This week, Critical Literature Review is happy to publish another set of reviews in collaboration with StoryTime, a web magazine which showcases the works of budding and established African writers. The first story covered is Esi W. Cleland's "Choices" and the second is a story by Jude Dibia titled "The Visit". Both reviews were written by emerging writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, who is definitely a writer to watch out for in the future. Hope you enjoy reading the reviews.
ESI W. CLELAND
This beautiful piece of work tip toes across the page with a calm, subtle poetry adorned with a palpable texture. It tells the simple tale of the romantic relations between a ‘dark, tall, beautiful, witty Senegalese young woman’ whose skin ‘is the darkest of the black shades’ and a ‘Caucasian Alaskan boy of about the same age’ with very white skin that is ‘queerly mottled with moles and freckles and red blotches’. The author uses clear, simple English to weave an interesting tale with a beautifully lulling rhythm. The story is pregnant with vivid descriptions; the author lingers around skin and colour and uses these stark differences as a meaningful point of reference for both our protagonists. Amidst these animating contrasts there is also a delighted discovery of ‘shared experiences that transcend race, colour, culture, even social class.’ Their differences, which at first appear to be the adhesive that keep them together, also serve to accentuate their distance.
There is a disturbing line in the story, that sort of dangled before me long after I had tucked it back into this tapestry, which I believe has connotations towards the psyche of the black African which is perpetrated at different levels of our society- ‘Is he telling her that he likes her as she is, all her sins, borne of her blackness forgiven…’. This line leaves one wondering about the self-image of our female protagonist, but again, like many other morsels sewn in and left for the reader to half-chew, this little thread stops here. It is more like a subtle ‘food for thought’ tucked away in the meat loaf of this tale.
However, one disturbing thing which taints this story is the part where the tale, which is mostly in the present tense, makes a jarring shift to the past tense - ‘Time goes by and when she attempts to sever the bonds of their relationship, he cried.’ It further continues in the past tense and then makes another jarring shift back into the present tense - ‘One day, as she and boy
sat beneath the skies……, she imagines what her life might be…..’ Alaska
Romance and multi-racial relationships, like many themes, are not new, but it is the ability of different voices to view old angles with fresh eyes that gives tales their unique quality. I would say Esi W Cleveland’s voice is one of such fresh voices, able to give that taste of spring water to our parched minds as we devour down this story. She is definitely a writer to watch. A good read.
‘The Visit’ tells the story of Nduesoh, a black Nigerian woman from a poor background who is married to Edward, a white, rich English Tycoon. The story begins with a scene in which the couple are having dinner in the opulent surroundings of their hotel suite. We meet Nduesoh’s insecurities in the very first paragraph, where the floral arrangements of Tulips and golden Daffodils on the dinner table make her ‘jealous’ because she feels that their ‘splendour’ mocks her, ‘much the same way a prettier and younger wife would taunt the older wife without having to say a thing.’ Riddled with feelings of resentment and fermenting anger, this tale is bridled with black inferiority and its rejection of its culture and values in the face of what it perceives to be white supremacy. Nduesoh’s eyes view the world with an acid rancour which we learn has been with her from the days of sibling rivalry. She is the last born in her family, and resents her older siblings for ‘their good looks and the names they’d been given’. This part of the tale explores the significance of the meaning of names - What’s in a name? Particularly looking at many African cultures which believe that the meaning of a name may translate into the path taken in one’s life. In this light, it is easier to understand Nduesoh’s questioning anger about her name, which means ‘What have I done wrong?’ Everything in her world is tainted by jealousy, bitterness and resentment, from how she sees her husband, to how she sees her family, to the memory of her wedding day.
It is during this opening dinner that she learns that she has a visitor waiting for her in the lobby, in the form of Idara, her older sister. As it’s to be expected from this character, she is not happy with this visit. She hates the sight of her sister who sticks out like a worn rug in the opulent decor of the hotel lobby. We cannot help but feel sorry for Idara, whose warm and enthusiastic greeting is met by a cold and aloof response. It is rather amazing, this extent of loathing that Nduesoh has for her family - her lack of concern for them - which she perpetrates by dutifully but rather begrudgingly throwing money at them every month. Nduesoh’s situation is not unique to her alone; it is not unusual within those families among which poverty is rampant, to depend very much upon the affluent member who has achieved a form of wealth in life. A clash of culture comes into play here; usually those black Africans who attain wealth and opulence and therefore associate more with the opulent white Africans tend to want to adopt many of the white ways of living, which include a lot of privacy and exclusivity. In contrast, the black African family set up is woven in tight knots of inter-dependence where family members freely seek help from one another. Hence a wealthy member of a family, such as Nduesoh in this story case, may attempt to adopt white practices of exclusivity but face the frustrations and burdens of a family that, true to black culture, expects help whenever it is needed, which, in poverty, will be often. It is an interesting contradistinction in cultures.
I first encountered this story on ‘Zeotrope Virtual Studio’; it was a good read then and it is still a good read now. I like to draw parallels between a good story and wine; they never remain stagnant, but acquire a lasting value with time. Which is why a century later you find readers and scholars still pondering over them, drawing lessons and meaning and trying to analyse the mind from which they were born. The author uses very textural language to give us that taste of opulence surrounding Nduesoh, sort of like that feeling one would get by rubbing a piece of silk cloth between one’s thumb and forefinger. As this is an excerpt from the author’s upcoming novel, it is perhaps from the novel itself that we will get to better understand the justifications of Nduesoh’s rather disturbing and extreme resentment and bitterness towards her family, and life in general.
[Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a Zimbabwean student currently pursuing her studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,
. 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 Story Time ‘African Roar’ Anthology. Novuyo was twenty when she attained third prize in the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2008. Her short story ‘You in South Africa 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 www.novuyorosa.blogspot.com.]