Sunday 20 December 2009


This week, Critical Literature Review is happy to publish its first review in collaboration with StoryTime, a web magazine which showcases the works of budding and established African writers. Below, Nuvoyo Rosa Tshuma does a review of two of the stories published on StoryTime. The first story covered is Kola Tubosun's "Behind the Door" and the second is a story by Nigel Jack titled "Thinking Out Loud".

Should you desire to read fresh innovative African writers telling a plethora of fiction stories in all genres, StoryTime should be right up your alley. Until you do, enjoy the two reviews below.


If you were to decide write a story themed on HIV/AIDS, what will you think to write about? An emotionally charged tale centred on big-headed children lying in the dusty African soil with murderous ribs trying to stab through leathery skin? That little pep-talk type story about the guiles of sex and multiple partners? Or perhaps you’re one of those religious fellows who take the evidence out of a Holy Book in a bid to lecture lost souls towards their salvation?

Would you consider penning a simple, everyday-yet-not-so-everyday tale about going for an HIV/AIDS test? This is what Kola Tubosun did with his story “Behind the Door”.

What I enjoyed most about this story was its simple, down to earth straightforwardness; the way the author took this theme of HIV/AIDS testing and made it good story writing. This story does not do what many HIV/AIDS related stories I’ve read seem to like to do (I am a culprit to this very same trend I now criticize) which is to lecture, to pep talk, to emotionally blackmail, to act as therapy (though I would say this story and its theme of testing can be a form of therapy for some). This does not mean that all these tendencies are ‘wrong’, but simply monotonous. Anyone can shed a tear the first time they read a highly charged story centred around HIV/AIDS, probably the second time too. But after roughly ten readings of similar or identical stories, emotions tend to have dried out with the reader displaying a cynicism that does neither the story nor its author any good. Hence the saying about fresh eyes looking at old angles, or better still, exploring those other dusty corners.

‘Behind the Door’ tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who, while at a hospital decides to test for HIV. It reads rather more like an experience the author himself has gone through. Little things are given so much attention and detail that you feel the author is describing what he has seen or undergone. Our protagonist is calm and seems, before the test, to be deliberately attempting to dissociate himself from his feelings. His analysis, therefore, reads as having an intellectual tone to it; a detached observer of the things happening around and within himself. His analysis is at first centred on things other than the implications of the test itself e.g. there are alternating focuses on interalia - a previous experience when the protagonist was directed to the wrong room and therefore did not go for testing; another patient who is getting pre-testing counselling; the phlebotomist who is conducting the test.

Our protagonist is very observing and calmly so. It can be argued that he is perhaps too analytical for one in his position i.e. about to test for HIV for the very first time. This does make him rather intriguing, and perhaps helps the story in the sense that through him, one gets to learn quite a bit about the hospital environment; that testing environment. A more shaky character might have given a jittery picture of the testing environment and this also has a crucial effect on the aura of the story.

The author uses a straightforward story telling style combined with a controlled voice and well handled characters who are carefully manipulated to advance the tale. Every scene works well to give that sense of compactness; the author has a clear mastery of the voice he has chosen to assume and moulds a neat story dabbed here and there with tints of intellectualism. ‘Behind the Door’ will be published in 2010 in the upcoming StoryTime ‘African Roar’ Anthology.

The English employed in this tale is almost lyrical; one can tell that the author clearly enjoys the colourful play of words which he has beautifully utilised here. The first paragraph lures your attention with velvety scenes – “Our noises would sink into the early evening breeze like the lovely voice of cheese in our little mouths”. The language is never straightforward or direct; it is used to lull, to beat like waves, to palpitate with the rhythm of a sing-song heart. Every scene is artistic e.g. “The routine was too redundant and absurd for me. Surely it couldn’t be all about waking up to a dish of hot porridge hearing cattle mooing, birds chipping, cooing and hooting, watching dew melt away from green blades of healthy grass while appreciating the scent of a youthful morning as her skirts were being gently pulled up by the sun.”

Our protagonist dances around childhood scenes, prances around memories of his rural education, ponders over religious fanaticism and delights over the beauty of a woman. He is a philosophical fellow, our protagonist - taking time to sprinkle his musings with melody.

However, I do feel that the author concentrated most of his energies on the lyrical quality of his language, and sort of gave the storyline the back seat. The effect is that the scenes leap suddenly from one to the other in a rather untidy fashion, leaving the reader to grope around for the strings that link them together. The author touches on one issue, then suddenly leaps from this to touch on another, and just as suddenly go back to the first issue. This makes the story hard to follow. I found myself asking the question: What exactly is the author trying to convey?

The title of the story of course tells us that our protagonist is ‘Thinking Out Loud’, but even this form of ‘free flow’ needs a coherent format that the reader would be able to follow. If one is to employ a colourful fashion to ones writing, it would be better to also have a fairly clear and unconvoluted story line that can draw the reader in. It becomes rather tasking to handle the interplay of beautifully woven words with an unclear story.  Many readers can often be quite whimsical and rather weak willed; if it takes too much effort, lots of people tend to give up easily. This is the fine line that a writer must walk; expressing his artistic licence yet bowing to the whims of his readers. Readers are the masters and the writer paradoxically is a sort of liberated slave, playing on artistic persuasion rather than a pacificatory bondage.

“Thinking Out Loud” is a story budding with great potential, and again, I applaud the beautiful language.

[Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a Zimbabwean student currently pursuing her studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has had short stories published in young people’s anthologies in Zimbabwe, and has a short story in the upcoming BEDanthology by Modjaji Books (South Africa) as well as another short story in the upcoming in the StoryTime ‘African Roar’ Anthology. Novuyo was twenty when she attained third prize in the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2008. Her short story ‘You in Paradise won the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2009 and will be published in the next issue of African Writing Online Literary Magazine. More of her musings may be found at The Pen and I.]

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