inseparability between Julia's real life and acting became a subject of concern for her son Roger who told her mother point blank that she is living a lie and that he tells his mother:
You don't know the difference between truth and make-believe. You never stop acting. It's second nature to you. You act when there's a party here. You act to the servants, you act to father, you act to me. To me you act the part of the fond, indulgent, celebrated mother. You don't exist, you're only the innumerable parts you've played. I've often wondered if there was ever a you or if you were never anything more than a vehicle for all these other people that you've pretended to be. When I've seen you go into an empty room I've sometimes wanted to open the door suddenly, but I've been afraid to in case I don't find nobody there. [215/6]
This statement brought Julia to life but even then, ensconced in acting and unable to extricate herself, she brushed it aside and set her eyes on destroying the woman who informed Dolly of her and Tom's activities, the woman who later approached the Gosselyns for a part in a play that would give her acting career a breakthrough, a woman who is competing with her love, a woman who was the cause of her heartache and insomnia. And she would destroy this woman by the only way she knows best, acting; she would out-act her on stage, the shine off her and would send her so-called 'acting career' careening towards nothingness.

And this she did. This story was not necessarily unique but the authors way of writing sustained the drama all through. It's one of those stories that would have become a bore to read if the author lacks that quintessential touch that separates excellent writers from the others and makes whatever they write worth the read. It is recommended.

This book was read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge

Monday, March 12, 2012

143. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Soul Safari by Alnoor Amlani

Soul Safari by Alnoor Amlani, published in the Caine Prize 2010 anthology, is a story about a well-planned but botched marriage proposal between former high-school lovers, Adam and Zara. Adam has carefully planned a Safari trip for his long time high-school who had just a terrible break-up with his boyfriend that required the police to literally uproot him from her apartment.

Adam seemed not to have taken the psychological consequences of such a horrible incident into consideration when planning for this romantic adventure. Upon reaching the place the relationship between the two went sour when Adam openly expressed his love for Zara. Zara on her part let it known to him that she loves him too, but only as a sister would love a brother. This statement broke the last string that held them together. Red with jealous and almost annoyed with anyone who dared hold a conversation with Zara that kept him out, the relationship was descending farther and farther into an irremediable state. And Adam was bent on pushing his proposal through. He was virtually obsessed with her: dreaming of her being chased by lions and he working to save her.

But Zara also has her career before her. She's yet to complete her degree in Film Studies in London, where her parents have migrated to five years ago and Adam is already settled with a well-paying job. Petty quarrelling ensued during their journey towards the last park they had to visit. When a bulbul settled on their car and looked at itself in the mirror, Zara asked "I wonder whether it knew it was looking at itself" and Adam responded "Maybe it thought it had found a girlfriend". This, or another, bulbul would later settle on their table after Zara had told Adam that she thinks she is in love and Adam had smiled for the first time since the time he professed his love to her and she had brushed it off. Did that smile and that acknowledgement of love mean the two would get involve?

This is a love story of sorts though not the romance-soggy types. It portrays the relationship between a man, set to marry, and a woman, set on her career. Yet, it doesn't lead to much estrangement as each is not holding to an entrenched position. Zara might be acting it out per her previous encounter, Adam could wait for her. But, definitely, there was a flicker of hope in the end.


About the author:  Alnoor Amlani is a third-generation Kenyan of Indian origin who lives in Nairobi. He has worked in East Africa as a management consultant and written articles and opinion pieces for over a decade. He began writing fiction in 2009. He is currently writing his first novel. (Source: anthology)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Quotes for Friday from Toni Morrison's Sula

After five years of a sad and disgruntled marriage Boy-Boy took off. During the time they were together he was very much preoccupied with other women and not home much. He did whatever he could that he liked, and he liked womanizing best, drinking second, and abusing Eva third. When he left in November, Eva had $1.65, five eggs, three beats and no idea of what or how to feel. [32]

Hannah's friendships with women were, of course, seldom and short-lived, and they newly married couples whom her mother took in soon learned what a hazard she was. She could break up a marriage before it had even become one - she would make love to the new groom and wash his wife's dishes all in an afternoon. [44]

A hill wind was blowing dust and empty Camels wrappers about their ankles. It pushed their dresses into the creases of their behinds, then lifted hems to peek at their cotton underwear. [49]

Every passerby, every motorcar, every alteration in stance caught their intention and was commented on. Particularly they watched women. When a woman approached, the older men tipped their hats; the younger ones opened and closed their thighs. But all of them, whatever their age, watched her retreating view with interest. [49]

So when they met, first in those chocolate halls and next through ropes of the swing, they felt the ease and comfort of old friends. Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be. [52]

"While sittin' there, honey, go 'head and pull your nose."
"It hurts, Mamma"
"Don't you want a nice nose when you grow up?" [55]

And when they thought of all that life and death locked into that little closed coffin they danced and screamed, not to protest God's will but to acknowledge it and confirm once more their conviction that the only way to avoid the Hand of God is to get in it. [66]

Although most of the people remembered the time when the sky was black for hours with clouds and clouds of pigeons, and although they were accustomed to excesses in nature - too much heat, too much cold, too little rain, rain to flooding - they still dreaded the way a relatively trivial phenomenon could become sovereign in their lives and bend their minds to its will. [89]

The purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined (without ever knowing they had made up their minds to do it) to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance. They knew anger well but not despair, and they didn't stone sinners for the same reason they didn't commit suicide - it was beneath them. [90]

Nothing in this world loves a black man more than another black man. You hear of solitary white men, but niggers? Can't stay away from one another a whole day. [104]

But who could think in that bed where they had been and where they also had been and where only she was now? [107]

As willing to fell pain as to give pain, to feel pleasure as to give pleasure, hers was an experimental life - ever since her mother's remarks sent her flying up those stairs, ever since her one major feeling of responsibility had been exorcised on the bank of a river with a closed place in the middle. [118]

In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. [121]

So when his curiosity was high enough he picked two bottles of milk off the porch of some white family and went to see her, suspecting that this was perhaps the only other woman he knew whose life was her own, who could deal with life efficiently, and who was not interested in nailing him. [127]

"You can't do it all. You a woman and a colored woman at that. You can't act like a man. You can't be walking around all independent-like, doing whatever you like, taking what you want, leaving what you don't."
"You repeating yourself."
"How repeating myself?"
"You say I'm a woman and colored. Ain't that the same as being a man?" [142]

"You think I don't know what your life is like just because I ain't living it? I know what every colored woman in this country is doing?"
"What's that?"
"Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I'm going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world." [143]

"Lonely, ain't it?"
"Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely." [143]

"Is that what I'm supposed to do? Spend my life keeping a man?"
"They worth keeping, Sula." 
"They ain't worth more than me. And besides, I never loved no man because he was worth it. Worth didn't have nothing to do with it." [143/44]

"Well I guess that's it. You own the world and the rest of us is renting. You ride the pony and we shovel the shit. I didn't come here for this kind of talk, Sula ..." [144]
Read the review here

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

142. Sula by Toni Morrison

In Sula (Plume, 1973; 174) Morrison continued her brilliant portrayal of the sad history of African Americans in a manner she alone could handle. Morrison's mind is different and the circumference of what is possible is wider than any other, except perhaps writers of science fiction and paranormal. And this is what makes Morrison a unique writer; for she sets her unique happenings in the midst of ordinary people and write of it (or them) as if it were normal everyday affair. In Song of Solomon it was about Macon Milkman Dead following the 'wing-trails' of his ancestors who were deemed to have flown back to Africa to escape slavery (which is rooted in history). It was also about a Pilate, the woman who was born without a navel and who walked extremely great distances and did things that ordinary people cannot and would not be able to do. In Beloved it was about Sethe and her love for her children even after they escaped treachery and torture from Teacher. It is also about the ghost of Beloved, a daughter she killed to avoid her being taken back into slavery. Both of these stories trace the life of an individual, mostly a woman, who in a period of need or dilemma takes a drastic decision that would define her path and her relationship with the wider society, both African and Whites, forever. Mostly, whereas the Whites shun the blacks, the blacks shun this family and its decision-maker forever because she is different from them and have done things that aren't 'normal'. Yet, the protagonist in all these acted on the premise of love, absolute love, purest love untainted with personal gratification. Both Sethe and Pilate were selfless, they loved people, they offered their souls, they were unique and blessed with preternatural qualities.

Perhaps both Song of Solomon and Beloved took roots in Sula. In Sula, Morrison analysed what it takes to be a woman and black in the period just after slavery. Her keen observation and unique narrative voice, style and how she juggle with words, make reading Sula both beautiful and sad. The story centres around four main women: Eva Peace, Hannah Peace, Sula Peace and Sula's friend Nel Wright who lived at Bottom in the Medallion. Bottom was assigned by the Whites of Medallion to blacks and it's on top of the hill where farming is nearly impossible. It was described by the givers as the bottom of heaven. Eva raised her four children all alone when her husband BoyBoy took off and left Eva with nothing. Eva had to scrape to survive, had to depend entirely on people as she was unable to work because she was nursing Ralph (Plum) and the distance between where she lived and the nearest place where work could be obtained meant that she had to leave the baby with Hannah, the oldest, who was only five years old at the time. One day Eva left all her children with a neighbour promising to come the next day, only to appear eighteen months later with one leg. To take care of her children, Sula had thrown one of what she loved most, the only thing she was proud of - her legs - under a train to earn insurance and a monthly allowance. And it is through this that Eva built the house on Carpenter's Road. Pearl (Eva's third daughter) married at fourteen and moved to Flint, Michigan; Plum went to fight in the war. Hannah married Rekus; he died when Sula was about three years.

Eva's house became open to everybody, strays, strangers, and people looking for a place to spend the night.  But the women in the house loved men and this brought them under the foreboding eyes of the people of Bottom, though they love the maleness for its own sake. Thus, even though Hannah slept with most of the men of Bottom she never really loved them to take them from their wives. She simply refused to live without men and hers was a natural kind of love unaffected by conscious enticement, either of movement, speech or of self-beautification. And all along Sula was observing. When Eva burnt her own son, Plum, after he had come from the war and had hooked on to drugs, possibly heroin, Hannah questioned Eva of her love to them. This incensed Eva but it troubled Hannah so that when one day Eva - sitting in her bed room on the first floor - saw Hannah burning she jumped out of the window to cover her burning daughter with herself but landed badly. 

Sula and Nel had also been friends with some bad had happened between them. Sula, playing with Chicken Little, had swung the boy around but their hands disengaged and the boy had landed in the river and had died. They kept this secret to themselves. With time Nel married Jude Greene and Sula left Bottom. Years later Sula would come to Bottom with an attitude that would not sit right with the people of Bottom, both the black men and women. Sula might have inherited her grandmother's incorrigibility and her mother's sexual indulgences and together with the burden of that accidental murder of Chicken and what she had heard her mother say one time that hurt her so much that she could stand and watch with subtle glee in her eyes when Hannah burnt, might have caused her to live this kind of experimental life. For back at Bottom Sula slept with almost every man she could get and the first of which was Jude Greene which was chanced upon by Nel leading to a break in their friendship. Sula had looked at Nel as her other self and so she never thought of causing her pain by sleeping with Jude. They had always shared: comparing how boys kissed; what lines they used. When they were young they had always doubted that women were jealous only afraid that their husbands would find out that there is nothing unique about them. Having lived in a mainly women-dominated household where none was married, Sula knew very little about marriage and possessiveness. And all these together had shaped her life. 

But people began to talk about her, about how the pigeons that greeted her reentry into Medallion and then Bottom foreboded evil and how they should stay away from her. In fact, Sula's presence changed how the people of Bottom behaved. They began to love and cherish everything that Sula does not have. They showed uncommon love towards their husbands, their children, grandparents and more. So that when she died this bond dissolved and the people went back to their usual lives.

In Sula, Morrison - as in all her characters - never set out to create a perfect, pure, and irreproachable protagonist. At least not by the standards people judge others with. Her protagonists live by their own standards, norms and values and so does Sula. Sula was no man's pet and would not succumb to no one and took no nonsense from any man. She believed that whatever she makes of her life would be her making and not those handed down to her by some man.

Sula is a beautiful book but not an easy one not in the read but in the reaction of the reader to the events that unfold, as with both of Morrison's books I have read. She extends the boundaries of the novel. Sula is a book that examines what it takes to be black and a woman. Very much recommended.
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