Timmy's Reviews > The House of Hunger

The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera
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Jun 27, 09

bookshelves: sub-sahara-african, favorites
Read in April, 2007


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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch You really liked this, huh? I'm reading Black Sunlight at the moment and so far I'm not convinced. There are moments, but they flare up and disappear so quickly they never entice me deeper. Don't much like the style either - clumsy, like. But maybe it'll improve.


Timmy Oh, I wouldn't disagree it's clumsy, scatterbrained, schizophrenic, mirroring his life, BUT it's authentic and there most definitely is a brilliance that works within those qualities. However, I can certainly see how someone would NOT agree. As a matter of fact, I'm somewhat surprised he ever received any praise at all. And I mean at all.

I actually have not read Black Sunlight specifically, so can't comment on that one per se, but most of his stuff is put together pretty haphazardly, unfinished, unedited....so anyone who doesn't notice that it's clumsy probably isn't reading too closely!


Timmy Off the top of your head, any African writers you like, Ben?


message 4: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch It's not just that it's unedited - actually I was wondering if it had been over-edited. I can take pages of drivel if every now and then things take flight for a few pages - look at Dostoevsky's The Idiot. But this just hasn't got off the ground at all yet. A line or 2 shows promise; the next line destroys that promise. But I'll try to make it through. I notice in another thread you said he'd written non-fiction too? I really want to read more African writing, but so far too often it seems half-baked. Talib Salih was good, but the point is made that he wrote in Arabic whereas many African writers wrote in a second language, English. I'd like to read some more translations from native languages.


message 5: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch PS: African writers are not my speciality, so any help will be appreciated.


Timmy Probably you are thinking of a reference I made to "From the Journal," which is in Mindblast and basically him writing about living and writing in the park (homeless). He's got a fair amount of one-act plays and poems as well, but I generally didn't take to them as much.

Hmmm....over-edited? I would be shocked if that was the case, but it was written after House of Hunger, his first book which did gain him some attention, so I suppose it's possible. And like I said, I haven't read Black Sunlight so I can only be general. I certainly am not one to think everything he touched was gold, far from it, but I do think his work catches an energy and a drive that is quite rare. But like I said, I'm always a bit surprised when someone agrees with that!

Drivel in Dostoyevsky? There's our crossroads! Ha!

Yeah, we probably read the same Salih (from Sudan), Season of Migration to the North is the one that is always read. I thought it was okay.

It's actually tough to find sub-Saharan writers who write in their native language. Most write in English, French, etc., the tongue of their colonizers. I think a lot of the African writers are really focused on their own cultural and social issues, so often times it may not be too appealing to you. Just guessing. Some like Wole Soyinka as one who goes beyond that, but he's never appealed much to me. The Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo also has won great acclaim, but I'm so-so with him. I like writers like Chinodya and Mungoshi who delve into social change and loss/maintenance of religious traditions. I like Mudimbe sometimes quite a lot, but he's more a thinker/philosopher and lit is not his first love. Have you read Coetzee? I'd say proceed with caution on him, but he does have some good work. I haven't read as much African lit in the last 10 years as I did in the past, so I'm a bit out of date with it myself!


message 7: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch C'mon, The Idiot (much as I love it) is half just casting around in aimless panic looking for the next source of inspiration!


Timmy Noooooo..........
Now I'll buy it if you tell me the Prince is just Fyodor's Jesus Christ-light, but aimless panic as a text? Yes, there are many a character who fit that description in nearly all of his books, but not as an overall text.


message 9: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Y'know I've been thinking lately that, in my opinion, people have a tendency to credit writers with way more control over their texts than they actually possess. Why is it surprising if some of Dostoevsky's own moral and financial panic finds its way not just into the subject matter but into the fabric of his text? More surprising if it didn't, I'd say, expecially since he was frequently struggling to meet a deadline.

As to Black Sunlight being over-edited, it was just a thought and could be totally wrong. But I was trying to account for the relatively smooth surface over the scattered, jagged undercurrent; maybe some Lish-like editor took a hatchet to it?

Yes I read Coetzee's Disgrace and it was OK but that's a different kind of African. Salih was just OK too, I agree. And Soyinka, so far, I can't get into. I'll look into the others.


Timmy Can't disagree on that first paragraph. We tend to think what an author does is wonderfully devised, thoroughly composed, from a standpoint of gracious and complete control. But it's bullshit!

Well, since it was the one after House of Hunger, you may be on to something with Black Sunlight. That would have been the exact point in his career that someone would have tried to mold him!

Yes, agree on Coetzee. And despite him having a lot of crap, there are a couple I thought were very well done. Not sure you should spend a lot of time on the African writers; they may not be your gig. Like I said, I often came to/at them from a cultural and social standpoint as much as literary.


message 11: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Yes I'm not sure either, but I'm still curious and will keep trying sporadically. Bessie Head, Achebe, that guy who wrote Petals of Blood - I've started a novel a piece and not been able to get into them. Could it also be the publishers and/or prize-givers and/or western critics who favour the socio-political writers because 'topical'? Or is it just that poverty crushes your higher aspirations to 'pure' poetry? I tend to think maybe the former, but what do I know?


Timmy Well, I'd say we have to remember their literary history: an oral tradition with more focus on tall tales, myths, parables, epics, etc. And then you don't really have anything that I can think of written in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries there, so it's a bit of a new field when the 20th century comes around. With that comes more copying of European forms as well as a focus on writing about "current" issues relevant to life experience---the first at the time being anti-colonial. Don't get me wrong, I understand where you're coming from and I wish there was more variety, in a sense, but I can also appreciate it from the cultural/social level as well. And to be honest, I don't mean to stereotype, but the African genius is much more oral than it is written, generally speaking. Maybe there are some more people writing in the last 10 years that I don't know. But,yes, Achebe, Head, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o primarily write about social/political conditions and issues, which again, probably isn't what you're looking for. Same with Armah, Abraham, Hove, Farah, I could go on and on. Some nations don't even have any literary writers that I know of or that have made the international stage. Poetry is also an option.


message 13: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch I would like if more of the tall tales, myths, parables came through (as with Bush of Ghosts, for eg, or even The Famished Road much as I found it overrated). And I suspect writing in English isn't helping them to access their own traditions. Have got some Soyinka poems at home at the moment but haven't looked at them. If you discover the African Kafka or Felisberto let me know!


Timmy Absolutely! It seems logical and apparent that they would utilize it, but outside Tutuola it doesn't seem to happen. Some claim Okigbo's poetry was genius, but I'm not sold on it. We are just waiting for someone to come along and knock us to Mars!


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