'African Roar 2011' Reviews
Barbara Mangami-Ruwende reviews 'African Roar 2011' at Moments in Literature
"This resplendent collection of short stories by African writers does indeed roar. The breadth and depth of topic, style, perspective and powerful story telling found within the pages of this treasure trove is enough to make you emit a roar of your own: in appreciation, in agony, in mirth, and in sheer exuberance..." — Barbara Mangami-Ruwende. Read the full review at Moments in Literature.
Dawn Promislow reviews 'African Roar 2011' at SLiP
"African Roar 2011 features voices telling stories in the ways they want to and must, defying all and any expectations to the contrary. In the pages of this anthology, writing coming now out of Africa and its Diaspora is not monolithic at all, nor bound by any prescription, but is writing varied in theme, genre and style, that is vibrantly alive going into the future..." — Dawn Promislow, author of the collection Jewels and Other Stories. Read the full review at SLiP.
African Roar (2010) Reviews
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Twelve: Conclusion.
Following my review of Ayesha Harruna Attah's short story, Tamale Blues, the weekly post of a review of a story from the African Roar series has come to an end.
There were 11 stories in the collection, all of which were reviewed. There were two Ghanaian authors, three Nigerians, and six Zimbabweans, and the literature of all three countries was almost completely unknown to me before beginning this project. So what have I taken from this?
First, the literature of Africa is shifting. If we look back a generation or two, to Soyinka, to Achebe, to Thiong'o, we see writers struggling with their nation's independence, writing about the possibility of a life extricated from the grip of the colonial rulers who were once the masters of all they can see while celebrating their country's strong links to the culture and history of the past. In African Roar there is something else. The stories, characters and authors are all mostly urbanised, all well educated, and many of them have made their home in America. There is a cosmopolitan feel to these stories, a sense of connection both to the outside world (so, America, the UK, Europe), but also to the roots of their culture, though this is necessarily more tenuous.
Looking Forward and Looking Back
One of the primary aspects of this collection is confidence. Confidence in a future governed by intellect. Confidence that their nations are finally stepping forward and not stumbling back. Confidence that, even if their country does slip further, they, at least, are able to achieve. The authors casually mention faraway cities and lands while excoriating their nation's government, policies, rulers, police. The acceptance of myth and tribal stories is taken for granted without, generally, seeming to swamp their lives. They appreciate their heritage without being beholden to it, and the friction of the younger generation and the older raises its head again and again.
Influences and Influencing
One can feel the influence of the great American writers in these stories. The United States seems something of a refuge for the African Diaspora, which is a shame as much as it is, unfortunately, necessary. Intellectuals tend to die or become imprisoned during purges and coups, and these remain a sad possibility. Because of this, the influence of Hemingway and Updike can be felt and, closer to now, the likes of Eggers, Foster Wallace, and the rising stars of contemporary post-modernity. Is this a bad thing? It's hard to say, but for the time being the authors feel their influences without being swamped by them, and the ink that flows from their pens is coloured equally with the history, mythos and influence of their home nations. They write of Africa as active participants, in full acknowledgement that their fortune ebbs and flows along with their homeland.
African Roar came from the Internet. Its birthplace is the web, and specifically the StoryTime website. The Internet is many things, and one of these things is, happily, that it provides an outlet for the explosion of talent coming from Africa. Setting up a website is easy, and free. Attracting visitors is harder, but what's most important is that these websites are springing up. Magazines, journals, poetry collections, author websites - these are proliferating at an astonishing speed. Every author has a blog, or several. Every author seems to have connections to a vast collection of other literary publications that exist purely online. Once you start clicking, you won't need to stop.
Part of StoryTime's value is its quality control and the skills of the editors. Ivor W. Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke have done an admirable job of taking a collection of stories published online and turning them into a book. But StoryTime is more than that, and I encourage you to explore the website.
The African Roar series is an excellent place to begin for someone wishing to dip their toe into contemporary African literature. These authors are all young, some with one or two novels or collections under their belt, while some have published short stories and nothing else. Some may vanish without a trace, and some may go on to have very bright futures indeed. It's hard to tell, but that's not the point - the point here is to read stories from people, literatures, cultures and nationalities ill-represented on the world stage. Well, no longer.
I certainly encourage you to read the stories in the African Roar series. The easiest place to buy it is Amazon.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Twelve) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Eleven: Ayesha Harruna Attah's Tamale Blues.
Tamale Blues is a coming-home story, though the protagonist, Nana, hasn't ever been to Tamale, the comparatively poorer, undeveloped city where her extended family still lives. Nana is one of the lucky few; her parents have made it rich in Accra, Ghana's capital. She dreams of London and, as the end of her secondary schooling nears, she knows a better, cleaner, wealthier life awaits her abroad. It's just a matter of taking.
But Nana's mother has other ideas. She tells her daughter it is high time she visits her father's mother and siblings.
"…you've never been to see the family in the North. When you're done with your A-levels, you may end up in England or American for school, but you should know more about your country first. You'll thank us later."
But will she? Nana is a sweet girl, but her thoughts and reactions suggest she is rather sheltered. Her dreams are directed outward; we can tell that Ghana is already a memory for her, and now it's just a matter of her body catching up. London, Paris, New York, the world! Who would want Ghana, and who would want this:
Two sets of steps led to two doors, both green at the bottom. Nana hung her towel and sponge on the nails behind the first door and headed for the other room. A heavy stench hit as she entered, accompanied with a low intermittent buzzing. In the middle was a concrete ledge with a hole. There were brown stains around the hole. Nana couldn't believe such a place existed. She dashed out, trying not to throw up.
Her grandmother's life in Tamale is dirty, unclean, poor, and lacking in the comforts of entertainment and leisure to which Nana is accustomed. It's a horrifying shift down, and that's how she sees it - Tamale is a punishment, a lesson, an indication that a terrible life could await.
Soon, though, Nana meets Rafik. He is handsome, seems cultured, speaks well and, mostly importantly, quickens something within her. It's desire, of course, a sensation she is unfamiliar with and, perhaps more importantly, inexperienced. She's clumsy in lust, spraying her feelings about her until it's painfully obvious her heart has been given to Rafik. Her grandmother notices, and off she goes, packed up and carted back to Accra.
Ayesha Harruna Attah's story follows a classic character arc. Once the opening paragraphs have been read it's clear where the story is headed, and this initial prediction is satisfied by the remainder of Tamale Blues. We know that Nana will be horrified by her surroundings just as we know she will find a reason to appreciate the ways of others. The question, then, revolves around Attah's handling of her subject matter, and her ability to bring to life Nana, but also Tamale.
How does she fare? On the first, well. Nana is a pleasingly naive young lady, and she remains so throughout. Her initial disgust at the open toilet, and the general dirt and muck of the place, is handled well, and we believe it. She dislikes Tamale until she meets a handsome older man, and then suddenly finds a reason to appreciate the city and this, too, is believable. Her youthful reactions are honest and true, and if she feels too strongly in one direction or another, well - she's sixteen. Life is more intense then, and the colours are brighter. It would be churlish to chastise her explosions of intense feeling.
Less successful is the creation of Tamale. I have never been to Ghana and, perhaps because of that, I would like, in a story highlighting the differences between the high and the low, to really feel the high and really see the low. I want the smells of the place, the sway of the trees, the dusty corners, the buildings, the history, the food. I want to know what I don't know, which is most everything. Here, Attah could have given us more. We see the brushstrokes of the city, but the paint is very thin indeed.
But the story is Nana's, which perhaps explains the lightness of description. She experiences the world with the exhausting absurdity of the very young, when everything is dramatic and everything has an immediate and excessive impact. This emotional state, which is as sustained as it is innocent, almost invites trauma and trouble; it is a testimony to Attah's skill in characterisation that, as Nana and Rafik become closer, the primary thought in my mind was - I don't want anything bad to happen to her.
And that's the best and last thing I have to say about the story. Tamale Blues convinced me that Nana felt and thought what Attah told me she was thinking and feeling, and isn't that something?
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Eleven) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Ten: Nana Awere Damoah's Truth Floats .
Truth Floats opens with a metaphor. A spider, “working tirelessly”, spins an elaborate web in a corner away from prying eyes. The web will take some time to make, but that's fine, because the pay-off in the end is well worth the initial investment. Nearby a fly is working hard, too, but it works for the present while ignoring the implications of the future. In its genial, unobservant way, the fly quite accidentally stumbles into the web, becomes trapped, and then the spider emerges, victorious, and ready to eat.
It's a nice opening story, and it's tone sets the scene for Nana Awere Damoah's short story, Truth Floats. We learn, quite quickly, which character corresponds with the spider and which with the fly, and from there it's clear how the story will progress. Suspense has thus been removed – the other aspects of the story must carry the weight. That leaves characterisation, which is to say the personalities of Kweku (the spider) and Akoto, his university room-mate and friend (the fly). Add to that Adoma, Akoto's fiancee:
The only one advantage his friend Akoto had over him. The prettiest girl he had ever seen in his fast life. Her neck was like ringed sausages, earning her the name Ama Konfe, the girl with the beautiful neck. When she smiled, her cheeks reformed into two dimples, which could hold two pebbles with ease. Her lips parted to reveal teeth set neatly by each other like footballers arranged in a defence wall before a free kick.
She's beautiful then, but that's about all we learn of her, except that she's also quite stupid, and so is Akoto. The spider-nature of Kweku is about all we learn of him, but we do discover that his nickname is “Spiderman”, and he enjoys cackling to himself when contemplating dastardly plots. And that there's a backstory to his name and family history, which is by far the best (and shortest) part of the story.
Scratch the characters, then. Plot? Kweku and Akoto are friends; Kweku is jealous; Akoto leaves the country for three (!) years without ever bothering to wonder why his fiancee doesn't return his letters and without visiting his home even once (!!); Kweku convinces Adoma to marry him; Akoto comes back and learns of the betrayal; Kweku is shunted to the sidelines; and then everyone lives happily ever after, except for Kweku, who ends up alright anyway.
Whew. Not much plot then. But what we do have – and lots of it – are little sayings, proverbs, the sort of folksy, earthy wisdom endemic to a novel like Don Quixote, or, you know, someone's grandfather. Some I recognised and some I did not, and I expect that a few of them are explicitly related to Ghanaian culture, for they do not seem to translate well. Here is a smattering, taken from a single page:
“Only in the community of pregnant women does an over-matured coconut drop of its own accord”; “it was with patience that the experienced hunter killed an elephant”; “a bedfellow in sowing the seed should be a part in the harvest”; “It was only the coward who was scared by the scarecrow”; “A tooth lost its respect and place in an aching jaw and a gold nugget could never sparkle besides charcoal”
And so on. Some make sense, and are worth considering, but others do not. Of course, it's certainly true that there are proverbs for any situation, and many mutually exclusive or contrary proverbs exist, which renders them all interesting bubbles of thought, but they shouldn't be substituted for a coherent statement. “Look before you leap” is a cautionary statement, while “He who hesitates is lost” recommends immediate action. Both have their place, but both disagree. What can we make of a story filled with such quips?
The result is that Damoah uses these sayings as shorthand to avoid making any statement of his own. The story is filled to overflowing with them, rendering much of it oblique and a tad ridiculous:
”Adoma, the head is not a coconut that you can open to see what is inside it. Though he is my friend, I cannot explain all his actions,” Kweku said, looking at the beautiful girl before him. Ah, such a beauty, Kweku said to himself the umpteenth time. How true it was that only a toothless cat would not lick his lips when a mouse was playing near his nose. Kweku was enjoying the game he was playing with this beautiful mouse and his lips were getting worn out from all the licking!
What to make of this? It's not saying much, but my there are a lot of words.
When Adoma told Akoto later that the customary rites were not even performed, Akoto knew he had Kweku by the scruff! Legally, the notice for marriage from the local authorities was valid only on the basis that customary marriage had been done. And also, the pastor of the church where the wedding was held had not been licensed by the municipal authority to perform marriages! Therefore, the marriage between Adoma and Kweku was null and void! The fact that Akoto was a lawyer played no small part in the investigations! Indeed, knowledge of the law had triumphed over trickery!
In the end, what we have is clumsy writing reinforced by the laziness of using proverbs as a substitute for critical examination. It is clear the author is attempting to link the initial metaphor of the spider and the fly with the story of Adomo, Akoto and Kweku, but the conceit fails. Had the plot been presented without the fluff of the metaphor and the sayings, there might be something here – but it wasn't, and that's all there is to it.
Part of the critic's job is to critique the story that exists, and not the one the author wishes had made the journey from his mind to the page. By the same token, respect must be given to the motives, reasoning, and impetus for execution of the writer; that is, I must judge according to the merits of the story, and not the merits of what I like. It's unfair to criticise the latest cop thriller for failing to provide a coherent social analysis, just as it is unfair to expect thumping action and oozing sex from the likes of W. G. Sebald or Hermann Hesse.
In that vein, I must take Truth Floats both for what it is, and what it wishes to be, while acknowledging where and how the failures have occurred. Truth Floats very much wishes to turn an ordinary story into a larger metaphor, and Damoah's constant use of proverbs, and the unsophisticated vocabulary and grammatical structure of the narrator, indicate a desire to universalise the story, to have it function as a stand-in for all manner of problems and situations. To become a metaphor, in other words. In these, Damoah fails, because the individual pieces, which are weak on their own, mesh together poorly and leave a confused piece which feels rushed while simultaneously runs to far too many pages considering the shallowness of its themes.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Ten) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Nine: Emmanuel Sigauke's A Return to the Moonlight .
Emmanuel Sigauke's A Return to the Moonlight tackles the difficult problem of the African Diaspora. On its surface, escaping from one war-torn, poverty-stricken country or another seems like an immediate success for the person escaping, and perhaps it is; but what about those left behind? And what happens to the person who has emigrated? Do they retain their “Africanness” (if such a thing even exists)? Do they possess the right to make decisions for their families back home, and do they retain filial obligations?
These are difficult questions – even posing them requires tact and sensitivity. For many emigrants working in the wealthy countries of the world, part of their wage or salary is sent home to their parents, or siblings, or wife. Some African countries count up to twenty per cent of their total GDP from remittances, with the attendant catastrophic consequences should these suddenly dry up. When Ranga returns from America after being away from ten years, he brings along with him a wife, a Jeep, some groceries, money, and bags and bags of clothing. His sister and mother, who have stayed behind in Zimbabwe in a house partly-complete, and wholly built from Ranga's money, are happy to see their relation, but happier still for what he brings with him.
The narrator of A Return to the Moonlight, Tete, justifies this thinking:
We were not greedy or anything, but it was high time people saw that my brother had spent many years overseas for a good reason. They didn't have to know about all of the letters he had sent us, about how he had said life America was difficult, how in those letters he had asked repeatedly why the building of the house was taking long to complete. What mattered now, what made sense to me, what made me proud, was that he was back, finally, with a wife. With the car parked under the Muzeze tree, not just any car, but my brother's own expensive-looking Jeep, who in the village would be stupid enough to believe that he was poor?
Mother and daughter are ashamed to accept these remittances and gifts, but at the same they desire, crave, and expect them. They are offended when Ranga's gifts, though generous, aren't as much as they expected. Ranga, for his part, seems to know this, but he also, we sense, has made less of himself in America than he had expected. His family believes him to be rich and famous and successful – isn't everyone over there? - and believe he must be deliberately rejecting them when the largess they assume he has fails to reveal itself. And, truthfully, Ranga is rich, but only when compared to the Zimbabweans. He has a mobile phone, sure, and a laptop, and a car, but Sigauke hints that, back in America, Ranga is merely getting by.
Ranga's mother is angry, and so is Ranga. She expected more, much more, and believes it is his duty as a son to provide those left behind with more, much more, than he has already. She has left the house deliberately dirty, refusing to clean pots and pans to ensure that flies settle everywhere, and the general maintenance of her home has been neglected. It's a deliberate provocation, and they all know it, though Tete does her best to diffuse the situation. But Ranga isn't having a bar of it, he knows he gives his family plenty. It could be more, certainly, but he has a life of his own to live.
And therein lies the rub. He does have a life of his own. He has a wife, a home of his own, friends. He life is thousands of kilometres away, and wholly different to what he finds back in Zimbabwe. Ranga mentions he wishes to see some of the sights of the village, including the graves of his friends, which leads to:
”Will you go to Mudhomori too, to see the others – Jairos, Thandi, Tawanda?” I said, thinking that if he was on a mission to see graves, he might as well see all of them at once, and if he really wanted to see all the graves there were to see, he might as well set aside a whole day.
As the story progresses, the resentment grows. Everyone is angry, and much of it comes from the sense of shame directed inward. But it's hard to be upset with one's self, and much easier to reflect the emotion on to others.
The house sat like a ghost, roofless and door-less. But that's the house Ranga had been building for five years, sending us money that was not even enough to buy a doorframe and telling us to stretch it, to make it work. Now he was refusing to call it his house.
I was waiting to hear what mother would say. This was her chance to speak up, and she did: “We can sleep outside and you use the good room.”
“Good room?” Ranga asked. “I don't see any good room here.”
What we called the good room was the one with the highest walls, covered by plastic sheets on top. Yes, the good room with the clear plastic roof. At least they would be able to see the moon while they slept. “We will give up our bedroom for you, brother,” I said.
A Return to the Moonlight is a story of disappointment. It shows both sides of the consequences of the African Diaspora, and indicates that neither are wholly satisfied with the arrangement. Would Ranga's family have been happier if he had showered them with a million dollars (that he didn't have)? Yes, and no. It wouldn't bring back their son, who has no intention, really, of ever truly returning to Zimbabwe. Would he have been happy had they completely rejected him and demanded he never see them again? No, but it would have made certain aspects of his life easier, and perhaps his life in America could be lived guilt-free. Or perhaps not. Ultimately, Sigauke refuses to put forth an answer because there isn't one. But the question has been asked, and that's important too.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Nine) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Eight: Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.'s Quarterback & Co.
George Franz is having a bad day. He earns £145,900 per year (oh yes, there's a lot of money in this story), and only takes a lunch break when he can charge it to a client or justify it as a business expense. He works, and works, and works, but all he wants is the chance, just a chance, for an hour-long snooze during work hours so he can catch up on his sleep. His tiredness comes, improbably, from a shaman in Vietnam, who concocted a potion to help battle a pressing legal issue. The result of the potion was that Franz compulsively slips into a dreamless stupor, but unfortunately he was supposed to take two doses, and had only had one, when the shaman died. Naturally. So, now, instead of being in complete control of his faculties, he instead craves sleep, while all the while holding down a high-flying London job as an “analysis manager” at a fictional tech company called KwoiTech, which demands a lot of its employees, including regular 3am entry of brainwaves into his notebook. And then,
about ten minutes ago an insect probably settled on my temple, extended its proboscis, and sucked approximately a quarter of my brains out.
And the insect, which turns out to be a bee of sorts, is in fact rather helpful when it comes to reading the telepathic thoughts of competitors, and results in a significant promotion for Franz.
Welcome to the very strange world of Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.
Quarterback & Co. is a story which never really bothers getting around to explain its own strange brand of wackiness, instead indulging in an increasingly bizarre set of circumstances which culminates, or doesn't (ending with an odd and satisfying whimper), in the rise and fall of Franz, who is able to utilise his oddly psychic bee. Nwokolo piles on the strangeness, ranging from country to concept to character, and along the way he takes the time to eviscerate the money-obsessed culture of the upper management of large companies. He's clearly having a good time, and so do we. The propulsion of his story is such that his oddities never outstay their welcome – we learn about the Vietnamese shaman, for example, for just long enough to shake our head and laugh, but not so long that we think to ourselves, “hang on a second...” - Nwokolo's story never fails to shift to a new, weirder, idea before the previous becomes stale.
To backtrack a little, George Franz just wants to sleep. But his schedule is so heavily crammed with meetings and chargeable work, and the expectations of his company is high (his secretary taps impatiently as she waits for monitor to display the characters she has typed, and everyone is expected to memorise their calendars down to the instant), that he can't, not ever, get a break. His hours are obscene, but they are what is expected, so that's what he does. The mere thought of taking a nap leads to:
The dimensions of the transgression were so colossal that it did not fully form in my mind immediately. This could lead to the sort of termination that would continue to reverberate at annual Christmas parties years down the line.
But he does nap, and while dozing that nasty insect comes along and suck out a quarter of his brain. Why a quarter and how does he know? Nwokolo doesn't tell us and neither does Franz, but we're willing to go along with them. The insect remains in his office after sucking his brains, and indeed, seemed to be reading his emails, buzzing horizontally back and forth across the sentences on his computer. Naturally, this leads Franz to mention the following:
I suppose some of my readers are well acquainted with the academic bees of Southern Antigua, which have been observed in the wild performing similar acts on discarded newspapers caught in thorn bushes...
It soon seems as though the bee is “an extension of my mental faculties”. It travels with him everywhere, relaying information. Quarterback, as he is named (well, he has a quarter of Franz's brain, supposedly), is quite helpful when it comes to acquiring the necessary information to seal a business deal, and soon Franz's career enters the stratosphere. But then a rather ridiculous calamity befalls the bee, and Franz crashes, becoming a three-quarter brained fool, incapable of performing his role. And then -
It hardly needs to be explained by now, but Nwokolo's story is rather ridiculous. It's all a lot of fun. The satire is sharp, but there's not enough of it (thankfully) to overshadow the sheer weirdness of the story. It's a bit of a fun game, while reading the story, to guess where it will go, and then to find out how wrong you are. Nwokolo's writing appears rushed and dashed off by Franz in the seconds of spare time he has available to him, which of course means it has been laboured over for some time. The sentences are rough-hewn and abruptly chopped, echoing the frenetic exuberance of his narrator. George Franz never really allows himself a time to slow down and breathe while relaying his story, and neither does Nwokolo. On and on the story hurtles, and the end, when it comes, surprises with its circular nature and return to the initial theme of money and corporate life.
In short, this is a great, fun, story. It also comes at an interesting point in the African Roar collection. It's a little over halfway, and to be honest, none of the other stories prior really possessed all that much humour. They are all good – and sometimes great – but there haven't been a lot of laughs. Quarterback & Co. is, then, something of a tonic to these serious stories, but that shouldn't be taken as an indication that it isn't worth critical attention. Nwokolo has a number of insightful points to make concerning corporate life, but he is never heavy-handed about it and, if you wish, you can simply enjoy the zany wackiness of the story. Look for depth and it's there, but you don't need to, to have a good time. Just sit back and laugh, and perhaps watch out for those bees from Southern Antigua. Who knows what they'll read next?
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Eight) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Seven: Christopher Mlalazi's A Cicada in the Shimmer.
Christopher Mlalazi's short story, A Cicada in the Shimmer, is a nightmare masquerading as a dream, a magical, horrific tale of Zimbabwe the nation and Jemusi the man, two entities intertwined, their insides rotting, one from a mystical cicada-witch, the other from the pestilence of decades of struggle.
The story is framed around a sleepless night for Jemusi as a mosquito buzzes around his ear and a cicada burrows through his brain.
He stared in sleepy thought at the dark smudge of the ceiling. Had the cicada drilled into the soil of his mind and lodged there? He screwed his eyes shut and tried to see inside his mind. Nothing visible there, except for the indistinct and formless shimmers. Silver algae floating on a black pool? Black itches on a silver skin? Or was that the form life assumed inside itself? Could he identify the pestering cicada and banish it from in there with a single concentrated thought?
We can tell from the manner in which he describes this cicada that it is more than just an ordinary insect. And that it is in his mind – well. Mlalazi shifts the story suddenly, following Jemusi's thoughts as he remembers an event of hide-and-go-seek in his childhood. And then it shifts again, and again, and again. We slide effortlessly from memory, to present, to a dark, monstrous otherworld, and then they all start to merge. The effect is disorienting, but the transitions are so skilful that at first you don't even realise they've happened.
Mlalazi's nightmare is, we suspect, the nightmare of Zimbabwe. His character is a stand-in for the nation, gradually becoming polluted by forces beyond his control. MaDlodlo, a witch, is behind the poisoning, and there's nothing, it seems, that can be done about it.
MaDlodlo looked up and opened her mouth wide. A firestorm violently twisted out of it. It exploded into the void above them, roaring, whirling viciously. Jemusi and his father watched open mouthed, the now mushroom shaped firestorm reflected in their eyes. MaDlodlo's cheeks were smiling. The mushroom head suddenly convulsed into the words “NORTH KOREA,” and collapsed back into her mouth.
The pulse of blood, sex, and violence saturate Mlalazi's sentences, drawing the characters together in a cacophony of promised destruction. Jemusi's memories begin as comfortable recollections, but soon they shift, twisting into something more devious. His mother looms large and fierce, protective of her children but, one suspects, not entirely capable of loving them. The cicada takes on a more menacing tone as the author of its gestation is revealed as a witch, crazed and hungry for death. And even the mosquito, at first harmlessly buzzing, becomes something more:
The mosquito winked, and magically, the trill disappeared from his mind. He removed his palms from his ears. The mosquito was trilling, the same trill that had been bothering him inside his mind. He suddenly felt relaxed. He smiled. The world felt blissful. The mosquito dived. He swatted with his hand. There was a sting on his neck, and the mosquito was hovering over him again, its body shot through by a moon beam. Its stomach bulged with blood. He recognised the blood. It was his!
A Cicada in the Shimmer is a tale of malevolence, where pots burn and grin, and woman “scream in the womb of the night”. Everything, however ordinary, is impregnated with hostility, and it seems that the tongues of demons lick and wet the world with their fiery kisses. Mlalazi constructs his nightmare well, but this is a demanding story, rewarding concentration and punishing the casual reader. Nightmares are never pleasant, but they are often instructive, and can reveal in metaphor the problems plaguing our day-to-day lives. The potency of Mlalazi's writing comes through well, but at times the message is somewhat belaboured. There is a sense that all this is too metaphorical, too abstract, substituting too many concrete pieces of information for symbolism.
But perhaps not. The struggle of a nation and a person are struggles not easily told, and the metaphor of a nightmare works as well in the hands of a skilled writer as any other. And Mlalazi is skilled, of this there is no doubt. His sentences consistently surprise, writhing and turning on the page. A Cicada in the Shimmer isn't an easy piece, but it's strong and Mlalazi's capacity for malevolent evocation serves the story well.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Seven) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Six: Ivor W. Hartmann's Lost Love.
Life leaves us. There's no other way around it, and the worst part is that its leaving happens quicker the older we are. Days, long as children, are fleeing as adults, and too often filled with work, obligations, demands, requirements. There comes a time, for some of us early, for others late, when we take a step back from ourselves and say – is this it? Is this what its really all about? Surely not, we think, but then the answer comes, at first a whisper and then a roar: Yes, this is it. Make of it what you can, because even this is vanishing.
Ivor W. Hartmann's short story, Lost Love, is a story of parallels. The surface parallel is the plot, which concerns a young man's infatuation with a beautiful girl he never quite manages to possess.
Life conspired to keep them apart; even the close friendship they once had faded away, driven into nothing by time, distance, and her other men's arms. She was a glorious butterfly whose wings unfolded too soon for him to behold and protect.
As the story continues, we learn of the narrator's attempts to be with her, at first with the engorged tumescence only a teenager is capable of expressing, and later with the more mundane “catch-ups”, where older people talk around the ordeals of their children. They never quite manage to come together, and then in the end, silence:
Over the decades the phone calls dwindled to emails, emails to sms's, to sms's only on special occasions, and then one year to nothing at all. Yet hope, faintest hope, hope which considers a possibility of lifetimes of which this one is but a part, remained with him.
The parallel to that story is one told in italics. It is the story of an old man, more than likely senile, and perhaps suffering from Alzheimer's, along with other unspecified illnesses of old age. These sections bookend the story, but they are also interspersed throughout. At first they are mysterious, ill-formed and vague, but we slowly realise that the young man chasing the girl is the old man missing the woman from his life. He is confined within a ward, and is unaware of the exact extent of his infirmity.
A loud weeping interrupts his reverie. Damn it all, did everyone wear their hearts on their sleeve now, what happened to public emotional control, he blustered silently. Peering around the ward to spot the bastard, he saw no offenders. One of the nurses stared at him from her station obviously annoyed as he was at the blubberer, yet she continued the stare only at him. It was then he felt the tears on his face and the shuddering gasps of breath between loud sobs.
Thus, the parallel. At the end of the story, these lifetimes converge, and perhaps in the end he dies. At least, he wishes to. But this is a story of parallels, and we have only discussed the first.
The second becomes clearer with a deeper reading. On the surface, the story concerns the never-attained embrace of a beautiful woman. Deeper, it is an old man's lament at life, clutching at the memories of the times when he was young, strong, fit, when the days ahead of him were greater than those behind. The 'Lost Love' of the title is not just a woman but also life - our narrator has lost his primary paramour, which is to say, he has lost his own life. There's nothing left of him but a shell, one that requires a nurse to wipe him, a watchful eye to ensure he eats, and stern gazes to stop him from dissolving into tears.
But the moment, their moment, their time to be together never arrived, always a potential, never an expression. First, she was partnered, and then he when she became free. So the die was set, a lifetime of inopportune moments.
Our lifetimes are, when we look back at them, a cacophony of mistakes and missed chances. Even the most successful of us will see this, and the older we are the more we realise that the mistakes we thought we could correct will never actually be fixed – they are ours and we must live with them. Each day brings its own happiness and sadness, but as the bottle of wine reaches its dregs, it is the bitter sadness which overwhelms the palate.
Hartmann's Lost Love is a complex story, and can be appreciated equally on either level. It works best when one is able to keep simultaneously within one's mind the concept of the girl as the Unattainable Woman, and also the Life Once Lived. She is both, and Hartmann's language at every stage serves to reinforce this. Sections that may seem overwritten if this is 'just a love story' becomes clearer when we realise it isn't.
What, then, does Hartmann have to say about the bitterness of life? A lot. The last two paragraphs, which will remain unquoted, are perfect in their summation and oh so bitter, and oh so sweet. He captures the melancholy of life, it's missed opportunities and small successes, and he farewells his characters with dignity and tact. There can't be a happy ending, because life ends, but there can be the closure of acceptance. Not, you'll recognise, of a happy ending and a marriage that lasts forever and is always happy. No. At some stage we must come to terms with the fact that the life we've had is the life we had, and that we must take responsibility for what we did wrong and what we did right. Hartmann shows us the sadness and the joy of this acceptance.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Six) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Five: Beaven Tapureta's Cost of Courage.
There is a scene in the American movie, Network, where anchor Howard Beale encourages his audience to open their windows, lean their head out, and scream, “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” The scene, and the movie, have become cultural touchstones for America, a signifier of a turbulent time (the 1970s) when it seemed that all the pots were ready to boil over at the same time. In a similar vein, Beaven Tapureta's Cost of Courage is its own extended “mad as hell” statement, a vicious, biting, savage attack on Africa and its terrible, destructive stagnation in general, and in particular, the swamp of corruption, hunger, violence and terror afflicting Zimbabwe.
Our narrator, unnamed, is an unemployed male in his twenties. There's nothing to him and there's nothing left to him, which is to say the potential avenues of his future are all dark and dirty roads upon which the best of us would fear to tread. He suffers from nightmares, great roaring visceral punches that wrench him awake from an existential misery into an even worse reality.
The crumbling, blasting and splitting of gun-sound, the voices and the sharp squeal of stampeding women and children combined into a festival of ghosts. I ran blindly like a fugitive. Unexpectedly, I found a bloodied spoor which led me to the mountains in a certain black kingdom on whose gates was the name Zimbabwe, written in sweat and blood. The kingdom's gates were locked to the hilt.
Tapureta understands the dark magic of language, its pulse and its seething vitality. His description writhe, viscerally expressing the turmoil of today's Zimbabwe. His narrator wanders the streets and wanders his own memory, recollecting stories and events, sharing them with Brother, a poet (more accurately – a shaman, a mystic, a seer) given to sweeping statements about the Way We Are Now. Brother says to him,
I feel identified by the world. I am a bream swimming from the gloomy waters towards the shores of glory, yet there are storms and hungry sharks following. Very sad indeed.
Brother anchors the narrator, but is also himself drowning in a black sea. He wishes to leave Zimbabwe, indeed must leave, but the difficulties are great and the danger is very real. But the stink and putridity of the corrupt state attacks his sensitive artistic soul, and it is either get out and suffer the potential consequences, or flop on the ground and die like a fish out of water, his integrity dashed aside by cowardice. Brother eventually leaves (But is he dead? Did he escape? Has Zimbabwe simply swallowed him up? Who in Africa remembers a dead black man of thirty?), but the narrator cannot. He is wedded to Zimbabwe in a way he can't quite comprehend, but it tugs at the language of the story. The narrator knows the government is at fault for much of this, but the story only rarely becomes explicitly political, such as in this quote:
My thoughts skirted around the present situation and I began to see everything in policy formats. My being unemployed was somebody's policy. The type of my life was also somebody's policy. My clothes, their shabbiness, the hunger in the ghetto, Brother's daily worries, the deadly night life in the ghetto, the untreated water we drank from the rusty taps and the cholera.
There is a later scene involving policemen, brutality, and the 'cleaning up' of undesirables. Of course, when everyone is hungry, desperate measures must be taken, and it is no accident that when the narrator faints in a bus, everyone assumes he is suffering from starvation.
Tapureta's Cost of Courage is a violent cry, an angry, angry story that views Zimbabwe as rotten to its core, and needing to be uprooted in its entirety to remove the evil. Tapureta cannot see salvation in his country, only torment.
The city is like a home of widowed and orphaned ghosts. Faces bypassing me on the street are smeared with an insipidness too wearisome to look at; they look at me like they want to dig out the very last small piece left of me now. I watch the grey spectacle around me concluding itself into a showbiz of hunger. Elderly beggars have awoken from their beds of flattened cardboard boxes in the nooks of the disused stinking city buildings. Street children snatch food from the unsuspecting ladies cat-walking in and out of the expensive food outlets, fashion ships and hair salons, blind beggars sing religious songs on the pavement to attract alms...
Cost of Courage is a powerful story. Tapureta's language hits you like a fist, and it demands satisfaction. He juxtaposes very well the elemental memory of Brother with the visceral misery of Zimbabwe's streets. We see the small hopes people cling to because they are never going to have large hopes of any kind, and we see the constant boot-stamping on the faces of those below by those who exist high, high above. Anyone with a shred of awareness will know of Mugabe's obscene displays of personal wealth while his country starves and rots, but Tapureta humanises what can only exist to someone outside the country as an abstraction. Near the start of Cost of Courage, Tapureta writes,
I whispered to myself that I was not going to fall or be punched down by whatever or whoever those demons were.
And the rest of the story informs as to who exactly these demons are. They are, as always, us.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Five) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Four: Ayodele Morocco-Clarke's The Nesbury Tree.
The Nestbury tree holds special significance for the narrator's family. It has been with them since her grandfather's time, and stands behind the house on the spacious compound they call home. Among their holdings is a church, also built by her family, though in recent years it has fallen under the influence of a Shepherd who doesn't exactly see eye-to-eye with the family. In fact, he declares the Nestbury tree a haven for witches, and demands its destruction.
The narrator's mother is outraged, and so is the narrator, though, at fifteen, she perhaps does not understand the gravity of the situation. She sees a religious man making wild and unsubstantiated claims against a tree; her mother sees a man peddling his influence to reduce that of their family. His power has increased while theirs has declined.
But our narrator does understand that the tree is important,
the Nestbury tree was a tree my grandfather had planted as soon as he bought the property. He had brought the Nestbury sapling from Kingston, Jamaica when he migrated to Lagos. It had been his most precious possession and he had guarded it diligently. That tree had been in the yard before my mother married my father. In fact, it was older than Mother herself and was a defining mark in our whole area of Igbobi in Lagos.
She also notes that, “Nobody messed with the Nestbury tree and everyone in the community knew this unwritten rule.” But she can't quite put her finger on why everyone's nose is so far out of joint. She is amused at the emotionally charged reaction of her mother, the Elders who come to visit, cajoling and wheedling in an attempt to have her forgive the Shepherd, and even the Pastor of the area, who sends his representative to try and make amends at a church service,
God was the creator of all things, and if the Lord was not happy with anything, he will in his divine wisdom take care of that thing. He said that if anyone felt that they were being oppressed by evil forces, they should take it to the Lord in prayer, and they would be surprised that God does actually answer prayers.
Unfortunately, the pastor's representative did not know that he had unwittingly sowed a seed that was to germinate in the Shepherd's mind. His words were to form the basis for the Shepherd to launch a stinging attack on the Nestbury tree, and by extension, my mother.
From here, the intensity of the story ratchets up a notch. The Shepherd declares, in no uncertain terms, that the time for talk is over, and that the tree will be destroyed, come what may. Throughout, the narrator's mother, though angry, is portrayed as a rational, intelligent person who uses logic, and not emotion, to win her battles. The Shepherd says the trees shrieks and moans in the night, the mother counters by saying the noise comes from bats. The Shepherd says that strange birds fly about that tree only, and again, the mother counters with bats. Why, then, are bats in the tree at all? Surely because of witches! The mother, stupefied by this argument, can only demand he get off her property.
The Shepherd, tending to his flock of believers, begins a seven-night vigil, which he believes will culminate in the tree's undoing. The narrator notes that,
Like real sheep, they were being lead by the Shepherd of the church without stopping to question the path he was leading them along.
Ayodele Morocco-Clarke's short story, The Nestbury Tree can be seen, I believe, as the sturdy forces of intellect and reason collapsing underneath the tide of emotion, anger and bigotry that comes from the need of the pack to find a scapegoat. The narrator's family is portrayed as nothing less than normal, calm people, though perhaps wealthier than others (they do, after all, own the land the church is on, and the church itself) – but they are overwhelmed by the force of the Shepherd and his flock. The seven-night vigil culminates in a massive storm, which uproots not only the tree, but destroys the family home and the surroundings. Who is the witch now? Something dark has occurred, and an innocent family pays the price for no other reason than the Shepherd must lead his flock somewhere.
Morocco-Clarke's writing style captures the voice of an intelligent, though naive, fifteen year old girl rather well. The narrator spends most of the time being amused, finding it all a big joke, until, that is, it all becomes very real, and the unfriendly nature of others shows its ugliest face. Morocco-Clarke's narrator is a believable young girl, and what's more, she's an interesting young girl. Her function is purely to observe, and indeed that is all she does, but her personality (largely through her ties to the family) shows through, and this colours the narrative.
The Nestbury Tree is a well written story, and its plot, though predictable, does not suffer because of this. Ordinarily, a family made to suffer has within the story a reason for the suffering; in The Nestbury Tree this is not the case. Rather, we see a good family destroyed by evil forces, and there is nothing to do but wail at man's fate.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Four) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Three: Masimba Musodza's Yesterday's Dog.
Stanley is on his way to Harare when, close to dozing off, he sees a hitchhiker on the road he thinks he recognises. He picks up the man and memories, mostly unwanted, come flooding back. The hitchhiker is a demon from his past, a man involved with the Rhodesian Security Forces during the conflicts that led, eventually, and after much bloodshed, to the independence of Zimbabwe.
Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean writer, slides us easily into Yesterday's Dog. Its beginning follows a well-known trope, that of a returning character creating memories within the protagonist, forcing him to relive a terrible, or joyful time. It's a variation on “the stranger comes to town”, though in this case, set inside a car.
The stranger-who-isn't stirs unpleasant memories. Stanley remembers back to when he was young and full of promise. He was the sort of man where the girls, “always quick to recognise a man with a future beyond the local shopping centre, were throwing themselves at his feet.”
Stanley has won a scholarship to Europe, and this has helped to catch the eyes of the local women. But then the father of a spurned girl turns him into the police, declaring him a part of the magandanga, the nationalist guerillas. Soldiers come at dawn, they knock his door in and take him away. He pleads innocence; they don't care.
The people, his people, were like animals; they had lost their humanity to another people. A people whose right to so dehumanise them was that they had guns and a whole ideology apparatus, which said that they were right to do so because they were white and Stanley's people were not. They were to be herded, rounded up, confined to certain places and sustained only for whatever use they had been designated.
Later, one of the soldiers says,
”It's you educated ones that give us the problems!” one of the soldiers was saying. “You think we like to do this to you, we look on you as our little brother. But we have to, it's our job.”
Ah, they have to. It's their job. A defence turned over legally since the Nuremberg Trials, and morally, surely before then. And yet in every conflict, on every side, people do things because they have to. In every instance, if every soldier stood up and said no, then atrocities would not occur. But that hasn't, and won't, ever happen, and thus men and women, both good and bad, suffer. Clean hands or no, terrible things occur.
They broke three of his teeth, three of his ribs, a leg, and several fingers. They fried his genitals with electricity, and tested the water retention of his lungs by pouring the liquid down his throat with a teapot. In between, they took turns to beat him with sticks. It didn't matter that on the second day, Stanley confessed to being a terrorist. On the third day, he begged them through a broken mouth to kill him.
While reliving these memories, Stanley's anger grows. It is the anger of righteousness, of justification, of a man who can look inside himself and so no reason not to reciprocate the torture of his young adulthood with the murder of one of the principle soldiers who committed it. Pages into the story, and pages into descriptions like the one above, and though we may not condone it, we can agree with it. We feel for Stanley, and we ride along with his anger.
However. This particular soldier is old and worn, his life over and his best years, such as they were, behind him. Time has chewed him up and wrung him dry, and what's left of him isn't much. But not only that – Stanley can't do it. He wanted revenge, but the desire came from the shock of seeing a man he thought he would never meet again. Instead of killing him, they share a beer, and then Stanley quietly confesses that he had been tortured by the man years ago. The hitchhiker replies,
“My brother, how I can even begin to ask for forgiveness? We had to do it, it was the war! Please, look at me, I am a mere grave! Do you see a man who has been favourably rewarded for his deeds?”
Stanley drops the man off in Harare, and then goes to work. Revenge was avoided, and Stanley feels good about it. So far, Musodza has taken the story down a familiar path, which is to say we can see the end from the opening sentences of the beginning. This is effective, and the stark descriptions of brutality and violence greatly enhance the impact. Musodza's writing makes the helplessness of the tortured come alive, but he's able to reign in the anger enough to pull off the quiet parts, too. Musodza picks his style early and plays it straight for almost the entirety of the story.
Almost all? Yes. Yesterday's Dog, in its final pages, goes far beyond its initial conceit and treads into dark and unfamiliar territory. Musodza knows the value of creating a cyclical story, but he also understands that themes and time can be cyclical, too. The sense of release felt by Stanley when he chooses not to kill his former torturer is transformed into the unsettling realisation by the reader that things will not change, and that the sickness of men continues unto every generation.
The malaise of the past becomes the terror of the present, and good men easily become bad when the situation demands. Musodza's skill is to foster empathy within the reader for Stanley, but also for the hitchhiker, and then to demolish the feelings for both. In the end, there are no winners, and yesterday's dog is tomorrow's master. And of course he wants his own dog, too.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Three) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part Two: Kola Tubosun's Behind the Door.
We don't know what exactly is being tested behind the door, or at least, we are never told directly. But we know that Kola Tubosun is from Nigeria, and we know the types of tests which young men and women from that general region are encouraged to take. The illness is never named, but it's identity is clear - The HIV virus.
The narrator, who remains nameless, has decided, finally, to take the test. It is free, though there are many more people who don't take the test and should, than those who do. The medicine is free, too, and so is the life sentence that comes with the virus. Good enough, then. The narrator writes, "Maybe I didn't need to know what was in my blood." But of course he does.
He watches another man being tested,
She summoned him to come closer, and he did. He got up to sit by her at the lab table. As he folded the arms of his shirt in readiness for a needle insertion into his veins, I got immediately apprehensive. I had never liked needles, or tablets, but I liked the needles even less, and I would have done anything to avoid another insertion, about the third in one week.
After the other man's test is complete, it is his turn. To dispell his nerves, he starts chatting with the nurse. They discuss nothing but the test, the virus, and the state of the illness in Nigeria, but the conversation remains calm, the tone matter-of-fact. It is both the numb fright of the narrator, and the regularity of the nurse - she's seen it before, it's become part of what makes up her normal.
"So you came here to do the test..."
"Yes, of course. I've always wanted to do the test. There's nothing wrong
"Of course, young man. Of course."
"I'm sure you call it Voluntary Testing."
She smiled. "Yes."
And then later,
"Let me ask you a last question," I said, after a short pause.
"Alright. You seem really curious."
"What is the rate of infection in this part of the country?"
"Well, it depends on the organisation that did the statistics."
"No. I mean in your hospital. You do this every day, right?"
"Like how many people, on average, come here for testing every day?"
"Okay. Now about how many of them turn positive?"
"I would say about two."
I feel it's best to look at this story critically from two angles. The first is the merits of the writing, which should of course remain paramount. In this, Tubosun does very well. He captures the dry absurdity of a potentially terrible situation, and the ending is remarkable in its pathos. I believed both the matter-of-fact and slightly sympathetic tone of the nurse, and I believed the narrator's feelings when he hoped he did not have the illness, but suspected that, because of his life and where he lived, he might. Tubosun alternates between writing with very plain, ordinary language, such as when a conversation occurs, and larger, quite grand sentences which seek to encompass the tumultuous shifts of emotions experienced by the narrator. He is adept at both, and perhaps most importantly, knows when to use which. When the narrator talks to the nurse, the writing becomes short and sharp because the narrator himself is tense with anticipation, he must be calm, because if he is not - collapse. When he retreats within himself, his conscious is allowed to expand, and so, too, does the writing, Tubosun's sentences uncoiling like languorous snakes willing to take their time to reach their destination.
A few minutes on the hospital bench in the corridor ended up as the longest ones of my life. They were few, but they contained a range of similar thoughts of gloom that circled my throbbing head like vultures around a dying desert traveller. I panicked. And suddenly, the random glances towards me by passers-by suddenly began to carry a new significance...Random images of a gruesome death competed with my beating heart as twin punches of a ruthless fighter in the fighting rings of my recurring memory, and all my past and future goals were instantly reduced to the now suddenly loud ticking hands of the hospital clock.
The second is the elephant in the room, which has been glanced at briefly, but not discussed. In my part of the world (Australia), AIDS prevalence is around 0.3%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate is 5.2%. The fact of AIDS is, then, something that I basically cannot comprehend on a societal level. But a Nigerian? They can, and Tubosun does. Coming at a story like this, the basis from which it is created is something wholly different from my own experiences. And yet - and this is part of the reason why the story is so good - Tubosun couches it all with familiar language and a classic plot. The casual tone of, well, everyone, is unsettling, but Tubosun recognises this and uses it to enhance the tension.
But statistics do not, of course, make for much of a story. Nobody cares about numbers, really, but they do care about character, theme, and emotion. Tubosun's story makes an abstract statistic seem real, and it solidifies the reality of the HIV problem in Africa. Behind the Door works on multiple levels, which is to say it's an overall success. The tragedy of AIDS in Africa is well documented, and its effects are felt everywhere on the continent. Tubosun never preaches; he is satisfied with merely telling a good story, and telling it well, and this, as it often does, gives the story greater impact, and increases the effectiveness of his message.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part Two) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Parables and Metaphors: The Sounds of Africa in a Universal Age
Parables and metaphors dominate the narrative in African Roar, a recently released collection of short stories edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann. Marketed as representing a cross section of contemporary African authors, this slim volume makes a big sound and is worth reading for the quality of its voice and tambor, for the depth of its rhythm and texture.
Because of the generally light nature of parables, one could be forgiven for thinking that this anthology would make for fun summer reading under the beach umbrella. It's not and it won't. Rather, African Roar deals with complex issues such as domestic abuse, romantic fidelity and friendship treachery, the hopelessness of chronic unemployment, political corruption and personal rage. It's a weighty collection handling some of the most compelling problems in the world today, and it does so with depth, integrity and richness.
Take for example Masimba Musodza's "Yesterday's Dog" which presents Stanley, a middle aged man who was a victim of torture at the hands of Rhodesian Security Forces many years ago as a college student. When the story opens, Stanley holds the reader's sympathy for having endured being "hauled [like] a rabbit out of a cage by its ears" and who "howl[s] like a wild animal with its paw in a trap" when the military police brutally arrest him in front of his family based on false charges. During his time in custody Stanley is beaten, waterboarded, and electricuted. Interspered with the detailed descriptions of torture Musodza offers several references to animals such as baboons and chained dogs. The metaphor is apt and prompts the reader to reflect on the nature of humanity. Who is the animal when one human is torturing another? The victim who is called a dog, or the one who beats the victim like a dog?
Like all good parables, the reader learns something as the story progresses. In this case, the reader's identification with Stanley as a hero and survivor wanes. This shift in sympathy comes about when Stanley's vocation -- "the place where he worked" -- is revealed. In short, Stanley becomes that which he survived. "He was that old man now," a torturer who was "commending himself to the mercy of those who were his victims." The victim goes on to be a victimizer, and thus by perpetuating the pain and dehumanization of others he becomes "yesterday's dog."
Because of African Roar's title and the forwarding remarks about how this collection is written primarily by writers of the African Diaspora, one could also be forgiven for thinking this is a book only about African issues. It's not and it isn't. Rather, African Roar confronts and challenges the reader from every continent. One important way in which this is achieved is through narrative voice and perspective. A good example can be found in "Big Pieces, Little Pieces" by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. In this instance, the narrator's use of "you" oddly personalizes the pain, thereby making the reader become the storyteller in such a way that the sick in the belly feeling, the ache in the soul expression of a mother's death can't be separated from the words on the page. The reader is the read. Are "you" feeling this because "you shut your eyes tight and drag the snot back up your nose . . . because it's all your fault" that Mama is dead? Or because Tshuma the author so handily builds a convincing character full of guilt and childlike responsibility. Once "you" recover from the weight of the drama, the poignancy of the personalized voice and the loss of childhood innocence, the universal consequences of domestic violence is felt. Is wife battering just an African experience? Of course not! Men batter women around the world, on every continent. It's an underrated bane of female existence. And it is certainly not "just" an African issue. Perhaps it's just that what happens in Africa is a parable for what happens to all of humanity.
Finally, lest one think that all of the stories in African Roar are grim reminders of human frailty, there is the comedic "Quarterback & Co." by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr to lighten our spirits. In a satire of corporate culture, Nwokolo has produced a remarkable piece of African style magical realism. Without giving too much away, it can be safely shared that one of the main characters is a pot smoking mosquito named Quarterback who saves a diasporic efficiency analysis manager working in the U.K. from sleep deprivation. But only for a time. And to hear the ending of the story, get a copy of African Roar and listen for yourself.
From Maureen Moore's review at Pinnacles and the Pedestrian.
Maureen Moore is a Professor of Humanities at Cosumnes River College.
Fungai Rufaro Machirori reviews African Roar in Wordsetc#8
From this month onwards, an African roar will begin to reverberate throughout the continent’s literary scene with the much anticipated release of African Roar, an anthology of stories drawn from the best short fiction featured in the popular African e-zine, StoryTime, in 2009.
This first edition of the anthology, which is to be published annually from here onwards, takes the reader into the lives and circumstances of such a vast array of characters that it is hard to believe that there are only eleven stories to be savoured, stories written by some of the continent’s emerging and established authors.
Through the anthology, the reader takes a journey into the mind of a teenager who watches how a mythical tree causes an irreparable rupture between religion and tradition within a community. The reader is also taken behind the closed doors of an HIV test, visits rural Ghana where an unlikely love burgeons between two intriguing characters and watches the renegotiation of the relationship between two men, old foes due to the circumstances of war.
Of the eleven writers in this anthology, there is a predominance of Zimbabweans (six in total) and this can be explained variously – either by the fact that StoryTime is a product of Zimbabwean author, Ivor W. Hartmann (who is also the anthology’s co-editor and one of its contributors); or by the reality of the scarcity, for so long, of publishing opportunities for many of Zimbabwe’s talented writers.
Regardless of the reasons, it is refreshing to note that the stories written by these Zimbabweans move away from entrenchment in themes of socio-political and economic strife – themes which have been widely interrogated over the last decade, allowing even for the glorification of much mediocre literature due to its difficult subject matter. Instead, the stories here describe personal pain and yearnings - many of which are products of the national status quo - without making politics their locus of minute detailing and attention.
And this is true of the whole anthology, in fact. These are stories about the banal, beautiful and even the bizarre things that happen, and could happen, in everyday life.
Special mention goes to Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, who at 21, is the youngest contributor yet manages to capture the subject of domestic violence evocatively, poignantly in the opening story entitled “Big Pieces, Little Pieces.”
My favourite story of the anthology, however, is the quirky piece by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr. entitled “Quarterback & Co.” - an engaging read that brings together a Vietnamese shaman, a dubious sleep-inducing concoction and a brain-sucking insect-cum-work aid, all in the setting of a FTSE-listed company office in a sanitised part of London.
Nwokolo’s wit and audacity provide necessary humour before the thought-provoking scenario set by Emmanuel Sigauke (“A Return to the Moonlight”), of a returned Zimbabwean Diasporan whose obsession with the accoutrements of a lifestyle acquired in the United States threatens to detach him from his identity.
Every story in this eclectic anthology is enlightening – in tone, imagery and content. Many lines left me smiling in awe at the amazing depth of imagination and description each writer obviously possesses and wields with their own unique flair.
African Roar is indeed a must read for followers of African literature. And if this first edition is anything to go by, this is one roar whose echoes will reach far across the world.
From Fungai Rufaro Machirori's review in Wordsetc#8.
Fungai Rufaro Machirori is a published poet, short story writer, journalist, blogger and researcher working in the field of HIV and AIDS communication. A collection of her poetry is featured in the Welsh-published anthology, Sunflowers In Your Eyes, released in May 2010.
Damian Kelleher Reviews African Roar in-depth: Part One: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's Big Pieces Little Pieces.
Domestic violence is a sanitised term for a horrible event - and usually a sequence of events. In most cases the violence is toward the woman in the relationship, and by and large she will do her best to keep quiet, in order to protect her children first, and then herself. In families such as these, secrets take on a dark, numbing weight, and much remains unspoken. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's short story, Big Pieces, Little Pieces, is a fragment taken from the lives of such a family.
Tshuma's story is told from the perspective of, we assume, a slightly older sister telling the story to her younger brother. It is a story they both know, and the way it is told has the simple rhythm of a bed-time story worn and tattered in the countless retelling. The children's father is an angry man, and drinks, and whatever bad happens in the house, no matters its source, the consequence is that their mother is beaten, sometimes quite badly. At one stage their mother talks to her husband's sister,
Auntie Tshitshi looked away and chided Mama for being such a cry baby. "Baba used to beat Mama up and she took it like a woman. It's a good sign, sis' wakhe, it shows that he loves you.
And we begin to realise this is a story without hope. Domestic violence - those two calm words again - tends to stop when others know about it and do something about it. Abuse thrives in the shadowy corners of ignorance and complicity. People don't know because they never want to know. And of course, after a beating,
And Father was nice after that, the way he always was after he did his tantrums. He brought Mama presents wrapped in nice paper, shiny glittery material with balloon decorations that you would take afterwards to make wedding dresses for your Barbie dolls.
You can bet the external family members and friends of the family know more about the presents than they do the black eyes.
Tshuma's technique of having a child explain to another, younger, child, means that we, the adult reader, can grasp the horror that they, as children, begin to assume is a kind of norm. Children, no matter how they are raised, expect what they know, and that means that the two can watch birds together, and
You wondered if it had been a Daddy Waneka Bird or a Mummy Waneka Bird, and if the Daddy would beat the Mummy up for the broken eggs.
Later, much later, when the inevitable occurs and the children must rely on each other to reclaim their shattered lives, they stand together at the cemetery with an older man:
He smiled and told Jabu to be strong because he had to be a man now, the one who should look after you. You looked at Jabu and wondered if that meant he had to beat you up too.
Which provides a devastating, and excellent, climax.
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's handling of such difficult material is effective and horrifying in the manner in which the children, though frightened, feel their lives are normal. They understand the consequences of their actions, and though they don't enjoy seeing their mother beaten, or themselves hurt, they know it is just "how things are". They even have a word for it - tantrums - which says much about their thought process. A tantrum is a small, childish word, something you'd say about a baby pummeling its fists against the ground. To use it in a situation where:
Mama's scream made your head spin faster than the whirring blades. It screeched in your ears long after it was gone, diluted the angry whrr-whrr of the blades so that you thought your head was bursting, and haunted you for many months after that. The kitchen was falling. The walls were coming at you. Her cheeks were peeling off, exposing the white inner flesh, the skin peeling of the way skin peels off from potatoes just after you boil them.
Adds immensely to the tragedy of the circumstances. Tshuma's language is generally quite simple, and the short sentences do much to portray the children's thoughts. The paragraph immediately quoted above is exceptional, and in its entirety is probably the best part of the story. Comparing peeling skin to peeling potatoes is a near perfect comparison in that it keeps the domestic, family feel of the story, while managing to make the humble potato into a rather graphic and horrible image. Tshuma never falters in the tightness and focus of her writing, and the story, though obvious in its plot, is excellent in the telling.
From Damian Kelleher's review (Part One) at Damian Kelleher - Literary reviews and essays.
Abdul Adan Reviews African Roar
The writers in African Roar are all unique in their styles and diverse in their subjects as Africa itself. They write of love, hope, grief, betrayal... albeit with artistic curves and turns and twists. I must herewith do a brief individual review of each story:
Big Pieces, Little Pieces
First and foremost, I must mention how personally impressed I was when I finished reading this story. I had put the book down and looked at the empty space in front of me, and my mind filled with distant, yellow thoughts. I imagined the violent man with his big sandals, standing in the door way, the grave, the jacaranda tree. On a superficial glimpse, one can easily judge this to be a depressing and sad story but it isn’t. Remember, the jacaranda. And it’s the dry jacaranda leaves, which left me with yellow thoughts. The skeleton of this story is not unusual. Domestic violence is a daily reality. But see who the narrator is? Seriously, a beautiful work of art this is. Although, upon a little bit of thought, I would assume the narrator was simply reminiscing, internally, or talking to herself aloud. She was honest and innocent too, as children usually are. As a frequent reader of short fiction, I often seek out stories that have never been told; the extraordinary. However, this usual, ordinary, domestic violence story, gripped me in ways I didn’t think of when I first begun reading. This probably is African literary art, at its best.
Behind the Door
This is a story about the daily worries of a young African man; any young African, regardless of the region, religion or language. As one, who has personally taken an HIV test, after a great deal of thought, I must say I identify with the main character a lot. I had asked similar questions, before the results, for the sake of comfort. It’s a not a typical superficial story of youth because the parents too are mentioned, “...the recurring worry of one day having to live with the choices her children would make”. Having mentioned this, it’s a nicely flowing piece, youthful and with a hint of the tragic at the same time. A universal story with an African setting, capturing one episode in a perpetual tragedy humans are dealing with all over. As a work of art, it has the ease and playfulness of O’henry, and a kind of twist that calls Maupassant to memory.
Perhaps, this is the most powerfully affecting story in the anthology. It’s well detailed with elusive feelings and thoughts, rarely rendered in short fiction or at least, in this manner. A former victim of torture and brutality gets the chance to inflict the same on his tormentor. This is an experiment, into post-colonial Africa or more broadly, into human nature. There’s a dark eeriness, often associated with fear, which filled the story from the beginning to the end. The fear of torture is greater than the fear of death. For with death, one is afraid of the unknown, the feeling of it, but one is always sure that it doesn’t last too long. Stanley is very deserving of sympathy and hate at the same time. One “poignant” question that nags me is whether I or any other average man would be any different from Stanley should we undergo the same? Whilst he reflects on the past, and the opportunities presently at hand, he doesn’t simply think of revenge. He thinks of it in gruesome, brutal terms, the kind of thoughts only conceivable by the tortured and the bitter. It’s not simply torture, a word and a thought. It’s about tearing limbs off “that bony, pot bellied torso”, and “grinning death’s head”. This can’t be any truer to humanity, embittered humanity. Above all, it’s not all about giving power to the prey and watching what he does with it, there’s more that is told between those lines. Complexities, minor and major, of post and pre-colonial Zimbabwe, surrounding the “dogs” life, have all been delivered to satisfaction. There’s always a “yesterday’s dog,” just like there will always be a yesterday.
The Nestbury Tree
This is a mysterious story that with simplicity, details a conflict not uncommon among humans. While the flow is all too common, there seems to be an argument to too far underneath the words. A point is made that objects can be more than what they seem to be, if we make them so. It calls to question, how many of what we deem to be too important or sacred, are actually taking on those attributes, metaphysically. I don’t wonder whether the Nestbury Tree harboured evil indeed, or if the weeklong night prayers were answered without questioning the powers of human will and beliefs. Or without asking who “the mother of the spirits” that “walked the length and breadth of the clan” was in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I am most scared of this story, because it challenges a side of us, our helplessly dark nature, which even we, can hardly fathom.
Cost of Courage
Tapureta’s Cost of Courage not only tells a side of his country, but a side of every country where people do suffer. The likes of his characters are to be found in prisons, poor neighbourhoods or “ghettos”, or among the dreamy rebels who are dissatisfied with materialism. However, Kenny and Brother are not rebels, nor are they imprisoned criminals. They are prisoners of their country’s status quo. Their only source of comfort is their dreams. When Kenny faints while standing in a crowded vehicle, there’s a whisper from the back seat “Inzara iyo” meaning “that’s hunger.” This remark was made with some humour, by young men who have similarly suffered and have consequently been hardened. Such humour isn’t uncommon in the ghettos, wherever one goes. Here and there are instances which hint at negligence by the politicians, exploitation of the poor, which have so long characterized our continent. For an African who’s lived this life, it wouldn’t take an effort to imagine the minutest of the details in the story, fill in all the holes, with utmost clarity, until it becomes as real as his or her own.
We all have that special person with whom we connected so fast, whose very stare arose rosy thoughts in our minds, whose touch penetrated into our hearts, but who was too good of a prospect to be with, that reality, probably knowing this, worked on keeping as apart. Hartmann’s Lost Love is the story of such love. Some have been fortunate enough to be deeply in love with their partners. They could even wish for an impossible unity, that they be unified till one becomes the other. But one has to die often times, and the other would mourn. The love that Hartmann told of in this story goes beyond this level. It’s of a kind that’s realistic, yet soars free, above time and all conventional constraints. A feature of this story that is most evidently striking is that the character’s memories have become so real, that they had taken the foremost position in his mind and heart. The writer rendered it so, making the present as though it were simply a background shadow. Owing to the style in which this story is told, one could as well read it from the end to the beginning and still follow it anyhow. The mellow, sensitive language only enhances the melancholic effect that goes with imagining a physically dried up, wrinkled man, sitting on a bed, whose thoughts are as moist and flowery as any can get.
A Cicada in the Shimmer
Of all the stories in this anthology, this is the one I had read the most times, and tried hardest to break apart and comprehend. Each time I read it, I find something I had missed before, some kind of hint. It’s a story of paranoia, superstition and like all of the other African Roar stories, has something to say about human nature. It’s easy to ignore children as being beneath our fears about HIV and other threatening challenges of our time. Jemusi, the little boy, is mentally tortured by the trilling cicada. His own childhood imagination enhances his paranoia further and makes him feel and see things which escape adults.
Quarterback & Co.
This is one of the most original stories I have ever read in all literature. The style of it, the witty humour and the realities that lurk behind it are just a few of the features that make this a most special story. The plotline is very unusual and very rich to the core; I love this. Mr. Franz is seemingly insane and like the unnamed character in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, his efforts to appear sane work against him. Sleeping is the opposite of activity and Mr. Franz was struggling against the extreme form of the latter. Evidently, he loses the battle and overwork got the best of him. At such a point, it’s like an elastic cord, that’s been overstretched. His mind invents him a partner, who does part of the needed rest for him, if only in the form of a buzzing insect, and he embraces overwork, to excessive perfection till absolute breakdown. The ending is very satisfying, for its artistic quality. I have practically memorised the last four lines, without effort, and I do enjoy repeating them to myself from time to time. "I don’t have enough time to work anymore. Or to write long paragraphs. Or sentences. But I do swim the kidney-shaped pool. In ten-minute sessions." There’s a magical quality to this story.
A Return to the Moonlight
Like all of these stories, I learn in Sigauke’s, a side of humans; the weak, capricious side. When an African travels to a western country, stereotypes and racism awaits him or her. Upon, return, other stereotypes await. He or she must return with some good. With this said, how many of them returned unchanged by the difference in culture and environment? We see in the story of Ranga and his family, a conflict of class, culture and mentality. Whilst we crave for heights, in the end, our origins always win.
What makes this an interesting story is not it’s themes of love, friendship and betrayal, but the traditional African depth and wisdom with which it’s told. It takes us on a journey through which we learn some of the evils we are capable of, and satisfies us in the end, with optimism and moral comfort. This is a good example of morally uplifting literature, seeking out the best in us, in an almost Tolstoy like manner.
This is an innocent story, capturing an important stage in human development – adolescences. On the surface, it’s an innocent romantic tale of sexual awakening in a teenage girl. But there’s more than just meets the eye, here we also learn of the variety of behaviours, languages and accents, among the same people, between urban and rural parts of the same country. It shows that Africa’s complexity is not just continental but is rather detailed, right within each and every individual country. The drama in this piece is minimal, but like a piece of painting, it did elicit in me an effect, not easily rendered in words, especially towards the end. I saw the Nana. I saw everything.
The stories in this first African Roar anthology have something in common, in that they all have something unique to share about human nature. They remind us about our past, awaken us to our present state and more importantly, announce a renewed vigour in the art of African fiction.
As I open the book, I am first hooked.
By Tshuma's story, uncommonly told.
I am gripped, by Tubosun, I read, tight lipped.
I feel good, but the twist, am left to brood.
I learn, the truth about man.
That today's new, is tomorrow's old.
Just like there's always a day,
There's a dog for everyday, yesterday and today.
I learn again, about pain.
That it's so hard, to change one's heart.
When it's very breath, is a nestbury tree.
I get a blanket, and sit on the street.
It's rainy and wet, but I philosophise still.
I have dreams, but so bleak it seems.
I must leave, I can't make it, I finally believe.
I am old and tired, but my heart is on fire.
I am wrinkled, busy, I am solving a riddle.
For a voice I crave, the voice of my love.
Ma, I am scared, even under your care.
The trill, Ma, it tortures my head, I scream.
Once here, it never goes, Oh! this fear.
I am not crazy, just a little hazy.
Can’t be fine, with an incomplete brain.
We all need them, the bees.
Everyone in the office, including Eunice.
Can this verse be any longer?
Without me collapsing into a slumber?
Sweetie we are here, we are home.
But can’t be here long, got to charge my phone.
Darling, you’ve been lost, we’ve missed you most.
Welcome home, this is you, your core.
Oh, I am glad to see you, what a sight.
Welcome again, son of Africa, into the moonlight.
Some want, what they don’t get.
I got what I want, I don’t care for anyone.
I have achieved it, I am a man.
Oh please Nana, don’t take away my lover.
Don’t give her back, let’s keep it on this track.
We are human, let’s be real.
I am a bad man, and let me win.
Ma, I loved the village, I am back though,
With a heartache, oh, dear fate.
You are so strange, you give me a friend,
Possible lover, makes my heart beat faster.
It’s boring again, there’s just the blue grass.
The pain in me, just got worse.
All in all, we remain strong and tall.
We renew ourselves, in art and tastes.
Here we come, with a loud roar, us Africans!
- Abdul Adan, poet, writer, and reviewer.
"The Literary World Quakes With African Roar[s]!
It is true that the meekness of a dock is greatly feared because it does not connote weakness; no one knows when it is brewing a plan to take revenge. But also, when a lion roars to declare its alertness in the forest, tell-tale trees bow at the rushing wind that comes with its roar. The roar of a lion is not only to restate its commanding nature, it is to send shocking waves to any being that might have lost its track that it is very close to the territory of the one who controls all.
When partnered writers across Africa roar with a common pen that is filled with ink from the cauldron of struggle and nature, it is to herald the dawn that will put an end to the era when Diaspora writers sew strings of fictitious words together based on what they have heard from an uncle, relative or a friend; making it clear to them that the story of a man is more true and intact, without being refined with hearsay, when it is told by him. The book, African Roar is a literary collaboration of 11 writers from different countries of the continent, who speak with the common synergy to tell the past, present and continuing-present of African stories.
Some things are rather left unbroken, but when they break, just like the shattered shells of an egg, piecing them together might spell more gloom than necessary. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s ‘Big Pieces, Little Pieces’ adopts the voice of a suggestible minor to paint the irresponsible and domineering nature of the male chauvinism of our patriarchal society in the most demeaning manner. The story is a written-capture of Mama (Grace), who is always suppressed from making her feelings known to her husband, Baba, due to the latter’s tantrum. She is bowed, cowed and tortured by her husband, who will never stop at anything to dish lashes to her. Baba, Grace’s husband, is made to throw the most destructive and anger-consuming of his tantrums when the carelessness and recklessness of Jabu’s sister, one of their children, turns Baba’s beer mug into an ‘artistic’ debris of ‘Big pieces, Little pieces’. The second person narrative style is used in the characterization of this story. This technique absorbs the reader throughout the story without distancing the story from the reader; making the reader a ready participant and witness to the story being told, rather than being a removed observer.
Even when Kola Tubosun is relaying an over-told story of HIV/AIDS that should not have whetted any special reading appetite in ‘Behind the Door’, his mastery of creating suspense as a writing-skill pays off greatly in gluing the reader’s attention to it. In ‘Behind the Door’, one’s mind is moored to what the climax will be for the character, whose courage in the journey through a HIV/AIDS test can be best described as a ‘suicidal step’ to ascertaining wholeness. The character’s heart string almost snaps when a few minutes of waiting for his test result becomes an eternity. Tubosun’s way of narrating the story without muddling it up with unnecessary flash-backs eliminates the banality that is normally associated with such a story .
In ‘Yesterday’s Dog’, Masimba Musodza connects the brutality in the colonial era with the fierce ‘democratic’ oppression that exists in the post-colonial dispensation of Zimbabwe. When an oppressed subject assumes the position of a commander, then, there are a lot to be feared. With the brutality that is meted to Stanley Chipatiso when he is maliciously reported by Mhunga to the authorities as a magandanga (national guerilla) because Stanley refuses to marry his daughter, it is vivid that the white colonialists wreaked great havoc before leaving Africa. In this story, after the independence of Zimbabwe, the game becomes the hunter when Stanley wields great power as a secret interrogator. He comes to the position of avenging the bites that yesterday’s dog (the colonial masters) leaves on him. Through the bestial activities that are carried out in the Central intelligence Organization, the place where Stanley Chipatiso works, the reader learns that the independence of Zimbabwe is still submerged in self-imposed colonization and quasi-slavery by the indigenous government.
Over the decades, it has been proved that religion commands more clout than any legal institution. The battle is set for the taking down of the Jericho wall of the Nestbury Tree that won’t allow the faithful to get to their Promise land in Ayodele Morocco Clarke’s ‘The Nestbury Tree’. The Nestbury Tree in the narrator’s mother’s house is the cause for the tug of war between the Shepherd who wants to take down the tree that he perceives to be a coven for witches because all matter of night birds take shelter in it at night, and the woman (the narrator’s mother) whose relic of love and power of her late husband is the Nestbury Tree. The narrator’s mother is resolute on stopping the elders and the shepherd of the church in destroying the only piece of life that reminds her of her loved one, the narrator’s father. The clout to resist the shepherd’s misguided moves is borne out of the fact that the facility that serves as the church is her husband’s property. The rift in this story is settled in an earth-quaking manner. The story autobiographically sketches the mixed-raced background of Morocco-Clarke as words like Kingston in Jamaica, ‘Ekaale’ a Yoruba word and Lagos in Nigeria are used. The way the writer experiments with the Yoruba proverb shows that she has lost touch with proper use of the language. The proverb that would have read as ‘Afefe ti fe, a si ti ri furo adie’ (the wind has blown and we can now see the fowl’s bottom) now reads as ‘Afefe ti fe, furo adie ti wanita’. The story almost becomes languid towards the end when the well sustained suspense is too stretched, even after the end has been known.
No matter how heavy and weighty truth might seem, it will always float when it is thrown into the ocean of lies. Kwetu M. Ananse answers true to his name as the spider (Kwetu) when he spins a cob of webs around his prey in ‘Truth Float’ written by Nana Awere Damoah. He never allows the over-matured coconut (Ama Adoma) to fall on its own accord, as he desperately and deceitfully wins the love of Ama Adoma, the fiancée of Akoto, his bosom friend. Isn’t it true that when you leave your meat in custody of a cat; it as well as giving the meat as meal to the cat? Akoto is naïve to have entrusted his fiancéeto Kwetu when he travels tothe United Kingdom to slave away after their (Ama Adoma, Akoto and Kwetu’s) graduation from the University College of Amenfi, in a bid to seek greener pastures and come back to marry Adoma with the ‘peanuts’ he is able to gather. Akoto stays a year longer than the two years he had promised. He returns home with the hope of conjugal bliss with Adoma, but he’s shocked to see Adoma turns Kwetu’s wife. The knowledge of the law he garners in the UK becomes his potent weapon against Kwetu. Nana Awere Damoah skillfully shows how interesting the act of African story telling could be when it is not with gratuitous use of hifalutin phrases. The story is never labored as the reader’s interest sticks with the story to the end. The piece is a compendium of African proverbs and turn-of-words.
After 10 years of education and survival in America, Ranga returns with a wife (Nomathamsanga) that cost him a $5000 dowry in the story ‘A Return to the Moonlight’. Ranga is disappointed when returned to a house in a serious state of disrepair despite the copious amounts of money he has remitted back home to have it prepared. Ranga’s home-coming is a mix of sorrow and celebration; the gap which education has put between Ranga and his family further widened. Mai, Ranga’s sister, can’t understand the sudden change civilization has brought on her brother. Ranga’s distaste for the deplorable state of the house his family sleeps in and the rottenness of his country, Zimbabwe, becomes known when he tells his mother that he and Nomathamsanga can’t sleep in the plastic-roofed uncompleted building because they need to charge their phones, his laptop and his ‘eye’ pod (iPod).
The ‘Cost of Courage’ can be so demanding when its ultimate price may claim one’s life. Beaven Tapureta narrates the retrogressive effect caused by the dictatorial leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the inglorious touch the unsettled Power-Sharing between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangaria has on the economic situation of the country and its citizenry. The struggle for life in a desolate and economically stripped Zimbabwe is precisely and succinctly shown through the dream Kenny has in the beginning of the story. The uneven and negative stratification of classes in hunger and inflation riddled Zimbabwe is also made clear through the reverie of Brother, Kenny’s friend. ‘Cost of Courage’ projects the unsightly condition of a ghetto life in Zimbabwe in a more horrible manner when the story reads -
“The ghetto was nothing but a community of empty clothes, littered dust streets, slapdash houses overstuffed with misery, and toilets which get more visit from cholera victims…. From somewhere, one or two houses away, I heard screams likely to have been from a girl muffled under the heavy weight of a father-businessman-politician-church-leader-AIDS-sucking-fucker!”
The price to pay that weighs more than one’s shield and sword in a battlefield is sometimes to sprint for escape when one still breathes.
What readily comes to the reader’s mind in Chuma Nwokolo Jr.’s ‘Quaterback & Co.’ is the inhumane treatment of staff by highly corporate organizations, who strive to remain the best in the cutthroat competition of executive profiteering. In the story, a quarter part of George Franz’s brain is imaginarily sucked out by an insect, and he is declared redundant and later shorn off his job.
Ivor W. Hartmann’s ‘Lost Love’ is a man’s recollection of his past in a muddled present. The story is the day-dreaming infatuation of two lovers. The transition from the past to the present shows great creativity at work. It is closer to reality yet far from it as the man at the centre of the story hovers between ‘here’ and ‘beyond’.
The ambiguity of ‘A Cicada in the Shimmer’ makes it impossible to form a one-sided inference from the story. Through the view of a child in the story, Jemusi, the writer is able to uphold one’s conscience as the most efficient police of a person’s actions. The trill and the ear-piercing tone of the cicada and the mosquito that frequently disturbs Jemusi is more of the ambush of his conscience and mind than it is real. The allusion of murambatsvina (which means Operation Drive Out Trash or Operation Drive Rubbish) in the story, makes one recall the divisive Zimbabwean government campaign in 2005. The campaign which is adopted by Mugabe, is a crack down on illegal housing and commercial activities, as a way of reducing the risk of an infectious epidemic. The hacking of a suppressed groan which later turns to the shrieking of a battered man under the clamp of a woman heard by maDube, Jemusi’s mother, explicitly explains how freedom can be attained in the most inconceivable manner.
Ayesha Harruna Attah deftly melds themes of social inequality, identity-loss, resignation to fate, and sexual ecstasy in one precise briefly written story in ‘Tamale Blues’. The deep crack of social inequality between the stricken poor and the rich is seen when Nana, the AIS city girl, who has never stepped out of Accra, visits her paternal grandma in Tamale, the northern part of Ghana for the first time. There is no more apt way of explaining her encounter than this:
“Two set of steps led to two doors, both green at the bottom. Nana hung her towel and sponge on the nails… and headed for the other room. A heavy stench hit her as she entered, accompanied with low intermittent buzzing. In the middle was a concrete ledge with a hole. There were brown stains around the hole. Nana couldn’t believe such a place existed. She dashed out, trying not to throw up…she wondered what she had done for her parents to punish her”
There is no gainsaying the fact that African Roar is a huge success in pooling together various writers across the continent, whose writings conscientiously reflect the true African story. The book, African Roar, which is indeed a debut in a series of an annual anthology from StoryTime, has opened a vista of 'windowless' opportunities for African writers to tell their own stories irrespective of their status and social profile, since the stories will always be drawn online from submissions made to ezine StoryTime. What should be worked on by the editors of African Roar in subsequent publishing should be on how the book will be available for wider readership aside from the internet. This will avail readers who do not have internet access (like those in advanced countries) to lay hands on it. There is indeed an African connection in the themes of the stories that are featured. For all those who have only read a true African story from a writer once at a time, this book gives you the commixture of stories written by variously skilled Africans. Just go get yours now!" - Joseph Omotayo, writer and reviewer.
From Joseph's review at Critical Literature Review.
"The Triumph of Small Things
A Review of African Roar
I was overly excited when I read the African Roar. By using the word ‘excitement,’ I look upon each story as a triumph, not only of the individual writers, but of the African community of emerging writing. I have been preoccupied with sustaining this community for the last two years, and I feel that an anthology like this is doing much for African writing. We must agree that our writing is not a onetime stint, but a career. Each story, each anthology, contributes to what we eventually become, and what our writing eventually does.
I start with the story that first left me breathless, Hartmann’s Lost Love. It has the force of abstraction and the urgency of a tale, by celebrating love in the time of dying, we are reminded to have permanent keepsakes of goodly moments, which, as we must have known, come not too often. Just as it is with Tshuma’s Big Pieces, Small Pieces. We are told of the horrendous darkness of domestic violence, the love-hate relationship of spouses and children, just as in Purple Hibiscus. But what is most significant, for me, is the few moments of love the characters are allowed. In both tales, we see the proper balance of a story. For even when love is lost, there was love in the first place. One could add to this list Tamale Blues by Attah.
And then, what is the value of courage? Better still, what is the cost of courage? There is a joint-rendition by Musodza and Tapureta. In effect, we find that freedom is what it is defined as. It does not exactly matter whether we are manacled in prisons or unchained in ghettos. We find that our existence is roundabout, that freedom comes and goes, in indeterminable packs. We find, again, that a man might be judged by his actions, by his inactions, or sometimes by the motivations for his both his actions and inactions. Whichever and whatever is the case, we are reminded in Yesterday’s Dog and Cost of Courage that the past, like Faulkner asserts, is not past. It could be wholesome to add Kola Tubosun’s Behind the Door to this catalogue. How much courage does it cost a man to know his HIV/AIDS status in a world that seems to accord the virus a place in the hall of fame of human existence? And when he finds that he tests negative, how much courage does it take to sympathisze with a fellow man who had tested positive?
What is more, we are reminded of the metaphysical dreaminess that accompanies our beliefs in The Nestbury Tree by Morocco-Clarke and A Cicada in the Shimmer by Mlalazi. Essentially, and as John Mayer has sang, belief is a beautiful honour, but makes for the heaviest loss. In the spate of religious melees and derogations, these stories remind us that perhaps what we would be most remembered for after the dusk of this century is our affinity to beliefs, and how far we can go to remain affiliated. Although I favoured Mlalazi’s tale to Morocco-Clarke’s, in terms of telling, I find that both have similitude in terms of context.
I find it irresistible to do a lone review of Nwokolo Jr.’s Quarterback and Co. Having begun a preliminary research in psychiatry, I assert how wrong we are to assume that mad persons are only those who are street-worthy. But this is not what Nwokolo’s hilarious story ultimately seems to engage. It seems he tries to argue that we must find the unreal in the real, the surreal in the domestic, the metaphysical in the usual. I like this; it is my conviction that we could write about unimagined realities. That said, I feel it deserves (and demands) a reread.
There is a return to the moonlight in Siguake’s A Return to the Moonlight and Damoah’s Truth Floats. The latter story, though, thrived only on the age-long tradition of ‘and they lived happily ever after.’ One thinks it should have leaped beyond those bounds. However, that said, what does one find when he returns? Does he find betrayal or does he regain his senses? Does he find truth or lies? The glory and triumph of return seems to preoccupy the lines of both stories; I certainly agree that we must contemplate return, in holistic and previously unconsidered ways.
What Hartmann, Sigauke, and Barnes, have achieved in this anthology is to set into mode a wholesome pattern for emerging African writing. We, who are in the business of creative writing, should be grateful; it would be short-sighted to think otherwise. It is, in fact, the triumph of small, emergent writing, above economic constraints and the throes of falling publishing standards. I rejoice at this first volume of African Roar, and the rest of the literate world will, too." - Emmanuel Iduma, writer, and editor at Saraba Magazine.
From Emmanuel Iduma at Unimagined Realities. Mystic Possiblities.
African Roar - reflections on the stories by Elinore Morris
Big Pieces Little Pieces
I admit that I started reading this quickly, with half closed eyes. I’m a bit squeamish and there needs to be a good justification for me to finish a story like this: a tale of domestic violence told from the child’s perspective. I can see many a well established writer shying away from such a topic and it takes a particular kind of honesty to be able to write convincingly using a child’s voice. Luckily it didn’t take long for the eyelids to raise and the bottom jaw to lower.
The writer tells it like it is using language of the senses and of association. The emotions of the victims are not mentioned but their effects are described making their impact on the reader all the more poignant. In fact the only one assigned emotions is the father who gets angry and disciplines because as Auntie Tshitshi says “it shows that he loves you.” But behind the outward simplicity of writing there are hidden dimensions. For example the significance of the opening image of the Che Guevara T-shirt. The child has no idea that this “black and white man” was someone who could be ruthlessly violent but was at the same time idolized by millions. Neither does she understand the threat that her mother, for all her meekness, poses to the fragile façade of masculine superiority.
A long time ago I read a book written in the second person and I remember thinking it a bit awkward and contrived. Here the use of the second person fits well into the flow of the narrative and is very apt on several levels. It sounds like the voice of the conscience, an impingement on childhood reality from the world of grownups, echoing the children’s argument about the impingement of Christian morality by the colonialists. It could also be a subtle but chilling warning directly to the reader: Don’t forget that domestic violence, whether physical or psychological, whether or not condoned by the prevailing culture, is a universal phenomenon – this could be you!
One would so like there to be hope, but outwardly there is little to suggest it, especially after reading the last lines. And yet we see an observant, intelligent and compassionate child, could there be a tiny hope there? Or maybe a seed of hope lies in the way in which the child projects the story’s events onto the second person. Perhaps by doing this she is able to keep some essential core of herself pure and unviolated, while distanced she in some way comes to terms with what has happened. With time she may review the events again, come to a more mature conclusion and so find the key to a possible future reprieved from the trauma and guilt and victimhood.
Whatever the interpretation, this bold story makes no less of an impact on the second and third readings. It is a story to be read with eyes wide open as here is clear evidence of big talent at work, Talent with a capital T!
Behind the Door
A man gets tested for HIV. This story provides a perfect contrast and comic relief from the previous one. It is humorous without being frivolous or tasteless and has a serious undertone without in any way moralizing. It opens with a nonchalant, sophisticated tone which masks the real character of his “recurring curiosity” and the “reasonable and unreasonable resistance” which later come into battle. The humour lies in the way he tells the story (entirely at his own expense) of his not quite successful attempt to hide his inner turmoil, his “riotous thoughts” behind a cool and witty exterior. My favorite part was when, after all his smart aleck commentary while filling out the form he gives it all away by blurting out the monumentally stupid question – does the obviously very experienced nurse know what happens if the test is positive!
The characterization of the nurse, who maintains the upper hand throughout, was wonderful and achieved skillfully through the dialogue and the observations of the patient. The writer succeeded in painting a clear picture of her without having to resort to any clumsy physical descriptions. You can just imagine her peering over her glasses at him, a wry smile on her face, shaking her head and tut-tutting to herself in mild exasperation.
I think part of my enjoyment of this story came from the smug feeling that yes I too have passed this very special rite of passage, of third world club membership. There’s nothing quite like it. But one can’t help wondering what it’s like for those who haven’t, those who perhaps haven’t had to, and for those who have and have tested positively. The end is fittingly serious and thought provoking. In fact apart from just being a great read, this story would be a valuable addition to any high school syllabus since it presents the facts and an impetus for discussion in an ingeniously unstuffy and undidactic way. Cambridge?
Sunset, the open road, a hitchhiker materializing like an apparition – it has all the makings of a thriller. There are great twists and turns to the tale and it has you sitting on the edge of your seat. Running deftly back and forth in time it is spiced with some witty writing, like the wonderfully subtle line: “As if to answer the question forming in his mind, another soldier appeared and kicked him there” - which doesn’t make much sense on its own here but put it back in context and it’s perfect.
As political commentary it is fresh and very readable - there is a body of writing about this era that I find quite unpalatable. This however is mature enough to stay well clear of agonizing how everything was better before, or of romanticizing or idolizing any particular individual or group. There is irony and double irony throughout the story, from the way in which Stanley wishfully sides with the young white RF guy, vainly considering them both to be superior to the older men around them, to the way the hitchhiker claps so gleefully in appreciation for his beer, to the way in which Stanley is particularly fond of writers.
There are many references and analogies to animals, enough for us to be reminded, in some crazy way, of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Livestock, baboons, dogs - they subtly tell us that none of the characters, whatever their race or position in life have made it very far up the evolutionary ladder, at least not where it comes to moral fiber and strength of character. Even the mother and wife Netai are pretty spineless having strokes or fits of hysterics as soon as the going gets tough. Because as we see, despite all his insights and his moment of epiphany in the maize field, Stanley is still unwilling or unable to give up the expedient present, to step off the hamster wheel of fortune in this dog eat dog world.
Actually at the end, if you listen very, very carefully, you can hear some maniacal laughter in the distance and the voice of Rafiki, from the Lion King, saying “remember, we’re all part of the great circle of life!”
The Nestbury Tree
Is this modern thinking debunking superstition, or the other way round? A surprising story about a tree, and the curious happenings sparked off by a comment from the Shepherd of the local church. The writing is clear and direct and focuses without distraction on the development of the story.
It takes up the question of what distinguishes religion from witchcraft and what we make of the supernatural. While we can enjoy the tale as being fanciful for its own sake the observation she makes: “I came to the swift conclusion that religion could be a powerful weapon when wielded in the hands of the misguided and even more so when used to lead the ignorant” perhaps sums up the message behind it. One doesn’t have to look far to see the ravaging effects of misguided religion and superstitious thinking either in history or in the world around us now.
But apart from that this is not a story to be taken apart and analysed, it is a story to be told by grandma or a crazy aunt, one to be listened to cosily tucked up around a fire, late at night, together with a bunch of wide-eyed siblings/cousins.
Cost of Courage
Dreams and stories define the drifting existence of the unemployed in the ghetto. The days lack structure and purpose and time is marked by standing at the footbridge “like I am waiting for someone” or sharing a newspaper on a park bench, and the decision of the day is whether or not to join a queue. The setting is Harare during the time of hyperinflation and cholera. Surrounded by poverty and misery, life is somehow not without a kind of beauty and the seemingly helpless people are not without a strange kind of resilience. Throughout the story there is a feeling of impotence - the cost of courage, an underlying yet palpable anger - his reaction to the girl’s screams he hears from his house, together with an unexplained and perhaps even unjustified hope.
The real tragedy of the situation is that it has cost the men their courage as all they have to choose between is a life of violence or one of dreamy inactivity. For Brother this kind of emasculation stems from his childhood when his parents condoned his younger sister’s mischief at his expense. Women seem to have an advantage over the men in that they are at least able to generate an income. They are also able to defend themselves by working as a team though as soon as they split up they make themselves vulnerable. In his utopian dream Kenny sees the men and women forming a shield against the enemies’ spears but the society around him is too fragmented to protect the vulnerable.
People connect and lose each other as in a dream or as if they were floating out at sea: the moon-faced angel on the bus; the man on the bench; the woman in the park. Even his friend Brother disappears without explanation and then reappears again. The people that Kenny fleetingly encounters in town acquire the same kind of special significance as those in his dreams and the characters in Brother’s stories. If only they could unite, reclaim their courage and realize the wisdom from the man in Brother’s dream “So much dirt you absorb from outside of yourself while inside you there is so much beauty if only you had the eyes to look without fear”. The story ends with Kenny contemplating this fear and the cost of courage and convincing himself that it is never too late, which is under the circumstances perhaps the only conclusion to be made.
There are some poignant descriptions of ghetto life: the shabby houses “blind-wall” the children into a life of crime, its inhabitants “but a community of empty clothes”; the description of their voices as “undying” is an evocative tribute to their inexplicable, almost spooky ability to survive. This story gives unselfconscious tribute to Marechera in its structure, creative use of language and the direct reference to the House of Hunger but it maintains a particular gentle observation and a modern relevance entirely its own.
A grumpy old guy in his “last home before the box” contemplates his lost love. This is a story that has the potential to provoke a very personal reaction in the reader. What makes it relevant in an African context is that lost love in all its many forms is the inevitable burden of the continent’s millions of people displaced internally or out in the Diaspora, and of those they leave behind.
What struck me after reading it was the realization that the vast majority of writing and films on love, from romantic comedy to the Romeo-and-Juliets, is actually about what we would like love to be, rather than how most of us actually experience it. Here one can catch a glimpse of a part of oneself that is often either ignored or kept private, different for everyone, but still universal, therefore no need to say what it got me thinking about myself.
So how do we figure out this main character? Is he pathetic, or what? He’s still moping about her, and crying over his lost opportunity after how many years. Didn’t he have a life? Could he really see her inner core or was he in love with an idea of her, in love with being in love? What kind of love was that anyway, “never an expression”? Isn’t real love about the nitty-gritty of living, working, struggling together, doing things for each other, not just feelings, not just in the head? That they had a long friendship at least speaks in his favour. It would have been worse if they had never really known each other.
But then on the other hand, this love was so strong that it survived the all those years and the many miles between them. The image of the orchid growing in the car junk yard was just as vivid at the end of his life as during his teenage years. He never touched and destroyed the orchid petals, the butterfly wings, like her other men did so his love for her (their love? - how mutual it was we don’t know) remained pure, so that in his old age it was the memory of her which was to lead him over the threshold to whatever lay beyond. Maybe he really did recognize her “bright and blinding inner core” possibly because it did mirror something god-like in him. His was a love unconfused by dependence or possession. He could love and yet not lay claim, love and let live, which is maybe the finest kind of love, the kind that flies across the boundaries of time and space. Who knows? It’s a mystery.
Philosophising aside there is some lovely language here, lyrical passages, stark contrasts between the trashiness of his teenage years and the impeccable image of his loved one; between the gaudiness of the Valentine’s Day baubles and the sublime nature of his inner reality. Beautiful moments as he jumps into the Atlantic and she maybe drops by unannounced….
A Cicada in the Shimmer
This is a thought provoking portrayal of psychological stress and tinnitus. The story is set one moonlit night and alternates between the boy’s troubled night of insomnia, fitful sleep and nightmares and the events of the evening before. In the darkness noises are magnified: the drilling of insects, the quarreling couple next door, the drum beat and chanting at MaDlodlo’s house all add to his mental unease.
The patchwork structure that moves back and forth in time, between dream and reality emphasizes the psychological shimmer where time is not linear and it is only at the end that we can piece together what actually happened: Playing hide and seek in the moonlight, Jemusi has a mysterious encounter with the girl Suku, which spooks him. He is unable to talk about it and feels dirty and unnerved. From his mother at the cooking fire he gets no sympathy. She teases him about his playmate Suku and adds to his insecurity with talk of witchcraft and of married couples trying to kill each other. Later his father comes back from work and little Jemusi falls asleep on his chest, but he doesn’t sleep well. Disturbed by a mosquito he wakes up still plagued by the events of the previous evening and then drifts off into a strange dream. In the end his mother, in a more sympathetic mood comes to check on him and sprinkles salt around the room to protect him from witchcraft.
Central to the story is the dream in which Jemusi meets with his father. They communicate telepathically while his father creates a new Jemusi in a new universe. They are visited by the witch who breathes a firestorm with the words North Korea - a reference to Gukurahundi, the killings in the rural areas around independence that his mother had witnessed. When he wakes he tells his mother he has seen the country.
Of all the stories I found this one in all its richness, the most difficult to analyse, perhaps due to the shimmer effect. It gave a different impression on every reading and will therefore surely mean different things to different people. What it made me think about is the stress we adults cause children by not listening to them, by not being able to talk openly and honestly about the facts of life when they need to know and most of all by the way we play upon their sensibility and frighten them into behaving the way we want them to with talk of witchcraft and other lies. This is a demanding and worthwhile read.
Quarterback & Co.
The heinous crime of napping on company time, Ellis the worm-charmer, the bees of Southern Antigua, all so wacky and cartoonish and yet somehow so believable. It had me chuckling so much that it could just as well have been my brain that the mosquito sucked a quarter out of. The idea was to try and treat these stories equally and find something useful and intelligent to say about each of them but I might as well admit defeat right away as I realize that no analysis of mine can add any value here, it is too good for that. So all I’ll say is that this story is just great and I loved it.
A Return to the Moonlight
All the expectations, tensions and undercurrents of a long awaited home-coming are recorded through the astute eye of Tendi. The magic of this story lies in the clarity of the characters, (which are made more universal and recognisable by the way they are usually referred to by their role in the family rather than by their personal names) and the way in which their interaction makes the reader squirm in their chair. Even the ostentatious jeep acquires a quasi-personality of its own because of all that its presence in the village represents and implies but also thanks to the fawning attentions from the villagers. While the focus is on the 4 main characters, the neighbours, like some kind of secretive Greek chorus, are never very far away. They are not paid too much attention but their presence does add an extra tangible layer of tension to the events being played out.
It’s not surprising that Ranga is so hesitant and ill at ease on arrival as he returns home after 10 years absence with his wife in braids, car, lap-top and “eye-pad” to his mother and sister living together in the skeleton of a house under a piece of plastic sheeting. There isn’t even a toilet. Explanations are long overdue but the ritual and formalities of welcome and the characters’ reluctance to express their real thoughts serve only to only postpone them and the tension unavoidably simmers up until breaking point is finally reached.
The real surprise and the hero of the story is Noma who is perhaps most disadvantaged. She has to face all the impossible cultural expectations of her new in-laws, who weren’t even notified about the wedding, share responsibility for the short falls of her husband, and it is somehow left up to her to make everything ok again.To cap it all she isn’t even Karanga, she is Ndebele. Despite all this she manages to charm her shrewd sister-in-law who at times barely manages to conceal her pent up frustrations under a veneer of humour and her mother-in-law who vacillates between exasperation at her son’s failings and a mother’s possessive protectiveness.
While I admired the Noma’s character I really enjoyed Tendi for her observations, sharp tongue and teasing humour. Mai was a harder nut to crack, chewing her lip, refraining from voicing her opinions, saying unexpected things with ambiguous meaning. Poor Ranga, the rather spoilt and pitiful prodigal son with all his technological toys, is totally out of his depth with all these strong women around and one can only sympathise with him. In the end it is his ridiculous tantrum that finally breaks the tension. Under the soothing light of the moon the power of familial affection creates a healing balm over all the old wounds, Ranga rediscovers his proper role in the family and peace presides.
This story came as if in response to some of my idle ponderings. I had noticed in several books that I had recently read (all post 2000) that the authors used a kind of themed set of references, unessential to the actual story but adding an extra layer of meaning if you were familiar with them. I also remembered two things our Lit teacher told us, firstly that knowledge of the bible and classical mythology was necessary to understand the references and allusions in English literature and secondly that the new important literature would come from the third world. Twenty years later I see that she was right on the second point but also that writers are no longer restricted to the bible and classical mythology for reference material. So what body of common knowledge could a writer from Africa use to spice their writing? Not knowing much about Ghana I had the kudeketera lines associated with the music of my home country in mind. These are poetical sayings or proverbs that are partly deep and ancient, partly improvised on the spot. Translated they can be hilarious, often having more than one meaning, or simply obscure, their original meaning lost in time. So with those thoughts hanging in my head, it was really fun to read a story with a very special Ghanaian flavour.
The story line, with a delightful spider and fly prelude is simple and classic and well fitted for this kind of embellishment. I liked the portrayal of the lovers’ friend, the villain as being so very cunning and devious and the portrayal of the two lovers as being so very pure of heart, so charmingly gullible that none of the words of wisdom have the slightest effect in helping them avoid their fate.
The description of the cultural setting into which Kweku was born was useful in anchoring the sayings of the elders that echoed through the lives of the main characters. Some of the proverbs were obvious and amusing like “the offspring of the snake could not be short” and the bone chasing the dog, others were trickier, like the one about the pregnant women and the coconut but the context in which it was placed made it possible to figure out the meaning. Some of the proverbs had an English origin like the one about the black kettle and pot, a sign of the inevitable blending of influences in a vibrant society but also a reminder that the English language with its literary forms and idioms is no longer the sole property of the Anglo Saxons but is being renewed, enriched and developed all over the commonwealth. All in all the story succeeds in conjuring up an exotic but recognisable world, an ancient oral culture in a modern setting that is as easily accessible to a young person who may have missed out on this particular cultural exposure as to a foreigner like myself and for those familiar with the Akan language I’m sure there are plenty of hidden depths to be appreciated.
This is a beautifully written story that captures the essence of two very different ways of life and describes how a spoilt teenage girl is suddenly touched with fire. Nana is typically self-focused and quite unaware of any existence outside her cushioned life of privilege, air conditioned chauffer driven cars, TV, servants, shopping trips to London. Her parents send her to visit her poorer relatives in the north of Ghana for the first time and she sulks and pouts all the way.
It is interesting to watch how the protective network of grown ups, both in Accra and in Tamale, panders around her. Her grandmother even gives up her bed to sleep on a mat on the floor. After having conspired to get her there, the grownups then seem to be in a great hurry to get her home again. Are they just anxious not to upset her more than necessary or are they afraid of something? What is it they are trying to protect her from? In typical teenage style she unpredictably elects to stay longer, much to their consternation.
It is through her crush on Rafik that Nana’s eyes are opened to beauty and she can suddenly see outside herself. She realises that her life in Accra is privileged but lacks beauty and meaning, the boys she knows are idiotic, only interested in the latest shoes. She also realises that life in Tamale especially for the women is hard with rigid expectations on how one should behave, “the only woman she’d want to emulate, was called names”. It is somehow when the two worlds meet that magic occurs. Yet there is danger too, to which she is oblivious. What does Rafik mean with his warning “Don’t let any boy or anyone spoil your plans”? Why do they say that Rafik is a dangerous character? Are they afraid he will take advantage of her innocence physically and the consequences of that or are they afraid that as he opens her mind and experience she will realise the price she has had to pay for her life of privilege, and that the door between their two worlds which they have kept shut for so long might suddenly be flung open...
What better way to end this anthology than with the poignant description of her return to normality, through tears and moonlight and blue swaying grass. Like Nana, we readers have also glimpsed enchanted new worlds and are forever changed by the experience.
"Title: African Roar
Editors: Ivor Hartmann & Emmanuel Sigauke
Publisher: StoryTime (2010)
Reviewers: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo and Richard Ali
African Roar is amongst the newest additions to the corpus of African literature and it comes as a breath of fresh air, quite like the soothing smell of morning at the start of the rainy season.
Edited by Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Siguake, both of whose stories (‘Lost Love’ and ‘A Return to the Moonlight’ respectively) are included in the collection, ‘African Roar’, a collection of eleven stories by eleven African writers, is a bold attempt at telling African stories with a striking new timbre and in a striking new form. We are pleased to note, unlike some of its predecessors, that it survives the twin-clasped evil lures. It is able to avoid the banal portrayal of Africa as a ‘country’ of child soldiers, flesh eating tyrant leaders and colourful catastrophes while equally escaping the intellectually dubious style of a blind romanticization of the past that has become the stock response to the first stereotype. But, it is not that the collection is devoid of themes that border on despair. There are tales on HIV and AIDS, domestic violence, superstition, colonial and present day State brutality etcetera etcetera. It is the style of writing, each coming across as being very aware of its involvement, that makes these stories distinctive. They represent a fresh perspective not just to approaching African writing but also as it concerns the way Africans are viewed by the rest of the world.
The stories are alive, heart warming and refreshing. The language is simple, the themes are far reaching and the individual styles, already alluded to, are as diverse as the continent, presenting a rich tapestry of colour and content. We immediately think of a modified Cecil Rhodesian comparison, that of an inclusive collection spanning from Cairo to the Cape.
‘African Roar’ is worthy proof that African Writers are not being left behind in the use of new technologies to meet their literary needs in a world that is increasingly ‘going digital’. Current global trends clearly show that ‘the Book’ as we have always known it, is in a losing battle of form to the digitized ‘e-book’. These e-books, usually in the pdf file format, have the versatility of either being read off computer screens or printed into the traditional book form, on demand, providing a cheap outlet for even more African writing. Further, the editors have forestalled the ‘trash-on-demand’ slur at e-publishing by doing an impressive job of editing. Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke seem to have by this synergy of skill sided with those who believe that a complement of both the ‘old’ and ‘e-’ forms of book publishing is possible and essential.
The eleven stories in this collection are true-blue products of e-publishing, having first appeared in StoryTime, an e-zine published by Ivor Hartmann. They were all selected via votes cast by StoryTime readers. StoryTime, for the three years it has been in existence, has become a watering hole for literary ideas and a meeting place for African storytellers, replacing the traditional village square gatherings. In all ways, this collection is a brave blow struck against the stereotype of Africa being a land to be looked back at; this collection stands at the very avant-garde of literature and the method of its dissemination.
Aptly named, the ‘African Roar’ roars incontestably, like a lion in the veldt, announcing to the world that literature is alive and well in Africa. Its presence boldly states that African writers are fast overcoming the lure to write to satisfy western readership determined publishing lists and are now fully exploiting modern techniques to meet the challenges of telling their local stories locally without confines, unshackled, just as literature should be. SN" — Sylva Nze Ifedigbo & Richard Ugbede Ali.
From Sylva Nze Ifedigbo & Richard Ugbede Ali in Sentinel Nigeria#2.
"Roar African Roar
The writers Ivor W. Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke have just co-edited African Roar, an anthology of some of the best and most popular short stories to appear on the online e-zine Storytime. Storytime, founded in 2007 by Hartmann has quietly established an enviable reputation for showcasing and supporting the works of young and emerging African writers. As a debut volume of what the editors have promised will be an annual production, it does not disappoint. I must say that I am pleased with what my eyes devoured. This is an eclectic collection of short stories offering ample evidence that African literature is alive and well. New talent rises every day from the dawn of yesterday's departure. It provokes thought in the sense that the featured writers challenge the reader's notion of African literature, physical boundaries, and indeed, who we are. Tradition splinters like fragile egg shells as the authors experiment with new forms, and new ideas. It is not always successful, but you come away entertained and informed.
The stories showcase the dizzying and relentless movement of restless people, and Africa stands, seemingly caught in the crossfire of human anxieties. There are all these stories gently excavating African experiences for the world to see. It is refreshing that African writers are beginning to look inwards at the various shades of African-on-African crime ravaging our continent. Welcome to a generational shift; you will not find pot-bellied generals, flinging idealists out of Africa’s windows. Africa is on the move, slowly, perhaps, hopefully, away from deadly caricatures.
Who are these writers? They are mostly young and unknown writers from Nigeria, Ghana, and Zimbabwe; however they are united by their digital citizenry on the Internet. They all live on the Internet, anecdotally, at least two hours of their waking lives. They are also restless, enduring a Diasporic existence way from their land of ancestry; in South Africa, the UK and the USA. There are eleven pieces in this volume and there are so many to adore. As Masimba Musodza demonstrates in the story Yesterday’s Dog, there are still shadows of past struggles; however, they are fading in the consciousness of young writers even as they feel somehow obligated to document the past. The piece Big Pieces Little Pieces by the Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma exposes the tyranny and dysfunction of today’s patriarchy. It is a dark, disturbing, albeit evocative piece on the insidious effects of patriarchy, alcoholism, marital and child abuse on family and community. One is taken aback by the plight of women and children in Africa caught in domestic and civil wars that they did not ask for. This is a promising short story that could have been greatly enhanced if Tshuma had worked a little bit harder to provide an unpredictable ending. But it is a nice story, nonetheless. Ayodele Morocco-Clarke proves to be engaging and funny in the tale The Nestbury Tree about the ravages of the new Christian evangelism. It is slow getting to a climax but it gets there nicely. Ivor W. Hartmann’s Lost Love showcases evocative emotive prose poetry as the main character reminisces on the lost possibilities of a lost love. Its power is in its ability to connect with the reader on a personal level.
Everybody should read Beaven Tapureta’s, Cost of Courage and Christopher Mlalazi’s A Cicada in the Shimmer. They are bold and innovative experiments, apocalyptic, visionary, touching, and brilliant: Dambudzo Marechera, meet Ben Okri. In these stories, there are all these pieces of brainy matter soaked in inspired lunacy. Kudos to Mlalazi for delivering rich deep, intense prose, and for innovation; in his story even inanimate objects become handsome and personable characters. Charming. Magical realism is not my thing but this was engaging. In all the creative mayhem, the poetry hangs in there, showing all the possibilities of the bold thinker. In Behind the Door, Kola Tubosun deploys his trademark penchant for teasing the wondrous out of the ordinary in a cute story about waiting for the results of an HIV/AIDS test in Nigeria. The suspense builds up, perhaps dies, too suddenly. Regardless, it is an affecting story. Chuma Nwokolo’s trademark funny cheekiness is on full display in his piece Quarterback & Co. It is a thoroughly British story. This is boundary bending work. It could have been written by any equally gifted white Briton. Nwokolo is a Nigerian immigrant in Britain. We are the sum of our experiences.
Emmanuel Sigauke’s story, A Return to the Moonlight, sitting smack in the middle of the volume, richly anchors the collection. It is a haunting commentary on the journey away from our being: The shift from the African self continues and finds expression in attitudes, affectations and even in the self-deprecation. The neediness is neatly captured. In Tamale Blues by Ayesha Harruna Attah, the clash of cultures is palpable; the African culture looks positively impoverished compared to the infinite possibilities of what comes from the West daily. It is a lovely little story about Africa - using prose that shows promise and a liberating boldness. It is more than a longing for the flesh. It is about longing and lust for the fast food that passes for Western culture. Eventually the exile breaks down and starts munching on crumpets and sipping alien teas. And we are all impoverished and diminished by it.
I salute Hartmann and Sigauke for sharing the gift of their vision with the world. It is not a perfect production; there are editorial issues that hint at the voluntary nature of this production. Some of the stories are not quite successful; I thought Nana Awere Damoah’s story Truth Floats was an awkward, if inchoate adaptation of ancient Ghanaian folklore. In future editions, resources permitting, it would be great for each story to be accompanied by a review or analysis. This volume breaks down walls. Hear the fences crack and crash protesting the stampede of restless dreams and goals. It is a good thing. The writers ask: Who are we? Chinua Achebe says we are Africans, we are people. And I say, we are the sum of our lived experiences and we will tell our stories as we remember them. Yes." - Ikhide Ikheloa, arts critic, writer and journalist.
From Ikhide Ikheloa at Nigerian Village Square.
"African Roar - A review by Zeblon Nsingo
African Roar is a unique collection of African stories. This anthology tackles a lot of issues which people hardly talk about. Selected from the Story Time e-zine, the works are from both established and budding writers.
The first story, Big Pieces,Little Pieces by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma , immediately breaks the silence on domestic violence. The protagonist, an unnamed child, pieces together various incidents in her life which later turned out to be tragic.
But then, Kola Tubosun quickly shows us that solutions can just be a door away. In his story Behind the Door, a young man takes a life altering decision when he goes for an HIV test. Myths and facts are fused as the young man waits to know his status. You just have to read on to find out what happens to his fear and confusion as the moment of truth descends on him.
Memories of war are triggered as Stanley meets an ex Rhodesian soldier in Masimba Musodza’s story, Yesterday’s Dog. Stanley desperately needs to take revenge on this now defenceless soldier. He soon hatches the perfect plan as the enemy boards his car.
The Nestbury Tree is a nice fusion of Christianity and tradition. Do witches really exist, and if so, would they dare enter a church compound? Do belief and prayer give us what we want .Find out in this gripping story by Ayodele Morocco-Clarke.
Beaven Tapureta’s Cost Of Courage takes us through the struggles of jobless Kenny and his friend – brother, a poet - as they strive on their companionship in a ghetto of Harare.
Memories of a past love in Ivor W. Hartmann’s Lost Love are delivered to us by an aging man on his deathbed. The point of view makes one realize just how some memories will only be memories and need to be celebrated as such since age cannot be undone.
Memories can be very bitter too as experienced by Jemusi in Christopher Mlalazi’s A Cicada In The Shimmer. His innocence is violated in a game of hide and seek and these memories haunt him, coupled with the superstitious beliefs of MaDube.
African stories would be incomplete without mention of greed and self-aggrandizement. Chuma Nwokolo’s QuarterBack & Co tackles the issue of company politics, the need for more money, though I felt the story just ended abruptly somehow. This I attribute to the voice of the narrator who seems to be having some mental problems due to a poisonous insect sting earlier on.
Expectations are high in Emmanuel Sigauke’s A Return To The Moonlight as Ranga returns from the Diaspora with his new bride. The narrator, his sister, is quick to point out that “We were not greedy or anything, but it was high time people saw that my brother had spent many years overseas for a good reason.”
We get a taste of University life and betrayal in Nana A. Damoah’s Truth Floats. The escapades of two contrasting characters, Kweku and Akoto, who are roommates at the University College of Amenfi make an interesting tale.
The last story, Tamale Blues by Ayesha H. Attah reminds us that we don’t always get what we want in life, but that can be the best for us. Nana’s visit to Tamale is not something she looks forward to but when she gets there she meets the pleasant Rafik and gets comfortable.Maybe too comfortable according to her grandmother and other people in the compound.
Watch out for African Roar, published by StoryTime. The book will be out soon and these stories will leave you asking for more." - Zeblon Nsingo, writer and reviewer.
From Zeblon's at ZebbCreatives.
" African Roar - A Reader's Review
Title: African Roar
Genre: Anthology of Short Stories
Pages: 156 (e-copy)
Year of Publication: 2010
Country: Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, African Diasporans etc.
My reading this year has not not been as I expected and so I was glad when I found an ecopy of this upcoming book in my inbox for a possible review and having been a follower of StoryTime, a registered magazine/ezine, where all these began, I became even more happy to realise that the electronic versions of the stories have, finally, been put into print.
African Roar is a collection of eleven (11) short stories written by Africans or individuals who have lived in Africa for at least 10 years or who are Africans by naturalisation. The stories ranged from domestic abuse to political vendetta to ruings about love and the cycles of life. It covers many aspects of life as Africans.
The anthology opens with the story 'Big Pieces, Small Pieces' by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. This is one of the pieces I had read before at the blog. BPSP deals with the abuse of a family by the husband and father of that family. It reminded me of Adichie's Purple Hibiscus, yet it was strangely different from this. For in BPSP little innocuous things like a Che Guevara T-Shirt or a Jacaranda flower soon becomes noxious and forebodes evil. The fall of a beer jug leads to the death of a mother, the arrest of a father and the disintegration of a family. The imagery of the story is sharp and it etches itself into the reader's mind with a force that matches no other. BPSP is a chilling piece told in a chilling way without it being too emotional but good enough to draw emotions and goosebumps from the reader. The writing addresses the reader and places him at the very spot where the action is taking place.
The next story after BPSP is Behind the Door by Kola Tubosun. Behind the door is a story about someone who wants to know his HIV/AIDS status. Though the events in the story could have happened in less than 10 minutes, the writer packs enough suspense in the story to such an extent that you begin to feel you were the one testing for your status. It paints the exact picture of the torments an individual goes through when the news he is about to receive has equal probabilities of being bad or good and more so when his very actions points to the former.
Yesterday's Dog is one of my favourite (and Quarterback and Co). YD portrays the cyclic nature of life and the ever-changing positions we enjoy in life. It also asks a universal question, one that begs to be answered: are our politicians and our actions, presently, better than those of our colonial masters? YD tells of how in the sacking of the whiteman the freedom fighters became the fighters of freedom, doing unto the citizenry what they accused the whiteman of doing. It reminds me of a statement by Kamau in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's 'Weep Not Child': "Blackness is not all that makes a man. ... a blackman trying to be a whiteman is wicked.." (to paraphrase). After Stanley was falsely accused of spying for the whiteman he became a freedom fighter and when independence came was rewarded for his part in the struggle as an interrogator employing the very methods that were used on him on his victims. This story was set in Zimbabwe and I believe it is more of an allegory to the present situation in Zimbabwe. In the story both Stanley and the man who whipped him claimed 'they were doing their jobs'. Thus, though the tides have changed the conditions remained unchanged.
In Nestbury Tree (by Ayodele Morocco-Clark) there is the meeting of fate and faith. This story would keep you thinking especially those who see everything as divine. Yet, can the prayer of a church cause a tree, which has wrongly been accused of harbouring witches, to fall prostrate and even lead to the death of its owner? In the end I didn't know what to believe.
Cost of Courage by Beaven Tapureta is also set in Zimbabwe. It tells the tales of unemployment, youth dissatisfaction and frustration in that country but one that is representative of many African countries including Ghana and I can bear witness to this. Energy without direction. Potential without work.
Lost Love by Ivor W. Hartmann is one lovely story. Together with Nana Awere Damoah's 'Truth Floats' and to some extent Ayesha Harruna Attah's 'Tamale Blues', they remain the only direct love story in the collection. Thus, there is some sort of symmetry in the collection. Distress and Love; Dissatisfaction and Satisfaction. In Lost Love, a man in a home for the aged recollects the memories of a loved one, one he never held or had. It really is a lost love for at that point you begin to wonder what else can you do.
A Cicada in the Shimmer by Christopher Mlalazi has a psychological feel to it. It presents a daily occurrence in an interesting way. I have always heard the trills of cicadas in my ears, especially when I am in my room. I have closed my ears and tried as much as possible to determine if it only exists in my mind or it is real but I have never had the mind to put it into words. Are they the works of witches? This is a wonderful piece.
Chuma Nwokolo's Quarterback and Co is one of the very few stories I read on the blog page and it was one that I loved instantly. Emmanuel Sigauke compared it with Kafka and I disagree less with that comparison. QAC is one hell of a story. It is psychological and thrilling. In this short story, an insect sucked a quarter of a worker's brain. Get it? It tells of the stress that most Africans and many workers go through in Europe and the Americas to make ends meet or live a comfortable life. A life whose supposed comfort they never enjoy, for how can one enjoy life if one has to work 7am to 7pm Monday to Saturdays.
Emmanuel Sigauke's Return to Moonlight hits my heart and hurts me most. Most of the time after our sojourn in Europe we pick up behaviours that significantly differs from where we came from. For in this story a man, who has been cared for by his mother, refuses to live in his mother's house for fear of germs. However, the story is more than that. It also shows how later he began to realise the beginnings of his greatness, the period where he learnt by the moon light.
In Truth Floats (by Nana Awere Damoah), the dangers of friendship is brought to bare. Or better still the importance of being truthful is brought to bare. This story borrows a lot from our tradition and it is interspersed with proverbs and wise-sayings. The story is a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Truth Floats is a modern version of stories told by the fireside. Nana intricately wove the story and the final outcome is a story that would hold you to the end. You knew, whilst reading, that somehow this is what would happen but expect a surprise.
Tamale Blues by Ayesha Harruna Attah is a story that deals with the innocence of youth. In this short story, a city girl makes the tortuous and painful journey to Tamale to visit her grandparents amidst protestations only to realise that there is more to life than city living. This lovely piece ends a lovely collection.
This maiden anthology, which is going to be an annual affair, would have a place in your mind. It is an interesting collection and one whose stories we have all experienced in one way or the other and consequently is bound to live with us for a very long time. It is a good read and would recommend it for all no matter the age group.
ImageNations Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0" - Nana Fredua-Agyeman, writer, poet and reviewer.
From Nana Fredua-Agyeman at Image Nations.