Short story – Nigeria

The folded leaf by Segun Afolabi

This is the first story in my new book Lusaka Punk and other stories; The Caine Prize for African Writing 2015.

As I was reading it, I was thinking that I don’t get short stories really. And then I finished it and wow – that’s some story.

I think I need to go reread it.

The story is about a busload of Christians travelling to see a healing pastor. But really, I thought, it is about seeing. Who sees what? How blind are the sighted, and how well the blind see what really is. And without doing a spoiler, is what we actually see even really what is there, and what we don’t see, not there?

It is also about accepting yourself and others for what they are rather than chasing some solution that probably doesn’t even exist. The fact that these people needing healing are traveling in a bus over rutted roads, while the pastor has aeroplanes and other trappings of wealth is not only probably actually exactly now it is in real life, but also a commentary on the exploitative nature of evangelical healing religious people.

I am going to have to think about this story and reread it, possible a few times, to get everything Afolabi packed into it.

So much in just under 22 printed pages – well done Mr Afolabi, you may have changed my mind about short stories

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Iceland: Tainted Blood

(also published as Jar City)

Arnaldur Indridson

Tainted blood

 

This is a murder mystery written by an Iclandic author, and set in Iceland. I have read a lot of crime stories, usually American or European, and I found the basic premise of how crimes are investigated quite different in this book. Iceland is a small country with a small population, and this knowledge people have to almost everyone else (by far fewer than six degrees of separation) played an important role in this mystery.

In one part of the book they talk about the fact that in the previous year an alarming number of women had gone missing – 13 of them in total. This kind of small community fact reminded me of the foreignness (to me) of the author’s experience of life – the very point I am doing this project.

 

A man is found dead in his flat and through the investigation of his murder, all sorts of family stuff emerges, both of the dead man and the investigating officer. Put a little medical intrigue into the mix and a much younger partner to the gruff older investigator, and the story pretty much pulls the reader along.

 

I found the writing very sparse though – kind of like I think Iceland might be. But that may be a question of the translator rather than the author.

 

An interesting murder mystery but it didn’t make me rush off and buy the rest of Indridson’s books.

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Japan: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales

Yoko Ogawa (author) and Stephen Snyder (translator)

 Revenge

I really enjoyed the stories in this book. The eleven stories are all connected to some degree. In some cases the characters are shared and the connection is clear and obvious. In others, the connection may be as slight as characters walking past each other, or living near each other. But by the end of the book, a full circle has been achieved and the interconnectivity of everyone made vivid and relevant.

This of course makes it easy to look at the book as a reflection of society and how we are all connected, not to mention the fact that we all see only our little piece of life with no idea at all of the larger picture. All of which is true I guess.

The stories include a murdered husband, a deformed dancer, fingers in a tin in the veggie patch and a missing plastic surgeon. Each story is fabulously dark and the way they all hang together is clever and wicked.

But for me the most amazing part of reading this book was the way I read it. I kept having to remind myself that the characters, as created by the author, are all Japanese. Not the western characters of my mind.

The first story takes place in a bakery. Of course I immediately had a French bakery in my mind, with curved glass displays and everything. (In my defence, display shelves are described thus in the story.) Just as I was meandering down a cobble-stoned avenue outside the bakery, the reference to the characters which described the pastries being blurred and illegible dragged me back to Japan with a thump.

After this had happened two or three times I started watching myself and noticing when I wandered off into Europe or Africa, and noticing when I was pulled back. No character is ever described in term of hair colour or eye colour; occasionally someone is described as tall and often described as white and/or with very shiny hair in a very complimentary way. This is not how the characters of Western writings are made familiar to the reader and the difference was very interesting to notice.

This book really satisfies the original reason why I started this project in the first place. And the stories are really worth the time spent reading them too.

The whole collection is well worth reading. I am really glad I have two more of Ogawa’s books waiting to be read. But I shall delay that pleasure until I have forgotten to remember the setting is Japan again and can be re-reminded. Again 🙂

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the process: facets

The silver lining to my Winton disappointment is my rather duh moment when I realised that most countries will need more than one book.

There is no way I can read a Winton and tick Australia. His blond, blue-eyed sun kissed version of Australia in not the only version that exists of that country. Australia, like most countries, if not all, have many facets, many angles, many disparate experiences; each valid and unique.

Rabbit proof fence and other books of Aboriginal origin have to be included for all countries where applicable for this project to mean anything. I would be livid if someone read Spud and then considered South Africa ‘done’ so I can’t do the same to other countries. 
I think i just expanded this project exponentially. Yay and oh dear in equal measure

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Australia: The Riders

The Riders

Tim Winton

the-riders

 

This book is about a man whose wife mysterious but of her own volition, vanishes.  After travelling around Europe for years, Jennifer (the wife) convinces Scully (the husband) to stay in Ireland, buy a house and set up home for them while she goes back to Australia with their daughter, and unborn child, to sell their life there and return to join him.

When he goes to the airport to fetch them, only his previously chatty but now pretty much mute daughter is there alone.

And so begins a two week crazy trip through Europe searching for her.

I really did not like this book at all. Maybe I have never been so crazy in love that I would do what Scully did. Maybe the anger I felt at him for getting so drunk two nights in a row that he lost track of his 6 year old in Amsterdam was out of proportion. Maybe also the fact that the reader knew no more than Scully jarred with me. Possibly as a reader I am used to some omnipotence.

Whatever the reasons I did not relate to him at all, I didn’t like him or even care about him at all, and I did not respect him at all. I know you do not need to like characters but you do have to connect with them, even if the connection is not a comfortable one.

What I do know is that I am looking desperately for a me-reason I hated this Booker short-listed story so much rather than a Winton-reason.

And what the fuck were the ghost riders all about anyway?

I have read other reviews to try to work out what I missed and why I didn’t connect to this book at all and it seems it is all about the darkness of marriage and stuff. Or something.

I don’t know

And sadly I don’t care

 

I am off to reread Breathe and to read An Open Swimmer so I can love Winton again.

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currently reading: Tim Winton – The Riders

Reading yet another real book. Tim Winton The Riders. Have read and loved Winton before. This one is not set in Australia so it’ll be interesting to see how his Austalianness is evident. He has already said something is as obvious as a dunny in a dessert so I am feeling confident this apparent mystery will also make me smile.

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DRC: The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods

The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods

Jamala Safari

The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods

This book tells the story of Risto, an unwilling child soldier from the DRC. He is kidnapped and forced into a life of brutality and unbelievable cruelty, is lucky enough to be left for dead and so is rescued and is free, and then leaves the DRC to travel overland to Mozambique. Risto’s stoy is not that of an actual child soldier (this book is fiction), but he is any one of thousands of child soldiers across Africa.

The details and events in this book were harrowing at times; I found myself reading with my shoulders pulled away from the book and my eyes scrunched up as you would view a scary movie. It is not that the descriptions are vivid or graphic, but the casualness with which truly awful events are described is in many ways even worse.

I am still disturbed at the idea of cutting someone’s arm off. Who does that? And how? Shudder.

I am also haunted by the fact that the child soldiers are called Kidogo – the Swahili word for small. That even those in charge of these youngsters acknowledge right from the onset that they are small, little, young, kids for goodness sake, makes what they do and what they have become even sadder.

Risto suffers from terrible PTSD once he has escaped the militia. Across Africa, kids like Risto are part of a lost generation. They have seen and done things no one should see or do, least of all youngsters. Boys murder and maim, and girls are raped, beaten and owned. And all with very little possibilities of a peaceful resolution. It is so very sad.

The last few chapters of the book feel more like a fairy tale than a reasonable story of the 21st century. From a purely literary point of view, they probably let the book down. But in some ways the ending proves the point of the sadness of the whole story, the monumental loss experienced by these kids and the countries of and continent of Africa as a whole.

The fairy tale ending of the 17 year old Risto, and I assume to some degree the author, is so much smaller than the fairy tale endings comfortable safe teenagers have in the luxury of their educated, warm, well fed lives. When a young teenager is ripped from his family and forced, at the threat of his own death, to kill other youngsters, childhood friends and even family members, just being safe and warm in a sleeping place with a roof must seem the ultimate happy ending. The very little that was offered as the ultimate, and largely unbelievable, happy ending of the book was heart wrenching in its very littleness. People deserve the right to believe in the possibility of more.

This skinny book is a quick but not easy read. It is worth reading and will linger long after you put it down.

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