Friday, February 28, 2014

#Quotes from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White

Our words are giants when they do us an injury, and dwarfs when they do us a service. [52]

Her nature, too truthful to deceive others, was too noble to deceive itself. [54]

Who cares for his causes of complaint? Are you to break your heart to set his mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace - they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship - they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return? [159]

Where is the woman who has ever really torn form her heart the image that has been once fixed in it by a true love? Books tell us that such unearthly creatures have existed - but what does our own experience say in answer to books? [188]

Crime is in this country what crime is in other countries - a good friend to a man and to those about him as often as it is an enemy. [209]

A great rascal provides also for himself and family. The worse he is the more he makes them the objects for your sympathy. He often provides for himself. [209]

A profligate spendthrift who is always borrowing money will get more from his friends than the rigidly honest man who only borrows of them once, under pressure of the direst want. In the one case the friends will not be at all surprised, and they will give. In the other case they will be very much surprised, and they will hesitate. [209]

I say what other people only think, and when all the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask for the true face, mine is the rash hand that tears off the plump pasteboard, and shows the bare bones beneath. [210]

Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's money, but they cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how to talk to them. [228]

"Darker and darker," he said; "farther and farther yet. Death takes the good, the beautiful, and the young - and spares me. The Pestilence that wastes, the arrow that strikes, the Sea that drowns, the Grave that closes over Love and Hope, are steps of my journey, and take me nearer and nearer to the End." [245]

"A taste of sweets," he said in his softest tones and his tenderest manner, "is the innocent taste of women and children. I love to share it with them - it is another bond, dear ladies, between you and me". [259]

Any woman who is sure of her own wits is a match at any time for a man who is not sure of his own temper. [277-8]

Human ingenuity, my friend, has hitherto only discovered two ways in which a man can manage a woman. One way is to knock her down - a method largely adopted by the brutal lower orders of the people, but utterly abhorrent to the refined and educated classes above them. The other way (much longer, much more difficult, but in the end not less certain) is never to accept a provocation at a woman's hands. It holds with animals, it holds with children, and it holds with women, who are nothing but children growing up. Quiet resolution is the one quality the animals, the children, and the women all fail in. If they can once shake this superior quality in their master, they get the better of him. [290-1]

My dear friend! what is there extraordinary in that? They are all in love with some other man. Who gets teh first of a woman's heart? In all my experience I have never yet met with the man who was Number one. Number two, sometimes. Number Three, Four, Five, often. Number One, never! He exists, of course - but I have not met with him. [298]

The best men are not consistent in good - why should the worst men be consistent in evil? [497]

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chuma Nwokolo's Reading at the International House (with Pictures)

Last week Wednesday (February 19), the Writers Project of Ghana organised a special book reading for Chuma Nwokolo at the International House of the University of Ghana. It was special because this reading was outside the monthly book reading WPG organises with the Goethe Institute.

The Reading: One thing every reader needs is a good reading voice and an ability to capture and control the audience. And Chuma has both. He has a way of controlling and bending the audience to his (could this be the result of his training and practice as a lawyer? Possibly! The room vacillated between quiescence and laughter. There was never a point of boredom. Anyone who could be bored by Chuma's reading is more likely to be suffering from irreversible depression. Chuma read from four books: the poetry anthology, Memories of Stone; the 'novel', Diaries of a Dead African; the collection of short stories, The Ghost of Sani Abacha; and his latest short story collection, How to Spell Naija in Hundred Short Stories, which was published to mark the centenary celebration of the amalgamation of the northern and southern part of what is now called Nigeria into one country. Though of the selected text in these books dealt with very serious matters, such as the Ten Commandments of Nigerian Politics, Chuma's humour shone through them. Partly because what he read - though written from the Nigerian experience - was not different to the Ghanaian. If one took a step back and analysed our behaviour as a third-world continent, one could not but laugh at the incongruities, absurdities, the ironies, the contradictions of the lives we live. Chuma Nwokolo's writing bring these things sharply into focus.

However, Chuma is not all political - yes, he knows his political history of Nigeria and proffers some solution to the nation's (perhaps the continent's) endemic corruption. In fact, the majority of his writing has nothing to do with politics, except that the life the people live is a reflection of the bad politics the leaders of the continent play. As Achebe said, the problem with Nigeria (Africa) is a problem of leadership.

Tasha opened the reading with a poetry reading. Excellent reading that was.
Chuma Nwokolo's reading. He captured his audience with his booming voice and excellent reading.
Participation: Chuma's reading was a huge success in terms of participation, reading, interaction, and organisation. The programme started on the dot of 7pm, as is characteristic of all WPG programmes. All the hundred chairs acquired for the occasion were filled and more had to be brought in. However, even though the reading was organised on the university campus, students' participation was minimal. Is this a sign of lack of interest in intellectual activities by students? Or is it an excessive love for football, since it coincided with the UEFA Champions league matches. Regardless of these, the room was overfilled and the reading went down well.

Part of the audience.
Part of the audience (II)
Kofi Akpabli author of Tickling the Ghanaian - encounters with Contemporary Ghanaian Culture and A Sense of Savannah - Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana.
These three ladies and the blurred gentleman are part of the Book and Discussion Club of the Writers Project of Ghana. They were at the reading.
Late at the book signing session. Chuma took time to talk to almost everybody who was there. He has a genial personality. In felt-hat is Ben Akoi-Jackson, an artist.
ImageNations and Chuma. What else were you expecting?
Authors Nii Ayikwei Parkes (author of Tail of the Blue Bird) and Mamle Kabu (author of End of Skill, a Caine Prize shortlist) were at the reading.
Random shots after the book signing.
Donna Sheppard, Mamle Kabu, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Chuma Nwokolo, and Martin Egblewogbe (author of Mr Happy and the Hammer of God)
If you are in Ghana and want copies of Chuma's books contact me or visit the bookshops. The Writers Project of Ghana holds its monthly Ghana Voices Series at the Goethe Institute every last Wednesday of the month. The reading, organised together with the Institute, resumes next month (March 26) with a reading by Empi Baryeh author of Chancing Faith.

Friday, February 21, 2014

283. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Satanic Verses (Viking, 1988; 547) by Salman Rushdie has been one of the most controversial books ever written. On February 14, 1989 a fatwa was declared on its author by the late Ayatollah Ruholla Khoneini. All across the world there were news of book burning and banning, and demonstrations against the author and his works, including some liberals who thought Rushdie overstretched the limits of free speech in his book. Even as the book celebrates its 26 years of publication and the author 25 years of the invocation of the fatwa, emotions have not yet completely fizzled out. In fact, the author had to live incognito and had to move about with bodyguards paid for by some governments. He lived under the assumed name of Joseph Anton - from Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov - which became the title of his memoir.

The Story: At over 500 pages, this is no small book and if one read the hardcover with the thick leaves one would feel the physical torment of this book. However, this is not the only torment one would go through reading The Satanic Verses. The task of unravelling the layers of symbols and different narrative styles is more daunting than that of carrying the book. Filled with numerous characters, which is the trademark of Rushdie - at least in reference to his popular (and rightly so) Midnight's Children, the book is a compendium of Indian symbolism and an omnium-gatherum of events. One's complete appreciation is a function of his ability to decode these symbols and the subtle and layered meanings of Rushdie's writings.

This is not Rushdie's best. And definitely not be his worst. But had the book not sparked the controversy it did - knowing that popularity thrives on controversies - it would have not been this famous and would have been assessed based on its merit instead of fallout. Critics would not have been swayed, consciously or unconsciously so, by the tides; for in such exuberance and bursting of emotions at its threadbare seams, everyone wants to take a side. The so-called progressives, who are rather individuals caught in the frenzy of progressivism - which is nothing other than just the feeling of being described as one with no social, cultural, or religious threshold; one who tolerates and accommodates everything and can provide justification for people's choices: they are pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-weed, atheists - truly, they are a congeries of individuals with the belief that the individual's choice is his choice and are therefore in no position to oppose this choice, these folks did not critically critique the book for fear of being described as being against 'free speech', of being anti-liberals (or retrogressive). Thus, instead the book was either overly praised by the 'progressives', even those in academia; or burnt by its opponents - those who felt slighted by its contents. There is no middle ground when it comes to The Satanic Verses. You are either with it or you are against it, Bush-style. But this is an over-generalisation. Some did. As someone said, commenting or writing about it became the route literary fame by academicians. However, what I really do mean is that the fallout clouded or swayed judgement. Interpretations were based on or linked to the fallout.

But The Satanic Verses is not all about religion and about that definite The in its title. There is more to it. In fact, someone has estimated that the thread of story that gives this book its title is just over 70 pages, less than fifteen percent, of the entire book. The book contains three clearly interwoven strands of stories imbued with magical realism and narrated in dream sequence. Some parts are written in the style of a religious text.

The first thread of story is about Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta and their survival of the bombed AI-420 Jumbo Jet en route to London and their subsequent transmogrification into supernatural beings - Satan and angel, respectively. The second identifiable story is about a prophet named Mahound and his founding a religion in a water-scarce region of Jahilia. The final story is about the mass walk of all the inhabitants of Titlipur - men, women, children, old, young, animals - on a pilgrimage to Mecca at the insistence of Ayesha, a girl who was suddenly transformed and claimed had been commanded by the angel Gabriel. How Rushdie thought he could knead such a melange of stories, of varied meanings and implications, into one complete story is what is wrong with this story; however, each story could have stood on its own merit. Together, it is like eating rice and coming across strands of hair, though he skilfully managed to bring them tightly together so that the surprise of seeing a temperate fauna in a tropical rainforest was minimal.

Migration and (Mal)adjustment: This is the story. It is about migration, racism, acculturation, home, identity, realisation, and forgiveness. It is also the 'mother' story, for it carried the other two along. All the others could be described as subplots and are subsumed within its vast cavernous interiors. It is a fantastic story even with its religious connotations and magical representations or it is fantastic because of these.

Gibreel Farishta was from a poor family. Through a series of circumstances he became an orphan and was adopted by a family who introduced him to a movie producer and he became an actor. Even when he was young, and an orphan, he had dreams of sleeping with his benefactor's wife and sometimes compared his circumstances in life with that of the prophet. As an actor in Bollywood, Gibreel Farishta, born Ismail Najmuddin, played all the gods and angels roles in the movies. He became the physical embodiment of what is good. But he also became a discreet philanderer. When he miraculously survived a near-fatal fall during a movie shoot, he lost his faith because he had earlier prayed for a sign from God and had received nothing and though he was healed, it came after he had decided that there is no God. He manifested his faithlessness in a pork-eating spree at the posh Taj Hotel. It was there that he met Alleluia Cone, mountain climber and conqueror of Everest. And after a brief encounter, the gauntlet was thrown: the world was real, what was possible was possible and what was impossible was im-- Then one day,  Gibreel disappeared, leaving behind unfulfilled movie contracts. He left in search of Alleluia Cone, to be reborn and live a life anew, one un-entangled with religious roles he no longer believed in. His disappearance was to become the story of the tabloids.

Saladin Chamcha on the other hand was from a wealthy family. He was the son of a wealthy philanthropic and philandering father and a quiet mother, who died on a fish bone. Saladin had always had different views of life as an Indian. To him, being an Indian was not his part in this life. Everything Indian seemed useless, backward, and negative. He could not wait to escape that backwater that was Indian and his father, whom he regarded less. Later, Chamcha would leave the country, go to England for education and would break relations with his father, hating him more for marrying another another woman (another Nasreen) less than a year after his Nasreen Chamcha's death from the fishbone choking. Chamcha, to complete is anglicisation, in Britain would marry an English woman of whom he could hardly understand and their relationship would grow cold over time. Chamcha had done everything possible to shed off his Indian exoskeleton, and when he returned to play Bernard Shaw's The Millionaires he was surprised and embarrassed of how quickly and reflexively his tonal inflexion regressed to their Indian origin. Unable to fit into Zeenat and her company, Saladin left as early as he could but not before there was an affair with her.

The two - Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha both escaping India for different reasons - met on the AI-420 and became its only survivors after the plane was bombed by a woman terrorists after days of hijacking and the authorities' refusal to grant their (the terrorists') requests. But Chamcha and Farishta fell through space and descended onto the shores of London and this is when their transfiguration and their ordeals began.

Whereas Gibreel was transforming into an angel, Chamcha was gradually transmogrifying into a hoofed-and-horned-and-furred man. They two found themselves in a woman's room but their landing been spotted and soon Chamcha was arrested, for he was poorly dressed and could not, or was not allowed to, prove his citizenship. When his citizenship was verified, he was sent to a hospital where several severely and weirdly transformed humans were kept, perhaps for experimental purposes. Later, when he turned up at their home after an escape from the hospital, his wife - Pamela Chamcha nee Lovelace, who had taken up with Jumpy Joshi - Saladin's friend - rejected his presence and his transformed self and sent him away, because he was and had been confirmed dead. Gibreel on the other hand found himself possessed by the old woman Rosa Diamond who had saved him from the immigration officers, when Chamcha was arrested. And because Gibreel showed no sign of knowing Chamcha upon the latter's arrest, Chamcha felt betrayed and this betrayal would lead to a revenge that would be the doom of one.

The subtle racialism of British culture and behaviour are read within the lines of the Chamcha's life in Britain. For instance, though Chamcha was a well-known actor, he was known only for his voice on radio. According to his employers, the people were not ready to accept his Indianness on television. And even though he appeared in The Aliens Show, he did so in mask. One of the things that, perhaps, Salman Rushdie sought to do was to expose the inconsistencies and contradictions that exist in situations or places where they are not supposed to exist or are deemed not to exist. For instance, inconsistencies of abuse in developed countries; inconsistencies in religious teachings; inconsistencies in citizenship and acceptance etc.

The story is also about foreigners seeking to fit into a culture the autochthons are rejecting and their gradual realisation that have lost it all - they belong nowhere: at home they are strangers per their obvious transformations, in England they are not English per their incompleteness and overly English per their absurdities and excessive attachments that is characteristic of people seeking to belong to a place. In this way, it is a story of migration and acculturation. For instance, Saladin Chamcha had spent his entire life becoming un-Indian. He had repudiated his country, his father, and the people of India - they were not what he aspired to be; they were not civilised enough and were stuck to the old ways. The English way was his way to getting out of that den. However, after his sudden transfiguration he was rejected by his English wife and taken in by the Indian family of Sufyan. However, even in his hideousness the Indian family tolerated and kept him until such a time that the reversal of his condition, which was also sudden, occurred. In all this Chamcha did not consider them his people, he was English.

At the other end of the continuum were those immigrants who are unable to adopt or accept the cultural differences and the more discrimination they face the more the hold onto the nationality of their home countries. To them the city of London was the Visible but Unseen City. These folks, like Mrs Sufyan (Hind), try as much as possible to keep track of life and the going-ons in their home countries (what they consider as the 'real world'), whilst pretending that their migration is temporary and that they will go back home or that where they live does not exist.

Rehka Merchant is Gibreel's nemesis. She was tormenting him into insanity in fulfilment of her promise. Rehka Merchant was married to a wealthy man but was in a relationship with Gibreel Farishta. When Gibreel went missing and the newspapers headlines screamed Farishta Dives Underground and Gibreel Flies Coop. Rehka saw in them a divine message from Gibreel - the actor who played gods and angels in movies - to her, and unable to separate reality from fiction, Gibreel became a god or the embodiment of the gods he played in his movies. Rehka took her two daughters and a son up the roof of their high-rise home and together jumped to their death. As she was falling, perhaps metaphorically through the tunnel of death, she met Gibreel flying downwards from their bombed plane onto earth and there she realised her mistake and the perceived deceit - that Gibreel was no Farishta (angel) at all - sought to take her revenge. After her death and his survival, she became an apparition visible only to him and from whom he fled. And it was Rehka's curse that inundated his senses with these visions and voices. Yet, it was these same hallucinations (or dreams) that transported him to Jahilia and made him both Mahound the Prophet and Gibreel, the Farishta.
When the nocturnal story changes, when, without warning, the progress of events in Jahilia and Yathrib gives way to the struggle of Imam and Empress, Gibreel briefly hopes that the curse has ended, that his dreams have been restored to the random eccentricity of ordinary life; but then, as the new story, too falls into the old pattern, continuing each time he drops off from the precise point at which it was interrupted, and as his own image, translated into an avatar of the archangel, re-enters the frame,, so his hope dies, and he succumbs once more to the inexorable. [216]
When Gibreel finally met Allie (Alleluia Cone) he had lost hold of his senses and had to be worked upon. The two would begin a therapy of trust and would go through times of good and bad, until the voice - Chamcha's - and the lie aptly told. This would separate them and lead them both to doom.

Though Saladin was hiding away, unwilling to be Shaitan, his form still seeped into people's dreams and people became afraid of him, even though they had not seen him or knew of his existence. He need not convince the people that he was the devil. He was believed and when he people saw his form a terrible havoc ensued. Unlike Gibreel, whose angelic transformation was not so obvious and as such was not believed. Clearly people believe more in the presence of evil than in the presence of good; or better still the presence of evil is more a reason to believe in good than the other way round.
How astonishing, then, that of all the drivers streaming along the Embankment - it was, after all, rush-hour - not one should so much as look in his direction, or acknowledge him! [336]
It really was incredible. Here appeared a celestial being, all radiance, effulgence and goodness, larger than Big Ben, capable of straddling the Thames colossus-style, and these little ants remained immersed in drive-time radio and quarrels with fellow-motorists. 'I am Gibreel,' he shouted in a voice that shook every building on the riverbank: nobody noticed. Not one person came running out of those quaking edifices to escape the earthquake. Blind, death and asleep. [337]
Finally, Saladin Chamcha's transfiguration was complete when he accepted Lucretius view of change - whatever by its changing goes out of its frontiers...that doing so brings immediate death to its old self - over Ovid's. Thus, Chamcha submitted to the power and became what he was claimed to have become, the Devil. By this time his fame had spread all through the country through dreams.
I am, he accepted, that I am. [289]
This acceptance also led to his reversion to his old self and his sudden healing. Gibreel, on the other hand, considered his 'angelic' representation as a madness he must overcome and through this overcoming instead created multiple personalities: the Gibreel of everyday life, working to suppress the angel-possessed Gibreel. In his transformation, Gibreel began to question the story of creation and why God put man in a garden with a ban on eating the fruit of knowledge. Why will a God demand blind submission? And why will a God punish or ship off dissidents to 'Siberia'? That is, he began to doubt God, or himself.

In the end there was the destruction of Gibreel - the angel; he who was of God could not cope with his parallel universes. He killed himself without realising the role of Saladin (Shaitan) in his final destruction. For Saladin's revenge against his friend, for his silence when he was arrested by the immigration officers, was such that it destroyed him completely. They had all come to India, for different purposes. Gibreel to recover, Chamcha to meet his dying father, Alleluia Cone - whom Gibreel believed had cheated on him - the consequences of the multiple-voices of Chamcha - to climb Everest again, and Sisodia to make movies. Sisodia took Alleluia to see Gibreel. Gibreel, who had already committed a series of murders in London in his hallucinations, killed Sisodia in his room. And Alleluia Cone was found to have jumped from the top of Gibreel's Everest highrise home, where Rekha had jumped to her death. Gibreel later committed suicide in front of Chamcha.

Unlike what the books usually say, God did not win this one. The Devil won. Chamcha reconciled with his father before his death, accepted India, his Indianness and accepted his full name: Salahuddin Chamchawala.

The Founding of a Religion: But there is more and it is this more which makes this story controversial and contestable. This is the dream-sequence of Mahound founding a religion in the town of Jahilia, the Jahilia of many gods. Like a movie, they paused when he woke and continued when he slept. In this dream, Mahound visited Gibreel. But the two were one.

Though Gibreel's new religion was monotheistic, Abu Simbel - a member of the Jahilia Council - asked if Mahound would allow three of his gods - Lat, Uzza, and Manat - to be added to his God in a kind of three-for-one arrangement in return for a position on the Jahilia council. When Mahound decided to ask the angel Gibreel if it was the will of Allah for this to be done (Mahound had been visiting Coney, a place where he received messages from Gibreel) his followers argued that Simbel's request was a trap, for
if you go up to Coney and come down with such a Message, he'll ask, how could you make Gibreel provide just the right revelation? he'll be able to call you a charlatan, a fake. [106]
But according to Mahound he had learnt to listen to Gibreel and that Gibreel always spoke from within his heart as if he knew exactly what he wanted.
You know, Salman, that I have learned how to listen. This listening is not of the ordinary kind; it's also a kind of asking. Often, when Gibreel comes, as if he comes from within my heart: from within my deepest places, from my soul. [106]
Unfazed by their leader's explanation, the followers argued further that this definitively was a trap. For was he not the one who came from Coney with the message there is no god but God? And that there is only one God? What would happen if they should accept Simbel's gods? But Mahound countered that already they have fewer followers, only 50, and half are tourists and that the people love their gods; hence this was a means to get followers.

However, when Mahuond's acceptance of Uzza, Manat, and Lat as angels led to fights and deaths because Al-Lat claims to be equal to Allah and could not be a daughter or less to him, Mahound visited Mount Cone to consult and receive messages from God through Gibreel. There he struggled with Gibreel (with himself rather, for he was Gibreel and Mahound) and Gibreel won. On his return he claimed that the last message he was given was from Shaitan - the Devil, and must be expunged from the texts his scribe were compiling.
'It was the Devil.' ... 'The last time, it was Shaitan.' This is what was heard in his listening, that he has been tricked, that the Devil came to him in the guise of the archangel, so that the verses he memorized, the ones he recited in the poetry tent, were not the real thing but its diabolic opposite, not godly, but satanic. [123]
These texts which Mahound decried were deceptions from Shaitan were together referred to as the the Satanic Verses. Thus, it is clear that though Rushdie was writing an immigration story, this part of the story was important to him. Else, he would not have drawn the title of an over 500 page story from a subplot of about 70 pages.

Coincidentally, the traitor who revealed the Prophet's secret, or who discovered the pattern of the Prophet's messages from Gibreel, was Salman Farsi the Persian. Is there any relationship to the author? Even the last name has the two syllables of Rushdie. Salman described how he changed the words proffered by Mahound, the Prophet (which, by the way, is what he was accused of by the protesters). If the Prophet said one thing, he wrote another and the Prophet noticed not the difference. In this way he tested his authenticity - the authenticity of God's words as delivered by Mahound. Besides, when one of Mahound's wives - Ayesha - would not succumb to the rules, Mahound - loving her exceedingly - allowed her to do as she wanted.
What finally finished Salman with Mahound: the question of the women; and of the Satanic Verses. [366]
This discovery occurred during Mahound's return to Jahilia to proselytise and to kill all apostates and pagans in the city, whilst forgiving and accepting any anyone who recanted the old gods and submitted Mahound's God into his fold.

There is a space-time defiance in this story. As the angel who appeared to Mahound and who was himself Mahound, Gibreel Farishta was in an epoch where the existence of a plane is an anachronism. As a survivor of the a plane crash struggling to remain sane and make sense of all the voices and visions that inundated him, Gibreel Farishta was in the now, in the 1960s.

The Foot-Pilgrimage: The third strand of the story had to do with a young orphan girl - Ayesha - who was suddenly transformed into a religious figure with butterflies shrouding her from nakedness. When the zamindar's - Mirza Saeed Akhtar's - wife Mishal had breast cancer, Ayesha claimed to have received a message from Gibreel that the only way she would be healed was when the entire village of Titlipur walked on a pilgrimage to Mecca through the Arabian Sea, no concessions for age or health. This revelation was debated upon and the entire village decided to go.

Mirz Saeed Akhtar, a self-professed skeptic, whose lust for Ayesha morphed into a stronger love for his wife Mishal, only to see his place beside his wife completely taken by Ayesha, sought to prevent his wife from embarking on this deadly foot-pilgrimage. However, Mirza was hopeless in stopping his wife or any of the inhabitants of Titlipur from following the seemingly crazy Ayesha. As a result of this, Mirza left his Peristan residence to follow his wife - whose father was the governor of the Central Bank - and his mother-in-law with an air-conditioned Benz in an attempt to entice them to change her mind. But Mishal was not one to be easily dissuaded especially when her healing was at stake. Ayehsa's relationship with Gibreel - the angel - was similar to Mahound's. They were both accused of hearing what they wanted the angel to say. Several individuals perished on the way, others were convinced by Mirza (including his mother-in-law) but not Mishal. Mishal became the right-hand man of Ayesha. He was the one who understood her. When they got to the sea, some lost hope but most jumped into the sea and saw it opened up for them. The experience of death was transformed into a spiritual experience of a parting sea. However, the few who survived were eager to claim of the spirituality of the experience.

Subplots: There are several subplots within the story though none as developed as these three. There was one about an Imam who was in exile and whom the angel Gibreel, in Gibreel's dreams, transported to the town of Desh to witness the death of Ayesha (not the Ayesha of Titlipur) and her god Al-Lat (one of the three goddesses who had sought equality with Mahound's God). This part of the story was, perhaps, based on the Iranian Revolution.

Repetitive Characters: Ayesha was not the only one whose name or character was repeated. There were several of such repetitions of characters or character names. For instance, Hind was the woman - wife of Abu Simbel - who did not accept Al-Lat as a daughter or angel of Allah. In the first strand of the story, Hind was the wife of Mohammed Sufyan, a relative of Jumpy Joshi and a friend of Saladin - the family who housed the hideous Saladin Chamcha. Hind's daughters included one called Mishal. Ayesha was repeated three times, one of which was Mahound's favourite wife.

Interrogation: Rushdie really did interrogate some religious axioms and rules. For instance, he showed clearly that parts of the Bible had been misrepresented in its daily retelling. He also discussed how people's lives have become entrapped by religious rules, which control everything including approved sex positions; which animals are blessed for eating and which are not; how to cook and prepare food; how to slaughter an animal (cutting its head slowly so it will understand its purpose in life) and others.

Symbolism: Whether it was the symbolism that requires a certain amount of foreknowledge or an understanding of the cultural setting to appreciate or that Rushdie was piecing together things he had always wanted to say and thought this was the right place to do so, this book is a difficult one. Unless you love reading for its own sake, or you are inquisitive enough, you may not enjoy this dense novel.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

POETRY: Perfect are all Things Made

It has been a long time since I posted my own poem on my blog. I think it's over two years since my last post. I wrote this a very long time ago, more than a decade and half. Let me know what you think.

Perfect are all things made
Man made perfect in His image
Creation in perfection portrayed

The sun to shine in the morn
The moon to wax in the even
As day through dawn is reborn

To order do all things respond
The stars in the sky, the seas too
The life we live, the world beyond

A world of famine, a world of fear
A brother so dear, another to fear
Each in the universe a part plays

In that mystical equation Of Divine
Proportions and Geometric Models

Friday, February 14, 2014

282. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (FP: 1818; Penguin Classics, 215) was the last book I read in 2013. The story is about one man's unbridled passion to acquire knowledge forsaking all other aspects of life, ending in his doom. Is it bad to forsake all else in the quest for knowledge? Is this not a fantastic quest for man to embark on? According to Mary, a false balance is an abomination to the Lord [Proverbs 11:1a] and the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being [Socrates]. Or that is what she implies in this Gothic creation of man's attempt at playing god gone wrong.

In Frankenstein, Mary describes the woes of a young Frankenstein who left home and his family and friends for school and there sought to investigate further and farther into the subjects of science and of creation to the exclusion of everything including his health. It was his single-idea to create a human being; yet, not being perfect, he could not perfect his creation and so produced a horrendous creature he himself could not love. His inability to love his creation, had a deleterious psychological effects on the creature and he who was love and gentle became suddenly wicked and murderous. And since it was Frankenstein's fault to have created him, he sought vengeance against his creator.

Certainly Mary Shelley never believed that a person could ever be created even when Dr Darwin had at the time expressed its possibility
The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr Darwin and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according to the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy. [Preface]
Irrespective of this impossibility of creating life, Mary called for a clear distinction between the things that are necessary and into which we must investigate and the things which the ordinary course of life could provide, which we must leave to nature.
It develops, and however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield. [Preface] 
Mary Shelley suggested that taking on the world, learning things beyond its current relevance leads to pain. She seems to be asking the extent to which we must quest. This question has bothered some scientists and moralists. It is that which led some to demand ethical science and it is that which confronts advancements in cloning and stem cell research. How far should we go as a people in our quest. Should every issue that is subject to investigation be investigated? It is irrefutable that science has made some positive contributions to life as we know it now; but no one can ignore its huge negative consequences. One of which we still grapple with today - nuclear weapons. Most apocalypse movies have been based on this negative consequences or fall-outs from man's insatiable quest: to investigate and to create. Should man play God, whoever this god is? Should man have the ultimate power in his hands? Or would Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Fukushima, be reminders? Should we not express, fully, our potential for fear of becoming evil? But into whose hands would these unconstrained discoveries fall? For the outputs of science are like tools. Their use is determined by the user.
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. [51]
The field of genetics might not have been a branch of biology even in Mary's time since it was not until 1869 that the DNA was first isolated by Friedrich Miescher and not until 1953 that double-helix structure was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick. Yet if Mary were alive she would know that though the giving of 'animation to the dead' might not have been discovered, the creation of life through the use of living cells has become our reality. That Dolly was created and that Frankenstein is a stark possibility. That not only are we able to create living beings from cells today, but that the barriers to scientific advancement - let's call it progress - is falling (perhaps because of the unbridled commercialisation of scientific research findings).

Mary advocates for moderation and balance. To her, a single-minded fixation on a thing that takes you from the enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, from the now, from your family and friends, should be avoided.
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, america would have been discovered more gradually, and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. [53]
This quest of moderation is, to some extent, the central idea in Rober Musil's The Confusions of Young Torless. However, this is opposite to what Alexander Pope proposed in his poem An Essay on Criticism (1709). At Line 215 to 232, Pope writes:
A Little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, 
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind:
But more advanc'd, behod with strage surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleas'd at first the towering Alps we try,
Mout o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way,
Th' increasing prospects tire our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps rise!
Whether follow Pope or Shelley, what is clear is that both moderation and dedication are equally important, and more so if we are bent on doing good. What good is, is another matter. Or even if good always end in good. For instance, most scientific inventions begin with good intentions only to be appropriated towards devastating ends. Inversely, some outcomes of military scientific researches - directed purposely towards the creation of destructive accouterments - have been used by civilians for peaceful purposes.

In Frankenstein human wickedness was emphasised, in some way. The horrible creature revealed man's evilness, his will to kill to avenge a killing: that man despises and kills with a clean conscience (whilst shouting murderer). The execution of Justine Moritz - a servant of the Frankenstein household - was absolutely unnecessary and she, who was loved by all, overnight became the enemy of all. No one was bold enough to stand for her and all were eager to bear witness against her even when they knew aught. Thus Mary Shelley suggests that man has no capacity to be god and bestow upon his creation the nourishment of life. In effect, good cannot proceed from evil; or something from nothing.

Yet Mary provides no respite for mankind; she showed that even though it may lead to greater dire consequences, man's quest to do extreme things, to break new grounds is unquenchable. Frankenstein's quest to kill his creation failed and into the world he fled. And like the devil one can only say 'Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short [Rev 12:12b].

This is a book worth the read; yet, apart from the enjoyment of reading one can say that none of the message here will be adhered to, for we are past the stage of care and of caution. Today, scientific inquiry - good or bad - is the order of the day. What this portends, no one can tell. Yet, we can get glimpses of the numerous attempts at cloning, surgeries to look like this and that and the rapid advancement in the field of Genetic Engineering. If sci-fi movies provide glimpses of the future, one could say that man has fast-forwarded evolution. An interesting read, nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Readers' Top Ten - Nkiacha Atemnkeng (Reader, Writer)

I started Readers' Top Ten as a  continue my Readers' Top Ten to introduce to readers of this blog the rich literature the continent has to offer and to move beyond the 'one-novel' representation of African literature. Submission was sporadic and so I have not been consistent with the posting. However, the session is still on and any who want to share could. Today, the Cameroonian reader and writer Nkiacha Atemnkeng shares his top 10 African books, per his reads*.

About Nkiacha: Nkiacha Atemnkeng is a young Cameroonian writer. His work has been published in four literary online journals: Malawi Write, The New Black Magazine, Africa Book Club and Munyori Literary Journal. He was shortlisted for the 2013 Mardibooks short story competition in London and was a finalist for the month of October 2013 at the Africa book club. His musings and book reviews can be found at writerphilic. A holder of a Curriculum Studies and Biology degree, he works as a Swissport Customer Service agent at the Douala International Airport.
My literary taste keeps changing, next year more than half of the books may change places or even leave the list entirely.

1. We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo [Zimbabwe]. My favourite African novel of the moment, the funniest African novel ever written, the first black African woman to get shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. Please give it up for this violet lady from Bulawayo, even though she says she’s got “no violet”. I think she’s been unfairly labeled a poverty pornstar and wrongly accused of writing her stunning novel in a CNN treatise of Africa, including a string of clichés about African suffering. A little research about Zimbabwean politics will help the readers of this book. Zimbabwe went through four phases, the pre-colonial one, the colonial one called Southern Rhodesia, independent one called Zimbabwe which was thriving and the collapsing Zimbabwe of the lost decade (2000-2010). This novel is set in the lost decade Zimbabwe only and she goes on to illustrate in her US setting that human hardship can actually be a universal issue. What I also love about this contemporary novel is its beautiful prose poetry, techie exploits (there’s facebooking, texting and skyping in it), lovely language and humour. If you have a quarrel with your spouse, here’s some advice. Get two copies of this book and make sure you both read, by the time you’re in the middle you’ll be laughing so hard, you’ll forget the quarrel.

2. Happiness, like Water, Chinelo Okparanta [Nigeria]. My best short story writer from Africa at the moment. The book is a collection of ten short stories written through the eyes of a child and generally young women. Unlike the title, there’s not much happiness in the pages of these well crafted stories. The characters are always seeking fulfillment in various ways in these stories. Chinelo’s prose is very grim but she also handles her dense subjects in a light and fresh manner. It’s a poignant collection with female characters who are either under pressure to get married, to abandon their gay relationship, to get documentation in the US, under the pressure of parental abuse etc. In fact, the characters always have one wahala or another. And yes, there’s a brilliant short story in it titled Wahala too. And yes, one of the stories in the book, America was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African writing. And yes, her New Yorker November 2013 published short story Benji is even more impressive. One of the reasons why I love the book so much is because it is my very first book which the author sent to me herself. Last year, I read a lengthy seven page interview of hers and was so impressed with her thoughts that I wrote her a crazy adoring fan message which spurred her to send me the book. 

3. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, [Nigeria]. He just had to be on the list right! The Michael Jordan of African literature who needs no introduction. Do I really need to say anything about him and the book again? No. On a personal note, I studied it as an examination text when I was in secondary school (Form Three) and without any boastfulness came second with an A-grade in the Things Fall Apart based Literature exam. My very first literary work which got published out of my country even, is my short essay about his legacy on when he died. May his soul rest in peace. So that may probably give you an idea how much he means to me.

4. The Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi, [Nigeria]. This wonderful childlike magical realism novel was written by this very talented author when she was just eighteen and diligently studying for her Advanced level examination in London. That’s just pure genius. Let the age not fool you. I enjoyed her prose more than some novels written by some fifty-year-olds. It’s about an eight-year-old biracial girl, Jessamy Harrison living in London who befriends an estranged, ragged little girl called Tilly Tilly during a visit to Nigeria. The way Helen brilliantly blended Greek mythology and Yoruba folklore and shaped her two main characters and their downward spiraling relationship right to the breathtaking finale at the end moved me to the point of utmost admiration. I can only describe Helen Oyeyemi in one word - precocious. The novel even received positive reviews from Oprah’s book club.

5. Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, [Nigeria]. This one had to wrestle hard with the equally impressive Half of a Yellow Sun before making it into my list. As much as I love HOAYS because of the way she honestly confronts ethnicity in Nigeria and her very powerful evocation of the Nigerian civil war which she didn’t even experience, Purple Hibiscus struck my chord more because of its character Eugene. I’ve never hated any character in a book like I hate Uncle Eugene. If he materializes in front of me I will probably kick his stomach open with my big toe. Every time I came across him he always succeeded in making me angry. His religious fanaticism and domestic repression in the name of “not sinning” went to the point of absolute senselessness. It even made me develop empathy for his wife when she poisons him. The series of events that occur after Uncle Eugene dies haunted me a lot too. And I also love the book for its very fresh perspective. But seriously Chimzi nno, why did you damn the Caine Prize like that? Remember they helped you find a publisher for this novel when you’d had dozens of rejections!

6. The Crown of Thorns, Linus. T. Asong, [Cameroon]. A writer every Anglophone Cameroonian knows but is probably unheard of by many of my non Cameroonian friends, largely because he self published all his ten novels in Cameroon. (This particular one was published in 1990.) And he wasn’t lucky with global shine too. “Achiebefuo rose, coughed and cleared his throat…” that’s the famous opening of the novel we had always been reciting since our infancy. It starts from somewhere in the middle and then deep into the novel, rewinds to the real beginning, exactly what Chimamanda did in Purple Hibiscus. It’s about a Chief who never wanted to be Chief. He is forcibly enthroned. So in disappointment, he disagrees with all the village elders at every point where disagreement is possible. The greedy D.O of that village, known as Goment (mispronunciation of the word government by the villagers) hatches an evil plan to sell the stature god, Akeukeur of Nkokonoko Small Monje village as a mere artifact to America. But the kingmaker, Ngobefuo discovers the theft and rallies the other elders to find out what happened. They dethrone their unhappy Chief who they discover was complicit in the god selling affair. Even though the stature is later returned to the village from abroad, the elders reject it because it is already defiled. Next, they launch into their punishment, killing their Chief and even Goment that sparks government military reprisals. The novel was examination text for prose at the Cameroon G.C.E Ordinary Level examination for over fifteen years and is also being studied at my former school, the University of Buea.

7. Mission Terminée (Mission to Kala), Mongo Beti [Cameroon]: Francophone Africa’s response to Chinua Achebe. I can already picture Nana mumbling “Ahmadou Khourouma!” Mongo Beti published over half a dozen critically acclaimed novels. On a funny note, Ahmadou Khourouma worked for an insurance company in Cameroon in the seventies. He shut his mouth whenever he met Mongo and whenever Mongo spoke (Mongo was highly critical with very strong opinions.) His pen name means “son of Beti”. Beti being the tribe where he hails in Cameroon’s Centre Province. His novel Mission to Kala is probably his best known work and I like it a lot. He wrote a beautifully woven tale with such chic artistry. Having failed his exams, Medza returns to his village in anxiety. But to his surprise he finds out that as a scholar (even a failed one) his prestige is immense. A young woman runs off with a man from another tribe. So Medza is entrusted with the delicate task of retrieving her. When he reaches her village he has to wait for her to return from another adventure, so he stays with his uncle, who passes him off as a great phenomenon of learning. Medza is entertained, loaded with gifts and consulted like an oracle. But his stay in Kala has to come to an end and he returns to his part of the country only to find himself unable to come to terms with his family and their way of life.

8. Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing Anthology, Various Authors [Africa]. In 2009, Africa’s most prestigious literary award, the Caine Prize for African writing celebrated its tenth year of existence and also published the ten winning short stories of those years in an anthology to commemorate the event. Now put together ten award winning Caine Prize short stories, plus three bonus short stories by the three African winners of the Booker Prize, Ben Okri, Nadine Gordimer, and J.M. Coetzee. You’ll obtain such a diverse literary feast of banging writing from Cape to Cairo and Kenya to Nigeria, completing the four cardinal points of African writing. The stories’ setting in the book range from Parks in South Africa, a giant tent in a village, a museum in Scotland, a prison cell in Nigeria, a malfunctioning chemical plant in Cape town etc. You’ll come across a non French speaking man trapped in Rwanda without documentation, a castigated lesbian girl in Uganda, a woman fleeing a poisonous gas cloud in Cape town and orphaned children in a refugee camp somewhere around Nigeria. The approaches are so varied. Some are written in great style, some flaunt their beautiful language, others have fragmented narratives/diary entries and yet another is written in a memoir-like manner and classifies as creative non-fiction. It’s a helluva book. 

9. So Long a Letter, Mariama Ba [Senegal]. The female Leopold Sedar Senghor. She deserves the nickname, this fearless lady from Dakar. The very brief novel is written in the epistolary mode. It is a very long, very beautiful letter by the main character, Aissatou to her close friend, Ramatoulaye in the US. In her letter, Aissatou talks about all the issues plaguing her after the death of her husband. Firstly, she talks passionately about him when they started dating and got married. Then the relationship goes turbulent when her husband decides to marry her daughter’s friend. And Ba goes on to reveal that Ramatoulaye had actually divorced her own husband and left for the US after a similar thing happened to her. The narrative goes poignant when Aissatou’s children begin to suffer. But they strive to regain their lost rights. This is one of the first African novels that succeeds in addressing women’s issues and advocates for the rights of women.

10. The Narrow Path, Francis Selormey [Ghana]. I read this beautiful book when I was a child, nine, maybe ten and I haven’t reread it since so I’ve forgotten all the character names and most of the plot. But I still remember generalities and how moved I was by its end even at that age. It’s about the relationship between a Ghanaian father and his son. In typical African father style, he cautions his son with an iron fist and the cane whenever he falters. I remember I thought that father really hated his son as I was reading the book. But as the son prepares to go to secondary school in Kumasi and his belongings are being assembled, I was shocked and very impressed by the way Francis Selormey ended the novel, “…There were tears in my father’s eyes.” If you ask me how We Need New Names or Happiness, like Water, books which I read just last year, ended I won’t even remember. But I still vividly remember how The Narrow Path ended. It was with that last sentence that I knew that, the father loved his son. He only punished him to make him a better person. Personally, I endorse the controlled use of the cane, (My father had me spanked too when I was a child and it helped me a lot). I disagree with the west on their zero caning dogma. What makes caning bad is the senseless beating of children out of fiery anger to the point of injury and bleeding. That’s when it becomes parental abuse.

* I have linked some of the titles to posts within ImageNations, where such reviews are available. Note that my views on these books may differ from Nana Yaw's and so this must be borne in mind when reading them.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

281. Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune (Berkley Books, 1965; 537) by Frank Herbert is a great science fiction that merges religion with science so that the point where one ends and the other begins is lost. Though it is a science fiction, and there is a complete creation of planets, its ecology, language and more, it is not too rigour so as to disturb those with no affinity for that genre. The extent of Herbert's creation is comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien's creation of the Hobbit's tales - in most of his books especially the three-part Lord of the Rings. The story shows the development of a leader with absolute control over the people. Since this is just the first book of the trilogy, the eventual end of the leader is not known. In Dune the extent to which man will go to destroy nature just to serve his excessive luxury, even if it is at the expense of his fellow beings, was, if anything, emphasised. But it also shows the patience of man to build what he has destroyed, not at separate time periods; destruction and construction exist within the same space and time. Of course, they are antagonists.

Another idea that flows through Dune is man's zeal for a messiah, someone to lead them, to direct them, to force them, to mobilise them for a cause; someone they can worship. So that when they identify one whose abilities surpasses them they quickly make heroes and gods out of them.

Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine Lady Jessica and their son Paul Atreides, an aristocratic nuclear-controlled ruling family of Caladan, had been given an Imperial order to take over Arrakis from the Harkonnen family. They had travelled from Caladan  for such a purpose but the Harkonnens were not going to leave quietly. Though Arrakis is dry and harsh (Arrakeens wear special suits to harvest their perspiration, and any mositure they emit; the dry and taxing climate and the deserts are what gave its name Dune), it had spice - a mineral that is responsible for the luxurious lives on most of the planets. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen wanted directorship of the CHOAM (Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles - which controls intergalactic trade, mostly of spice), a position that would increase the wealth and worth of the Harkonnens among the Great Families. And he had the silent support of the Emperor who, for his own reasons, wanted the Atreides family out of the way.

Paul, on the other hand, had a lot of prophecies about his birth and his life. His mother was a carefully selected Bene Gesserit witch who, in the breeding programme of the Bene Gesserits, must give birth to a daughter who would marry Feyd-Rautha, nephew of Vladimir Harkonnen, and whose offsprings would likely have the Kwisatz Haderach. The Bene Gesserit tribe had been waiting for the one destined to raise the tribe back to its glory - the Kwisatz Haderach - and the leaders had been working towards this through careful breeding and selection but had achieved nothing after several generations. However, Lady Jessica unilaterally decided to have a son and so with all the training she had received she bore the Duke a son, Paul. All potential Kwisatz Haderachs had failed one test or another. Paul, before moving to Arrakis with his father, had passed the last test - the test of will over pain - and was being monitored for other traits the Kwisatz Haderach must have.

The appearance of Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother revived an old prophecy among the Fremens of Arrakis, a prophecy that the son of a Bene Gesserit witch, a Mahdi, would come from the outerworld to lead them from their current bondage and oppression under rulers of Arrakis to paradise. Though this prophecy was implanted by the Bene Gesserits many years ago to be taken advantage of by any one of them who would find herself among the Fremen, the people were staunch in their belief. Hearing that Paul is the son of the Bene Gesserit Jessica, whispers of the prophecy of the messiah soon began to spread among the Fremen communities, with people lining up to see him. The Fremen were a secret tribe whose true numbers and secrets were unknown even to the ruling Houses. They managed to keep the Harknonnens looking left whilst they acted on the right. Their true strength and their abilities were beyond imagination. For instance, they were the only ones who were able to ride the wild giant spice-producing sandworms indigenous to the Arrakis, worms huge enough to swallow mining ships and unafraid of shields, a nuclear protector.

The prophecies that told of the birth and life of Paul, or the people Paul became, also told of the death of Duke Leto Atreides. And nothing was done to prevent it when all decisions he took, upon arrival on Arrakis, opened him up to the enemy. When the prophecy was fulfilled, the traitor - with the little means available to him, for he was himself tricked and manipulated before he was transformed into a traitor - set out to save Paul and his mother Jessica. Paul and Jessica fled into the deepest Fremen communities, which was unknown to the rulers. 

Paul with his fast-growing intelligence, perception, strength and preternatural senses, was considered to be Lisan al-Gaib 'the Voice from the Outerworld'. Paul could see the several paths to the future, the several threads that join, conjoin, separate, that made up the future. His abilities freaked him; they were beyond his conceptualisation. As a man-child, Paul had as many names as there were expectations: to the Bene Gesserit, he was the Kwisatz Haderach; as heir to this father's position, he was Duke Paul Atreides; among the Fremen he was the Lisan al-Gaib (the Voice from the Outerworld), the Mahdi - the prophet to lead them to paradise, Usul - the base pillar among the Fremen of Stilgar's sietch (the Sietch Tabr). He was Paul to her mother, Jessica; and to everyone of the Fremen, when he was in exile, he chose to be called Muad'Dib - the pop-hopping mouse. Thus Paul, in essence, was both a physical and spiritual essence. Before becoming the Prophet, the prophecy talked of a rite that he would pass: drinking the water of the sandworms, a poison that killed instantaneously. Jessica was to drink of it if she were to become the Reverend Mother of the Fremen. With her Bene Gesserit training she was able to change the chemical structure of the 'Water of Life, the water that is greater than water - Kan, the water that frees the soul', the water that 'opens the universe' to a Reverend Mother, into a non-lethal drink. But Jessica was pregnant at the time of her transformation, the transfer of power from the dying Reverend Mother to her, and this would bestow extraordinary powers on the foetus and the resulting daughter, Alia, would be feared amongst all the people both young and old and some would agitate that she be killed. For her manners and way of speech were those of an adult even at age three. Paul, having not undergone that training, was more susceptible but then again he was a freak and so he passed, after days of absolute unconsciousness.

Paul sees in the many futures the tendency of the people to embark on a jihad in his name. He sees a crowd of people with flags and weapons killing in the name of their prophet. This he sought to avoid by making different choices that would lead to futures. His abilities and charisma saw him, in the end, merge seamlessly into a religious and a political leader. To realise his aim and inherit his father and avenge his death and release the Fremen from their bondage, Paul organised a military attack against the House of Harkonnen and the Sardaukar troops of the Padishah Emperor. The Emperor, Shaddam IV, had helped the Harkonnens to defeat the House of Atreides, quietly. Using his sandworm-riding Fremen army further trained in the art of war taught him by the masters, Paul and the Fremen attacked and totally defeated the Harkonnen army and their fanatic Sardaukar troops.

This is a magnificent book. The best science fiction novel I have read, not that I have read many. However, Hebert's creation was so believable that one would have wished to be in that period of time, witnessing or participating in the rapid changes on Arrakis and on the other planets. It was also a period of chaos and creation. This novel had received much praises and there is no need to say it is recommended. I end with this question: will intergalactic travel ever become a trivial matter?

Monday, February 03, 2014

January's Round UP, Projections for February

Just as all resolutions begin on a high-note at the beginning of the year, January has also been a good month for reading. Though it hardly portends how the rest of the year would turn out to be, and this January was no exception. With these books, I am fulfilling my 2014 reading projections:
  1. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. [569p] This was a selection by the Writers Project of Ghana's Book and Discussion Club for the month of February. It is a story full of suspense, of heart-wrenching escapades involving very naive and very wicked people. There is something beautiful about this book. At least those who have read it have praise the selection.
  2. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. [547p.] I decided to read this book last year, but I could not muster the necessary courage and mental fortitude to brace it. I had heard of the numerous characters (same as for Rushdie's Midnight's Children). I read this basically because of the news that surrounded it - its ban and the fatwa that was placed on the author. For me, the book does not deserve all those hype. It is less than Midnight's Children. And it is only good in certain portions. I believe the critics would have said something different if not for all those hype resulting from the furor that followed its publication.
  3. The Case of Wagner/Wagner Contra Nietzsche by Friedrich Nietzsche. [135p] This book consists of two essays by Nietzsche on the music of Wagner. In them, Nietzsche accused Wagner of degeneracy and for pretending to be a genius. I wondered what Nietzsche would have had to say about our arts scene today, where music is no longer music but nudity and sex, where talent is more of one's ability to dare and be naked, not the boldness to create things new and unique.
  4. Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1 of Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien. [423p] I have had the set of Tolkien's trilogy for more than half a decade. Until then, I had only read the Book 1; thus, this is more of a rereading. I decided this year to read the entire trilogy.
  5. Eugenics and Other Evils by G. K. Chesterson. [179p] This is an essay on events in the scientific and political world in the early 20th Century when scientists either believed or fooled the people that they could breed diseases out of existence by controlling who could get married and who could not. These were the dark times when science was made to believe as if it could answer everything. Here Chesterson discussed how weak, hollow, empty, and foolish such an idea was and how it percolated deep into politics leading to the Lunacy Laws and others.
In February, I will continue with Tolkien's trilogy, possibly I will read the remaining two books. These are the books I will likely read:
  1. The Two Towers (Book 2 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien. I am currently reading this book. Do you know that The Lord of the Rings was considered a racist book?
  2. The Return of the King (Book 3 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien. I may complete the trilogy, if all goes well.
  3. Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie. I was very lucky to have been gifted with this book. It completes my Adichie collection. It is also the second Adichie I have received as a gift, after Half of a Yellow Sun. I have decided to read every book she publishes and so this will be the fourth.
  4. The Psychology of Nations by G. E. Partridge. This year, which should have been the case last year, I am reading a lot of essays on topics I am very much interested in. And thanks to the Gutenberg Project, I can access these ebooks from my phone. Even though I still claim not to be a fan of ebooks and e-readers. Already I have read Nietzsche and Chesterson.
Already my reading seems to have been dominated by non-African books. This is a reflection of the poor availability to African books I have always lamented about. Besides the African Writers Series (by Heinemann) which seems to be widely available, what are other publishers doing to distribute widely?

What did you read? What are you reading?
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Source Though Achebe's Things Fall Apart   (1958) is often cited and used as the beginning of the modern African novel written in E...