Wednesday, August 29, 2012

188. If I'm So Successful, Why do I feel Like a Fake - The Impostor Phenomenon by Joan C. Harvey with Cynthia Katz

If I'm so Successful, Why do I feel like a Fake (St Martin's Press, 1984; 246) by Joan C. Harvey and Cynthia Katz is a book about peculiar human behaviour. It discusses what has been referred to as the Impostor Phenomenon where a high-flier - in academia or work - think that he or she does not deserve his or her success. Usually, such individuals feel like they are fakes and have used some exceptional extrinsic values to deceive everyone into believing them and that it is on this that their success is based on. They never attribute their success and promotion or recognition to to their ability but to such things as hard work, beauty, communication and the likes. They see these as external to ability and therefore often feel like cons.

Harvey's book adequately discusses the signs and symptoms of the impostor syndrome and how it happens in the family and in the world. The three main signs of IP as discussed by Harvey are:
  1. The sense of having fooled other people into overestimating your ability;
  2. The attribution of your success to some factor other than intelligence or ability in your role;
  3. The fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Because these individuals believe that hard work - not sleeping, over preparing and others - get the work done, they usually become hyperactive when given the slightest job. They put in their all hoping that they will meet expectations whilst at the same time anticipating that this is the last job that will point out that they are fakes or frauds.

According to Harvey, some of these problems are caused by family members who define roles for children and with time it becomes a burden. For instance, a child may be described as the 'helper'. If such a child grows with the idea that he or she is supposed to be the one who always offers help, it becomes his or her default trait and will go to all possible extent to fulfil this even if he or she is personally suffering in carrying it out. However, people might exhibit some of these traits and might still not be suffering from the IP syndrome. To know whether one is suffering from it or not, Harvey provides - in this book - the Harvey IP Scale, which is a likert type of questions with explanations. Answering the questions will show whether you suffer from it or not. It should also be noted that the IP syndrome is not a discrete or dichotomous measure where you either have it or not. It is on a continuum of differing strengths. The IP syndrome is pervasive and when one identifies with it, one should not feel isolated. 

At just under 250 pages (for the hardcover type) this book presents all one needs to know about the Impostor Phenomenon and how to seek help. Note that the IP syndrome can prevent you from reaching or maximising your potential. It can lead to depression and other such psychological disorders and so help must be ought. This book is highly recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Library Additions

When one takes up blogging it is to act as a place to share his or her thoughts; a place to give voice (or words) and meaning (sometimes not) to whatever he feels and wants to share. For some it is a way to get an audience; others use blogging to develop their writing skills. As I have said, I used blogging to help me contribute my quota to the promotion of African Literature. Reading is a passion and it comes to me naturally. I was privileged enough to have literate parents who understood the essence of education but was not privileged enough to have parents who had a passion for reading; hence, I wasn't born with that reading culture. But I took up reading earlier in life because I understood then that one's ability to read is key to many things.

However, if the little things one do get recognised by the people who matter to such an extent that one is given attention then one could say that the little he did was done well. For book bloggers, it is always about being recognised by publishers and because African books is almost marginalised, to be recognised by the few that exist is heartwarming. This year, I have been blessed with several books; not books dumped on me but books I had a hand in picking. Therefore, it isn't about being used as a tool but about being recognised and appreciated. Enough said; the following are the recent books I have received since July 20, 2012 when I shared the new additions to my library with you.
  • Mr Happy and the Hammer of God by Martin Egblewogbe (published by Ayebia Clarke). This is a republication to a wider audience. Any keen follower of this blog will realise that this book is on the list of my all time favourites. The author first self-published this book in 2008 and it wasn't until 2009 that I got a chance to read this book. And what a book! In order not to sound to be vainly convincing you, kindly read my first review here. Again you can read my interview with the author here. Mr Happy and the Hammer of God contains several placeless stories. The issues being dealt with are universal in themes and apply to us all. You can read other individuals' opinions here.
  • Growing Yams in London by Sophia Acheampong (published by Piccadilly Press). I agreed to read this, and the next book, because of the title. I was like 'uh! how can there be growing yams in London' but then when I saw the next title I was like 'but we've had iPods in Accra...'. These books look like they would be for young adults and I am going to read them and get back to you.
  • IPods in Accra by Sophia Acheampong (published by Piccadilly Press). See above.
  • Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (published by Lynne Rienner Publishers). This is one of the most sought-after books and on my list of Top 100 Books to be read in five years Challenge. It would be my first foray into Sudanese authors but not necessarily Arabic authors.This copy was translated from Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies, the same person who translate Alifa Rifaat's Distant View of a Minaret.
  • The Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra (published by Three Continent Press). Rashid Boudjedra is an Algerian novelist who, according to the introduction, 'writes with equal ease, flair and masterful command in both French and Arabic'. But this is what I love the most 'For Boudjedra a novel is an open-ended fiction that ignores borders, banishes representation, mixes and subverts rhetorical codes, cultivates the subjective and the phantasmagorical, thrives on intertexuality and heralds writing as a supreme, self-gratifying activity.' End of discussion.
  • Critical Perspectives on Ayi Kwei Armah, edited and compiled by Derek Wright (published by Three Continents Press). Why wouldn't I choose this book when I was given the opportunity to select? Some one just tell me: who wouldn't want to know more about his favourite writer? Yes, Ayi Kwei Armah belongs to my all time favourite authors' list. He, in fact, occupies the top even though I have read four of his books: The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born (1968), Fragments (1969), Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and The Healers (1978). His writings also inspired by article Ayi Kwei Armah Featuring the Invasion of Africa Part II. Need I say more? He is intelligent, articulate and precise. I love his writings.
These are the books I have received and if you have read any of them share with us. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

POEM: Echoes in a Dying Head - In memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa

In 2005, I set out to write poems for individuals who mean a lot in my life. At the time, I had heard of Ken Saro-Wiwa and even with little knowledge of his works and deeds, I set out to write a poem about this man. This week I am read a book written by him titled A Month and a Day & Letters. It is funny how much of what I captured fits in. I am sharing this one with you to celebrate this man who gave his life and also all individuals who fight against injustice everywhere and who are persecuted for doing so.

(Only the weak fight with Guns)


Between the cockroach and the cock
all disputes are settled with a peck.
You eat the gods’ sacrifice
and you owe them twice:
no crow to bring you kernels
no stone to crack them;
The pigeons’ pinions are wet
Their legs tied to their nests.

Pocket torn
Stomach churning

Maize farms yielding swallows
Thieves singing praises for their daily bread
They sow not, reap the lot
My eyes are dry
…cries high
I see a light
it shines not from the sun
I know not the time
The place?
Keep pace with me
Know my face
Erase every trace of this message
            From your conscience
            From your system
            From your soul
                        …transient images
                            in a whirling thought;         

I did no wrong
They said,
I am a threat

Sudden lights…callous slaps
Metal doors…padlocks

Seeking internal peace


A priest…a patriot
…a threat perhaps
Depends on who’s asking;
Thousand five hundred years
First logical payment
How many times have virtues not lost?

Stomach whining
Pocket torn

Rodents snuggling in the arms of the cassava farm
Pots of maize ready to trap their fruiting greed
They sow not, reap the lot.
The pregnant ceiling
to deliver its conception
unto my torrid throat.
My blanket is sodden
My warmth is trodden
in turns in the dreary den;
Heard it through the wind
Her tears tortured my heart
Her cries torched my mind.

I did no wrong
They said,
I am a threat

Courtrooms…paid attorneys
Ignorant jury…false witnesses
Greased judges…strange charges
Guilty verdict…Death Sentence:
A threat to the fattening apes
A havoc wrecker
Just try and uncover a bin of sin
especially if the can of worms
is lodged firmly in the fish’s head.


Are my people still dying?
Hmm…better be quiet
Today they have my pen
Tomorrow my tongue
or mercifully still my mind;
Who said the pen is mightier?
What if you’re an imbecile?
…or even a dumb amelia?
Or a frog against the cobra?

But Galileo Galilee died
and Socrates
and Christ;
After all what is a mosquito
on a dead man’s toe?

Pocket torn
Stomach turning

I only asked why
when I should’ve applauded
and be a quiet celebrant
of Ananias’ wealth—
partaker of the sold lands;
I asked why
when I could’ve said:
“Wow! What a beauty”
when I could’ve hitchhiked
to our village’s junction
walk the rest of the million miles
swim the remaining thousand with smiles
to my tribesmen
and say to them
with the pride
of a dying cockroach:
“I saw it first.”
But foolishly I asked why!

I did no wrong
They said
I am a threat

The traitor…the Devil
The thief…the headlines:
A havoc wrecker
A threat to the milk cows
An anomaly to be corrected
A disease to be cured
A stain to be cleaned
A parasite to be pruned.


I can’t shut up!
It would tantamount to betrayal
I would be the loser;
It is not for nothing that the roach
puts up a fight against the nursing hen
The clouds are getting darker
Death is imminent
I won’t surrender
Not ever!

Stomach thundering
Pocket torn

I only saw barrels of our boiling blood
Being exchanged for fleets of Royce
Besides there are no roads to our village
and no bridges over the river
so I asked why?
A simple, harmless, monosyllabic ‘why’!

I did no wrong
They said,
I am a threat

Green uniforms…thick phalanx
Mob attack…numerous slaps

So I know
Never ask
when it’s clear


The second payment
Bullets buried in the heart
I would want nothing
to be engraved on the tombstone
of your minds…the cove of gory remnants
(Though I would have none
In the hearts of the wicked and the weak)
but my deeds and your needs;
None to weep! Lest we die;
Tell Papa
not to weep but to ask them why
the road to our village is still not there
nor the bridge over the river
though they’ve slaughtered
his only son on the penal altar;
Tell Papa to tell them
that our children still crack nuts
under the seasonless almond tree
They still die young of nothing
            but empty stomachs filled with stones

They should tell them…

That though a bird flies in the air
it feeds from the ground
where its feathers fall after death;

That the benevolent gods of our land
are counting the days
hovering in their breaths…
the clay
left in their bones, their blood, their bodies;

That never is it absolute or final
the triumph of the wicked;

That soon, always soon, truth
like the seedling of the Odum tree
            The smell of wine
            The air we breathe…
overcomes falsehood
Good overcomes Evil;

That what Evil fears most
is the resolve of the weak
and ours is the sea,
            The heavens
            The village’s gods
            Our hearts…its needs
            Our lives…its soul
            Our unshakable will to succeed:
our resolve is them.

Another would come after me
who has been enlivened
to ask why
            they’re no more.

                                                            Copyright Ó 14th October MMV by Fredua-Agyeman Nana

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

187. Cut off My Tongue by Sitawa Namwalie

Cut off My Tongue (StoryMoja, 2009; 80) is a bold collection of poems by Kenyan author who writes under the name Sitawa Namwalie. My first encounter with Namwalie's poems was when I saw her perform this entire set of poems at the Museum in Kampala, Uganda. That performance will live with me for a very long time. I describe Sitawa's poems as bold because of its subject matter. She is not afraid to call a thing by its name. Yet, in been blunt she didn't sacrifice the musicality and artistic requirement of poetry. All these ingredients are present in this excellent anthology.

Whether she is writing about the deeply tribalistic nature of her Kenyan compatriots, an issue that isn't peculiar to that country alone and which has been capitalised by politicians to achieve their personal goals, or she is talking about her identity as a Kenyan and an African, Sitawa minces no words and does so brilliantly. Though her writing covers wide subject matters, the common thread weaving the parts together - that ensured a flawless performance and seamless transitions between poems - is identity: identity of the self, of the tribe, of Africa and of Africans. She writes candidly about the post-electoral tribal violence that engulfed Kenya; here one sees the tribe-based chasms at display. The funny thing is that we all came from somewhere and nowhere. We cannot claim absolute ownership of no piece of land for in our migration we came to meet it. This issue of tribe is the subject matter of Language of Tribe. In this opening poem, the author '...wanted to know/ What is this thing/ That has us all by the neck:/ What does it look like?/ How does it feel?/ How do we live with it?' In this search for meaning and reason Sitawa questions why someone who has friends across all tribes will suddenly be '...glaring at each other/Across a wide abyss, a yawning space/Unbridgeable by the smiles of my former friends.' But did she find out the reason? Did she discover the secret?

But all these issues and problems with Tribe is linked to the issues and problems with lands. In Land of Guiltless Natives, Sitawa explores what land means to the Kenyan and whence that obsession came from. In this, Sitawa sarcastically blamed the colonists for imbuing into us their passion for the land. She writes: 'But let's not blame all the British./ The set that came to Kenya/ Is guilty of this particular mania./ Lords and Ladies of the real/ From a tiny island of 60 million souls/ On only 244,820 square km/ And those lordly few still managed to own large chunks of that!' And truly this is what was replicated when Africa was colonised. Lands in Africa became the gifts for those British soldiers who had been deemed to have served well in Wars. 'They carved out chunks of that empty land,/ 100,000 hectares for this Lord,/ 200,000 hectares for that Lord...'

Cut off My Tongue is a line in the poem I come from everywhere. In this poem, Sitawa shows that we are all from everywhere and nowhere for we have journeyed across rivers and mountains and have settled here; that characteristics that we associate to a given tribe suddenly becomes the characteristics of another tribe in a far off place. The metaphor 'Cut off My Tongue' shows how much rooted she is to everywhere. She writes: 'There is no purity in my people;/ We're a blend from everywhere./ So what should I do with your call to hate?/ Must I cut off my tongue,/ All silky smooth and full of words so sweet?' Science has shows us that we are a product of several gene-combinations and crossings and it is this combinations of different genes that ensures our survival; in fact, it is the very reason why incest is a taboo in every culture. Thus, if you want to be pure, why not marry your sister and allow your children to marry themselves. Since we cannot and don't do these, since we marry across streams and rivers and mountains, we are the product of many. 'There is no purity in my people/ I come from everywhere./ /You now tell me I must hate and kill?/ Must I cut off my tongue?/ Then tell me this,/ How do I mutilate my soul?' 

In all her writings, Sitawa Namwalie's audience is everyone, more especially the politicians who have capitalised on these divisions. But she also talks to the proletariat who is always deceived to carry out the butchering and the burning. This insanity associated with tribal conflict is what is addressed in Would You? and The Carcass of the House. In the former Sitawa wants to know if you 'Would seek a loving wife/ Give her one hour to leave her home,/ Depart from all she knows and those she love?/ And you call that an act of charity,/ When she pleads with you to kill her then,/ To wield a blunt blade...'. Similar sentiments are expressed in the latter, where 'Walls stand brooding alone/ The carcass of a house still stands...'. 

This entire anthology seeks to address the unity of humanity. That humanity has nothing to do with the tribe you come from. What is the colour of a tribe's blood? Interspersing the poems are essays addressing each set of issues. These essays do not deviate from the poems but expand ones understanding and appreciation of them. The themes covered in them matches what the author covers in this book. 

My favourite poem is Say My Name where the author questions the delocalisation of names. It is from this piece that she gets her name 'Sitawa Namwalie'. Nameless is another poem on the same issue. This book - made up of twenty-five poems and four essays - is a must read. It has the power to challenge your thinking and make you look at life with a different eye. It is my ardent hope that those who need this second-look will actually get to read this book or to listen to it performed to them. Alternatively, if possible this book should be translated into every Kenyan (or African) Language and be taught in schools. It is that good and germane to the development of a tolerant society. How do we address the issue of tribe? Is it by teaching your child English at home or by living among non-tribe folks? Sitawa Namwalie addresses all these. 

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Man Booker Prize 2012 Longlist

I am very late on this, yet I feel I should still share it with you. On July 25, 2012, the Man Booker Prize organisers released the long list of competing books for 2012. This list consist of 12 books chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Sir Peter Stothard. The longlisted books were selected from a total of 145 titles. The following are the books on the list:
  1. The Yips by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
  2. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre)
  3. Philida by Andre Brink (Harvill Secker)
  4. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)
  5. Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber)
  6. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
  7. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
  8. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
  9. The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt)
  10. Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury)
  11. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)
  12. Communion Town by Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)
According to the Chair of Judges, Peter Stothard:
Goodness, madness and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year's longlist. In an extraordinary year for fiction the 'Man Booker Dozen' proves the grip that the novel has on our world. We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.
According to Man Booker, the longlist includes four debut novelists (Rachel Joyce, Alison Moore, Jeet Thayil and Sam Thompson), three small independent publishers and one previous winner (Hilary Mantel with Wolf Hall). Of the dozen, seven are men and five women; nine are British, one Indian, One South African (Andre Brink) and one Malaysian. The eldest on the list is Michael Frayn at 78 and the youngest is Ned Beauman at 27. According to the BBC, big-name writers who failed to make the longlist included Martin Amis, John Banville, Pat Barker, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Rose Tremain.

The shortlist of six authors will be announced at a press conference at the Man Group headquarters on Tuesday 11 September 2012. The winner of the 2012 prize will be announced at a dinner at London's Guildhall on Tuesday 16 October. Each of the six shortlisted writers is awarded 2,500 pounds and the winner receives a further 50,000 pounds.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

186. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (Black Swan, 2005; 554) is a book that is difficult to place between the dichotomy of adult or children's book. It is a book about a child and some adults during the World War II Nazi Germany. It is a heart-wrenching novel narrated by Death and in The Book Thief Death is forced to work and its less nefarious than humans.

The book is in ten parts with each part comprising short chapters and each chapter interspersed with poetry-like lines that seek to explain further what has been stated, providing several asides germane to the overall appreciation of the novel.

The book opens with the main character Liesel Meminger and her brother on their way to meet their foster parents, the Hubermanns: Hans Hubermann and Rosa Hubermann of Himmel Street, Molching; but his brother could not make it and died in the train. During his burial Liesel would steal her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook. Note, Himmel means Heaven but the Horrors that will be unleashed on this street is enough to make Death cold. Note also that Liesel's brother's death and another death, of his best friend, will haunt her for a long period of time - from a time when she had no idea of what is happening to when she will come to appreciate what it is to be the Other. Liesel's precociousness and her love for books will save her through a period of unpredictable deaths.

Ironically, the ingenuity of this book lies in the narrator: Death, as a somewhat omniscient narrator with compassion and humaneness that surpass what was available at the time. Death is more likely to be the only character who, hovering above the death-fields, witnessed the entire events that took place from 1939 to 1945; any other narrator might write from a narrow point of view and sometimes with bias.

On Himmel Street in the Hubermanns' apartment, Liesel would be tormented by the death of his brother and Papa, Hans Hubermann, would come to her aid every time it happens. It was this that would lead to her learning how to read, even though Papa himself is bad at it. Mama, or Rosa Hubermann, would through her idiosyncratic shouting and superficial anger, weave her way into the heart of Liesel and they would become the best of friends in a rather weird way of Saukerl (for Papa) and Saumensch. Later, Liesel will befriend Rudy Steiner, a boy of similar age and the two together with people on Himmel Street will live a life devoid of the knowledge of coming events. With time, when the food rationing that foreboded worst events, the children would steal fruits and food to survive.

Then one day Hans was approached by a German in search of refuge for his friend, a Jew by name Max Vandenburg. Vandenburg's father had died during WWI and it was his accordion, given to Hans by Max's mother when he relayed the news of her husband death to her that has kept the life at 33 Himmel Street. Max wants a place to hide from the Nazis and it was Hans who provided him his basement. Max would later form a bond with Liesel and share common stories and nightmares.

Zusak showed two people who have lost their humanity: one has lost all sense of compassion and caring, have placed himself on a higher genetic pedestal that makes him and only him human and all others animals. Other has also lost his humanity through debasement, through maltreatment, through his dehumanisation. And Zusak shows that the weaker of the two is the former and not the latter. Zusak has written a book that will forever be with the reader. He never made it easy and even though Death dropped major coming events before they happened, the path towards their realisation was never an easy one. In the end Death declares
I am haunted by humans.
Anytime you blame death, as most of us are wont to do when we personify it, don't look farther from the human who caused that death, in some cases. Don't blame death for deaths resulting from wars and attacks, suicide bombings, murders and more. Blame the humans who cause the deaths.

Though Zusak never made it easy for the reader, he also provided some teeth-showing smiles of some sorts in the end; showing that the human spirit is much more resilient than we believe it is and that even though evil may rule and brood for awhile, it is not long that our common inherent goodness will smother it. He showed that even in the evilest of lives there is some good in it. For instance, Hans - a German - provided a piece of bread to a totally unknown Jew in a parade marching towards Dachau, risking his life and that of his family. Later Liesel would do same and earn herself severe whippings.

This book is a must read. Kindly consider it and when humans everywhere, irrespective of position and place, have read it, perhaps war will become limited. What of the countless dying in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Ethiopia and more!
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