As the first post in this month of love, February, CLR features DAVID ISHAYA OSU's review of To See the Mountain and other stories, the 2011 anthology of Caine Prize for African Writing. Read, agree, disagree and comment to further more discussions on the book – that is what a critical analysis is meant to do and our guest reviewer balances objectivity with powerful reasoning in a fruitful manner; this is really worth reading.
[A review of the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing Anthology -To See the Mountain and other stories]
With the incessant upsurge of young talented writers thriving in fiction writing, and the unbroken dedication to African Literature; the 2011 Caine Prize anthology paints a flamboyant and stunning picture of a non-wilting and non-withering garden of literature in Africa. Capturing several countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana; To See The Mountain And otherstories presents a visual rendering of the diverse cultures, occurrences,and assorted fractions of the uniqueness of the Africa continent. The fictional embroidery upon which continental issues are encircled, in this anthology, though peculiar not only to Africa, largely underlie the patois of a quarter of the African literature. The naked constructions of the short stories (2011 shortlisted, and the writers' workshop stories) featured in To See the Mountain, optically attempts to illustrate the overtly antecedents that assemble an Africaness; though some stories juxtapose universal situations and eccentric episodes.
To See the Mountain and Other Stories is the Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 anthology of short stories, with 17 stories authored by 16 African writers; relating to readers the varied realities surrounding African multifaceted characteristics. Blending talent, imagination and precision of themes, the anthology electrifies the reader with different tactics involved in the building of fiction as a genre of literature; albeit, some of the stories in the anthology pollute the atmosphere that label literature, which certainly can be attributed to idiosyncratic grasps of the literary medium and perhaps degrees of artistry. Nevertheless, in this collection a reader is dazzled by the submissions made by the authors in portraying invigorating and stimulating outlooks; apropos of the narrow-minded and bigoted perspectives about phenomena. Grippingly, the infinitesimal traces of catchphrases rooted in the fluidity and gracefulness of the anthology lures a reader, just as it lured me, in believing that Literature is indeed full of life; although a 'dark' presentation is staged by the thematic portraitures, garbed in undertones, in quite a number of the stories.
From the 2011 winning story, Hitting Budapest, the Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo employs the autobiographic style of narration to put in pictures chapters of a squad of ambitious juveniles who stubbornly escape through Mzilikazi Road from Paradise, to reach Budapest just to steal guavas. What magnitudes of gratification will the juiciness of guavas assemble? Yet, this singular adventure encapsulates the centrality of varying themes.This conceptual influence admittedly forms the solidness and intrigues of Hitting Budapest. NoViolet busies her readers with vistas of fiction by producing scenes that manufacture a sense of veracity in the story, letting the characterization do the intact story-telling. And suspense, created by the mixture of talent and fine syntaxes and splendid imagination, leaves the reader stimulated to meet the end of the story just to know what might happen as the juveniles reach Budapest. Will they find the guavas as they thought? Upon disobeying their parents, what will be the consequence of their act? Yet, what they behold while returning diverts their desires from guava to weirdness. Hitting Budapest moulds a saddening graphic sculpture of the wide gulf between the typical poverty-stricken child and a moneyed character.
Botswana Lauri Kubuitsile, with her shortlisted In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata, develops a comical upshot of the death of Mcphineas Lata in the Nokanyana village. Here, startlingly, death becomes not just an agonizing subject but a thing some people [frustrated and infuriated husbands] revel in. Effervescent as this story appears, though incongruous through the eyes of Puritanism, promiscuity eventually gives birth to matrimonial revolutions as to the theory of bedding in a home and the entire village. Could this narration be true about the 'matrimonial beds' of Africans? Well, the reader is left to form his opinion on that.
''Who is this child of a Hyena!'' was the exact scream that poured out from my mouth when I saw Child of a Hyena by the Malawian Shadreck Chikoti. Adopting the fisi or hyena custom to infuse misery and melancholy into the ritualistic fragments of an African ethnicity; Child of a Hyena beautifully invents a caustic account of an Immigrant who discovers that Saide the village drunkard and polygamist, is actually his father and not Bwande. This admixture of sterility and paternal intimacy, spawning a radical trauma; momentously gushes out the fictional stunt, which irresistibly welds the inquisitiveness of the reader to the enthralling pulsation that is intrinsic to the storyline. What delight will his marriage to a foreigner-Danish-be, considering the sullenness of being born of a scornful custom? Could it be the reason why he inadvertently has not given birth?
Cameroonian Monique Kwachou's Afritude, displays a tale of a baffled mother (living in America with her daughter) whose daughter, she thinks, has wandered away from the African attitude. She, Elizabeth, the daughter to 'Ms Frida, Tambe or Ma Fri as she is commonly called is 'tired of hearing her' mother 'complain about' her 'so-called' attitude. She 'had left Cameroon at the age of five' and 'hated it when' her 'mom spoke of the place as though it was heaven, when' she 'distinctly remember(s) it as a step up from hell.' Elizabeth is sent back to Cameroon to attend a boarding school; a strategy by her mother to refresh her African ideas and flush out that of America. In Christian Remedial High School, Elizabeth gets the bitterest tastes of her life, as against the pleasures she enjoys in America and the freedom she thinks she'll get by leaving her mother.
From the title it is suggestive of what one will set eyes on, in Ayodele Morocco-Clarke's The Menagerie of the Accused. Mama Edem gossipingly informs Ekanem that Ekanem's child, Kufre, is a witch:
''I overheard Kufre telling Edem that she always eats in her dreams.'' (p. 152)
Udo, Mama Kufre's son suffers epilepsy, and dies some nights later. And new agonies blow the family. Mama Edem warns Mama Kufre that there is more to all the ugly situations tormenting her family unit:
''I just came to warn you as a friend. People who eat in their sleep are witches. I am sure Kufre has a hand in all the misfortunes that keep befalling your family. You have to find a way to counter her before she finishes you off.'' (p. 153)
Mama Edem whispers to Mama Kufre. In hustling for a solution to her inconceivable but ostensible reality, Mama Kufre is escorted to a 'solution centre' where Pastor Inyang confirms that Kufre is indeed a witch. But will Mama Kufre afford to let her only child's, after Udo's demise, admission into the dull, grimy and disgust-painted 'bizarre building' [owned by the church Pastor Inyang heads], which harbours supposedly horrible juveniles indicted for witchcraft, where the goal is to eject the evil-clad spirit out of them? From the tone of narration and fair manipulation of sway; much a keen reader digs out, in my estimation, is Morocco-Clarke's submersion of her impression about the mystical imprint of witch-craft. Or, an invitation to get people into re-considering the postures that are manufactured, upon uproars of legend.
SPLODGES OF CREATIVE GLORY, AND LITERARY DEBRIS
One leading trait in most stories of the 215-page anthology, in my opinion, is the masterly attempt by the authors to forge an ambience of believability by inventing blatant cogency with hues and haze of witty intrigues. It is on this-intrigues-the triumph of the anthology largely reclines; as the heat of spells emit and spear readers, thus readers' curiosities are tantalized.
In spite of this success, much a keen reader sees in the anthology is a journalese-splattered writings shrinking the modicum patches of literariness knitted in some of the stories. Monotonous and unadorned lexis is what the anthology is bodily dressed with. What freshness of ripened literary expressions would one pluck from a work should be a major item in any literary labour.
Check out these expressions from some stories: From What Molly Knew -''some body shot her'' (p. 21). Of what essence are figures of speech and imageries, when expressions as this betray the seductive glows of literary language? ''What do you do when your only child is dead?''(p. 21). And I ask why euphemism is an ingredient of literature. From Child of a Hyena- ''I go downstairs and wait for her on the living room couch. She does not show up.''(p. 95). What differentiates this expression from the common and everyday expressions? Isn't literature supposed to be ad infinitum novel, and in addition be a senior advocate of jargon exploration? ''somebody calls from behind me.'' (p. 95).This is disgusting to the intellectualism of literature. From No Blood, No Slaves- ''The sultan is old.'' (p. 106). Where was metaphor, or even simile, when this sentence was penned? ''It was well past midnight.'' (p. 111). Okay; so there's no single element from the 'evening' that can represent or better sound with, allegiance to literature, that the time was midnight? From Bottled Memory- ''Fresh sweat from her neck drips on her pillow.''(p. 138). Why not hyperbolically tell us that the body of her pillow was rather wetted with the downpour of sweat overflowing from her neck? ''I cannot forget my son, she says…'' (p. 139). Who on earth, especially Africans who go crazy for want of a child, will forget his child? From The Lost Friend- ''I was lonely and withdrew from them, but…'' (p. 161). What is the role of 'lonely' in the sentence? If one is lonely, isn't it because there is no person to talk with? Perhaps, what the author intended are the feelings of 'loneliness' as the prevailing ambience of the narrator. Still, from The Man with the Hole in his Face and Dark Triad, are more over-diluted and flavourless expressions oozing uncontrollably.
It's not all about unearthing flaws. There are as well fine expressions that stimulate the genitals of one's literary inclination. From The Menagerie of the Accused- ''The sun played peek-a-boo all afternoon; darting behind clouds, then re-appearing when it got tired of its silly game.''(p. 149). How can it be said that the sun played a game meant to amuse children? You may want to ask. But this is an unmitigated staunchness to the personification trend. From In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata- ''the fragility of my bones.''(p. 44). Also from Butterfly Dreams- ''You were skinny as a cassava stem'' (p. 50). ''Your feet were cracked and swollen.'' Beside the exterior picture, there is a cryptic connotation of abattered life nay splitting or crumbling fragments of life.
EAVESDROPPING ON THE UNDERTONES
The similitude of undertones, reverberating from the plot of themes inherent in the panache of writings in this anthology, blatantly bares the African cadaver. More drab and pathetic images of the African continent are what the anthology has succeeded in excavating. A vigilant voyage through the deftness in the stack, one discovers the delineation of Africa as an old hand at dark and awful ventures. Carnivorous cultures, incest, fanatical penury, milieus hostile to pursuance of bliss, etc; all of these, form the frame on which the African picture is moulded. It is left to the reader to decipher which depiction is unblemished or mendacious.
In deciphering Hitting Budapest, one sees a picture of moral decadence plastering the visage of African children whipped by poverty. Thieving is what I mean. Fictionalizing IMF, AU, and SADC as streets; and narrating that, that is where the children have got to steal guavas from; I am tempted to pronounce that there, the mannerism of Africans who seek to migrate in pursuance of greener pastures is captured. Yet, it becomes worse as these children choose to hit these streets to steal and slake their unkillable thirst for guavas. Guavas as used in the story, suggests greenery or satisfaction. While, IMF [International Monetary Fund], AU [African Union], and SADC [Southern African Development Commission] unambiguously imply the seductive establishments Africans especially the pseudo-leaders flee to, to do the thieving and embezzlements. This fictional depiction, in a way, is a sheer mockery of the covetous and materialistic temperaments displayed by some people not only in African but the entire world.
Also in Child of a Hyena; No Blood, No Slaves; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pastor; Afritude; The Menagerie of the Accused; are buried multiple undercurrents of pique towards anomalous trends. And this core spirit inbuilt in the collection has succeeded in fortifying the anthology.
As noisy as the undertones sound, over-crowding the intrigues in the spellbinding stories, one is tempted to interrogate or prosecute the perceptions affixed to Africa as a continent as well as the position of the literary enterprise. Shouldn't a segment of literature be given to the task of mirroring the ills of a society and as such mending the hostile and common perception about that society? Then; why the merciless crucification of Africa, as flaunted in To See the Mountain and not any single attempt to inject optimism or hope for a healthier Africa? While devotion to utopian writing would not defile literature, I think African writers can detach a large flesh of dystopian writing so as to set in motion a process of painting other friendly and lovely sections of the African continent, without blinding their eyes to a dysfunctional society.
Aside from the denominating of Africa as a deadly shore where the brightest of suns rain darkness, a reader is entertained with the breezy and glittery sharpness surrounding the collection. As a victory, To See the Mountain and other stories has unarguably demonstrated the diversification of literary skills, cultures, artistic acuities, etc; though the conformation, by the un-premeditated submissions of the writers to stereotypingis demeaning to the continent's sanguinity. Nonetheless, we await the flames and dishes from the Caine Prize 2012 shortlist plus the 2012 anthology, to heat up more polemics and sate the diverse bubbling thirsts of the literati respectively.
DAVID ISHAYA OSU was born on 27th October 1991; and he hails from Nasarawa State, Nigeria. He writes poetry regularly, some of which have appeared in several National Dailies, and e-journals. He won an Honourable Mention for a National Poetry competition in honour of Prof Remi Raji at 50. Aside poetry, he dabbles into short story writing; and he is as well, a Broadcast and Journalism Enthusiast. David is currently a student of Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State.