Thursday, September 11, 2014

Golden Baobab Prizes Announces Longlist

The Golden Baobab Prizes for African children’s literature have revealed the 14 stories that made it onto their longlist for 2014.

Selected from a total of 210 stories received from 13 countries across the continent, this longlist showcases some of the finest African writers and African children’s stories today. With four writers each, Ghana and South Africa are the four most represented nationalities on the longlist. Other countries that had writers on the list were Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. The longlist represents stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books and the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books. No story from the Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers made it onto the 2014 longlist.

Speaking on the prizes’ evaluation and selection processes, the Prize Coordinator, Delali Kumapley commented, “Stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prizes go through an incredibly exhaustive evaluation process. We have a team of about thirty people from all over Africa and around the world that read and score each story. A winning story for the Golden Baobab Prizes gets evaluated at most six times by different readers. This year’s longlist represents a very strong crop of African writers.” 

Now in its sixth year, the Golden Baobab Prizes inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. To date, the prizes have received nearly 2000 stories from all over Africa. In 2013, to increase its support of the African children’s literature industry, the organization, Golden Baobab, introduced the brand new the Golden Baobab Prizes for African Illustrators. This prize will complement Golden Baobab's efforts in literature by discovering and celebrating Africa’s most exciting artists and illustrators who are creating images to tell stories to children.

According to the Executive Director for Golden Baobab, Deborah Ahenkorah, 
Golden Baobab is dedicated to the mission of championing the finest African stories for children and celebrating the people who create these stories. In 2014, we dedicated $20,000 to our prizes alone. We hope to do even more. We are wildly encouraged by the promise we see in the 2014 longlist.
The shortlist for the Golden Baobab Prizes for African literature will be announced on 30th October, 2014. The winners for the Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature as well as the winners of Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrators will be announced on 13th November, 2014.  Below are the titles and writers on the 2014 longlist:

Early Chapter Book Prize
Ricky Dankwa Ansong (Ghana)Kweku Ananse: The Tale of the Wolf and the Moon
Jayne Bauling (South Africa)The Saturday Dress
Mamle Wolo (Ghana)Flying through Water
Mary Okon Ononokpono (Nigeria)Talulah the Time Traveller
Bontle Senne (South Africa)The Monster at Midnight
Hillary Molenje Namunyu (Kenya)Teddy Mapesa and the Missing Cash
Dina Mousa (Egypt)The Sunbird and Fatuma

Picture Book Prize
Katherine Graham (South Africa)The Lemon Tree
Aleya Kassam (Kenya)The Jacaranda Tree
Kwame Aidoo (Ghana)The Tale of Busy Body Bee
Mandy Collins (South Africa)There is a Hyena in my Kitchen
Mike Mware (Zimbabwe)The Big Ball
Shaleen Keshavjee-Gulam (Kenya)Malaika’s Magical Kiosk
Portia Dery (Ghana)Grandma’s List

About the Golden Baobab Prizes
The Golden Baobab Prizes for literature were established in July 2008 to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. The Prizes invite entries of unpublished stories written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin. The prizes have expanded to include The Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations to discover, nurture and celebrate African illustrators of children’s stories. The Prizes are organized by Golden Baobab, a Ghana-based pan African social enterprise dedicated to supporting African writers and illustrators to create winning African children’s books. The organization’s Advisory Board includes renowned authors Ama Ata Aidoo and Maya Ajmera. Golden Baobab is proudly supported by The African Library Project.

For further information, please contact Delali Kumapley on; Telephone number: +233 505-298-941

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Man Booker Prize 2014 Longlist

Last year, it was announced that books by Americans would be allowed entry into the Man Booker Prize. Whereas some readers and fans saw this as an unwanted deviation and a loss of focus for the renowned Prize, others saw it as the correction of a long-drawn anomaly by accepting all English-speaking countries. Prior to this announcement the Man Booker only allowed entries from British, Irish and Commonwealth authors.

British authors lead this year's longlist of 13 books with five nominations. This is followed by American authors who enter the Prize for the first time with four nominations. The rest of the nominations is held by two Irish writers and one Australian writer. Below is the list:
  1. Joshua Ferris (US) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
  2. Richard Flanagan (Australia) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  3. Karen Joy Fowler (US) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  4. Siri Hustvedt (US) – The Blazing World
  5. Howard Jacobson (Britain) – J
  6. Paul Kingsnorth (Britain) – The Wake
  7. David Mitchell (Britain) – The Bone Clocks
  8. Neel Mukherjee (Britain) – The Lives of Others
  9. David Nicholls (Britain) – Us
  10. Joseph O'Neill (Ireland) – The Dog
  11. Richard Powers (US) – Orfeo
  12. Ali Smith (Britain) – How to Be Both
  13. Niall Williams (Ireland) – History of the Rain
What is clear from this list is that though the Commonwealth is made up of more than fifty countries - including Zimbabwe which is politically out of the organisation, this list contains only three of such countries. The question is will the inclusion of America distort the diversity of the Man Booker Prize which has been won by such various authors as Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Aravind Adiga, Kiran Desai? Will it lead to the exclusion of new authors? How will African writers fare in the face of this expansion? Last year's Man Booker Prize (2013) was won by the New Zealander Eleanor Cantor with The Luminaries

However, according to the Chair of Judges - AC Grayling, the books are
very ambitious books and some of them tackle big issues of the day ... There's a lot of perceptiveness and wisdom in these books, some of them are quite moving and all of them are very difficult to put down once you get into them – a feature of just how richly textured they are and what great stories they tell.

Friday, July 18, 2014

293. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The first Faulks' novel I read was Devil May Care, a story written to mark the centenary celebration of he creator of the James Bond character, Ian Fleming. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the book. Perhaps, I would have liked the movie better. This is due to the different demands I place on movies and books. I expect more intellectual discourse from books, and more action (though I hate war movies) from movies. Consequently, this book stayed on my bookshelf for almost three and half years. I was scared of opening it, until I ran-out of books to read.

This is one of those books you read and begin to wonder why you have not read it all this while, especially when it has been staring you in the face for years, begging you to pick it up and at least read the first line. According to the blurb '...Sebastian Faulks creates a work of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient.' And having read both books I should more than agree to this statement. In fact, Faulks did deliver more heavy punches in both the tragedy and the love than Hemingway and Ondaatje.

As we celebrate the centenary of the most senseless war in history, WWI, it would be helpful to refresh our minds on the uselessness and stupidity of war. In this novel, Faulks shows - with brilliant prose, superb imagery, almost holding the reader's hand through the scenes of war - that the talk of war, the affection for war, the boastfulness of war, the imagery of war in the newspapers - the imagery that is painted to whip up sentiments and encourage young men to enlist, the euphoria that accompanies war - that one army is only going to whip the backside of another (as if there will be no consequences or retaliation), is far different from from the actual effects of war. That wars do not create heroes, it creates broken men and women, broken homes and hopes. That wars leave entire countries broken, families destroyed, deepens and widens poverty. 

Faulks patiently shows the absurdity and stupidity of war. How man descended into the lowest pits of his wickedness and became an animal; how the conscience and nerves of millions of soldiers were destroyed; how civilisation is just a thin layer of reason and could be crossed at any time in that rabid search for supremacy. In this novel, Faulks paints a picture of war different from the showboating we see on the screens, the ignorance of the young and the old who clamour for war and yet are ignorant of what it actually involves until their disillusionment disintegrates in the face of the absurdities, the insanity, then shell-shock they end up in mad-houses spending their last days in silence. If a novel can end the quest and zeal and love for senselessness and for war, Birdsong can. But unfortunately, no novel can. Man is such an animal. Events of today clearly show that a world of utopia will forever remain a dream.

To expose this stupidity and tragedy of war, Faulks contrasted the effects of the war on a young Englishman - Stephen Wraysford, who, having fallen in love and eloped with the wife (Isabelle Azaire, nee Fourmentier) of a French businessman (Rene Azaire) he was living with and the woman having deserted him when she found out she was pregnant, decided to join the army and become relevant in a world that had just neglected him. The story follows the effects of the war on the friends he gathered, his soul, and his love with this woman and his sister, whom he later met during one of the few vacations given to soldiers of war. The devastation of the war would continue even after the action of war had ended and the man, marrying the sister of his love, would lead a broken life for the rest of his life.

The story is generational and narrated back and forth between the present and the past. It focusses on Elizabeth, the grand-daughter of Stephen as she tries to discover who her grand-father was by decoding some of the messages he had recorded during his time in the war. The story, intelligently, shows the changes that had occurred post-WWI, with changes in the idea of family. Also, it brings out the contrast between the lives of women pre-WWI and post-WWI through Isabelle - who wanted things done differently but was impotent to do so; who could not decide on whom he wanted to marry and who could not even stay with the man she loved even after she mustered courage to elope with him; and Elizabeth - who got exactly what she wanted: establishing businesses, choosing to live with a man without marriage, and others.

This is an important book and deserves its place on the best books lists. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NEW PUBLICATION: Gonjon Pin and Other Stories

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2014 brings together the five shortlisted authors' stories along with 12 other stories from the best new writers. Insightful, arresting and entertaining - this collection reflects the richness and range of current African writing. 

Caine Prize 2014 Shortlisted Stories:
Phosphorescence Diane Awerbuck (South Africa)
Chicken Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia)
The Intervention Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe)
The Gorilla’s Apprentice Billy Kahora (Kenya)
My Father’s Head Okwiri Oduor (Nigeria)

The Caine Prize African Writers’ Workshop Stories 2014:
The Lifebloom Gift Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya)
The Gonjon Pin Martin Egblewogbe (Ghana)
As A Wolf Sweating Your Mother’s Body Clifton Gachagua (Kenya)
Pam Pam Lawrence Hoba (Zimbabwe)
Lily in the Moonlight Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria)
Running Elnathan John (Nigeria)
The Murder of Ernestine Masilo Violet Masilo (Zimbabwe)
All the Parts of Mi Isabella Matambanadzo (Zimbabwe)
Blood Work Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende (Zimbabwe)
The Sonneteer Philani A Nyoni (Zimbabwe)
Eko Hotel Chinelo Okparanta (Nigeria)
Music from a Farther Room Bryony Rheam (Zimbabwe)

Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. He was interviewed here. Martin Egblewogbe is the author of Mr Happy and the Hammer of God. He was also interviewed here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

#Quotes from Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong

Jeane had once said that men were not like women, that once they had possessed a woman it was as thought nothing had happened and they just wanted to move on to another. [64]

The difference between living and dying was not one of quality, only of time. [67]

Constant shelling is a cure for impure thoughts. I never think of women. They belong to a different existence. [146]

Men are such timid creatures, really, You have to be gentle with them. Make them feel safe. To begin with, anyway. [235]

They boasted in a mocking way of what they had seen and done; but in their sad faces wrapped in rags he saw the burden of their unwanted knowledge. [270]

It's better to have a malign providence than an indifferent one. [278]

I heard a voice. There was something beyond me. All my life I had lived on the presumption that there was no existence beyond...flesh, the moment of being alive...then nothing. I had searched in superstition... Rats. But there was nothing. Then I heard the sound of my own life leaving me. Then I believed in the wisdom of what other men had found before me...I saw that those simple things might be true...I never wanted to believe in them because it was better to fight my own battle. You can believe in something without compromising the burden of your own existence. [284]

It's true that loyalty can't be partial, it must be complete. [308]

I have tried to resist the slide into this unreal world, but I lack the strength. I am tired. Now I am tired in my soul. [403]

Which human being out of all those you have met would you choose to hold your hand, to hold close to you in the beginning of eternity? [432]

Where there is real love between people, as there was between all of us, then the details don't matter. Love is more important than the flesh-and-blood facts of who gave birth to whom. [473]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

292. Testament of the Seasons by Mawuli Adzei

Testament of the Seasons (2013) is an anthology of poems in fourteen segments by Mawuli Adzei collected over a period of three decades. The poems cover wide ranging issues: from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the bombing of the World Trade Centre; from the Arab Springs to the Cold War and Holocaust; from love to identity and race and death. Mawuli's anthology consist of poems about issues that has affected his world views. He talks about the hegemony of the West as wells as the tribalism at home and his love for his people. Mawuli would not be bolted to a single place; he is 'neither a signifyin' monkey/ Nor a simulating chameleon'. Yet, he is a member of his clan; their mirror image for if you just touch my face/ You touch a clan.

The anthology opens with Winds of Change - a collection of poems about the recent seemingly stochastic uprisings that swept large parts of North Africa and Middle East. The segment opens with Springtime, a poem about the sudden and uncontrollable political revolutions and evolutions whose effects are still being observed and felt across the world. The cause and effects of what was christened Arab Spring by the media is as varied and motley as any random event could possibly be. Today even though Tunisia - where the Spring possibly sprang - may seem to have calmed with a new president and a new government, Egypt, Libya, and Syria - whose president has won a third term in the country's first multi-elections - cannot boast of same. Egypt has had two presidents since Mubarak stepped down and Muslim Brotherhood, whose president Morsi is in jail, was banned by the interim military government. Libya lost its president but has descended into chaos. Furthermore, the problems in Yemen and Bahrain are hardly ever mentioned in the media. When The new dawn stole upon their nightmares/ With fire enough to power their adrenalin/ Indignation ripe like mangoes (LI-III) the people thought Nirvana would be the end of their agitations, for clouds gather before the rains. But did the poet see that this 'ripe indignation' could lead to rains? If so then the Snowball-Fireball springing on a ruthless route march have not ceased or abated. What do you expect if you want to get rid of dinosaurs with bayonets? In Dance of the Dinosaurs the poet describes how these long-serving 'tyrants' or 'dinosaurs', a term which brings to mind ancient, huge, and fearful, lost their importance; how their praise songs faded and yet held onto their browning memories. The poem deals with the disillusionment of these rulers who having overstayed their welcome refused to leave or to see that the grains in their hourglasses have long remained empty. However, if these leaders were disillusioned of their importance, then the demonstrators were three times worse. For in the geopolitics of the world, it is not who is right or wrong. But who is supported by the mighty. Current events provide a plausible platform for comparison. But Arabian countries are not all about revolutions and struggle. In Arabian Nights the poet presents a view dichotomous to what we are bombarded with on our screens daily. He presents the beautiful landscapesthe towering minaretsthe young men with stringed instruments and how they embrace the new day/ Not with clenched fists anymore/ But with open arms and bouquets. This is the poet's own Nirvana. It is his hopes that the countries return to this state after these crises.

As if simulating the escalating dissatisfaction and amongst the world's population (Occupy Wallstreet and others), nature has not been too lenient. This is captured in Nature's Fury, which deals with the recent devastating natural disasters whose imprints go beyond the landscapes of the affected countries into the minds of people. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami cannot be easily forgotten. Ever since man appeared on earth, dominance has been his priority. This dominance even has biblical support. However, no matter what man has done, his scientific discoveries and his creation of malevolent military and civilian accouterments, man has not been able to tame inclement weather. When the winds and the seas and the earth itself become malevolent, man becomes a thing played around in nature's fury. But does this show our weakness? Or is our ability, as a common organism, to rise after every such devastation a sign of our resilience? In Kamikaze, the poet talks about this common humanity as a single organism; about humanity's resilience in the midst of such storms. 
They'll come back again and again, these marauding waves
Bearing the anger and swords of malevolent sea gods
Gathering the living, ghosts and tombstones as trophies
To their unfathomable depths
And so, these time-tested warriors
Who have outlived the great atomic bomb
Will knead survival into a fine art
Domesticate these storms in calabashes
Hang them on stakes in the rice-fields as scarecrows
And haul traumatic minds back to saner ground
But is our survival only a reprieve from nature, preserving us for another time of lashings? Or is it that man's will to dominate and domesticate is indestructible? Voodoo Dance - the second poem in the section - goes beyond the narrative of the hurricane that destroyed Haiti and from which they have never been able to rise. It traces the history of that country, its formation and its destruction - from those brave leaders who fought against colonisation like the sea to those whose reign became like the tsunami  and destroyed the country. The poem shows a retrogression, a deterioration in our culture; we can no longer invoke the gods to our side, bravery has been lost and fear now reigns. We are no longer ourselves, we have become what others want us to be and in so doing have lost it all. The poet in his last line imitates the breaking of our valour in the use of the 'k' sound: Which quakes and shakes and breaks without provocation.

Africa is a continent of contradictions. Filled with a large reserve of natural resources, the countries constitute one of the poorest in the world and the most prone to war. Armed conflicts have devastated the continent, rendering huge areas inaccessible to development or depleted of vital human resource, making the natural resource useless. This contradictions of wealth and violence and/or poverty is what the poet captures in Madness with a Method and also with the first poem in this section Madness. The sense of antagonism is captured as The gods glower down the deathscapes of the Great Lakes, which is Conrad's ancestral heartlands of darkness and Leopold's heirloom of diamond and ivory. Yet this crucible of a continent is seething with mysteries/ Mired in malignant outgrowths of happy madness. The inability of a maligned people to stick together has become the reality of Africa. Though the continent seems to be a homogeneous admixture of violence, the causes are heterogeneous. For sometimes, the madness is just that, madness; the genocide of Burundi and Rwanda are examples. But in the depths of Congo there is a capitalist method to the madness of war and unrest. For in the midst of all the wars, international companies are able to suck away the wealth - gold, diamond, uranium etc - out of the country with their local collaborators who are offered pittance, mostly weapons of war, to kill a specious enemy borne out of their warped minds. They work to overthrow intelligent leaders who can match them boot for boot and install those whose thirst for wealth and hatred for their own people is unsurpassable. Like the killing of Patrice Lumumba and the coming to power of Mobutu Sesseseko whose story is captured in The Leopard's Demise. Mobutu's wealth - the subject of this piece - is legendary. It is almost passing into mythological tales. Yet it is true. It is the vanity of such personal wealth aggrandisement that the poet seeks to point out in this poem. In another angle, the poet demonstrates how the individual cannot outlive the society or community. That we may come and go as people but our people (in terms of humanity) will forever remain. For in the end, this leader of the DR Congo, famed to be wealthier than his country, died the death of mortals. And as is expected He took nothing along -/ Neither gold nor silver nor bauxite -/ This kleptocrat without compare. When the people are unable to tolerate the theft of their common wealth, when they see the gap between the leader and themselves widening, they agitate and this agitation leads to destruction. Yet, more often than not the leaders of the uprisings or springs themselves have personal agendas. Inspiring the people to revolt, they cunningly take up power and deliver a blow harder than the previous leader, squashing the hopes and aspirations of the people. In Paradise Lost, the poet bemoans the destruction of Somalia, which is considered to be one of the very few failed states in the world. Yet, we need not go to Somalia for such examples. The Arab Spring, America's invasion of Iraq, all give us unique examples of how states can easily fail. Egypt today has found its way into the hands of a former military leader (like Hosni Mubarak); Libya today is worst than it was under Gaddafi. In the second stanza of the Eclipse over Abidjan, the poet writes
These people broke their virginity once
When God was not watching
Now they hanker after the full harvest of libidos
Rampaging through the heritage of the first plowsmen
The poet writes about the crisis that took Cote d'Ivoire by storm. He bemoans the destruction of a heritage after the country's long-serving president Houphouet Boigny passed. But the question one can ask is, did he - Houphouet Boigny - lord over a peaceful country, or did he forcefully suppress simmering tensions and dissenting views? Cote d'Ivoire's crisis, ending in Gbagbo's incarceration, is one of the strands of African crisis - when the colonialist seeks his will and wants to decide on who becomes president in a country he had colonised before.

Dreams has only one poem, if the poetic epigraphs that marks the beginning of every section is discounted. Note that these epitaphs, with the exception of one or two - which are quotations, are themselves poetic. They could be considered as prose poetry. Taboo King, the only poem in the segment, is the story of Obama and his rise from obscurity into prominence, as the United States' Forty-Fourth President. 

In Statu(t)es of Liberty the poet spoke not only about the physical freedom of movement but also the freedom of the mind - emancipation of the mind from mental slavery. This is captured even in the title: The Statue of Liberty has become the physical representation of freedom across the world. It is that which gave America its power. It is that upon which several statues of liberty have been written. Ironically, in this segment, the poet shows that we are all slaves of the world for can we truly move, in the strictest sense of the world, to any place we want? This is different from all the other imprisonments in that it is 'God'-made whereas the others are 'man'-made. Christmas in Guantanamo, the first poem in the section, clearly brings out the ironies of man. When a country claims to be a beacon of freedom and in so doing calls itself the land of liberty and yet every action it takes is anti-liberty; when the mind is able to accept two contradictions within the same time and space and recongises not the dissonance, so that justice and injustice are not at the opposite ends of a continuum but overlap and interact with each other, then the true limits of man is shown. If true liberty existed it would have been seen. True liberty would not require a propagandist machinery to show itself. These breakdown in liberty is seen in the privatisation of the American prison complex and its requirement that the prison should be filled to a required percentage in order for its owners to break even. Thus, human (non)freedom has become a capitalist commodity upon which profits are made. Penitentiary is the other poem in this section.

Life is a cycle of birth, growth, death, and birth. And when one gets nearer death's door, memories of life come rushing. One relishes the things he had done as a young man but cannot in his adulthood and rues what he should have done and did not. Memories is the poet's recollection of times past in a way that also marks his growth into adulthood. He even wonders about his birth: why me? he might have asked in Beyond the Birth-Cord
A contest of survival - and renewal
One headstrong spermatozoon
like the proverbial camel
passes through the eye of the needle
leaving millions to die in seminal battle fields
And even in remembrance, the poet cannot but show his belief in Life without end. Ironically, this biblical quote representing the continuation of the soul after death has been appropriated here to show the African's (and possibly the poet's) belief in life after death, reincarnation. It also could possibly refer not entirely or directly to reincarnation but to the perpetual domination and existence of man on earth. In this way man is a single organism, in ways discussed under Nature's Fury.

Desert Blues contains poems about the poet's journeys in Arabian countries. Yet they are not just mere litanies about his travels. Weaved into them are issues of life. For instance, footprints in the desert, in the poem Footprints, also represent the footprints in life; how lasting will they be? How positive? How influential? Mawuli's biblical metaphors are interesting and sharp. Canaan which retells of the Israelites also tells of how most African countries descended into destruction after the struggle for independence by discarding homegrown ideas and clamouring for foreign things and embracing the very things we have fought against. Greed - for wealth and for power - stole the hearts of the early leaders.
Blindfolded we discarded Tigare and Hebieso
for new chaperoned deities
who have so far held back the miracles
The poems in this section also offer hope. They show that there is beauty in waste, hope in desolation and that not all is lost. Termitarium, my favourite in the anthology, shows the occupation of a land and the dispossession of a people. But even there, the poet's words portend hope.
By this red anthill shall I stand
This lonesome altar
Or shall I lean on faith
Faith, not empirical evidence
That the sun shall rise again
From the splash of gold and vermillion
Bloody as this red anthill
However, same cannot be said for the poems captured under Rumours of War, which address notable world events such as the Cold War, the Holocaust, the fall of the Berlin Wall, apartheid, and others. Current events - the Ukraine-Russia-European Union-America crisis - has reawakened memories of the Cold War exposing the cyclical nature of historical events. Just when you begin to think that friendship among nations, among people, have reached an apogee, that is when the floor gives way to old beginnings. Funny enough, when a Russian meets an American in a pub, the two would hardly think of themselves as enemies. Yet, when apart and when speaking about their countries they would do so. The question that begs to be answered is where therefore does this enmity come from? Is it a clear and palpable presence? Or it is true that wars are the physical manifestations of avaricious octogenarians in their fight for ego and wealth.

In a collection spanning three decades, it is inevitable that some of the poems would have been written within a given space for particular purposes. There are bound to be nostalgic poems. Lands of Angels... contain poems written when the author was sojourning in England, perhaps in academic exile. Titles here include Empire which is not a conquest praise poem for the empire. Rather, the poet is lamenting of the destruction by one who came and presented himself as the umpire but transmogrified into a vampire and sucked the blood from the land, massacred our gods, implanted theirs, and whisked the people of the land away to their empires. The arrangement of the poem contributes to its meaning, especially the arrangement of the second line in semblance of a sword. The nostalgic poems include Stairs to the Stars which somewhat romanticises home, and understandably so. The poet is in a faraway land where none knows him and none he knows. He is therefore lonely and culture-shocked. The irony is in living among multitudes in humongous buildings and still feeling ensconced in loneliness.

Meditations shows the author introspectively examining the lives of his people and of himself. It is here that he defines his identity in Mirror Image and Blackness of Black. Abstract and social issues are all given breath of life. In Choices the question of choice and whether there is such a thing at all is posed. Is choice an illusion?
Perhaps, perhaps
There's too much--
But nothing--
To choose from
Agbogbloshie, sometimes referred to by its sobriquet Sodom and Gomorrah, has become the symbol and face of streetism (homelessness) and urban poverty in Ghana. Overtime it has become a large slum with slum-characteristics - crime, scavengers, heaps of rubbish, desolation, and others. In fact recently, the area has become the second largest e-waste dump-site in West Africa. In an eponymous poem the poet pulls away the veil to expose the rot and the indifference shown to these stragglers. Using filth and water as metaphors, the poet paints an attention-arrest image of this slum.
The korle flows under uncertain feet
With rottenness of the land
And the city averts its eyes
Turns its back on Sodom and Gomorrah
Lest it infect the national aesthetic
The poet is not all about scatology, geo-politics, or even abstract representations. Mawuli also has a humour, and though traces of this could be seen in all his poems, in nowhere do they come to life than in the poem Dressed to Kill. The poet meditated - yes, it is found in this segment of the anthology - on that thing, the G-thing, that miniscule flag that could be seen and unseen in one sweeping glance. Again, his biblical metaphors lend a hand here and it is fascinating how they - the biblical metaphors - could sometimes find themselves in strange spaces.
The G-thing - miniscule flag
That thin line - faint curtain
Between the raw hide
And the city of Jerusalem -
Flaunts its presence in absence
Incontrovertible evidence
Of virgin on fire
Taunting the bedazzled counterpart
To a fertility contest
This humour could also be found in Catwalk, depending on who is reading. Here the poet bemoans how models are made to suit certain perceived taste preferences. The poem portrays the sham hidden behind those plastic smiles as they strut on the walkway.
Snow-white teeth first clenched in grimace
then loosened in plastic smile -
and the fanatic cult of patrons smile too
Femininity on parade -
waspish frames starved to the marrow
shoulder blades carved into sickles
legs chiseled taut in envy of the giraffe and the gazelle
The last two segments in the anthology are aptly titled, Matters of the Heart and Eternity. The poems under the latter are poems about death and losing a loved one. They show Death as the impartial collector of human souls but more importantly they signify the cyclical nature of life, Life without end.

Mawuli's use of words is intriguing. He makes the words do the painting. They somersault, split, and realign themselves in fascinating ways. Sounds and rhymes play a major role in Adzei's poems; but the role they play are subtle. They are no obvious rush to rhyme but one could feel on one's tongue many fascinating internal rhymes, alliterations, assonance, and in one's mind, double entendres. There is music and deeper meaning in his works. His surgical placement and alignment of words strengthen their meaning. In Catwalk one reads Clinical Klein Versatile Versace; Empire begins with Empire Umpire Vampire and yet each word pads on further meaning. In Rites of Passage under the Land of our Birth (which furls the political history about Ghana) we read
In those days, gunpowder played among us
And we swallowed BOMBastic tales
Mawuli also uses his diction as a way of colonising the English language and domesticating the poem. He might not have the usual pot-hut-calabash metaphors. But his Ghanaianness and Eweness shine through. They come up in unlikely places creating a sort of dissonance to the reader - initially, so that we meet Sasabonsam paragliding/ over the Kwahu scarp/ and gadflies dancing adowa/ against the lampost and wonder if they are helicopters in gymnastics (in Hallucinations). Similarly, we see the dinosaurs of African politics girding up their sagging dzakotos/ For a final blitz of panegyric styles/ Ready - as ever - to captivate and mesmerise (in Dance of the Dinosaurs); even Osama had his name parodied into saman (the ghost in Akan): No one catches a ghost in a deathtrap/ No one binds a mysterious Aziza with a rope (in Osama; Aziza is dwarf in Ewe).

Structurally, the setting of each poem on paper is deliberately done to add further meaning and in some way imitate the poem's message. In Catwalk the words were actually doing the catwalk, in Drifting the words were drifting, in Empire, the words were the sword standing perpendicularly for all to see its blood-soaked edges; in Stab in the Heart every other line stabs; in Freefall the number of lines per stanza declined until the last line (and stanza); in Eclipse over Abidjan, both ivory coast and gold coast are spelt in small letters signifying how the mighty have fallen. Besides, there are no excessive words; every word performs a function in the overall movement and musicality of the poem. Yet, none of his poems - to my amateur ears - is metrically structured.
zigzag crab-gait
step sway spin
slide glide like a gadfly
quickstep goosestep foxtrot
Flaunt the peacock plumage, tail-up
moonwalk earthwalk
left-right right-left
forward still
counterpoint carousel
catwalk in reverse gear
backward still
zigzag crab-gait
Now, dance to fade
(from Catwalk)

Mawuli Adzei has shown that he is equally at home with poetry as he is with novels. His novel Taboo is one excellent story that captures the different facets of Ghanaian life. This collection spanning three decades is a must read for all. Its non location-specific metaphors do not require special knowledge to understand and the poet has been too grateful to define and explain some of the local words he used, something I am personally against. Whether one loves poems or not, one will find something to like in this collection. It is highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Explaining My Silence and Reviewing the Month of May

There comes a time when even a hobby suffers from a person's silences and inactivity. Sometimes it becomes pronounced that going back to what we love becomes a tortuous task in itself. I have suffered this, though not to the tortuous end.

This year has been like no other year. It has taken me to the extremes of events. I have lost a job and found one. I have known fear and I have been rescued. It is in my moments of desperation that I realise I could not muster the necessary energy to read as many books as I used to read. I discovered that I am not one of those who could lose themselves and seek solace in books when faced with obstacles. In such situations, my mind takes control over me and does its own thinking, unaided, uncontrolled. It is for this reason that my reading in April was highly affected with only two books. I just could not bring myself to read. It is like a writer suffering from a writer's block.

May in Review
This block entered May. I thought that my acquisition of new books will spark my reading. It did. Briefly. I quickly devoured My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, and I thought things were going to move on in the right direction, especially after reading Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. But then the interest went downhill. I could not finish Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which I had been reading since April (and still reading). I was also not able to completely reread Golding's Lord of the Flies, which was the Writers Project of Ghana's book of the month.

Consequently, out of the target of 60 books in this calendar year, I have - as of today - read 18 books (adding Golding's), instead of the 25 books I should have read. In order not to put undue pressure on myself and to give me room to prepare for my new job, I have reset my target to 50 books.

I do not know what June holds for me. I have started reading again, albeit not at the same intensity and rate. But the act of reading daily is enough. I know the spark will come by itself and that I will rediscover this waning passion as events are set right. I am reading Atwood's The Blind Assassin and hope to complete it within a few days. I will also be reading Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, WPG's book for the month of June. From there, I hope things will take off in a very beautiful direction.

Not only has my reading suffered. My book reviews too have. In fact, the number of books I need to review has been increasing slowly. It is my hope that I will be able to clear this backlog and move into normal gear. I love what I do and hope things get better.
*updated to include Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Friday, May 16, 2014

Discussion: The Diasporean African Novelist

Last week I brought the fact that most of the successful and famous African writers live outside of the continent, mostly in the UK and US, up for discussion. Today, I would want us to discuss another interesting trend, the immigrant stories of the African Diasporean Novelist.

Any avid reader might by now have found out that most diasporean African novelists have written, at one point or another, an immigrant story. They are common in short story anthologies and also as independent novels and novellas. There are countless such stories. From Tayib Salih's Seasons of Migration to the North, Benjamin Kwakye's The Other Crucifix, Brian Chikwava's Harare North, and Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah, these stories are not unique to a certain generation. (I am told NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names is also an immigrant story. I have not read this because I thought it a complete novel, as was wrongly marketed, instead of linked short stories, as I have been reliably informed.) However, these stories have suddenly become popular again and with this popularity has made them trite. Unlike Tayib Salih's, most of the other stories concentrate on how the African immigrant did not like his or her new home and all that; and how he or she misses home. There is usually a sort of romanticisation of the motherland and a decision to come back home which is, sometimes, not fulfilled. Racism has also been a key theme in such novels. In fact, I have never lived in any country outside Ghana so I am in no position to judge their accuracy though comments from those who have show that they are sometimes true to the reality. Regardless of this, this story is becoming a pain to read. Personally, I feel I cannot read another of these one-dimensional stories. I think the novel was called 'novel' for a reason. It should be creative even if based on reality.

Have you also identified this trend? And if so what do you think about it? Do you believe that every African novelist in the diaspora feels the same, experiences the same things and for these reasons they write similar stories? Do you think it has become a trite topic?

Friday, May 09, 2014

Discussion: African Writers and Migration

I used to bring up topics for discussions and even though participation is sometimes low, I enjoy the few comments that do come in. We need to do a lot to promote African literature.

There is a trend among African writers which if not corrected could prevent some wonderful writers from being seen. The majority of Contemporary African writers live outside the continent. (And before anyone takes me on on what I mean by 'African writers', I refer to those writers whose names, when they should come up for awards, would be linked to a country on the continent. Some Africans have chosen to be Africans when it suits them.) It seems that if you are a writer on this continent and you have not won any major prize - especially the Caine Prize, you will remain anonymous forever even if you have been lucky enough to have been published by a publisher outside of the continent. Consequently, most writers either dream of winning some major award or of migrating to live partially or permanently in the United States or the United Kingdom so they could realise their dreams. Usually, this has nothing to do with talent. At least in Ghana, where I live and can back this statement with examples, a large majority of published authors live outside the continent. Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Ayesha Harruna-Atta, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Kwei Quartey, Taiye Selasi (if we claim her from the Nigerians) are a few of the Ghanaian authors living outside the continent. It is as if writing from the continent does not make one an author. I read somewhere that Teju Cole had a publication in Nigerian before his US publication of Open City, yet when this book came out it was described as a debut novel.

What is the cause of this? Is it the dearth of publishing houses? At least in Ghana, I know this is likely to be the case. Or is it that being published by big publishing houses expands the path to fame? Or is it the much touted excuse that 'we don't read'? What exactly makes writing from this continent add another layer of difficulty to an already difficult job of writing? What can be done to rectify this?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

New Used Books - In Search of Books

When it comes to reading, I am omnivorous. I read a lot of materials. However, even omnivores have their choicest food if it comes down to choosing. And no one makes me realise this than Kinna. More than 98 percent of our discussions are centred on books and most often that is my most amazing moments. I love to talk about books - read, unread, released, newly published, etc. I just love books. When Kinna saw a post of some books I have read, she wondered whether my shelf is depleted of books. And alas, she was right. If you have fewer books to choose from, you have to make do with all books you have skipped over time.

Consequently, when I saw that a Used Books dealer has spread his wares on the pavement of the Madina New Road road, I decided to take a look. What I have found, after years of searching and buying books, is that one could find strange and sought-after titles in such obscure locations. Except that the condition of the book cannot be guaranteed. In a country where booksellers are not necessarily book-lovers and so marvellous books are hardly stocked and bookshops are filled to the brim with text-books, these sources are very important. From my Madina New Road Used Book Dealer, I found the following exciting titles:
  1. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. This is a rare find. Orhan Pamuk a Turkish novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. It is said that this particular book facilitated that award. My happiness is also in part due to the fact that I have not read any Turkish writer.
  2. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. Hilary Mantel became a popular name, to some of us, when she won the Booker Prize with her book Wolf Hall in 2009 and then won it again with the sequel - the second in a proposed trilogy - Bringing Up the Bodies in 2012. She is the first person to have her consecutive works win the Man Booker Prize. Whether the third book will win her another Booker is yet to be seen, but it also means that she is an author worth the read and if I won't get those two books, I will make do with those that are available. In fact, A Place of Greater Safety was voted as Sunday Express Book of the Year in 1992. Her list of awards is impressive.
  3. Babel Tower by A. S. Byatt. I should not have purchased another Byatt but far from it I have one - Still Life - sitting on my shelf. I read and did not enjoy very much her Booker-winning book Possession. However, the reason could be peculiar to that book and I have try her other books in order to come to a more balanced conclusion.
  4. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Every reader chooses his books carefully. Selecting a book is a very difficult process because unless it is a reread, the reader will go into the book blind. Even when one has read reviews and summaries they are always different from the actual reading. Reviews cannot capture and present the prose of a book to the reader. It can only talk about it. Hence, readers have all sorts of means for selecting their books, including depending on long- and shortlisted books for awards. One award I rely upon is the Man Booker Prize. Yes, it has its own controversies; but it is more likely to deliver great books to the reader than any other award. Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
  5. Guardian of the Dawn by Richard Zimler. This is a complete gamble. I have not heard of the author or the book. I just chose it because of the reviews at the back and also because of the religious designs on the cover. The author is said to have lectured on Portuguese-Jewish culture all over the world. I am still in darkness on this. Every reader gambles. Sometimes he is luck to find an author who jumps onto the favourites list; at other times, he finds an author to blacklist.
  6. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Yes, I know this is for children but it is too popular not to have a look. Perhaps some of us have to plug some of our childhood reading gaps. But this would go the kids definitely.
  7. I got another children's book with three titles by Roald Dahl. Again, Roald Dahl belongs to the familiar-but-not-read authors. The titles are:
    1. The BFG
    2. Matilda
    3. George's Marvellous Medicine
  8. The final book is a science fiction by Douglas Adams with four titles. The first title could be found on a lot of list. I am gradually making my way into science fiction after reading Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy and Herbert's Dune. The titles in this book are:
    1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
    3. Life, the Universe and Everything
    4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
These are books I have added to my shelf and which should spark my reading interest in the coming weeks, hopefully. Which of these have you read and what do you think about them?

Monday, May 05, 2014

April in Review, Projections for May

My projections were to read three books in April but in the end I read only two. Too bad. This means that I am falling behind my ultimate goal of reading 60 books. I don't know when I can speed up. I should have read 20 books by the end of April; instead, I had read only 15. The following were the books I read:
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a unique love story. What if Time Travel is possible but isn't under the control of the person? What if it is a genetic defect? That is the problem with Henry and how will Clare, the eventual wife take it? In such situations, Time Travel is more dangerous than one would have thought. 
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. This was a selection of the Writers Project of Ghana. It was my second reading in three years and the this has helped. In this period of mass hysteria, when the killer is praised for being the saviour and the victim is consistently blamed for the actions of the killer, no book is as important as 1984. It shows how a whole society could be easily hoodwinked into believing something entirely different from reality and consequently become regurgitators of the powers that be - saying what they have been programmed to say and believing what they have been programmed to believe. It also shows the relationship between language and thought and therefore freedom. In this age of Snowden-files, Wikileaks, East-West tensions, uprisings and others, it is important that we revisit the man who knows how society is organised and ruled.
May: I truly do not know what is going to happen in May. I am currently not in my comfort zone as my life has taken a turn that requires time to settle. Thus, anytime I sit to read I lose concentration and my mind strays to other areas. I will therefore only move full-swing into reading when everything is settled. However, I have started both The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - which I scheduled to be read in April, and My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. In addition to these, I will reread Lord of the Flies by William Golding for the Book and Discussion Club of the Writers Project of Ghana.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014 Shortlist

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize announced its 2014 shortlist on April 30 for the different geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean and Pacific.

  • Ikanre by Adelehin Ijasan (Nigeria)
  • All Them Savages by Michelle Sacks (South Africa)
  • Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda)

  • Grandmother by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (Singapore)
  • A Day in the Death by Sara Adam Ang (Singapore)

Canada and Europe
  • The Night of Broken Glass by Jack Wang (Canada)
  • On The Other Side by Idrissa Simmonds (Canada)
  • Agnes Agnes Agnes by Luiza Sauma (United Kingdom)
  • Household Gods by Tracy Fells (United Kingdom)
  • Killing Time by Lucy Caldwell (United Kingdom)

  • Cowboy by Helen Klonaris (Bahamas)
  • Sending for Chantal by Maggie Harris (Guyana)
  • Miss Annie Cooks Fish by Charmaine Rousseau (Trinidad and Tobago)

  • The Dog and the Sea by Lucy Treloar (Australia)
  • Monkey Boy by Janine Mikosza (Australia)
  • Hummingbird by Daniel Anders (Australia)
  • Playing the Stringless Guitar by Michael Hunt (Australia)
  • Tenure by Julian Novitz (New Zealand)
  • Rhododendrons in Mist by David Kerkt (New Zealand)
Read more about the shortlisted authors here

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

291. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (FP: 1892; 302) is one of those books that manage to surprise you regardless of how familiar you have become with their titles. The surprise with this book was not in the character or the story-line(s) but the genre. I had always perceived this book as a complete novel. This perception might have been strengthened by the various movie adaptations I have watched. Even when I purchased it, this did not change. So you can imagine my surprise when I finally picked it up to read and suddenly discovered that it is a collection of short stories.

The story features the eponymous character Sherlock Holmes as he solved one mystery after the other, sometimes aided by his friend Dr Watson, and it was he who narrated the stories. The eccentric Sherlock Holmes did not care much about the mysteries he solved but to any observing eyes what he did is nothing different from the art of Houdini. Sherlock has more than five well developed senses. His sixth sense - the sense of intuition, and the seventh - the sense of extreme logical reasoning, helped him unravel cases that on the surface seemed insurmountable but which proved obvious to the reader after the little available facts had passed through his acute mind. As a polymath, no mystery was too strange, too difficult, or beyond the powers of Sherlock's mind.

In this collection of 12 short stories, the young reader is likely to develop some affection for this eccentric man of whom his friend, Dr Watson, said 
The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime. [20]
Sherlock Holmes is an embodiment of passion and knowledge. It is no wonder that he has come to represent more than just a character in history. This story reminded me of Alexander McCall Smith's The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, a collection of short stories about how one woman set out to resolve problems. Even though one always knew Holmes would solve the mysteries, even when the evidence seems to be not available, one still wondered how it was going to be done. This is what makes Doyle's work interesting over a century after its publication. A book such as this is always recommended. It makes for light and fun-filled reading and could be squeezed between difficult books to cure the wooziness that accompanies reading such demanding books.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Caine Prize 2014 Shortlist

Exactly a week ago, the Caine Prize announced its 2014 shortlist. This year's shortlist was announced by the Nobel Prize winner and Patron of the Caine Prize Wole Soyinka, as part of the opening ceremonies for the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 celebration in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The Shortlist comprises:
  1. Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) "Phosphorescence" in Cabin Fever (Umuzi, Cape Town. 2011)
  2. Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) "Chicken" in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)
  3. Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) "The Intervention" in Open Road Review, issue 7, New Delhi. 2013
  4. Billy Kahora (Kenya) "The Gorilla's Apprentice" in Granta (London. 2010)
  5. Okwiri Oduor (Kenya) "My Father's Head" in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)
Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. Billy Kahora's Urban Zoning was nominated in 2012 Caine Prize Shortlist. To commemorate fifteen years of the Caine Prize this year, £500 will be awarded to each shortlisted writer. The winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford on Monday 14 July.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. [7]

A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. [8]

You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men. [12-3]

it was not merely that Holmes has changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime. [20]

Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. [21]

As a rule, said Holmes, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. [42-3]

[L]ife is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions stale and unprofitable. 55

The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime, the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. [57]

The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult is it to bring it home. [76]

Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing; it may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different. [79]

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. [79]

You must act, man, or you are lost. Nothing but energy can save you. This is no time for despair. [112]

The ideal reasoner would, when he has once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it, but also all the results which would follow from it. [115-6]

I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner. [141]

Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. [198]

Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters. [236]

We can't command our love, but we can our actions. [243]

It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. [273]

Monday, April 21, 2014

290. How to Spell Naija in 100 Short Stories Vol. 1 by Chuma Nwokolo

Chuma Nwokolo may not be a household name. But those who have listened to him read or have read his books have come to appreciate his stories. To such fortunate folks Chuma remains an excellent author with a keen sense of observation and of humour. Recently the author of Diaries of a Dead African and The Ghost of Sani Abacha released another collection of short stories titled How to Spell Naija in 100 Short Stories to mark the centenary anniversary of the amalgamation of the pre-Nigerian states and the formation of the country Nigeria.

Those who have read Chuma have come to appreciate his unique writing styles and his prodigiousness. First, according to the author his attention span is too short for a novel, so that even the novel-like DOADA is really three interlinked novellas. Consequently, the author has resorted to the short story genre to tell his stories and over time has mastered the rudiments of this genre. The Ghost of Sani Abacha contained twenty-six short stories, almost twice the number one is likely to find in most anthologies. It is therefore not surprising that Chuma would set himself the huge task of putting together hundred (100) short stories. The first volume of this two part publications contains fifty short stories and it is expected that the second volume would have the other fifty.

How to Spell Naija in 100 Short Stories (Gwandustan, 2013; 289) is a compendium of vistas of everyday occurrences in Nigeria, Africa, and the world at large, delivered through different writing styles. The stories are taken from life through keen observations and acute deductions and served to the reader in a way that will make them seem obvious upon reading, creating that retrospective and reflective epiphany or the aha! moment. Sometimes the stories capture the reader's situation so perfectly that he wonders how the author got it so right. They are so true to life and to our daily experiences that some of them do not even qualify to be described as stories anymore. They have moved beyond the realms of fiction, of fact-based fiction, of historical fiction, into something else. They are more of essays or treatises on societal issues than fiction. They could be easily quoted and referenced in any work of scholarship.

One that fits these descriptions perfectly is The Ten Commandments of Nigerian Politics. There is nothing in this story that is completely fictitious or that is not, or could not, be true. Even the way Chuma chose to begin the story caused me to question its presence in a work of fiction. The author begins the short story with a disclaimer:
As you will understand when you finish reading these commandments, I did not actually write them. I found a small, black notebook in the toilet cubicle as the plane approached Abuja airport. It clearly wasn't there when we left Lagos, yet nobody claimed the book when I waved it in front of the forty people on that flight. ...
This is a story about a guy - Goddy - who has been contracted by scammers to write a manual on how they could transition from scamming to politics. This guy has studied the political scene for so long - perhaps just as the author has done - that he knows and has mastered the rudiments of the game, even if he is not playing in it. According to Goddy, the first commandment of Nigerian politics is Don't Hit the Big People. Hit the Little People Ice. He refers to the little people as Nigerian mugus, those who are oblivious of the fact that they owned billions of dollars. All that the politician has to do is to strategically place himself between the billions and the people. He explains:
I know your second question: what's the point? After all, little people have no money. Wrong. Last year, 19 billion dollars entered the federal account of 140 million Nigerians. Go and multiply that. That is not a small amount of money.
The year before they budgeted 4 trillion Naira to take care of this same 140 million little people. Do you know how many zeros are behind that four? I see. Your job as a politician is to position yourself between that money and the 140 million mugus that own it.
Chuma, in this conversational writing style, explains how Nigerian (African) politicians corrupt the system and siphon public money into personal accounts. This particular behaviour of politicians and the government they form has been touched upon in most contemporary Nigerian novels. From Chinua Achebe's not-so contemporary (1966) A Man of the People to Sefi Atta's (2013) A Bit of Difference this route to wealth and recognition in Nigeria's class society has been denounced and documented. Obinze and his friends' lives are encapsulated by this in Chimamanda's (2013) Americanah. This route is so widely known and accepted among its perpetrators - past, present, and future - that as recent as the second week in April (13th) it was exhibited in all of its glory and goriness at the wedding ceremony of Goodluck Jonathan's daughter. It was so conspicuous, so showy, so plangent and deafening, that it was ugly. Anyone who has read Chuma's story will not but see the confluence between the fiction and the fact. Under Clinching the Nomination - the second command, Chuma writes:
The first thing is to get a nomination. To do that, you need a political party. Don't ask me why, that's just what our constitution says, and that is why today we have more than fifty parties. But you must not waste your time with the papa-mama-and-pickin type of political party. Go straight to the biggest and find out the local godfather. ...
Most of these godfathers have a dozen or more official children, so within six months there will be many birthdays, naming ceremonies, burials (god forbid), graduations and what have you. On each special day, if there's no party, drop your carton of champagne and envelope of money at the gate and go. Remember the golden rule for donations: If you cannot be among the top five donors, don't waste your money. (Emphasis mine)
Is it therefore strange that the President's daughter is reported to have received one hundred and seventy five (175) cars as gifts? Is this a mere act of kindness or it is as Chuma said, to gain favour in the eyes of the godfather and facilitate future considerations from the president? Or were they given as appreciation to a past favour from him? The motive is as clear as daylight (forget the cliche).

Chuma further discussed how to win the election, give victory speech, 'eat' the (public) money, react when Nigerians stir from their slumber, and how to play the ethnic card and manage the police. As much as this story is funny, it is also saddening because it is the absolute truth. It shows how a few psychopaths could capture power and treat others in so evil a manner.

In OPM the problem of corruption that has bedevilled most countries is seen playing in the homes of the corrupt. In trying to play smart on each other, a whole country finds itself in a situation where cheating and being cheated become the norm and inherent part of peoples' lives. Yet, each person thinking that he is cheating another ends up cheating himself as the roads are not built; the schools are not built; degrees are purchased; and quack professionals end the lives of people through ignorance. In a household of a corrupt 'chief', everybody is pinching the other. Whereas the patriarch is pinching the government, the wife is pinching him, and the daughter is making deals with the housekeeping money. Even the steward is making a business out of the household's provisions with his son, who (unknown to all) was the Chief's taxi driver, by night. When the Chief discovered that his daughter was repackaging local rice as Basmati rice, he explained to her that when it comes to deals, there is a line. One should only hit Other People's Money [OPM].
Listen Alma, there's an invisible line you must never cross when you're doing business...' 'And what line is that?' ... 'The line of family, of loyalty.' 'You're the one crossing the line, Papa'... 'How? By saying the obvious? It was not the basmati rice, that's the fact.' 'What do facts have to do with loyalty? I lie for you. Last month when we travelled home on that horrible road, I knew it was your road. I knew how much you made from it, and did I say a word? Did I complain in front of the driver? That was loyalty Dad. Once we passed your road we all started complaining about the bad roads and the corruption killing Nigeria. That was loyalty. But you! Because of small rice deal you and your wife were disgracing me in front of the steward-'...
Tear Rubber alludes to the extravagance and markers of wealth in the Nigerian (African) society. A young man purchased a brand new full-leather interior, climate-control, BMW X5 Sports and, as customs demand, decided to show it to his uncle in the village. This village uncle was unimpressed and decided to have a word with his nephew. 
'What I really want to ask you is this,' he said finally, sucking his teeth when the first stick was gone, 'what are you trying do say?'
'I don't think I understand you, Pa-Dey.'
'Look,' he said, opening wide his mouth, 'this is Naija, stop beating around the bush. If you want to say something, say it ho-ha! If you have arrived you buy a Mercedes. Okay? It is simple like that. Whether it is second-hand or third-hand doesn't matter anything. Nobody is saying that you can't buy more cars later-later, the first one is a good Mercedes eh? I just said I should tell you: because there can't be old man in the house and small-small boys will be digging pit-latrine where they buried their grandpapa'
Yet, politics and class are not the only domain in which Chuma's eyes capture all the details and nuances. He is at home with domestic issues, pun intended, as he is with politics. The first story of the anthology, Letter to a Young Wife from an Old, discusses what successful marriages are made of or how some have managed to survive the turbulence. This skill set of keeping the family together, regardless of the problems it encounters, has been passed on from older women to the younger ones over generations and are delivered on the eve of marriage and throughout one's married life. However, over time they have - like everything else - been modified, enhanced, to reflect the times. They have moved from the days when women grovel before their husbands like worshippers before their gods, in absolute servility, to the period where strategic anger and violence is permitted, as long as they remain within a certain acknowledged but unspoken perimeter. It is the latter, or rather the ingredients or methodology of the latter, that Chuma discusses in this epistolary story. A woman is entitled to react violently - measuredly and methodically - to her husband's misdemeanours, especially if it is adultery. If carried out properly, this reaction will elicit the required shame from the offending husband and lead to a significant (even if short-lived) change or to a better way of hiding his crime in future. Whichever way he chooses, there is bliss - even if from ignorance.

In this story, a young woman has perhaps gone overboard in her reaction and is being advised by an experienced wife on how to manage her anger; how to show it and hurt her husband, bring tears to his eyes and still not get him angry.
Thou art a young wife, so I shall open all my mouth. On that first day that his adultery comes to light, the whole world is right behind you, so let the force of your fury be known. Be natural, let it all hang out. The plates, the frame photographs of your wedding, his suits even, these are the legitimate, the expected casualties of his embarrassing sex. Noise the scandal to whom you may, what more do you have to hide? ... Tell your friends, the groundnut hawker, his own friends even. Let the world feel the pain of his betrayal of you. Pain shared = pain halved, and all that.
According to the old wife, this violence is justified if it is limited to selected items and kept within two days. On the third day, calm is suppose to reign. The snivelling must stop. If not, her friends (wives of his husband's friends) will begin to get annoyed with her for all the care she is receiving from their husbands, who are  no saints themselves.
Nobody wants their husband to be holding and comforting another weeping woman for days on end, even if they are best of friends. Besides, all your married friends have horror tales of their own, and it is in bad taste to complain to a doctor about your pimple, when he is sitting on a scrotum engorged by elephantiasis. ...
[T]he clever wife's rage is entirely premeditated. Nothing is ever done in the heat of the moment. She goes through her house carefully, determining the casualties of his next misbehaviour. When I fly through my house breaking things I might look quite mad, but my eyes are very discriminating I tell you. I remember an aquarium I hated so much, but it was a gift from my mother-in-law, and you know how that breaks down... anyway it took three years before he gave me an excuse to break it. Poor fish. Anyway, nothing, nothing, will provoke me to raise my hand against my own car. Am I mad? That's the point you forgot, isn't it? The car may be in his name but it belongs to you. Just like the plates and photographs and old suits... these are impressive victims of your rage, but they don't cost too much.
Anyone who has read Chuma's stories, will quickly realise that he has a knack for understanding relationships. He sees things no one else does. His stories of relationships are different from what one is likely to read everyday. They open up recesses and expose details one rarely sees. This is observed in The Tranquil of Sukosu and Wife and Phonesurfing. In the former, a man and his wife had been living a quiet and unquestioning life; safe in their ignorance of each other and in the love they had been professing to each for thirty years. Then one day the man asked his wife if he was his first love. A negative response nibbled at his curiosity: who was he, he asked; but when the response began with a 'she...' they both settled quickly into silence, into their safe unquestioning lives, after a brief discomfiture. The latter is about a married couple who were surfing each other's phone secretly for traces of secret relationships.

These stories have the quintessential Chuma flavour of insight and humour. His writings seem to indicate that life is one whole string of humorous and insane events, if one observes closely enough. Otherwise, how could the failure of an electricity company to cut power cause anxiety and depression in a man? In The End of Failure the negative is the norm. In a country where power supply is intermittent and load-shedding is the norm, an extended power supply is received with fear and anxiety and anticipation of an extended power cut. This added to the man's frustrations. Here Chuma's skills as a storyteller is clear. How he used just a power failure to express, in all its detailed ugliness, the frustrations and tensions of the lower middle class is indeed amazing and fantastic.

Most of Chuma's stories are about the lives of ordinary people. However, none represents the working class - the proletarians - than Envy. The story seems to suggest that happiness is not in things but in us. It has often been said of the working class that they are a happy class because they do not suffer the pain and non-satiation that accompany the wanton possessiveness of the upper class. That they are free from the clutches of the fear of suddenly losing their wealth. But this perceived and ascribed lower-class-working-class satisfaction is a deprecative and overly romanticised view. It does not exist. For though they do not suffer what the wealthy folks do, they also suffer from envy and jealousy. Therefore, there is a sort of cyclical envy flowing among the classes. The wealthy folks wishing for the superficial happiness of the poor and the poor the wealth of the wealthy. In Envy, the Eye has been watching people all through eternity. It is ancient and all-seeing. One day it sighted half a dozen men who had closed from a day's work of chiselling granite under a difficult supervisor. In their rags and poverty, these men found it within themselves to laugh into complete abandon. The Eye became envious, for he who had seen a lot in life could not comprehend how these men with virtually nothing could be this happy.

Chuma's stories are far from the Hut-and-Thatch, Calabash-and-Palm-wine, Poverty-and-Death stories most African stories have come to be known. They are contemporary. Even those that dealt with religion. Religion forms an important part of the life of an African. Over time, the African has moved from his native religion, referred to as traditional religion, to Christianity. However, the distinction between the two is blurring with pastors accusing each other of occultism. What people refuse to acknowledge is the gradual assimilation of traditional religious beliefs into Christianity facilitated by the similarities between the two. In Mama Makancha's Kitchen a witch-doctor who converted to Christianity and, as is characteristic of all such conversions, threw away his gods was surprised that his miracle-performing pastor had gone to his witch-doctor friend for supernatural powers. On hearing this from his friend, he sought to locate and retrieve his gods only to find out that the weeping grindstone Mama Makancha had invited him to exorcise was his long-lost god. He began to find a way to whisk the god-grindstone away from Mama Makancha who was unwilling to let go of her grindstone. 

Facebookland is another contemporary story. Who is a friend? Is it the one you meet everyday in real life? Or those you share your life's intimate moments with on the virtual world? Or both? What if you fell sick and no one commented on your page and you mistakenly posted that you were sick and some questioned the veracity of your post and asked that you stopped joking, and others expressed their hollow sympathies? Are they friends? Is the virtual world of social media full of phonies? What happens if one of such friends - those you only know on that platform - thousands of miles away, txt to ask you how you felt and whether you were doing well, is he not a true friend? This story presents the dilemma of social media - the positives and negatives of living on the virtual world.

Chuma has mastered several methods of arresting his readers attention. His first lines and paragraphs are catchy. They draw the reader in and deliver the knockout one blow at a time. In addition to this he creates interest by indirectly raising suspicions or questions and leaving them unanswered. These nibble at the reader's mind, demanding to be answered. In Spouseplay one is likely to question whether the newly married woman cheated (on her husband) on the first day of entering her husband's house with the taxi driver who brought them, or not. This is a story of a man who was morbidly (even psychologically) afraid of women. This morbid fear coupled with his unproven existence of a girlfriend led his mother to marry for him. The story is set on the first day he arrived home with his wife - his prevarications and confusions of what to do or say. When the woman sent him on errands to buy difficult-to-get items only to come and meet the taxi of the driver who had brought them home parked in his front yard. He became suspicious. When he was met at the door by a seemingly furtive wife who once again sent him to get an even more elusive item, his suspicions grew. But when he finally got entry into his house through the back door, he met the taxi driver scrubbing the floor and asking for another bottle of beer. Did something happen between the two? Maybe yes. Maybe no. There are indications to both answers.

Another method is leaving parts of the stories nebulous for the reader to disentangle, if he can. An example of this is in Just Add Spice. When a bride-groom saw his immediate ex-girlfriend - a woman who had financed him - at his wedding he raised an alarm for her to be arrested. It did not help that this ex-girlfriend had shared to the guests turkey sandwiches. Suddenly, all those who had eaten the sandwiches began to vomit and the woman was arrested. A toxicology test proved negative. Why would a woman who claimed she never truly loved this man, and that she was preparing to jilt him, attend and destroy his wedding? The same method was used in The Police Masseur, where a woman prevented her husband from being investigated by throwing a police officer off his search duties in her home. After the incident, with promises of non-disclosure on both sides (police and woman), Chuma dropped a hint that some of the woman's ex-husbands were languishing in jail - one for trying to sell the country's embassy in Congo. Is it not the woman who is the brain behind her husbands dealings? Similarly in Replacement, a Kafkaesque story, a man who responded to a call to walk at midnight returned to find that his position in his home had been taken over by his other self. Unlike Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife, this new self did not know the old one. This man had entered into a deal we are not told and by his acceptance had suddenly been transformed and replaced.

There are several other interesting and resonating stories. In Ancestral Stone a woman crippled her son to prevent slave raiders from kidnapping him. This is similar to what Sethe did to Beloved in that eponymous Morrison novel. When the man survived the raid, he did same to his children and none was taken by the slave raiders. There is the story of a man who spared a child he had caught stealing a radio only to meet him later as an armed robber (Spared Child); there is also the story of a gatekeeper who was sponsored to Mecca by his Madam and when upon his return this Madam did not add the necessary Alhaji title to his name he became morose and he who took initiatives froze in his work (The Pilgrim's Address). 

Chuma's stories are not culturally closed or limiting. One does not require local knowledge to understand or appreciate them, or at least some of them. In Bloody Benjy he shows that more often than not a work of art is famous only because of the name of the artiste embossed on the work and that work itself is of no relevance. It is explained in relation to the artiste so that if the name changes the enthusiasm will change. This idea is carried into Poetic Justice - one of the longest short stories in the collection. The story suggests that mostly the same people win awards not because they are consistently good but because their reputations go ahead of them. It suggests that most awards are flawed and rigged so that even when they tell you that entries are sent to judges without the authors' names, it is usually fallacious.

The author employed different writing styles to tell his stories. There are dialogues, monologues, interviews, epistolary, and others. There is definitely something to love in a collection of fifty short stories - this being the anthology with the largest collection of short stories (single- or multiple-authored) I have ever read - and definitely something not to like. For though Chuma's stories are wonderful, insightful, relevant, and varied, in such a huge collection there were always going to be wide variances in their likability. Regardless, the likes outnumber the not-likes. The latter are usually stories one felt the author could have fleshed up. They begin on an interesting note and before the reader is aware they have ended, suddenly.

To say that Chuma Nwokolo is a great writer is an understatement. He is an author whose works have souls. They speak to the reader. They are both 'novel' and familiar. In a sense, he presents everyday issues with a different insight; one that illuminates the reader's mind and brings to him that wonderful epiphanic aha! moment. He is able to turn everyday events into stories worth the read. Will he end up as one of the great authors the mainstream never met, never read? To those who have read him, it is our joy; to the industry their loss. However, let it not be said that he was 'undiscovered'. By whom? This is recommended to all.
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