I found this book at the library and brought it home because ANZ LitLovers had recently read The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, partly set in Nigeria, bu...moreI found this book at the library and brought it home because ANZ LitLovers had recently read The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, partly set in Nigeria, but not written by a Nigerian. While I don’t subscribe to the view that only those of a certain culture may write about it, I did want to see what difference it might make…
I read this when it was on the Booker Prize shortlist (2005?). It's a while ago now so I don't remember the details except that it was a different per...moreI read this when it was on the Booker Prize shortlist (2005?). It's a while ago now so I don't remember the details except that it was a different perspective on the 'new' South Africa after the initial euphoria and optimism had diminished a bit. Galgut is a fine writer, I recently read his The Impostor and it was great. (less)
Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda, is a brilliant book. I hope I can do it justice here.
The novel is set in an unnamed city in the dying days of South Africa...moreWays of Dying by Zakes Mda, is a brilliant book. I hope I can do it justice here.
The novel is set in an unnamed city in the dying days of South Africa under apartheid, between the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island and the relaxation of bans on Black political parties in 1990, and the democratic vote which brought Black majority rule in 1994. This traumatic transitional period was marked by violence which shocked the world community. The violence was inflicted by White supremacists determined to hang onto power; by tribal rivals competing for political influence; and by a still intransigent government which while publicly negotiating reform was behind the scenes provoking violence in order to show that the Black majority was too divided to assume power. Endemic Black poverty was made worse by political strategies on all sides: while the government continued to bulldoze shanty-towns to bully people away from city areas reserved for Whites, Black South Africans exercised the only political power they had, using their industrial might to impact the economy with strikes and stayaways – which worsened their own unemployment and hardship.
Appropriately, Mda tells his tale using the oral storytelling tradition of Black South Africa. For generations the voices of Black Africa were silenced because they were denied access to education and their stories were suppressed for political purposes. But as Mda shows through his omniscient first-person plural narrator, the community owns the story and it will not be silenced any more.
It is not different, really, here in the city. Just like back in the village, we live our lives together as one. We know everything about everybody. We even know things that happen when we are not there; things that happen behind people’s closed doors deep in the middle of the night. We are the all-seeing eye of the village gossip. When in our orature the storyteller begins the story, ‘They say it once happened…’ we are the ‘they’. No individual owns any story. The community is the owner of the story, and it can tell it the way it deems it fit. (p.12)
The right to tell stories is one of the themes of this powerful gem of a novel. There is a communal reticence about the ‘ways of dying’ - because to acknowledge intra-Black violence is to provide the government with political ammunition. For decades successive White minority rule governments argued that apartheid was justified because the country would erupt into tribal violence without it. So victims are under pressure to keep quiet, especially since reporting Black deaths to the authorities doesn’t result in criminal investigation anyway.
It all sounds rather grim, eh? But Ways of Dying is a love story, one that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. It evokes hope, not despair.
I read this fascinating novel for the Africa Reading Challenge hosted by Kinna Reads: Elechi Amadi is a notable Nigerian author who writes in English....moreI read this fascinating novel for the Africa Reading Challenge hosted by Kinna Reads: Elechi Amadi is a notable Nigerian author who writes in English. The Concubine (1966) is one of his five novels, the others being The Great Ponds, The Slave, Isiburu and Estrangement.
According to Wikpedia, ‘Amadi’s novels are generally about African village life, customs, beliefs and religious practices, as they were before contact with the Western world’ and this is certainly true of The Concubine. There is no mention of any western influences or events, and the novel has a timeless quality. The rhythms of village life seem eternal, and the routines immutable. Characters have speech patterns that reflect (presumably) old ways of thinking and talking, and they use greetings that seem charming, such as the call and response used when parting at evening: ‘May the day break/May it break’.
Before long the reader is captivated by this tale of doomed love.
Everybody knows the story of Winnie Mandela, venerated as the stoic wife of the world’s secular saint Nelson Mandela while he languished in prison on...moreEverybody knows the story of Winnie Mandela, venerated as the stoic wife of the world’s secular saint Nelson Mandela while he languished in prison on Robben Island under the South African apartheid regime, only to be vilified as a wicked woman in the last few years before his release.
This remarkable book, The Cry of Winnie Mandela, A Novel uses the story of Penelope from Greek myth, to analyse the untenable position of women whose husbands are absent for long periods of time. It’s written from a post-colonial and feminist view of the world, and it draws on all kinds of postmodern flourishes: •It’s faction, blending fact and fiction and using real living people; •It plays with intertextuality because while the references to Homer absorb the myth, it also will change the way you read the Penelope story (unless you’ve already read Margaret Atwood’s playful feminist reworking of it in The Penelopiad). It also alludes to a famous story called The Suit by Can Themba (1924–1968), a banned South African short story writer who fled to Swaziland and wrote about the frustrations of tertiary-educated urban black people. That story focuses on the extreme punishment meted out to an unfaithful wife. •It’s a pastiche, beginning on the very first page with ‘a blurb from an imaginary book about a South African woman during the long years of struggle against apartheid’. A blurb within the pages of a book: I haven’t seen this before. Here it is:
So what does a woman do in the absence of her husband, who is in jail, in the mines, in exile, or is dead, or away studying, or spends most on the road as a salesman, or who, while not having gone awywhere in particular, is never at home because he just busy fooling around? This woman has seen all kinds of departures, has endured the uncertainties of waiting, and has hoped for the return of her man. Departure, waiting and return; they define her experience of the past, present and future. They frame her life at the centre of a great South African story not yet told. This book tells the stories of four unknown women, and that of South Africa’s most famous woman, who waited. (p1)
Waiting for an Angel, by Helon Habila, is not an easy book to read. It’s a series of seven interlinked short stories, but after the first one, I put t...moreWaiting for an Angel, by Helon Habila, is not an easy book to read. It’s a series of seven interlinked short stories, but after the first one, I put the book aside for a little while, just to catch my breath.
Winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the Best First Book in Africa 2003, and also the Caine Prize for African Writing, Waiting for an Angel tells the story of a Nigerian journalist called Lomba, and it begins when he is in prison – where he has been for two years awaiting the trial that is never going to take place.
The Angel of the title is the Angel of Death, which haunts the story. As a naïve but idealistic young student visiting a fortune-teller for fun, Lomba decides that he wants his death to have some meaning. There are different kinds of death in Lomba’s Lagos, and the reader is left to decide whether or not Lomba gets his wish.
Whereas Liao Yiwu spares his readers nothing in recounting the horrors of a Chinese prison in For A Song and a Hundred Songs, Habila is more economical and understated. More is left to the imagination, which I found more harrowing, as in this excerpt. What was inflicted on this inmate, for him to be in this pitiful condition?
… an inmate, just back from a week in solitary, broke down and began to weep. His hands shook, as if they had a life of their own. ‘What’s going to happen next?’ he wailed, going from person to person, looking into each face, not waiting for an answer’ ‘We’ll be punished. If I go back there, I’ll die. I can’t. I can’t.’ Now he was standing before me, a skinny mass of eczema inflammations, and ringworm, and snot. He couldn’t be more than twenty, I thought; what did he do to end up in this dungeon? (p.15)
The less-is-more effect is heightened when Lomba’s diary ceases and third-person narration takes over. The diary is seized as soon as it is discovered, and as punishment he too spends time in solitary, the psychological torture exacerbated by the 48-hour delay between the diary’s confiscation and the long blindfolded walk to the cells.