I nearly finished this, it was going much better than The Mists of Avalon, until near the end and suddenly the characters just made me so mad! And I'v...moreI nearly finished this, it was going much better than The Mists of Avalon, until near the end and suddenly the characters just made me so mad! And I've never gone back to finishing it, though I hope to someday.(less)
Never finished this. It's very long and highly detailed and slow. It's also no longer original, which made it boring and cliched for me. You really ha...moreNever finished this. It's very long and highly detailed and slow. It's also no longer original, which made it boring and cliched for me. You really have to read this older fantasy novels first, otherwise your expectations get too high! (less)
I rarely do this, but I have to face facts: I'm not going to finish this book. Maybe I could have another day, another time, a different place and...moreDNF
I rarely do this, but I have to face facts: I'm not going to finish this book. Maybe I could have another day, another time, a different place and mood, but considering I was reading this in April for the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge, I've run out of time and must admit defeat. Out of 247 pages I read to page 126.
Shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize), this story about a boy called Yusuf who is sold into the service of a successful merchant to pay his father's debts when he is 12, has much to recommend it and I don't in the slightest want to put anyone else off reading it.
Set during a time of European expansion in Africa - sometime before WWII, judging by the descriptions of the German's silver cross flag (after the war, Africa was divided up more clearly by the Europeans but before it, places like Tanzania saw several different colonisers - I picture them mapping their way through the land, deciding which bits they want based on the natural resources available) - this place that wasn't quite Tanzania yet is on the cusp of losing its pre-colonial identity. Through Yusuf's innocent, uneducated eyes we get glimpses and snippets of the presence of Germans, Belgiums and Brits, though most of the time the locals don't even know - or care - what country they're from.
Interestingly enough, though, the Indians seem to have largely "joined the other side", so to speak, and are practically native, with their own insights into colonialism. The clash of cultures is delicate, subtle and quite beautifully rendered, and entirely from the perspective of the Africans (at least up to where I read) in the days before the Europeans brought their own war to African soil. Take this snippet of conversation between Kalasinga, a Shiekh Indian who lives almost like a local (and is accepted by them), and Hussein, a shop keeper who lives in a village halfway up the mountain:
'In India they have been ruling for centuries,' Kalasinga said. 'Here you are not civilized, how can they do the same? Even in South Africa, it is only the gold and the diamonds that make it worth while killing all the people there and taking the land. What is there here They'll argue and squabble, steal this and that, maybe fight one petty war after another, and when they become tired they'll go home.'
'You're dreaming, my friend,' Hussein said. 'Look how they've already divided up the best land on the mountain among themselves. In the mountain country north of here they've driven off even the fiercest peoples and taken their land. They chased them away as if they were children, without any difficulty, and buried some of their leaders alive. Don't you know that? The only ones they allowed to stay were those they made into servants. A skirmish or two with their weapons and the matter of possession is settled. Does that sound as if they've come here for a visit? I tell you they're determined. They want the whole world.' [pp86-7]
But the novel itself seemed to be less about colonialism - at least directly - and more about the end of Africa's isolation from foreign interests and greed. As Yusuf journeys into the interior with the merchant, Aziz, and a large retinue of porters and guards, conversation and descriptions of landscapes become more and more about, well, paradise. Not having finished it, I don't have a complete picture of the novel and where it's going, thematically, but I wanted to at least share with you what I gleaned from the half that I did read. It's also about religion - namely Islam, seeing as the people converted to it long before the Europeans arrived - and paradise as a garden is the highest level of heaven in that religion. I can't even say if this is presented in an overly romantic or nostalgic way - it didn't seem so, but I'd need to read the whole thing.
As I said, I don't want to put anyone else off reading this. Where I struggled was with the prose. It's technically, or grammatically, an easy story to read, but my mind constantly wandered and the way the story's written, I found it very hard to visualise as I read, making it even harder for me to concentrate and focus on the story.
You know how sometimes you read a story that you loved and you say something like, it drew me in or I got lost in the story or even the more dull, I couldn't put it down. Those stories stay with us for a long time, and the magic of the prose lingers on in our heads - as do the images. This was the opposite of that, for me. I felt immensely distant from the actual story, by not the words per se but the structure of the sentences. It occurred to me at some point that this could very well be an African style of storytelling, which I struggled with because I'm so used to a European, or western style of storytelling. I'm not even sure that sharing a quote would help get this across, as there was no particular passage that alienated me and it all reads perfectly well. Maybe that's the problem: maybe it's too literal for me and so I had a hard time visualising. I'm sure a linguist would have a theory or two.