Friday, October 26, 2012

198. Journey by G. A. Agambila

Journey (Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006; 304) by G.A. Agambila is a novel about life and the uncertainties and mystery surrounding it. It is also about swimming against the cold currents of penury and traditions whilst showing the developmental gap between the Northern and Southern part of the country, Ghana. This developmental gap is no fiction and the story of the North-South migration is a common one for most folks. The motif of the story could easily have been autobiographical as most students who completed their secondary education had to either come down south (to the University of Ghana located at Accra or University of Cape Coast located at Cape Coast) or stop over at Kumasi (at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), in the middle part of the country, if they wanted to further their education to the university level. It still is the case even though the northern sector now has a university. There is also, in this story, of teenage trysts and frivolity.

Amoah has completed his A'Level exams and is contemplating on what to do. He is about leaving his close friends at his school before he journeys home to visit his sick grandfather and then come down south to live with his uncle who was living in a self-imposed exile away from the demands of a tradition he no longer believes or shares in. But Amoah embarks on some dangerous and teenage escapades before visiting Tinga and then on to Accra. The story is set between Amoah's last two days of his stay in school and before the GCE A'Level results were released. It is indeed a journey as decisions of the future have to be taken. 

The story promises much by its title but delivered less. The author spends too much time and space narrating the events that took place in the last two days after the main character wrote his last examination. This took more than half of the novel and makes the reading tasking with the reader expecting something monumental to happen, which never did. Another issue is that the author chose to use the first person narrative style combined with the present tense for a story set in the past. For a full-length novel, these three combinations made reading extremely difficult. Had it been a short-story, the reader would not feel the drudgery and the effort that would have been required would definitely have been less. They didn't work, for me, that is; meaning that I needed a very extraordinary effort to go through complete the read. Finally, there were places where the author became philosophical. Though these were the best moments of the read, they also sounded a bit like a text-book advice; again, to me.

Regardless, one cannot discount the other qualities of Agambila's work; that it is a work that could easily be taken for an autobiography, the realities of many a Ghanaian. Again, many a teenager will identify themselves with Amoah, especially his tricks with and wishes for the ladies. It is a good read and I recommend it to those who will not be put off by the issues I have already raised. 
About the author: Read about the author here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

197. Growing Yams in London by Sophia Acheampong

The proportion of Ghanaian writers, both at home and in the diaspora, are incomparable to countries like Nigeria, whose authors have become household names, names we throw about in every literary discussion, names like Achebe, Soyinka, Okri, Chimamanda, Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta and others. If there are few Ghanaians involved in the art of weaving words into novels, there are fewer - in fact, they could be counted on the fingers of one hand - whose writings are directed towards the youth or who dabble in the type of books commonly referred to as Young Adults. And I can count only one name: Nana Brew-Hammond whose Powder Necklace was reviewed here. Today, another check-box has been ticked and a new name added.

Sophia Acheampong's Growing Yams in London (Piccadilly Press, 2006; 220) is a Young Adult fiction about first and second generation Ghanaians in England working tirelessly to find a compromise between between the culture of their homeland and that of their adoptive country. The émigré parents having been born in their native countries have been instilled with a set of cultural systems that define what is right and what is wrong, the borders of conversation between children and adults, and the codes of conduct (or rules of behaviour). Pitched against the parents are the children who face different, and usually diametrically opposite, set of codes of conducts in a very liberal society that, comparatively, usually grants them more freedom. 

But the immigrants story - first generation, second generation, or even third generation - has been written from several perspectives: their inability to or difficulty to adapt or fit in (language, desires, likes, dislikes), the name-calling and taunts (here one can mention the race issue), the finding of what and where home is after one has live almost her entire life in a country different from her parents'. So what makes Sophia's story different from the others? What makes it worth the read? In Growing Yams in London (the title itself is attraction enough), the characters are not necessarily working to fit-in, they've already fitted in; they are not facing that dilemma of settling on where home is, they know and understand their dual status; and they are not being haunted by race, names or fighting or indulging in drugs. The children in this novel are your normal English children and faces the same or similar problems as all English children. To Makeeda and her friends, getting a boyfriend is the major challenge. And this is where the challenge is also for Makeeda's first generation emigres whose idea of boyfriend is different from their hers. To them it is and should be a no-go area but the latest crop of communication technology and gadgets means that new techniques of supervision is required and, if possible, a relenting of rules and redefining parenting.

But ... there is an issue of roots. However, Makeeda's plight is different; whereas her  parents won't impose this on her, she finds it within herself to learn more about herself. Hence, when a history assignment required them to write about a history person that inspires them she set out to use it to learn more about her roots. 

This story is funny, light and relatable and the issues raised are accurately youngish, the things an early teen girl in this era of technological age will worry about - jealous friends, boyfriends (or love), fashion, impressions, hurts, and fear of being referred to as a nerd - with the usual and adequate dose of trysts. All the elements of a good story were perfectly balanced in this story. Sophia rendered the story in a perfect language suitable for that age group she was working with. The dialogue is believable and the reader finds not the author in the read; all the reader finds are people living their lives off the pages of the story as he turns over the pages.

Sophia has a niche and she will do well to capitalise on this. This book is recommended. 
About the author: Sophia Acheampong is a British-born Ghanaian. She lives and works in North London and studied at Brunel University. Like Makeeda, she too is still learning about her culture.

When asked in an interview about the use of technology in her work Sophia says "When I was a teenager mobile phones and email were in their early stages. Everyone used landlines to communicate, wrote letters to friends abroad, and had a stack of phone cards for calling friends from a phone box. Now technology punctuates our existence, especially that of teenagers. I felt compelled to incorporate text messages and IM in Growing Yams in London as it was an essential part of Makeeda’s teenage experience." (Source)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Picture Speaks: Chinua Achebe, Two Years after His Debut

Chinua Achebe in 1960
A reader is likely to have the image of a favourite author fixed in his or her head forever. Usually, this image will be a representation of the author at the age or period the reader got to know him. Hardly will it change. Thus, if the author became a favourite in his old age, this image sticks and rarely does one look back on the author's younger years. And vice versa.

I chanced upon Chinua Achebe's picture, supposedly taken two years after the publication of his debut novel Things Fall Apart. I must say that I've never ever thought of searching for this author in his youthful days. When Things Fall Apart was published, in 1958, the author was twenty-eight.

Have you seen your favourite authors in their young days (if they are old)? And can you identify them?

This picture was obtained through Seun Writes and I hope I'm using it fairly since I'm not benefitting - financially - from its use here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

196. Women Leading Africa: Conversations with Inspirational African Women, Edited by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

Issues of women, the world over, are peculiar for its similarities than its differences. The issues confronting women are not specific to any given culture, continent, country or even ethnic grouping. They are colour blind, nonracial, and ageless. They are ubiquitous. Even in the so-called developed countries where the fight for gender equality has been fought and achievements chalked to such an extent that it (gender equality) has become commonplace, one could easily point to certain discrimination against the fair sex; nevertheless, the intensity - depth and width - of this discrimination varies across cultures. Because these problems emanate from an established patriarchal society, they are structural in nature and, when not interrogated and challenged, are bound to be propagated from one generation to the other, even by individuals who have no intention of maltreating women or discriminating against them; for no one is explicitly tutored to hate women. They are only asked to implement what the traditions - developed by a council of men - stipulate. So that, at any point in time, the victims of such eolithic laws are themselves its ardent adherents, perpetrating it with ardour and tranquility with the belief that they are advancing some ancestral course. For instance, widowhood rites are mostly meted out to women by women; so too are some instances of clitoridectomy, or  FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).

For so long a time, women have passively subjected themselves to this maltreatment that generations of women took the abnormal to be the norm. Those who broke out and fought back were branded as witches and crones who were isolated and banished and upon their demise, were mythologised into fearful apparitions. But because 'no one takes the medicine for a sick person', women never left the fight. The struggle was waged relentlessly, regardless of the derisive and often derogatory labels slapped on these individuals. This birthed the Affirmative Action, which sought to address these rights discrimination. And Africa is no different.

In Africa, the struggle is still in its nascent stages and, though several successes have been chalked, there is more to be done to address this inherent, culture-defined practices. For instance, in movies - the woman is a dullard, unable to think herself out of problems and waiting to be saved by a more intelligent, macho man. This arc is common even in the Hollywood-produced movies. In Nollywood movies and movies from across other parts of Africa, the women are witches sabotaging the financial successes of their sons and preventing their daughters from having children; or they are prostitutes who will later be rescued by a rich and genteel male client. Or are arrogant to the point of insanity, where they are financially successful. Or are financially successful but unmarried and, by some twisted logic, desperate. All these pictures create a kind of dependency syndrome on the part of women, whilst at the same time - at the subliminal level - introducing it into her that the man is the saviour, the rescuer and solver of problems. The men are portrayed differently: they are imbeciles and under magic-spells whenever they are seen to be washing, ironing or helping at home. When they lose their jobs and the women become the breadwinners there will be trouble in the home.

Yet, successes have been chalked; awareness has been created and there is a belief - not yet backed by research, at least not that I know of - that the young husbands of today are different from their fathers in terms of the spousal relationships and respect and home-keeping and equality of rights.

But behind these successes are women who are struggling, and fighting tirelessly, sometimes sacrificing their careers to take on a new one, at other times adding onto what they are already doing. It is these women that Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah interviews in her book, Women Leading Africa: Conversations with Inspirational African Women (African Women's Development Fund, 2011; 177). Reading this book one gets a picture of women fighting for their rights - human rights, from different sectors of their lives. The picture is so vivid that sometimes it feels like they are virtually waging a war and even though sometimes they send conflicting messages regarding their personal opinions and beliefs, their vision remains the same. For instance, where are some don't believe in labels and will reluctantly call themselves feminists, even though they fight assiduously for women's right, others describe themselves as such boldly and with pride. Similarly, whereas others believe that the religion itself discriminates against women, others indulge in a feminist reading of the bible. It is this diversity in a unified purpose that brings them success for both the Christian and the Atheist, still could have a common ground to share ideas and advance a humane course without throwing blows, attacking throats, or being vituperative. Thus, the fight for women's right has moved beyond personality crashes to a level where the vision has become the mission and the means, varied. It is no longer about one single woman, it is about women. It is no longer about one person getting into a position of authority, it is about that girl in the village getting access to equal education and having equal chance of getting a job. It is no longer about pacifying women with positions or by doting on them but by changing laws so that they can make their own choices regarding where and what their future should be.

By bringing all these women together into one compendium, Nana Darkoa has clearly shown that there is comfort and safety for anyone contemplating to join the fight for women's right and gender equality. That this safety in numbers means no explanation for being a feminist just as no one explains being a lawyer. And that there are men out there who believe and fight for women rights, like the husbands of some of the interviewees. However, if there is anything that treads through all the interviews, it is that the fight against injustices against women requires a conscious and decisive participation, and not passive head-nodding and secret-support (bedroom support), if changes are to be made; for challenging the status quo, interrogating traditions and  demanding answers is not a passive exercise. If it were, it would have been achieved a long time ago, without intervention.

Bringing women from West, East and Southern Africa, Women Leading Africa is divided into three sections - Politics, The Arts, and Feminist Spaces - depending on the primary occupation of the interviewees. The Politics section has names like Hon. Winnie Byanyima, Hon. Margaret Dongo, Verbah Gayflor, Hon. Pregaluxmi Govender, Hon. Catherine Mabobori and Wendy Pekeur. What some of these women did, have done and are doing will amaze the reader. For instance, Hon. Margaret Dongo, at fifteen, participated fully in Zimbabwe's Liberation War. She became a Member of Parliament for the Zanu-PF party, but is now president of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, an opposition party. Anyone who has read Fiona Leonard's Chicken Thief and Shimmer Chinodya's Harvest of Thorns will relate to this, except that this is no fiction.

The Arts section features publishers, authors and writers. Here one will find Ama Ata Aidoo, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Rudo Chigudu, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ayesha Harruna Attah and Wanuri Kahiu. It was interesting reading Tsitsi Dangarembga's thoughts and how they influenced her books - Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not. Ama Ata Aidoo's work with her Mbaasem Foundation, created to provide writing space for women but which grew to become something bigger, was also highlighted. Ayesha Haruna Attah talked about the women in her novel Harmattan Rain. She came across as not very glued to the feminist agenda but anyone who had read her book will know it is the opposite. Bibi's interview showed how one can use her primary occupation to fight against stereotyping, especially in books. Bibi owns Cassava Republic and through her publishing activities have fought against prosaic prejudices since they feed into the conscience.

Florence Butegwa, Leyman Gbowee, Jessica Horn, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Mary Wandia were grouped under the Feminist Spaces section. Leyman Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with her president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, though this interview was conducted prior to this. Gbowee worked to end the civil war that plagued Liberia by organisation non-violent demonstrations. Her struggle has been made into a film titled Pray the Devil Back to Hell. She also worked to get Ellen elected for a second term. Mercy Oduyoye's interview is very fascinating. It was nice to know how a feminist reads the bible, especially when most have castigated the book for been oppressive against women. However, Mercy says questions must be asked; who are those writing the book? who are those telling the story? She has views that could easily have been described as blasphemous but which answers most of the questions usually raised and she is unapologetic about them.

From the interview one could see some sort of distinction between men, as individuals, and men as used when referring to a patriarchal society. (I may be wrong with this distinction). Hence, interrogating the structures and that idea (which makes men think they have authority over all) should be the focus, some think. Breaking down and rebuilding the structures and the consciences, cannot be done by women alone - after all there are some women who themselves want to keep the status quo. It can be done when we all decide enough is enough; that we want to see change and that this change has enormous developmental consequences, for which society ever developed when a large part of its people are discriminated against? Therefore the fight against patriarchy is not only women's fight but everybody's fight. But since he who feels it, knows it more, they have to take the lead just as they have done. That is demonisation of men is not the solution to women's problem and I don't think the plan of women's right activist is to create a matriarchal society instead of an egalitarian one. At least Dr Musimbi Kanyoro believes so:
Change-makers strive to bring everyone to the conversation and not just their allies. My aim in life is to get as many people as possible to recognise the humanity of women. Men are the other sex of humanity. They are family members, neighbours, friends, colleagues, and we ant to enhance the good in these relationships. 
However, she also recognised that there are certain things men should be personally held responsible for. She continues
Yet with much regret, men are also our oppressors and we organise to protect ourselves from men when they discriminate against us, act with violence and dehumanise us all.
This shows the complexity of the challenge faced by these feminist activist. Each interviewee is an achiever; each knows the importance of what they want for their gender and, with the precise and incisive questioning from Nana Darkoa, stated their goals and wishes for women devoid of  circumlocution, which could have easily ensued due to the several dimensions the interviewees have. My only problem is that one or two of the interviews were short and seemed to have ended abruptly. For instance, I really wanted to know more about Margaret Dongo and what made her form her own political party.

My observations from this reading could have been influenced by my gender. Perhaps like Oduyoye, I did a masculine reading of the book or perhaps I was afraid to confront myself or that I think I belong to the new generation of men who believe in equality of the genders and therefore think all men of my generation do. Whatever the case may be, this book took me on a journey and it is a journey worth taking. I recommend it unreservedly to all.
About the Editor: Nana Sekyiamah serves as a trustee for the Korle Bu Family Fund (KBFF) as Director of Europe and is currently inspiring others to become trustees through the national Get on Board campaign. Nana is a personal coach and trainer who specialises in working with individuals looking to achieve success in their lives. Nana's experience includes delivering work based coaching programmes and organising specialised coaching and personal/professional development events.

Nana is a trained facilitator, accomplished public speaker and a member of London Communicator's (a toastmaster's) club. She also works as Programme Officer, Fundraising and Communication, for the African Women's Development Fund. (Source)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#ManBookerPrize: Hilary Mantel Wins the 2012 Man Booker Prize

Hilary Mantel has won the 2012 Man Booker Prize with her book Bringing Up the Bodies, a sequel to her 2009 Booker-Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall. The 50,000 Pounds prize was announced on October 16, 2012 at 9:40 pm British time at a dinner at Guildhall. This win makes her the third author to have won the Booker Prize on two different occasions. The other two are Peter Carey (1988 & 2001) and J.M. Coetzee (1983 & 1999). 

She is the first person to have the first two books of a trilogy win the Booker Prize. Could she make it three in three? Read more here. The Guardian reported that the Chair of Judges, Peter Stothard, described Hilary Mantel as 'the greatest modern English prose writer.'

Friday, October 12, 2012

195. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001; 568) is a disquisition on American pop culture and the American family as it transits from a period of familial bond and quaint prohibitions to that of material bond and quick-fixes in a freer do-what-you-want world and where its [the family’s] values have shifted from a personal relationship among kin to a personal relationship with wealth, respectively.

In this unforgiving but dispassionate analysis of the middle class, Franzen single-mindedly sought to expose the effects of wanton and desperate quest for wealth as expressed in uncontrolled consumerism, materialism, profiteering and above all the satisfaction of the singular self on the unifying role of the family as an institution and, therefore, on the American system. He exposes the darker side of a system that has put premium on consumption of commodities and that has redefined success as one’s ability to consume limitlessly. So much has consumption, of goods and services, become important in the current economic system that growth and prosperity of the individual and the nation, as a whole, is predicated on it. Consequently, a drop in the Consumer Index of a country leads to a prod in the society’s flanks by either the monetary or fiscal authorities of that country to stimulate spending.

What makes Franzen’s The Corrections different from many other novelistic commentaries on America’s socio-cultural metamorphosis, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, is that his is not a prognostication; his is a social analysis of present, as it unfolds. In this inductive thesis, the family as the unit of society serves as Franzen’s guinea pig upon which incisions and dissections are made to arrive at a generalised conclusion.

The five-member middle-class Lambert family divided into the first generation consisting of Enid and Alfred and the second generation of Gary, Chip and Denise, is the author’s choice. However, within this family of five could be found all the trappings of a modern society – from drugs to divorce, profit to parenting, sex to sexuality, convention and conformation to misfits and maladjustment. Each of the Lambert children is hiding something; each is facing a unique set of problems; each has his or her own views on what life should be and all have corrections to make. Gary, the eldest, is facing the challenge of bringing up his own children in a world that is vastly different from what it was when was growing; his children’s world is a world where games and self-helps books abounds, where the disease of self-aggrandisement through acquisition of goods starts young. In addition to his demanding children is a well-off wife who sees all problems as psychological and relies on self-help parenting books, games and television to raise her children and who believes that the only definition of love (especially towards her children) is to provide all their fantasies. She also is very fixed when it comes to what or who a family is – husband and children. Gary is also profit oriented and sees himself as the only successful person among all his sibs. He is a keen investor and will make profit of everything even if it includes committing his father to a nursing home so he could sell the house because of the rapid increase in house prices.

Chip is the second child whose vision of success is at variance with society’s definition. Thus, as intelligent and liberal as he is he found  it through the hard way that life is like the Procrustean bed, if you don’t fit it, you will either have to be stretched or butchered. Having been fired from his position as a lecturer for bedding one of his students and using drugs – and the case was brought against him by the girl – he found himself in an Eastern European country working to defraud American investors.

Denise left school, young, to marry and elderly man. There was a divorce and a series of relationship with married men and women. Her confusion about her sexuality saw her meteoric rise to become a socialite and her immediate freefall from that acme. And though several openings were made available to her, she was reluctant to change directions from chosen path of self-destruction.

Alfred lives with his principles and has raised his children on them. But now he is suffering from Parkinson’s diseases and he is losing his sanity. He won’t agree to being committed to a nursing home, neither will he agree to use a shower even though he always gets stuck in the tub. He’s at loggerheads with Gary who believes his father isn’t acting right and understands less and he knows Denise’s childhood secret even though he chose never to confront her.

Enid believes in her children and sees them with a different set of eyes. In fact, she has chosen to believe that Chip works on Wall Street even though that correction has been made several times. She compares her life with her friends and feels she’s been short-changed. And Enid is willing to bring all her children together for one last Christmas, a Christmas that will unite a family that is on the verge of total collapse. She also has a secret, with drugs.

As a dispassionate analysis of the middle class family and consequently of society, Franzen avoided pandering to either side, remaining neutral and non-judgemental in the entire discourse; hence, do not expect to have any semblance attachment to any of the characters. The work would have greatly suffered if that were possible. However, for what the work lacked in empathy, Franzen made it up with his powerful prose that carries the story and makes the reader turn the pages. And this is where the success of Franzen’s work lies.

It must be said that even though the issues raised in this novel are peculiarly American in its fullness, it is creeping on those of us on this side of the Atlantic; however, ours have not evolved to this extent thus making comparison difficult. For instance, though the family unit has moved away from the extended family system model to the nuclear family system, similar to the Lamberts, the parent-child bond is yet to suffer the Lambert-stress. Again, regardless of the wealth status of the parents, children still serve as some form of life insurance for parents in their old age. In fact, it is respectable to be seen to be caring for your parents, at least currently and at least in Ghana, I’m yet to read of people who have committed their parents to nursing homes.

All in all The Corrections, which could easily have been titled One Last Christmas, is better than I imagined it to be. I enjoyed it immensely.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

#NobelPrize: Mo Yan Wins the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature

At a few minutes to 11 am GMT, the Nobel Committee announced Chinese writer Mo Yan (57) as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. The author whose works are often banned in his home country and are widely pirated is known for works such as Red Sorghum and Garlic Ballads. His recent work Frog was published last year and won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, 2011. Mo Yan - meaning 'don't speak' - is a pseudonym for Guan Moye; he becomes the first Asian since Kenzaburo Oe won it in 1994 - and if you count out his compatriot Gao Xianjing (2000) who is a citizen of France, he is the first non-European winner since 2003. Technically, Mo Yan is the first Chinese to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

According to the Nobel Committee, The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Mo Yan
Who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.
This award which, until now, had been given 108 times since 1901, and had suffered only two rejections (Jean Paul Sartre and Boris Pasternak) is unarguably the the most prestigious awards in the world of Literature. The last winner was Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.

The Nobel is given to an author "Who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

Mo Yan's novel "... Life and Death are Wearing me Out [was written] in only 43 days. He composed the more than 500,000 characters contained in the original manuscript on traditional Chinese paper using only ink and a writing brush".

His book Frog has been criticised for supporting China's one child policy. He has also been accused of showing no greater solidarity with other writers who have been punished by the Chinese government.

It has also been said that he supported the heavy punishment meted out to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Lu Xiabao.

In a recent Granta interview he explained why censorship is good for literature. He says "... Many approaches to literature have political bearings, for example in our real life there might be some sharp sensitive issues that they do not wish to touch upon. At such a juncture, a writer can inject their own imagination to isolate them from the real world or maybe they can exaggerate the situation - making sure it is bold, vivid and has the signature of our real world. So, actually I believe these limitations or censorship is great for literature creation."

Monday, October 08, 2012

194. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

In Season of Migration to the North* (A Three Continent Book/Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997 (First Pub., 1966 in Arabic and Translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davies, 1969); 169) a young man has arrives home, at Wad Hamid, a small village near the Nile in northern Sudan, from his studies at England where he trained as a Poet. He arrives home to the usual ululation and susurration that meets individuals who have had the opportunities to study abroad, especially during the period where coming across a foreign trained individual was as rare as finding water on a desert. Thus, the narrator's homecoming from abroad is celebrated amongst his people; except one man, whose name he later finds to be Mustafa Sa'eed.

Mustafa Sa'eed's lack of enthusiasm in the narrator's return sparks a certain kind of 'need-to-know' curiosity in the narrator; he sees him a person of a different breed, one not awed by the airs of a freshly-arrived scholar. The narrator, his curiosity piqued, set out to investigate more about this mysterious man whose behaviour is akin to one who has seen it all and done it all. The first information he gets is from the narrator's father who informs him that Mustafa Sa'eed is from Khartoum and a good farmer who, though not entirely a recluse, keeps to himself. However, the first concrete information the narrator gets is from Mustafa himself when in a drunken state recites an excellent English poetry.

Later the narrator approaches Mustafa to learn more about this mystery man who recites excellent English poetry in this small village. Mustafa obliges and tells the narrator more about himself, about his childhood as a precocious child whose capacity for learning was almost insatiable. Soon this will see him travel to Cairo for his Secondary School education where he meets an English who will take an exceptional liking to him because of his intelligence. He will later travel to England for further studies at Oxford; however, there his intellectual capacity will make him flirt with the English literati and political elite. In England, Mustafa becomes a liberal and bohemian and a bon vivant, exaggerating about his oriental roots to seduce the English women. The girls' love for him is wild and almost insatiable. To them, he is the perfect prince and he makes them believe so. This strange love leads three of his women to commit suicide. Later he is to marry one manipulative and kinky lady whom he later murdered, and failing to defend himself properly, earns a seven year prison term. Upon his release, Mustafa returns to Sudan to exorcise himself of all the misfortunes that saw him fall from a professor with a fine mind to prison.

The narrator fills in parts of the story as he goes through Mustafa's room after his drowning and dying in the flooded Nile. Though the villagers deems his death an accident, the narrator thinks otherwise; he sees it as suicide and the thought of Mustafa will haunt him forever, until he himself is caught between a life and death situation where it will take a force of will to dissociate himself from Mustafa and his ghost and assert himself as a different person. However, prior to this, a series of events regarding who marries Mustafa's widow comes up. Here the narrator realises that Mustafa has put him in charge of his two sons and wife and the executor of his estate. As it turns out, Hosna bint Mahmoud is no ordinary woman. Having lived with Mustafa, she has sworn never to marry any of those octogenarian patriarchs seeking her hand in marriage from her father. But it is this mystery in her that will cause Wad Rayyes to go to all lengths possible to marry her. This marriage leads to a murder and a suicide.

At just over 150 pages, A Season of Migration to the North is a deeply affective novel. It is about freedom and its limits. It's also about decisions and choices. It also questions certain traditional practices, like forced marriages, in a subtle kind of way. It could be said that Tayeb Salih was no sympathiser of Mustafa, showing that it takes more than just a western education to develop a village, that when one acquires such education mustn't allow himself to be swallowed by the system, by this new or adoptive culture. If he does, his education serves no universalised purpose, benefits not those in need of its manifestation and acts not as that vital development bridge. It also means not forgetting one's origin.

Today, countries have developed by investing in its people to seek knowledge in developed economies and coming home with this acquired knowledge to contribute to the developmental effort. But Mustafa chose to live a different kind of life and only got home because there was no choice. At this point, his enthusiasm had died down so that a man who had so much potential, as his colleagues and all those who met him professed to the narrator, contributed little to his people except as a gossip item. Recommended.
About the author: Born in Karmakol, near the village of Al Dabbah in the Northern Province of Sudan, he studied at the University of Khartoum before leaving for the University of London in England. Coming from a background of small farmers and religious teachers, his original intention was to work in agriculture. However, excluding a brief spell as a schoolmaster before coming to England, his working life was in broadcasting. For more than ten years, Salih wrote a weekly column for the London-based Arabic language newspaper al Majalla in which he explored various literary themes. He worked for the BBC's Arabic Service and later became director general of the Ministry of Information in Doha, Qatar. He spent the last 10 years of his working career with UNESCO in Paris, where he held various posts and was UNESCO's representative in the Gulf States.

Salih achieved immediate acclaim when his novel Season of Migration to the North was first published in Beirut in 1966. In 2001, the book was declared “the most important Arabic novel of the 20th century” by the Arab Literary Academy. His works have been translated from Arabic into more than 20 languages. Salih completed three other novels and a collection of short stories. His novella “The Wedding of Zein” was made into a drama in Libya and a Cannes Festival prize-winning film by the Kuwaiti filmmaker Khalid Siddiq in the late 1970s. (Source)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

#BannedAfricanBooks: Creating a Database for Banned African Books

September 30 to October 6 was (or is) celebrated as Banned Books Week worldwide. During this period, people around the world, especially in the blogosphere, read books that have been banned at one point in before for various perceived offenses, either due to its language, sex, murder, or profanity. According to the the American Library Association who established this in 1982
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community -- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types -- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
In Africa, governments and other bodies have used several excuses to ban several books. However, every book deserves to be given the opportunity to be read. The onus lies on the reading public to decide whether they want to personally ban the book or not. It is not the prerogative of any group to decide what books an individual reads. It will interest you to note that books such as The Handmaid's Tales by Margaret Atwood, Beloved and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong'o and others have all been banned before. 

This is an initiative worth spreading. I intend to create a database of Banned African Books. Kindly fill the form below and when you are done click submit. This database will serve as the pool from which people can choose from to read on such occasions. Your help is needed.

Before filling the form, kindly take a look at the database to see if the book has already not been added.

Friday, October 05, 2012

193. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I went into Northanger Abbey (Premier Classics, 1818; 241) with so much expectation coming from the back of my enjoyment of her novel Pride and Prejudice. However, I think I was somewhat let down. This disappointment could be the fault of my own poor predisposition towards the reading , especially my poor mental preparedness going into an English a typical classical whose language is overly refine and too 'polite'. Or it could be the subject matter, which wasn't agreeable to my constitution. Whatever it is, I left this book with a feeling of having let down Jane Austen though I knew that my singular let down wouldn't add or subtract anything from her fame and following.

Having said this, I enjoyed the way Jane Austen presented the issues of marriage and of getting married at the time; how, she, pretending to describe what pertains, mocks the system. This makes her book very sarcastic and a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Also, when used as the baseline, it shows how far we have come as a people in terms of freedom, choice, and priorities.

I am prepared to revisit this book and not let this decide my interaction or literary romance with Austen. Kindly let me know, if you have read this book, what you think. Perhaps I read it wrongly.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Quarterly Review and my Reading Projections for October

September Reads
In September I was in my elements. Not that I did something that I've never done before. No! That isn't it. I just did my usual reading; however, it was better than it had been for the last five months, that is from April to August, where I hardly hit the required fifty pages per day (except in April where it was 52.30). Perhaps, finally, the vacation I took from work helped.

I was able to read four out of the five books I projected to read and two others that weren't in the list. This six books gave me a total of 1,691 pages, which works out to 56.4 pages per day, though it isn't up to my January to March stats where in the latter month alone I read a total of 2,424 pages (or 78.2 pages per day). I love the reading stats though I don't let it ruin the joy of reading.

The following are the books I read in September:
  1. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. This has been on my Top 100 list for a long time. It tells of Mustafa Sa'eed, a bohemian and a bon-vivant whose life was wasted even in his death and his doppelganger, the narrator of the story, who had to exorcised the ghost and memory of Mustafa in order to live a worth living.
  2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Finally I get to read this tome. I understand why people love it and hate it in equal measure. At the beginning I was hating it but couldn't also put it down due to Franzen's compelling and powerful prose. Again, such a disquisition of American society needs to be read and understood if one is not to fall victim to it. However, what can one do if life becomes a Procrustean bed? I will entreat all to read this. Don't trust any review. Read it for yourself.
  3. Growing Yams in London by Sophia Acheampong. This is a Young Adult novel by a British-born Ghanaian. She explores life as a second generation British living with a first-generation immigrant parents who wish you will know more about your roots and culture. Again, it is that dilemma most second generation immigrants face; yet it is more than that. Acheampong explores technology and how it aids friendship and more.
  4. Journey by G. A. Agambila. This is a story of migration, of life and of moving against the cold currents of penury and of traditions. It's somewhat complex but so are the lives we live where decisions have to be made at each point, where disappointments are common and plans don't go as they should.
  5. The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Every month I try to read at least one non-fiction. I don't know if I've followed this religiously. In this superb book with numbered paragraphs which reads like aphorisms, Sun Tzu explains strategy and what it takes to win wars. In fact, this book has a wider application. He admonishes 'Know your enemy and yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.' He also admonishes Generals to treat those they capture in battles magnanimously.
  6. Portrait of the Artist, as an Old Man by Joseph Heller. This is a fantastic book and it has a huge surprise at the end. What if an author tells you at the end of a book that the author in the book you're reading (the book is about an old author struggling to write a master piece before his death) is trying to write the book you've just read? Fantastic. Heller captures the torments and struggles that most authors go through especially after they've had an initial success with their first book. This book was completed just before the Catch-22 author passed. It could be very autobiographical or at least will have traces of himself in it.
These are the books I read. Currently, I am reading Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming). Another thing: I have reviewed and scheduled five out of the six books I read.

Projections for October
Actually I've not thought about this and hence have not selected the books; but I might read the following
  1. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. Currently reading this book;
  2. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan;
  3. Fathers and Daughters, an Anthology of Exploration by Ato Quayson;
  4. IPods in Accra by Sophia Acheampong;
  5. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; and 
  6. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
These are only projections and may change.

Quarterly Review
This is the end of the third quarter and I have to take stock of all my reading challenges and report if I'm on track or not. By sharing it with my readers, I put the power of supervision into them so that I won't keep off track or stop altogether. Once I know my readers are 'waiting' for my progress report, I will get to work and complete them.
Uncompleted Challenges:
  1. The 70 book Reading Challenge. This challenge is a year-long challenge whose aim is to read 70 books (not single stories; could be fiction or non-fiction) in the year, from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012. I have excel sheets with formulas that determine whether I'm on track or not and also I have a GoodReads account to help me on this. Currently, I am 74 percent into this challenge and that translates into 52 books (I'm on my 53rd), which means that, including what I'm currently reading, I have 18 books to be read in three months or six books per month. The challenge therefore is to keep all the months at least as better as September; anything less and I will not reach my target. If I read all the 70 books, 2012 will be the year I read the most books, at least since 2009 where I started keeping records of my reading.
  2. 100 Shots of Shorts. This challenge is also a year-long one and it is aimed at reading 100 short stories in a calendar year. This short stories include both collected stories (in anthologies) and uncollected stories (or what I often call single stories). I'm 82 percent into this challenge and I am sure to complete it since one anthology alone could have more than 18 stories required for completion. And I have more than one anthology. At least I have one - The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo - that has 26 stories.
  3. The Commonwealth Writers Prize Winners for African Region. This is an infinite challenge where I try to read winners of this prize and, unless the prize is cancelled, I'm not going to complete this. Again, most of the books are not available hence commitment level is low. Only 1 (Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya) of the 52 books read so far qualifies for this challenge.
  4. Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. This challenge began somewhere in 2009 with the aim of reading a listed (from different top 100s) books of 100 to be read in 5 years. So far I'm only 40 percent through this challenge and I'm in the third year; though I have one or two of the books on my shelf most of them have eluded me. Reading this year has contributed 11 books to the challenge which is better than all the years except last year.
Completed Challenges
  1. Chunkster Challenge. This challenge asked readers to read four books whose pages are 450 or higher. This was the first challenge I completed and since my completion I've read three more books. Thus it is 173 percent complete.
  2. Africa Literature Reading Challenge (ARLC). I participated this challenge knowing that I could complete in a month, after all my focus has been African Literature. Consequently, I didn't add any other books to the chosen list. It is therefore 100 percent completed.
Other Trivia
  1. Forty-two percent of all books I've read this year were authored by an African and the remaining is non-African-authored. The question is why the disparity even though I say I am promoting African Literature? It's difficult accessing African books. Besides, other books draw people to the site who will then have the chance to read the African books. Lame reason but believe me, the African books are difficult to access, especially the quality ones.
  2. Non-fiction - 12 percent (8); translation 10 percent (7); Poetry anthology 3 percent (2); short story anthology 7 percent (5); novels (> 150 pages) 38 percent (26); novella (<=150 pages) 4 percent (3); plays 1 percent (1). I end here.
  3. Total pages read is 13,593. 
I will give more details in the end of year review.
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