Thursday, November 29, 2012

206. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran - A Memoir in Books (Random House, 2003; 347) tells stories of the lives of the author and seven of her students between the period when the Shah was overthrown and the 'Islamic Republic' was instituted to the period where the author finally left the country, in 1997. Through her narrative, she unfolds how civil liberties, especially of women and more generally of liberals, were drastically and suddenly parred down after the revolution. 

Azar Nafisi's decision to use the stories of other books to tell her story, drawing comparisons, analogies, and association, was fascinating; it was enlightening how one word - like poshlust - used by an author could have a reverberating effects on the lives of people far away from the centre of origin. In this way, Nafisi provided a deeper understanding of these books, of which Nabokov's Lolita is but just one. Azar compares life under the secular government and life under the Islamic government. One clear theme that runs through this memoir is the issue of Choice. For just as the Islamic government took away the liberties away from the liberals and forced strict religious tenets on the citizenry, so too did the secular government forced secularism on the people, jailing the religious folks who wouldn't succumb to not wearing the veil. This part of the story was dropped in passing, with as little development as possible. Except in one character. 

Nafisi talked about the superficial lives of the leaders and how they perceived everything Western as immoral and yet would, in the secrets of their homes, wallow in them or used them. In this vein, and in others, Azar's memoir is not different from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In both books, in addition to the sycophancy and hypocrisy of the people, people embarked on things they didn't wholly believe in, following the decrees of a few folks in authority.  

The fall from development to underdevelopment, resulting from religious fanaticism, was clear. Intellectuals who held contrary opinions to what the government was espousing, who couldn't subject themselves to the incessant and rapidly increasing decrees - like the author herself who would left the country because she couldn't bring herself to wear the veil - and decreasing freedom, left the country in droves. And it wasn't only the liberal intellectuals who sought to leave but also the youth, who had had a taste of the liberty that existed in the pre-Revolution days, were also uncomfortable with the suddenness of this change; even some Muslims lost the essence of wearing the hijab when its wearing became mandatory.

Azar shows, in this book, that revolutions may start small but when injected with the interests of different interest groups, it spirals into chaos; it slides along an incline increasing speed gradually into doom; into such a time when the revolutionaries themselves lose control and are unable to identify who is actually in control.

However, like most memoirs and quasi-memoirs of dissidents, America features strongly and positively, its society acting as the motif for the drawing of comparisons, and any reference to China and Russia is in the negative. Even when Nafisi mentioned the Gulf war, America was conspicuous in its absence; however this could be understood as she was writing a memoir about her events as she remembers them and not a historical book. Again, like all memoirs the interpretations of people's actions, emotions and thoughts were one-sided, based largely on the writer's perception of what they meant. 

Another problem with Reading Lolita in Tehran is its gallimaufry presentation of events, its lack of chronological order. It was difficult placing the events into specific time periods. She moved forward and backwards losing the reader in the process. It was as if she was working hard to lose the everybody but herself. Finally, the distinction between the different characters is not that marked. But since Azar was describing real people who lived, it could be assumed that the homogeneity resulted from the common struggle they were facing.

If you're interested in Memoirs, this is recommended; if not, this shouldn't be your introductory text. If you're a general reader, it is recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

205. IPods in Accra by Sophia Acheampong

IPods in Accra (Piccadilly, 2009; 185) by Sophia Acheampong continues the story of young Makeeda as she searches for her root. In this story, Makeeda is a bit older, is studying to write her GCSE exams and (un)working on her relationship with Nelson. It has all the ingredients of a good chicklit and a YA. The love is not steamy but juvenile, like we all do.

The questions that Makeeda has to find answers to are everyone's problem. Her relationship with Nelson isn't work; meanwhile she has found that there is something between her and her Maths home-tutor, Nick. Now, she must go through all the burdens of breaking up safely with Nelson and work her way into Nick's heart. As if this isn't complicated enough, Nick, himself, is now 'going-out' with an eye-popping belle. The situation is now tensed and her friends, with whom she would have shared her problems, are now also dealing with similar matters, some of them becoming distant as a result.

If combining love and studies was manageable, then her boat was further to be rocked when she reflexively assented to participate in a puberty rites that will take place during her holidays. With no knowledge of what the rite entails and with more derogatory images fed to her by Tanisha and Delphy, Makeeda was beginning to imagine if she should step out or go ahead. However, her curiosity was further piqued by these images, strengthened by her eagerness to learn about her culture. How will Makeeda work her way around this triadic problems?

This story has all the positives from the first one - Growing Yams in London: language, funny, relatable, unforced. One need not to have read the first story to appreciate this. Sophia does well to make this an independent story; however, knowing the first part of the story will make the reader appreciate some of the patching up and break-ups that were going on. My only problem is that the suspense wasn't enough - almost absent. Regardless, Sophia's writing style is lovely and light and suits her chosen audience. Note that those SMS and e-mail mnemonics were not left out. She also strikes a delicate balance in solving that all-important question of 'what is home?' or 'Where is home?' In achieving this, she used tension and the resolution of the tension became the solution.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is recommended.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

#Reading2013: Books and Authors I wish to Read in 2013

Though the year is more than a month away from ending, I've been dreaming of books to read in the new year, 2013. Like every reader, I have a pile of unread books on my new, bigger, bookshelf. However, what the Book Community on the blogosphere does to the reader is an expansion of his wishlist, an introduction to new authors and, unfortunately, sadly, the greedy accumulation of books. Every true reader has experienced this and I'm no different.

Consequently, regardless of the unread books on my bookshelf, I've come across certain authors and books - those I've known for a long time but have not read and those I got to know from friends - that I feel I should read. For instance, how absurd it is not to have read Dostoevsky, or Nabokov and still call yourself a reader? How sad it is to have avoided these great Russo-literatti? What about Mikhail Bulgakov?

In 2013, I seek to read Russian authors and others whom I've only heard and read reviews of like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas, and more. These therefore are the authors, and in some cases their books, that I wish to read in 2013:
  1. Vladimir Nabokov. I'm always ashamed to say that I've not read anything by this author, though I've read a lot of reviews of his famous novel Lolita. Thus, with Nabokov, I am looking at reading Lolita. However, if I get hold of any of his books, aside this, I will read as well. The idea is to read Nabokov.
  2. Fyodor Dostoevsky. When I tweeted about the books I wish to read, some friends recommended Brothers of Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. And because I've heard a lot about them also, they are the two I look forward to reading.
  3. Mikhail Bulgakov. This is one writer I got introduced to on the blogosphere by a reader at A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. The enthusiasm with which he talks about this book is affective and would rub on any reader. I look forward to reading The Master and Magarita.
  4. Umberto Eco. With Eco I look forward to reading The Name of a Rose and Prague Cemetery. A Guy's Moleskine also talked about How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays. My interest in Prague Cemetery emanated from a helpless interest in conspiracies. And what if you get a 'literary' version of Dan Brown?
  5. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Two books reign here: Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both of these books have highly been recommended. 
  6. Mario Vargas Llosa. For Vargas, I'm not sure of the exact book, suggestions are therefore welcome.
  7. Alain Mabanckou. From Alain, I want to read his one-sentence long story Broken Glass and  the other popular one, African Psycho. It will also be the first Congolese (Brazzaville) author I would have read.
  8. Then there are those quintessential writers whose works I don't specifically know but who I would like to read - here suggestions are welcome - like Czesław Miłosz, Ayn Rand et al.
You can kindly make suggestions and if there are enough I will make a final list at the end of the year as part of my reading projects for 2013.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

204. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (Grove Press, 2006; 356), winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, is a story about impotence and poverty and how they influence each other. Everybody in this story, rich or poor, religious or non-religious, Hindu or Muslim, Indian or Nepali, is a victim in one form or the other. They, the characters, have relinquished control and decisions to act to an invisible authority; they have made this authority more potent by their willingness to succumb and their unwillingness to take any action to change anything in their lives. Perhaps to them, to think of change is to risk worsening an already worst situation. They have thus accepted their victim-hood. This lethargic acceptance, borne not out of ignorance or pleasure of poverty and which is not on a particular romanticism of a past bucolic life, is something one can describe of Developing Countries. Thus, Kiran's characters are like developing countries - things happen to them; decisions are made for them; and when they conceive of a radical action it turns into conflict.

Yet the part of India, described in Kiran's book, is one full of life - animal and plant life. The rain is loud and the soil is fertile and yet these elements, as if in connivance with the authorities, have made life unbearable for the people. Mudslides are common. And robbery, for the people also made life difficult for themselves.

To some, this invisible authority is the 'loss', the 'lack' in their lives. Diseased with poverty, they have nothing to do than to make it a gossamer police ordering their lives and directing them towards an already decided path. One could say that some of the characters, like Biju and his father, are fatalistic. Some survived and lived their lives on borrowed dreams. Biju's father lived on the illusion of a son who was 'making it big' in America; Lola who lived in the knowledge of a daughter who works for the BBC. Sai, the Judge's grand-daughter, herself survived her lonely life by hanging on to a love that shrivelled before it was sown. These individuals lived their present in an ill-conceived future their minds conjured. The Judge, central to the town's life and to the book, was waiting for the peacefulness death offers the living.

But even these borrowed dreams were to furl up like a theatre curtain, exposing to them the decadence of their lives. Even Biju, who was scraping and virtually scavenging to survive in the US, was not spared the reality of the present. To the Judge, the peaceful death he waited for was intruded rudely when his grand-daughter was thrust into his care, the result of a past abandonment and abdication of duties that had finally come calling. His deeds finally catching up with him. For Lola and Noni, the reality dawned on them when their compound was invaded by vagrants who were calling for their rights to be respected and for them to be recognised and treated well. Their garden, their telephone lines and the little things they could describe as comfort were taken from them. They were, thus, forced to face the reality of the privileged lives they lived in the midst of dearth. Biju's father's dream was shattered when the son he had spoken to in America returned a few weeks later, wearing a woman's dress. However, the poor, always resourceful, turned out to be the happiest. The meeting between Biju and his father, even in the state they both were in, was, sadly, the happiest part of the novel. The Judge, aside the initial intrusion of his quietude by Sai, was to have even his dog taken away from him, again as payment of a curlicue deed.

The story is an absolute representation of rot and how it gradually affects the whole. It's a classic case of  bacteria invading a living system.

The "texture" of this novel - if there is such a thing - is similar to Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. The prose is unique; humorous at certain parts, very descriptive and detailed. Kiran's observation is keen, describing woodlice, butterflies and other such tiny things in photographic detail. Underlying the story is the dichotomy between the rich and the poor. Its representation in the story gives meaning to this line in Culture's song: share your riches with the poor before they share their poverty with you.

If you enjoyed Roy's book, you will enjoy this one; if you didn't because of Roy's several lateral stories you will enjoy this one; however if the poverty and lack in Roy's bothered you, then don't go into this. But at all cost, read this for your own enjoyment.

Monday, November 19, 2012

203. Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo

Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories (Ayebia Clarke 2012; 170) by Ama Ata Aidoo is a collection of twelve beautifully written short stories, which confirms the author’s position as a foremost writer in Africa and beyond. Treating everyday subject with unique perspectives and a delicate style that she alone possesses, Aidoo opens up old traditions and questions long-held views with fresh views. Whether it is about the story of a woman who leaves the country of her birth swearing never to return or the story of a group of girls trapped in an alien culture where issues of feminine proportions are at variance with what they had grown up with, Aidoo shows that her sense of observation is as sharp as ever and that there is tradition in every situation that could be questioned.

New Lessons, the first story in the collection, provided the platform to question, subtly as in most of the stories, the idea of home and the motive of migration. Most at times, people who leave the shores of the continent swear fire and brimstone never to return only to do so in their old age. They castigate their country of birth for its backwardness; lambast its leaders, but stay away from its development. This has become the characteristics of most economic émigrés. On the other hand, these migrants soon realise that in their new countries, long-acquired tastes and behaviours must be shed, if they are to fit in. For instance, women realise that being described as ‘fat with well-rounded buttocks’ is no more a statement of commendation than one that requires attention. Like in Benjamin Kwakye’s The Other Crucifix, where a young academic émigré had to separate from his fiancée back home in order to acquire one of the much fancied flat-bottomed girls. These sudden changes cause these émigrés to quickly adopt the required lifestyles capable of ‘making them fit’, throwing those who are unable to cope into psychosis like some of the girls in Mixed Messages. This psychosis was more pronounced, albeit in a different circumstance, in the life of the protagonist in the title story, Diplomatic Pounds. In this story, a woman becomes psychotic in her later life – acquiring hundreds of bathroom scales – after amassing pounds of weight when she followed her ambassadorial father to parties and other functions.

I reviewed this for Business world. Read the rest here.

[1] Improverbs: Improvised proverbs.

About the author: Professor Ama Ata Aidoo, née Christina Ama Aidoo (born 23 March 1942, Saltpond) is a Ghanaian author, playwright and academic. She grew up in a Fante royal household, the daughter of Nana Yaw Fama, chief of Abeadzi Kyiakor, and Maame Abasema. She was sent by her father to theWesley Girls' High School in Cape Coast from 1961 to 1964. The headmistress of Wesley Girls bought her her first typewriter. After leaving high school, she enrolled at the University of Ghana in Legon and received her bachelor of arts in English as well as writing her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, in 1964. The play was published by Longman the following year, making Aidoo the first published African woman dramatist.

She worked in the United States of America where she held a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University. She also served as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and as a Lecturer in English at the University of Cape Coast, eventually rising there to the position of Professor. (Source)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

NEW PUBLICATION: Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home by Balaraba Ramat Yakubu*

From Blaft Publications:

Beginning in the late 1980s, northern Nigeria saw a boom in popular fiction written in the Hausa language. Known as littattafa soyyaya ("love literature"), the books are often inspired by Hindi films - which have been hugely popular among Hausa speakers for decades - and are primarily written by women. They have sparked a craze among young adult readers as well as a backlash from government censors and book-burning conservatives.

Balaraba Ramat Yakubu has been one of the best-known authors in the genre since she published her first novel in 1987. She has also written, directed, and produced films for Kannywood, the Hausa-language film industry based in Kano, Nigeria. 

Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home is an Islamic soap opera complete with polygamous households, virtuous women, scheming harlots, and black magic. It's the first full-length novel ever translated from Hausa to English. And it's quite unlike anything you've ever read before.

Blaft Publications is a small publishing house based in Chennai, India. Our list includes bestselling Indian and Pakistani crime novels, Nigerian soyayya fiction, experimental writing, pulp art, weird folktales, graphic novels, non-fictional manga, and picture book about girls who are in love with monsters.
* I haven't read this novel.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

#GoldenBaobab: Winners of the 2012 Golden Baobab Prize

Winners of the Golden Baobab Prize for 2012 have been announced. The GB Prize is divided into three categories: The Senior Category, The Junior Category, and the Rising Writer Category. The goal of the GB Prize is "to inspire the creation of African stories that children and young adults the world over will love!" And this is long overdue since the focus of most novelist on the continent is not on this class of people.

Joy Nwiyi from Nigeria won the Senior Category with her story Something for Next Time. Joy is a graduate of the University of Calabar and also holds an M.A. from the University of Nigeria. The Senior category is aimed at readers between 12 and 15 years.

Jenny Robson from Botswana and South Africa won the Junior Category with her story Wha-Zup Dude?. Robson is a music teacher who lives and works in Maun, Botswana, on the edge of the Okavango Delta. This category is aimed at readers between 8 and 11 years.

Finally, Rutendo Chabikwa, from Zimbabwe, was announced the winner of the Rising Writer category for her story Letter from the City. Rutendo Renee Chabikwa started her writing career at a very tender age. Though her short story has brought her honour, her main focus has always been poetry. Submissions from authors below 18 years were automatically considered for this prize.

Read more, of the authors and the summary stories, here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

202. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is a minimalist. More of a novella-ist than an novelist. The Telegraph quoted him saying 'if I could write a perfect novella I would die happy'. In that same article he was described as 'lucky to be allowed to publish novellas.' If not for the lack of temerity one could say - in finality, in absoluteness - that he is the best novella-ist, for it isn't often that one comes across an author who pares down his words, weighs and analyses them before applying them, cutting out all unnecessary words just to arrive at the precise meaning of what he is carrying across. Such detailed work of cutting out, cleaning, paring, has often been associated with visual artists and poets. And now McEwan.

Ewan's style is intense, absorbing, concentrated and focussed. His writings hardly entertain lateral stories, and even when they do they are an integral part of the main and contributes to the strength of the whole, like in Atonement. With his style and structure, McEwan has perhaps created a genre that is wholly his. Or rather perfected one.

In this 1998 Booker-winning Book, Amsterdam (Nan A. Talese, 1998; 193) McEwan tells the story of the men in a deceased woman's life. It's about jealousy, generosity and evilness and above all mutual murder. Molly Lane is the woman here and her two ex-lovers - Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday - had met to pay their last respects. Her husband - George Lane, not wanting to share the podium with any of her wife's ex-lovers cancelled the burial service. But what turned out to be a meeting of old friends turn out to be the worst disaster that could ever happen between friends. And it took the complex mind of McEwan to create the perfect situation for this.

With this book, and others like On Chesil Beach - a Booker Shortlist, McEwan has shown that he understands human behaviours, how the thinking processes take place, what we are likely to do in certain situations and he does not hold back. One could see the author working to take himself out of the scene, holding back from the aesthetics of the profession and working only on the essentials. However, he does not allow the characters to take the easiest routes out of situations. Their choices are the very things we think of doing but are afraid to execute. Ian has perfected his craft and deserves his recognition.

This book is recommended.

Friday, November 09, 2012

201. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

Devil May Care (Double Day, 2008; 278) by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) was written to celebrate the centenary birthday celebration of Ian Fleming - the creator of the James Bond Character. I took this book because I wanted a light read to clear my mind after a difficult read. Yet, I was somewhat disappointed. Though I knew that James Bond is super-smart, I was still bored with his success rate. Things, though seemed to be difficult, intelligence and serendipity always worked together to extricate him from the most difficult of situations. 

In this particular novel, James Bond was called out from his sabbatical leave to track and and learn more about the work of a mysterious Dr Julius Gorner. In tracking Gorner, he discovered, through the help of an equally mysterious young woman, that Dr Gorner is on to something extremely sinister. Something that could possibly lead to another world war. From Italy to England to France to Iran, expect 007 to bring you some on-the-edge-of-the-seat moments. However, like I said before, I wasn't very much impressed. I will however stick to the movies which I love and make it a point to watch ever since I was introduced to them by my older brother, more than two and half decades ago.

Hardcore fans of thrillers might like this one.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

200. Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller's Portrait of the Artist, as an Old Man (Scribner, 2000; 233) has been described as a semi-autobiographical story of the author. In this story, Eugene Pota an author in the twilight of his career and of his life, is struggling to write a story that will make him popular and be better than his first book. He is struggling with subjects to write about and the writing style to adopt as almost every theme or subject has already been covered by another writer or by the writer himself. But Eugene is not willing to give up; after all, writing is the only thing he knows how to do. He discusses his works with his agents who are all his age-groups and therefore are in the same 'dying-out' boat as he is. One of the working titles of Pota was The Sexual Biography of My Wife.

The parallelism between Eugene Pota and the author, Joseph Heller, is vivid. Just like Joseph Heller, Eugene had had success with his book Catch-22 and no other work of his - Heller's - enjoyed such acclaim as this book. Again, like Heller himself, Pota is in the twilight of his career. If this is the semi-autobiographical as it's been said to be, then Heller had a laugh at us, the reading and criticising public who always demand from an author the impossibility. We who refuse to acknowledge that each book has its own life and that each is a creation on its own and therefore should be treated in isolation and not in relation to other books by the author. Eugene, a man struggling to do what he knows, poked at himself, laughed and wrote this book. Heller showed how much a burden on the author it is not to be recognised for any other work but one that happened to be a debut novel.

This is a book about an author writing a book that was never written. However, for further fun, the author writes in the end
Oh, shit, sighed the elderly author, and chuckled to himself once more. He was not surprised, and he began to think seriously of writing the book you've just read. [233]
Pota began writing about a book about an author struggling about writing a book and that's what Heller did. The title of the story itself - Portraits of the Artist (POTA) - makes the author's surname. Also t 'Portraits of the Artist as a ...' is the title of several novels including James Joyce's 'Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man.' 

This book was completed just before the author's death and published posthumously. It was the author's final work. Funny enough it was my search for Catch-22 that led me to this book. This book is recommended to all. It's fun to read, it's intelligently written and it unaplogetically dissects the problem most writers at the end of their careers face.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

NEW PUBLICATION: SPace Currencies in Contemporary African Art

from Cassava Republic:

25 artists, 4 art collectives and 6 writer push the boundaries of contemporary African art. This collector's item is available in limited edition only in Nigeria.

Contemporary African Art has been on the brink of rebirth for a while. With artists such as El Anatsui, Victor Ekpuk, Ndidi Dike, Romuald Hazoume and Owusu Ankomah,and galleries like the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, art from West Africa is reaching far beyond decorative confines to explore new forms of expression.

Meanwhile, art from South Africa is already an explosion of provocation and considered reflection on the experiences of our collective present. Pieter Hugo’s gothic photographs on Nollywood a few years ago were a signal that South was eager to consider West.

It is therefore fitting that the continent begins a more in-depth conversation with itself about the future of art in Africa.

In celebration of contemporary art across the continent, an exhibition – SPace – was held in Jo’burg in July 2010. SPace featured 25 artists, 4 art collectives and 6 writers whose work provided creative and intellectual dialogue, which in personal and intimate ways animates imaginative and reflective engagement with social matters and human experiences in contemporary Africa and the Diaspora.

Contributors include Simon Njami, Abebe Zegeye, Bettina Malcomess, Jimmy Ogonga, Raphael Chikukwa and Monica Arac de Nyeko. 

Some of the featured artists include Willem Boshoff, Berni Searle, Barthélémy Toguo, Berry Bickle, Mary Sibande, David Koloane, Godfried Donker, Nandipha Mntambo, Dominique Zinkpé, Miriam Syowia Kyambi and Billie Zangewa. Collectives include El Hassan Echair and Imad Mansour of Collectif 212, Gugulective, Avant Car Guard and Chimurenga.

As with our pan-African collaboration with Chimurenga (South Africa) and Kwani? (Kenya) earlier this year to produce the imaginary newspaper – The Chimurenga Chronicle - Cassava Republic Press is delighted to
continue to collaborate with other African publishers to publish SPace in Nigeria in a limited edition.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

199. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu's The Art of War (Oxford University Press, 1963; 197 (Originally written in 500 BCE and translated by Samuel B. Griffiths)) is one book that has inspired several other books. It's been applied to various fields from business to friendship and more. In this book, Sun Tzu discusses what a good General should do if he is to win wars. The discusses almost everything that one needs to do and know about war and its effects from war-induced inflation to food shortages that accompanies it.

According to Sun Tzu
[1] War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thorougly studied. [63]
Regardless of this, Sun Tzu puts premium taking enemies and their state whole with as minimum a damage as possible. He writes
[1] Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this. [Page 77]
He goes on further to explain
[3] For  to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. [Page 77]
This advise runs through the entire text. After reading this book I get to understand the importance and premium of mind-games. For instance, how does one overcome the enemy without fighting? He explains the importance of mind games. Mind games are important to make the enemy feel weak (even when he is strong) and also to boost the morale of the people back home for it is in their acceptance and the harmony that springs forth that wars are won. Here, today, ones ability to manipulate the media counts very much. Sun Tzu says attack the enemy's strategy. Again he says "all warfare is based on deception" and the General must do everything possible not to give out much information to the enemy. Deception puts the enemy in an unstable state:
[19] When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.[Page 66]
[20] Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. [Page 66]
[21] When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. [page 67]
[23] Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. [Page 67]
Whilst keeping the enemy in the dark or in false knowledge, the General must work to be know the enemy's strategy; and here Sun Tzu recommends the use of spies (native, doubled, inside, expendable and and living). He showed how best to employ and deploy all these spies effectively to the advantage of the skilled General. All these is a preparation towards subduing the enemy without fighting or causing unnecessary deaths. Has anything change since 500 BCE when Sun Tzu wrote this book? It explains why defections were high during the Cold War and might explain why space technology and exploration is on the increase.

The advise that stood out, under Offensive Strategy, (and which has been given by several sages of the past) with applications in almost every field of human edeavour were:
[31] 'Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.[Page 84]
[32] When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. [Page 84]
[33] If ignorant of the enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril. [Page 84]
The importance of knowing oneself and knowing the external conditions - the enemy, the strategy, the terrain etc - was emphatically stated. Finally, even before the UN Convention Against Torture came into force in 1987, Sun Tzu in 500 BCE has written that
[19] Treat captives well, and care for them. [76]
The information provided in the book were written in short numbered paragraphs like aphorisms, sometimes requiring explanation from the translator, at other times commentaries from equally excellent Generals who have used Sun Tzu's guidelines like Tsa'o Tsa'o, for the reader to understand. This is a quick read but it will help much if it is read slowly so that the contents could be well internalised. As earlier stated, its application is beyond the subject of war. 

If you have not read it, kindly do.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

#BannedAfricanBooks: List of Banned African Books

On October 6, 2012 I set out to create a database of banned African books. This action stems from my belief that it is the reader who has the ultimate control of what books should be read or not. Anytime a government takes up that responsibility, it means that it has something to hide, doing something it doesn't want anyone to know, or becoming (or has become) autocratic.

Though I don't have the data (the reason why I'm creating one) I believed several books have been banned for several reasons. It is funny when a book that had been banned before for sexual content suddenly reads like it contains none at all. However, this quest of developing a database has received less patronage. It makes me want to question if my belief was right. I am therefore sharing with you banned African books that readers have shared with me. 
  1. Matsayin Lover by Khamisu Bature Makwarari. [Nigeria]. Banned by the Kano Association of Nigerian Writers for lesbian content. Year Banned: 1998;
  2. The Man Died by Wole Soyinka. [Nigeria]. Banned for Libel by the Nigerian Government. Year Banned: Unknown;
  3. July's People by Nadine Gordimer. [South Africa]. Banned by the apartheid government and censored by the post-apartheid government. It was removed from school reading list for being 'deeply racist, superior and patronising'. Year Banned: Unknown;
  4. The Late Bourgeois World by Nadine Gordimer. [South Africa]. Banned by the apartheid government for racist issues. Year Banned: 1976;
  5. A World of Strangers by Nadine Gordimer. [South Africa]. Banned by the apartheid government for race issues. Year Banned: Unknown;
  6. Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. [South Africa]. Banned by the apartheid government for subversiveness and going against the government's racial policies. The ban was reversed in the same year. Year Banned: 1979;
  7. I Will Marry When I Want by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. [Kenya]. Banned by the Kenyan Government. Year Banned: 1977;
  8. Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. [Kenya]. Ngugi was arrested and detained for writing this book by the Kenyan Government. Year Banned: 1977;
  9. The Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra. [Algeria]. Perhaps for language and explicit sexual description and content. Banned by the Algerian Government and it occasioned a fatwa on the author. Year Banned: 1969;
  10. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. [Sudan]. This book was banned by the Islamic Government of Sudan for explicit sexual content. It has, however, been declared the most important Arabic novel of the 20th Century. Year Banned: 1989;
  11. After 4:30 by David Mailu. [Kenya]. Banned by the Government for sexual content. Year Banned: Unknown;
  12. The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah. [Ghana]. Banned for racial oppression. Year Banned: Unknown;
  13. Knowledge at Night by Andre Brink. [South Africa]. Banned perhaps for racial issues by the Government. This book was translated by the author and published in English as "Looking into Darkness". It is the first Afrikaan book to be banned by the apartheid Government. Year Banned: circa 1973;
  14. The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi. [Ghana]. Banned by the government, librarians, and publishers for offensive language and sexual content. Year Banned: 1997/2001
  15. A Woman Alone by Bessie Head. [Botswana]. Year Banned: Unknown;
  16. Mating Birds by Lewis Nkosi [South Africa]. Banned by the apartheid Government for racial content. Year Banned: 1986.
  1. Blame Me on History by William "Bloke" Modisane. [South Africa]. This book detailed the author's despair at the bulldozing of Sophiatown and with apartheid. Year Banned: 1966;
Do you agree with the above information? Do you have any information to add? Anything you have to say is welcomed. For instance, I don't have the reason why Bessie Head's A Woman Alone was banned.

The form for collecting entries into the database is located on the top right part of this blog. Or kindly click here for it.
Last update: November 3, 2012

Friday, November 02, 2012

#NLNGPrize: Chika Unigwe's On Black Sisters' Street wins the NLNG Prize

On November 1, 2012, Chika Ungiwe's On Black Sisters' Street has won the NLNG awards. Unigwe's book was shortlisted alongside ten other books including such heavyweights as Jude Dibia's Blackbird, Adaobi Tricia's I do not Come to you by Chance and Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. The award, the largest in monetary terms, comes with a US$ 100,000. The NLNG rotates yearly among four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children's literature. Last year, Adeleke Adeyemi, writing as Mai Nasara, won the story for his work Missing Clock (children's literature). 

The Chairman of the Advisory Board said the book 'is a work of outstanding merit'. According to the Chair of Judges 'what is striking about Chika Unigwe's novel is the compassion that informs it.' 

On Black Sisters Street tells a gripping story of the lives of four African migrants working the Red Light District of Antwerp in Belgium brought together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.

The award, instituted in 2004, has seen such winners as Gabriel Okara, Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2004), Ahmed Yerima (Hard Ground), Mabel Segun (Reader's Theatre), Kaine Agary (Yellow Yellow), Esiaba Irobi (Cemetery Road).

On Black Sisters Street was also longlisted for the IMPAC 2010 prize. With this win, Chika Unigwe becomes the first foreign-based Nigerian writer to win the prize.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

October in Review, Projections for November

This month was somewhat okay. What it implies is that I'm getting back to my usual levels. Out of the total 7 books I read in October - including the Best Short Stories of 2004 edited by Lorrie Moore (which I'm still reading), four were on the list of six books I projected to read.

In all I read a total of 1749 pages or 56.42 pages per day. The following were the books I read:
  1. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. I didn't enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed all the James Bond movies. In this book, Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming to celebrate the latter's birthday, took the reader on a seemingly cliffhanger adventure. Perhaps, I was expecting too much and therefore remained unsatisfied.
  2. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan. There is nothing much to say about McEwan than that he is the perfect person to trust when you want a short intense reading. His writing is on-point and he wastes not words. This story is about two men who attended an ex-lover's funeral and ended up with hatred and mutual murder.
  3. Women Leading Africa: Conversations with Inspirational African Women by Nana Darkoa-Sekyiamah (Editor). This is the story of several women across who are working to push the feminist agenda. It includes Margaret Dongo, Tstitsi Dangarembga, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Verbah Gayflor, Leyman Gbowee, Ama Ata Aidoo and more. Interesting conversations they are.
  4. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. This 2006 Winner of Man Booker Prize got me thinking. It's about the life of several Indians both at home and at abroad. It's about the struggle they had to go through to maintain their humanity. It's about love, life and love-life. The texture - if there is such a thing - of this novel is similar to that of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things.
  5. The Place we Call Home and Other Poems by Kofi Anyidoho. This collection of poems traverses just the Home. It's musical and intelligently woven. Kofi Anyidoho uses traditional folklores and songs to tell the stories of his poems; it's therefore a wonder the poet talked about bigger issues like the 9/11 in the same medium. Accompanied by two CDs, with the author's voice narrating the poems, this is a collection one mustn't miss.
  6. The Best American Short Stories 2004 by Lorrie Moore (Editor). This is an anthology of 20 short stories. I'm reading them towards my 100 Shots of Shorts project. It contains some interesting short stories from completely new authors.
  7. IPods in Accra by Sophia Acheampong. This continues the story Makeeda as she journeys from London to her homeland of Ghana to participate in the female Rites of Passage ceremony. It continues the story which began in Growing Yams in London. This YA story is funny. Makeeda's relationship with Nelson becomes complicated, as they always do. It's a true teen story.
Unfortunately, I have not lined up any books for November. I will have to make on-the-spot decisions. However, I have picked the following two:
  1. Reading Lolita in London - A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Currently reading this.
  2. Fury by Salman Rushdie. To pave the way for Midnight Children.
What did you read? Did you enjoy them?
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