Tuesday, 31 December 2013

“Indigo” by Molara Wood








By now, you should know I delight much in the short story genre, more so when it is a collection or an anthology. I already said that many times. Here and here are just few of the times. It is therefore with a certain glee that I approach every short story. So, when the writer fails, I scream, frown and sulk loudly. When a book is good, you say it. When it is otherwise, don’t cower and make many ruin money on boring sentences limping on gummed papers called a book. Children are suffering in South Sudan and you are there buying hopeless books. This reviewer will always say it the way it is. Good stories fly over, around and everywhere, begging for readership every day on the internet. And free too. So why buy a book just for the spending? Molara Wood’s Indigo is a reader’s pleasure. Not just for the spending. This reader tells you so. Truth and simple. Don’t just tut-tut. Read a copy to prove me wrong. However mixed my feelings are towards a number of pieces in this collection, some are total delights. To the few spoiler-stories, that isn’t surprising, going by the number of stories in the collection. Seventeen short stories. Too many if you ask me. Seventeen pieces mixed with pleasure and the lows.

Indigo is angry, subtly shrill and stinging. Many of its characters are interesting stock victims of familiar crises: polygamy, barrenness, social insecurities and female objectification, just to mention a few. My familiarity with these crises is deep. If your married sister has never returned home crying, sobbing through catarrh and cursing marriage, you won’t know Idera in “Indigo”. Forget it. My familiarity with those crises is deep. Indigo groans loudly of women secretly licking sores, gaining confidence, standing tall though bruised, wincing but still biting. These women’s battles are many. They confront the many pains punctuating the bravery of womanhood. Of intense pity is how many of them fight to making lives the ways they want them. In these fights, some are subtle and others ridicule cheap devilish tradition. These women want better and they thus work harder. With immense strains, some succeeded and others only become victims in foolishness. In this foolishness, you might find Maryam, Emily, Aunty Mina and Aramide’s mother. But this silliness is not total. It is not willed. In murky circumstances, they only desire to make their worlds better. And indeed, no human deserves lesser.

Indigo is angry, subtly shrill and stinging. Many of its characters are interesting stock victims of familiar crises:

“ ‘Actually the features are not quite set yet…It may be too early to tell who the baby resembles.’ The last few words dropped haltingly from her mouth, as she became aware of the frozen stares in her direction. Several women raised their eyebrows.
‘Excuse me, but what do you know?’ The aunt planted one hand on her hip and jutted out her chin at Idera
‘I am sorry?’
‘I asked you a question: what do you know about babies? How many have you pushed out?...
Bola shifted, adjusting the baby’s head in the crook of her elbow as she did so. ‘Aunty please…’
‘No!’ The aunt thrust a hand at Bola, whose mouth clammed shut. ‘Let me deal with this, this so-called woman’.  She poked the thumb of the other hand at Idera and enquired of her niece, ‘Abi, is this not the one that came from London and thinks she’s European? The empty husk you told me about, parched as a fallen leaf in Harmattan?’ ” (pg. 14: Indigo)

Pity;

“…A huge sum. As collateral, she left her daughter behind to serve as bonded labour.
‘I did it for you, my dear son. To pay for your primary and secondary education. To make you what you are today – the first educated man of your generation in this place. I planned to…reclaim my daughter within two years, but I could never get the money. And twenty years passed…’ ” (pg. 84: Girl on the Wall)

This book isn’t just another feministic bundle adoring women, making them angels, faultless and superiors of humankind. In this book, the women have their weaknesses and they are not hidden. Indigo makes the cheap a rarity of some sort. This is how you know when the stereotypical is handled well. No issues in this collection are far drawn.  

“Julie would never have come to Mother’s funeral. Not after the March day in 1989 when Mother came home with Mr Filanda, who dragged my fifteen-year-old sister into the back of his car as his driver started the engine. Filanda’s moniker was an alias. He was a known trafficker of girls to Italy. Julie was a trainee ashewo anyway, Mother sneered after the vehicle, let her go and see how professional Nigerian prostitutes do it in Europe…” (pg. 91: In the Time of Job)
It is almost clich├ęd anyway; we all know the grimes society rub on women. However, it becomes shared evil if one sees it stereotypical in the vicious ways society and misplaced chauvinism are slaving them. In this instance, ‘them’ is a devilish distant pronoun. I would prefer ‘us’ instead. When you slave a woman, some other world crumbles along with her. In Indigo, nothing of the women’s sufferings is trite. Though Aunty Mina’s immigration issue may sound over told, it is a trajectory of other bigger problems: Ade’s trauma and Angela’s family. Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters. Sariatu refuses to be Gani’s stopgap; Iriola won’t foolishly follow Kelemo downhill; Idera trashes around for redemption; Emily won’t go down without an effort; and Falode confronts her major calamity. These women won’t just give up. These women are all around us. We know them. Idera might be your sister. Falode could be your next door neighbor. And Sariatu a representation of all slowly dying subservient women. In Africa, women suffer, partly to ignorance, majorly to inhumane traditions. In this case, I would not see Africa as a continent, but a tradition and mentality inhumane to women. Darn traditions! This book portrays several domesticated evils.

Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters.
Sariatu refuses to be Gani’s stopgap:

“I cried as I rushed to stop the fight… But my hands disobeyed my voice when I reached them. I held our husband so that Clara could beat him all the more. I don’t know where I found the strength.” (pg. 30-31: Gani’s Fall)
Indigo’s women are fragile, hunted, but resilient characters.
Falode confronts her major calamity:

“ ‘Mother smiled at Alhaja. ‘Kerosene is cocaine, as my sister here is fond of saying. Husbands are dearer than eyes’ ” (pg. 150: The Scarcity of Common Goods)
With a few flash pieces interspersing the stories and offering brief exciting pauses in the reading, you can’t be bored. Moreover, the link between “Free Rice”, a flash story, and “The Scarcity of Common Goods”, a short story, provides a creative continuum. It is more like creating an interlude in a same story for sterling effect. What this achieves is a complex flux of different emotions in just a story.  You will like it. As your emotion is suddenly clipped off in the brief but engaging “Free Rice”, “The Scarcity of Common Goods” gets it all going again.  It is saddening however when you consider that same thing could have been done with flash fictions like “A Small Miracle” and “The Girl on the Wall”. Engaging notwithstanding as they are, I see them as frills just blowing in the air.

When they are many stories in a collection; some stories overfeed on shared themes and go whining without adding anything new. “The Last Bus Stop” explores the same immigration subject already touched by stories like “In Name Only”, “In the Time of Job”, and “Leaving Oxford Street”. For me, “The Last Bus Stops only swells the count. 

Molara Wood’s Indigo is a reader’s pleasure. Not just for the spending. This reader tells you so. 

Ok, I said that before. ;-)

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” by A. Igoni Barrett





This is how you know you have come to read a good book: you open the book and language sponges you in. Such book does not thrust stories into your face. No. it doesn’t. God eternally forbids I ever spend my money on any book with tepid language. Believe any theory you want about literature. Diction always is prime over stories. There are just no new stories. If literature is the mirror of life, then the stories it tells are the lives we already know. If there is anything different in a story, only attribute it to the writer’s creative twist. Nothing is new. My grandma is one engaging storyteller. If that woman knew what it was to write, she may have written the best fable rehash ever. Nothing was new in her stories, only the language entertained us. Igoni’s “Love Is Power, or Something Like That” tells nothing new. Its charming language makes everything as beautifully different. 

From “The Worst Thing That Happened”, “Trophy”,My Smelling Mouth Problem”, “The Shape of a Full Circle”, “Dream Chaser”, “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Godspeed and Perpetua”, “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh” to “A Nairobi Story of Goings and Comings”, these are pieces as true to the messy life we live in, the checkered presence we call life, living. Igoni only knows an engaging way to tell our stories and he does it good. It is all about language, reader. This book pulls it off very much in that regard. And you will soon find yourself owning the stories as if you had written them. Igoni serves his fare that well in this collection of nine stories.

The stories are revolting, funny, witty and entertaining in a numbing and exhilarating way. Realities could be wicked. The ways they are presented in this book are brazen and convincing. The realities in this book are jabbing but not new truths. Igoni only paints wicked realities and makes them fun all the way. Isn’t that what happens as one gets inured to known realities? We laugh them off. There is a thrilling panacea in laughing pains off. We laugh them off, we are relieved but they don’t go away. They stay with us. In laughter we only find a ridiculous way to cope with them longer. In this book, even the banal surprisingly gathers cuttingly entertaining strength. See “My Smelling Mouth Problem” and you would understand why I said so. This is the only thing you get in originality told in engaging conversation. Yes, Igoni’s book is conversational. It talks with the reader because the characters are true and the language engaging. In this book, Igoni’s words sing. 

Consider this interesting;

“He looked down at her, this weight in his arms. He walked to the bed and placed her on it. She whimpered, drew up her knees, and crossed her arms over her chest. He slipped off her sandals, pulled the blanket up to her neck, then turned on the air conditioner, switched off the light, and lay down on the carpet at the foot of the bed.
He couldn’t sleep. His imagination grew insect legs and crawled all over his nerves. He scratched his arms, rubbed his face, slapped at his feet. When the bug bites became unbearable on one side, he rolled over….
You don’t have to sleep on the floor, there’s enough space here , she said, patting the bed… (pg. 127-128)”
Abuses of the slow demeaning kind cut across the stories. In “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Trophy”, “The Shape of a Full Circle” and “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh”, there is no constant abuser. One moment, the abused is the abuser, another time, the abuser the abused. Abusers and the violent then become just terms for the acts and not permanently to identify their doers. Who is the abuser really: Dimme Abrakasa, the landlord or Daoju Anabraba? Joke or Babasegun? Shakira or her cousin? Adrawus or the uniform? Godspeed or Perpetua? Ascertaining this could really be a puzzle. It becomes quite easy when none is seen less guilty than the other. Everything is interestingly messy and it is in that foulness that all are connected. None carries a wholesale guilt. Everybody is as guilty as they are to be pitied. We only need to consider their circumstances. Or what will you say of the dream chaser, Samu’ila? Would his brother be more blamed than him with its many internet shenanigans? No. Perhaps. Confusing? Hahaha.

The stories in this book are looming and engaging as life. The pains are in chain of causes. Nothing is the uncaused cause. No one is blameless. I do not speak arcane philosophy here. It is what is. Life. If you decide to blame Ma Billie’s children for her near neglect in her old age, what will you say of the event leading to her husband’s demise and the dogs’?

I first came across “My Smelling Mouth Problem” as an oral short story. In its written form in this collection, it reads dull. I wouldn’t want to hold forth on the incompatibility of the oral to the written. Most oral pieces wouldn’t just remain the same in their written versions. This is where the written words, as we know them, fail. Try as you may, when oral pieces are transcribed, they are always as half enjoyable, half as solid. This is one reason most written Old English poems do not sound as good as their original oral forms. Go read “The Battle of Maldon”, “Beowulf” and “The Prologue and Franklin’s Tale” and also listen to them in rendition; you will moan their written forms. So when I came to “My Smelling Mouth Problem”, I knew it can’t just be as fluid as the published oral version. You should listen to the oral version of that story here. When you listen to it, you will mock the written version. With the excellent and profuse use of the Nigerian English, this story is smooth only in its oral version. God saves us from unthinking publishers. Nothing stops Farafina from including a disc of the oral version of that story in this book. Any cheap disc will do the work. That story is entirely whacked in its written form. When you listen to the preview of the audio version, you wouldn’t mind paying more to have an audio version of the story included in the book. And then they will still attend seminars and reel on making the book better. Isn't this one of the ways of doing so?

Could someone tell me what “Dream Chaser” is doing in this collection? We have read it in the author’s debut, “From Caves of Rotten Teeth. What is with republishing it here? The revision on it notwithstanding, it is like shortchanging Igoni’s earlier readers. I skipped it in this book. Just what would I do with a revised old story republished in a new collection? Whoever the editor is, republishing “Dream Chaser” is like having a sour mayonnaise sandwiched in soft fresh bread. 

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” is eloquent. Its stories are interesting. The writer’s voice is confident without belaboured. The stories in the collection grow on you. And you will like them so. You should read this book.


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Saturday, 23 November 2013

“We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo




“If you are stealing something it’s better if it’s small and hideable or something you can eat quickly and be done with like guavas. That way, people can’t see you with the thing to be reminded that you are a shameless thief and that you stole it from them, so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do in the first place, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country.” (pg. 20)
I fell in love with almost everything in this book. Above all, I swooned for its diction. It is simple yet engaging. You would too when you read it. Bulawayo really has an engaging way with language. In this book, the language is not just a means of communication but the stories, the characters even. The language becomes the narrator and the narrator just a character. In literature, this is what is called an indirect characterization. With it, we know the characters not only by how we are told they are but by their personal nuances. In “We Need New Names”, characters are mostly known for their language property. As Darling changes borders, as her life becomes less starved, as she begins living out her dreams, as she battles with adolescence and making meaning of her worlds and making memories of home; her languages are many. She is her words. Words really are character developers. When she speaks here you could tell who she is and her condition:

“We all find places, and me, I squat behind a rock. This is the worst part about guavas; because of all those seeds, you get constipated once you eat too much. Nobody says it, but I know we are constipated again, all of us, because nobody is trying to talk, or get up and leave. We just eat a lot of guavas because it’s the only way to kill hunger, and when it comes to defecating, we get in so much pain it becomes an almost impossible task, like you are trying to give birth to a country” (pg. 16)
And when you encounter her again here, you needn’t be told her world’s changed. Words are that revealing:

“The teasing stopped only when Tom joined our class; I don’t know where he came from but he came with these crooked teeth and long, greasy hair and these large glasses and this sad stutter. Somehow he made them forget about me and I almost felt like thanking him for it. I remember they teased him harder, maybe because he was a boy. I remember they always wanted him to fight and called him freak, which I had to Google since I had never heard the word before…” (pg. 106)


The book could appear grim at the start. As Darling, Chipo Bastard, Godknows, Sbho and Stina shuffle around in hunger, poaching around for food and managing boredom, everything is stark hopelessness. You may wonder who these children meandering around homeless and roving Budapest for guavas are. You may even question Chipo’s pregnancy. It is only when you get to Real Change that answers to those may be provided. The book does have its chain of causes well laid out. Nothing is desperate. Nothing is patronizing. When I first read Hitting Budapest, a section in the book, as a short story on the Caine shortlist, I wondered at the demeaning uncertainty it portrayed. There was just no backlink to the story. The story was just not convincing beyond the desperation to make horrible and enforce weepy characters. Then, I labelled it desperate. However, just as many were soon to discover with the publication of the book, I was in the wrong.  Perhaps, that is a big problem with submitting an excerpt of a longer story, of a book in progress, for a competition. But it worked for Bulawayo anyway. It gave her a winning and a head start for her new book. However, her critics were only done for with their tired sophistry and shoogly views, shrilling about how stereotypes in African stories must stop. SMH.

Bulawayo really pulls it off with How They Left. That part of the book does serve as a good plot divider. How They Left takes the reader into the changed world of Darling. In this world, we begin to see how everything gradually upturns in Darling’s endearing vision of America. And when you come to the next part of the book, titled DestroyedMichygen, subtle presages of what are to come to Darling are not lost on you. I just love this book! I hope somebody who’s read it does too. Do you? However, as the book sets in America, it begins bleeding itself as some parts only whine on and on about immigrant tired troubles. Really, I am already bored to anger reading these commonplace immigrant troubles. When you read a part like How They Lived, its pure bellyaching butt-scratching shrill is ordinarily obvious. Darn! What’s that really? It is just shrilling, squawking, and loud sulking. This here only wants to make you rip out some pages out in the book:

“How hard it was to get to America – harder than crawling through the anus of a needle. For the visas and passports, we begged, despaired, lied, groveled, promised, charmed, bribed – anything to get us out of the country…. And when we got to America we took our dreams, looked at them tenderly as if they were newly born children, and put them away; we would not be pursuing them… Instead of going to school, we worked. Our social Security cards said ‘Valid for work only with INS authorization’, but we gritted our teeth and broke the law and worked….” (pg. 240-242)
“We Need New Names” is filled with many themes evenly knitted with the main story. You will certainly relate with it. Of infantile innocence in terrible situations, of the longing for home and personal reinvention, of numbing oneself to pains and gaining newer experiences, of stitching cures in strange lands, of adolescence and hormonal confusion: there is a story for everyone. Really, you can’t just be bored reading this book. I could relate with Darling and her oyinbo friends. Mind you, don’t get me wrong. I am just one who also has once got teenage rampaging hormone. Hehehehe. *winks*

“I am looking at her purple high-heeled shoes and wondering how anyone can stand on those things. The boy comes up behind her, his thing like a snake in front of him. I reach forward and click on Mute because when the real action starts we always like to be the soundtrack of the flicks. We have learned to do the noises, so when the boy starts working the woman we moan and moan and we groan, our noise growing fiercer with each hard thrust like we have become the woman in the flick and we are feeling the boy’s thing inside us…” (pg. 201-202)
Have you read this book? Let’s talk about it. I want to know what you think.

*****

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·         Next on CLR: Molara Wood’s Indigo, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Igoni Barret’s Love is Power or Something Like That.