Friday 31 May 2013

2013 Caine Prize Shortlist (1)

Caine Prize has in recent years gone from the overfed bizarre stories about Africa to stories that now relatively tell our stories. Since Africa is still confronted with the issue of social security, it will be more understandable that stories centering on social security and its attended consequences will not cease in the nearest time to come. In this shortlist, the stories focus on the daily economic struggles of simple living in the continent. In this case, I refuse to see Africa as a collective. And so, the shortlist will only be as reflecting the concerns of their individual locale. They have not represented Africa, they have just told a tiny narrative of the continent. There are still more stories to tell. All that is needed are more exploring narratives rather than cheap boring stereotypes. A greater part of the shortlist is poor. This is not of writing skill but of the stories they tell.  The only piece that escapes this shared laziness spoils itself with the need to justify its characters’ fate and actions. However, the 2013 shortlists are interesting in their simplistic plots. This is so, as most times, bland and common stories draw us because even the common is cheaply relatable.

The human survival is a theme central to all. The shortlist is seen telling the typicality identified with their different settings. And it is in doing this that some struggle with common banality in their telling. One evil of retelling stories so common to us is the inability to distance such narratives from the stereotypes embedded in them. So, if creativity must come to bear, a masterly twist is useful. And that skill does not naturally come with storytelling. We all tell stories. But only a writer with the consciousness of brevity and diction does the job. We are already familiar with most of these stories.

I quite find most of these stories preachy and intrusive. The writers are too inclined on showing what is from what is not. They should know; a piece is mired when its messages are pushed to the reader’s face. That is the snag about Neo-classicism in literature. The Neo-classical ideal does not just work in these days of internet writing. Let’s figure out the meanings ourselves, don’t shove them down on us. Another common problem with many of the stories is the intent to achieve justification too quickly. That is what happens when a story starts off with the aim to compare two dissimilar things as observed from a number of the stories.

2013 Caine shortlisted stories are just readable but not original. There is a seeming desperation to the stories they tell. They are too forced. I am not satisfied as a reader. What matters now is just the prize to be won and not the imaginativeness of the stories. For me, just a story makes it pass ordinariness of characterization and stock narratives. Just one.

“Miracle” – Tope Folarin

This story does not tell anything new. This entry makes me question the quality of the over ninety stories that didn’t make it up to this stage. The plot is so dull and too simple. It is ordinarily a story about the religious deception and the credulity of those caught in its wiles. Again, the predictability of the story is a bore. One quickly knows where the story is leading to. Nothing is hidden. And even the attempt at humour falls supine. It is just so riddled with the usual protesting small talks about Pentecostalism.

The old man’s, the visiting pastor, show is melodramatic and tired.

“ ‘We must continue to pray ladies and gentlemen! There are forces here that do not wish for this to be a successful service. If we are successful in our prayers that means they have failed! They do not wish to fail! So we cannot expect that our prayers will simply come true; we must fight!...
But in order for your blessings to be complete, you will have to pray today like you have never prayed before. You will have to believe today like you have never believed before. The only barrier to your blessing is the threshold of your belief. Today the only thing I will be talking about is belief. If I have learned anything during my visits to this country, it is that belief is only possible for those who have dollars. I am here to tell you that belief comes before dollars. If you have belief, then the dollars will follow.’”
Nothing is done to uplift the clich√© catch-utterances and this spoils it deeply.  Nonetheless, there is a reprieve in the laboured twist ending the story. I can imagine Folarin sweating sore to achieve that as the main writing mismatches the creative end.

“Foreign Aid” – Pede Hollist

Immigrant stories rarely interest me. There is an uninspiring pile of them already. Anyone who’s seen the other side wants to tell some stories of that side; of how it is different from here or of the little worth in going there. Is such stories, what you are after are quite different from the brilliance of the stories. You know it is always the usual stuff where dissimilar experiences are compared. Pede’s diction saves this story for me. His descriptions are fluid. They tangle. That is so much consolation for the guessable storyline.

Balogun, an American citizen by sweats and hell returns home after almost twenty years. Everything at home wears a blatant change at his arrival. He is put off by the situation in his country and suffers a great inhospitality by the cavalcade of a Serra Leonean Minister. At his home front, Ayo, his deformed sister is transformed. Visitors are aplenty, his fanny pack is fast sagging. A failed tryst and some dollars left, he boards a plane back to America. Of some of the smooth descriptions, these court repeated reading.

“A few steps away from the doorstep where Logan stood, a man walked up to the building, whipped out his member, and sprayed the wall in a slow circular motion, as though he were watering a lawn with a hose. He shuffled back a couple of times to escape the splashback when his discharge hit a high orbit. After he finished, he vigorously shook the member, tucked it back in with a samba dip of his butt, and zipped up his fly. He gouged up a huge glob of spit and deposited it at the soaked base of the wall. The man turned to leave, saw Logan, flashed him a kola-stained grin, and skipped away, lightened and relieved.”


The second part of the review is now available Here


  1. Very curious to see 'The One'!

  2. I wanted to search for the books to appraise them myself. However, what eludes me is how ineluctable those scenes they create weave webs around our encephalon which makes issues tangle enough to make us discombobulated.
    nonetheless, the fact that they did go far in the competition spells out they might, not in all veracity, have a chance at being more creative. I'd say creativity stems from man's zest to be more probing.

    1. They are not books, they are shortlisted short stories for The Caine Prize For African Writing. For more info and to read the stories, check here:

      Thank you for reading and do visit again soon.

  3. Great review, Joseph. I have no interest reading any of these stories. I'm really tired of reading most stories coming from Africa. A story, in my opinion, should entertain the reader. But these stories don't entertain; some of them sound like an essay, with a storyline and characters and settings added, then called a STORY. Even the novels aren't exempted. Must a book or short story always be about 'issues'?

    Kaykay @

    1. Thank you so much, KayKay. I will still ask you read these stories. It's certainly true most of them are quite a bore. But reading them may give you a different opinion.

      I like your book blog. I just saved the address now and would always visit.

    2. You're welcome, Joseph. I'll check them out and read later. I hope to drop by here more often and read your reviews. Nice blog, BTW.

      Kaykay @ The Creative Forum

  4. I've read the stories and have my thoughts on my blog. I have to confess I noticed the socio-political bent but I didn't find them distracting, it may be because I'm a first timer when it comes to reading stories as 'Caine' or 'African' stories. I'm not a reviewer per se, just someone who enjoys reading.

    1. I did not only find the bent distracting, the stories' predictability bored me. I read your thought on "Foreign Aid", that's an interesting review. And thanks for the links to the other reviews of the same story on your blog, they were helpful.

      Thanks for coming here to read.