Sunday 27 June 2010

The Literary World Quakes With African Roar[s]!!!!!!

This week, Critical Literature Review Presents Joseph Omotayo’s review of African Roar. African Roar is an anthology of short stories featuring 11 stories by 11 African writers. It is edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann. Enjoy!

It is true that the meekness of a dock is greatly feared because it does not connote weakness; no one knows when it is brewing a plan to take revenge. But also, when a lion roars to declare its alertness in the forest, tell-tale trees bow at the rushing wind that comes with its roar. The roar of a lion is not only to restate its commanding nature, it is to send shocking waves to any being that might have lost its track that it is very close to the territory of the ONE who controls all.

When partnered writers across Africa roar with a common pen that is filled with ink from the cauldron of struggle and nature, it is to herald the dawn that will put an end to the era when Diaspora writers sew strings of fictitious words together based on what they have heard from an uncle, relative or a friend; making it clear to them that the story of a man is more true and intact, without being refined with hearsay, when it is told by him. The book, “African Roar” is a literary collaboration of 11 writers from different countries of the continent, who speak with the common synergy to tell the past, present and continuing-present of African stories.

Some things are rather left unbroken, but when they break, just like the shattered shells of an egg, piecing them together might spell more gloom than necessary. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s ‘Big Pieces, Little Pieces’ adopts the voice of a suggestible minor to paint the irresponsible and domineering nature of the male chauvinism of our patriarchal society in the most demeaning manner. The story is a written-capture of Mama (Grace), who is always suppressed from making her feelings known to her husband, Baba, due to the latter’s tantrum. She is bowed, cowed and tortured by her husband, who will never stop at anything to dish lashes to her. Baba, Grace’s husband, is made to throw the most destructive and anger-consuming of his tantrums when the carelessness and recklessness of Jabu’s sister, one of their children, turns Baba’s beer mug into an ‘artistic’ debris of ‘Big pieces, Little pieces’. The second person narrative style is used in the characterization of this story. This technique absorbs the reader throughout the story without distancing the story from the reader; making the reader a ready participant and witness to the story being told, rather than being a removed observer.

Even when Kola Tubosun is relaying an over-told story of HIV/AIDS that should not have whetted any special reading appetite in ‘Behind the Door’, his mastery of creating suspense as a writing-skill pays off greatly in gluing the reader’s attention to it. In ‘Behind the Door’, one’s mind is moored to what the climax will be for the character, whose courage in the journey through a HIV/AIDS test can be best described as a ‘suicidal step’ to ascertaining wholeness. The character’s heart string almost snaps when a few minutes of waiting for his test result becomes an eternity. Tubosun’s way of narrating the story without muddling it up with unnecessary flash-backs eliminates the banality that is normally associated with such a story .

In ‘Yesterday’s Dog’, Masimba Musodza connects the brutality in the colonial era with the fierce ‘democratic’ oppression that exists in the post-colonial dispensation of Zimbabwe. When an oppressed subject assumes the position of a commander, then, there are a lot to be feared. With the brutality that is meted to Stanley Chipatiso when he is maliciously reported by Mhunga to the authorities as a magandanga (national guerilla) because Stanley refuses to marry his daughter, it is vivid that the white colonialists wreaked great havoc before leaving Africa. In this story, after the independence of Zimbabwe, the game becomes the hunter when Stanley wields great power as a secret interrogator. He comes to the position of avenging the bites that yesterday’s dog (the colonial masters) leaves on him. Through the bestial activities that are carried out in the Central intelligence Organization, the place where Stanley Chipatiso works, the reader learns that the independence of Zimbabwe  is still submerged in self-imposed colonization and quasi-slavery by the indigenous government.

Over the decades, it has been proved that religion commands more clout than any legal institution. The battle is set for the taking down of the Jericho wall of the Nestbury Tree that won’t allow the faithful to get to their Promise land in Ayodele Morocco Clarke’s ‘The Nestbury Tree’.  The Nestbury Tree in the narrator’s mother’s house is the cause for the tug of war between the Shepherd who wants to take down the tree that he perceives to be a coven for witches because all matter of night birds take shelter in it at night, and the woman (the narrator’s mother) whose relic of love and power of her late husband is the Nestbury Tree. The narrator’s mother is resolute on stopping the elders and the shepherd of the church in destroying the only piece of life that reminds her of her loved one, the narrator’s father. The clout to resist the shepherd’s misguided moves is borne out of the fact that the facility that serves as the church is her husband’s property. The rift in this story is settled  in an earth-quaking manner. The story autobiographically sketches the mixed-raced background of Morocco-Clarke as words like Kingston in Jamaica, ‘Ekaale’ a Yoruba word and Lagos in Nigeria are used. The way the writer experiments with the Yoruba proverb shows that she has lost touch with proper use of the language. The proverb that would have read as ‘Afefe ti fe, a si ti ri furo adie’ (the wind has blown and we can now see the fowl’s bottom) now reads as ‘Afefe ti fe, furo adie ti wanita’. The story almost becomes languid towards the end when the well sustained suspense is too stretched, even after the end has been known.

No matter how heavy and weighty truth might seem, it will always float when it is thrown into the ocean of lies. Kwetu M. Ananse answers true to his name as the spider (Kwetu) when he spins a cob of webs around his prey in ‘Truth Float’ written by Nana Awere Damoah. He never allows the over-matured coconut (Ama Adoma) to fall on its own accord, as he desperately and deceitfully wins the love of Ama Adoma, the fiancée of Akoto, his bosom friend. Isn’t it true that when you leave your meat in custody of a cat; it as well as giving the meat as meal to the cat? Akoto is naïve to have entrusted his fiancéeto Kwetu when he travels tothe United Kingdom to slave away after their (Ama Adoma, Akoto and Kwetu’s) graduation from the University College of Amenfi, in a bid to seek greener pastures and come back to marry Adoma with the ‘peanuts’ he is able to gather. Akoto stays a year longer than the two years he had promised. He returns home with the hope of conjugal bliss with Adoma, but he’s shocked to see Adoma turns Kwetu’s wife. The knowledge of the law he garners in the UK becomes his potent weapon against Kwetu. Nana Awere Damoah skillfully shows how interesting the act of African story telling could be when it is not with gratuitous use of hifalutin phrases. The story is never labored as the reader’s interest sticks with the story to the end. The piece is a compendium of African proverbs and turn-of-words.

After 10 years of education and survival in America, Ranga returns with a wife (Nomathamsanga) that cost him a $5000 dowry in the story ‘A Return to the Moonlight’. Ranga is disappointed when returned to a house in a serious state of disrepair despite the copious amounts of money he has remitted back home to have it prepared. Ranga’s home-coming is a mix of sorrow and celebration; the gap which education has put between Ranga and his family further widened. Mai, Ranga’s sister, can’t understand the sudden change civilization has brought on her brother. Ranga’s distaste for the deplorable state of the house his family sleeps in and the rottenness of his country, Zimbabwe, becomes known when he tells his mother that he and Nomathamsanga can’t sleep in the plastic-roofed uncompleted building because they need to charge their phones, his laptop and his ‘eye’ pod (iPod).

The ‘Cost of Courage’ can be so demanding when its ultimate price may claim one’s life. Beaven Tapureta narrates the retrogressive effect caused by the dictatorial leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the inglorious touch the unsettled Power-Sharing between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangaria has on the economic situation of the country and its citizenry. The struggle for life in a desolate and economically stripped Zimbabwe is precisely and succinctly shown through the dream Kenny has in the beginning of the story. The uneven and negative stratification of classes in hunger and inflation riddled Zimbabwe is also made clear through the reverie of Brother, Kenny’s friend. ‘Cost of Courage’ projects the unsightly condition of a ghetto life in Zimbabwe in a more horrible manner when the story reads -

The ghetto was nothing but a community of empty clothes, littered dust streets, slapdash houses overstuffed with misery, and toilets which get more visit from cholera victims…. From somewhere, one or two houses away, I heard screams likely to have been from a girl muffled under the heavy weight of a father-businessman-politician-church-leader-AIDS-sucking-fucker!”
The price to pay that weighs more than one’s shield and sword in a battlefield is sometimes to sprint for escape when one still breathes.

What readily comes to the reader’s mind in Chuma Nwokolo Jr.’s ‘Quaterback & Co.’ is the inhumane treatment of staff by highly corporate organizations, who strive to remain the best in the cutthroat competition of executive profiteering. In the story, a quarter part of George Franz’s brain is imaginarily sucked out by an insect, and he is declared redundant and later shorn off his job.

Ivor W. Hartmann’s ‘Lost Love’ is a man’s recollection of his past in a muddled present. The story is the day-dreaming infatuation of two lovers. The transition from the past to the present shows great creativity at work. It is closer to reality yet far from it as the man at the centre of the story hovers between ‘here’ and ‘beyond’.

The ambiguity of ‘A Cicada in the Shimmer’ makes it impossible to form a one-sided inference from the story. Through the view of a child in the story, Jemusi, the writer is able to uphold one’s conscience as the most efficient police of a person’s actions. The trill and the ear-piercing tone of the cicada and the mosquito that frequently disturbs Jemusi is more of the ambush of his conscience and mind than it is real. The allusion of murambatsvina (which means Operation Drive Out Trash or Operation Drive Rubbish) in the story, makes one recall the divisive Zimbabwean government campaign in 2005. The campaign which is adopted by Mugabe, is a crack down on illegal housing and commercial activities, as a way of reducing the risk of an infectious epidemic. The hacking of a suppressed groan which later turns to the shrieking of a battered man under the clamp of a woman heard by maDube, Jemusi’s mother, explicitly explains how freedom can be attained in the most inconceivable manner.

Ayesha Harruna Attah deftly melds themes of social inequality, identity-loss, resignation to fate, and sexual ecstasy in one precise briefly written story in ‘Tamale Blues’. The deep crack of social inequality between the stricken poor and the rich is seen when Nana, the AIS city girl, who has never stepped out of Accra, visits her paternal grandma in Tamale, the northern part of Ghana for the first time. There is no more apt way of explaining her encounter than this:
“Two set of steps led to two doors, both green at the bottom. Nana hung her  towel and sponge on the nails… and headed for the other room. A heavy stench hit her as she entered, accompanied with low intermittent buzzing. In the middle was a concrete ledge with a hole. There were brown stains around the hole. Nana couldn’t believe such a place existed. She dashed out, trying not to throw up…she wondered what she had done for her parents to punish her”
There is no gainsaying the fact that African Roar’ is a huge success in pooling together various writers across the continent, whose writings conscientiously reflect the true African story. The book, African Roar, which is indeed a debut in a series of an annual anthology from StoryTime, has opened a vista of 'windowless' opportunities for African writers to tell their own stories irrespective of their status and social profile, since the stories will always be drawn online from submissions made to ezine StoryTime. What should be worked on by the editors of African Roar in subsequent publishing should be on how the book will be available for wider readership aside from the internet. This will avail readers who do not have internet access (like those in advanced countries) to lay hands on it. There is indeed an African connection in the themes of the stories that are featured. For all those who have only read a true African story from a writer once at a time, this book gives you the commixture of stories written by variously skilled Africans. Just go get yours now!
(The writers of the book are; Novuyo Rosa Tshuma: Big pieces, Little pieces, Kola Tubosun: Behind the Door, Masimba Musodza: Yesterday’s Dog, Ayodele Morocco-Clarke: The Nestbury Tree, Beaven Tapureta: Cost of Courage, Ivor W. Hartmann: Lost Love, Christopher Mlalazi: A Cicada in the Shimmer, Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.: Quarterback & Co., Emmanuel Siguake: A Return to the Moonlight, Nana Awere Damoah: Truth Floats and Ayesha Harruna Attah: Tamale Blues.)

African Roar is available to buy at, Barnes & Noble, and

[Joseph Omotayo is an analytical reviewer of the written works of art. He has reviewed some African contemporary works, out of which are Adunni Abimbola's Under The Brown Rusted Roofs, Buchi Emecheata's Second Class Citizen and Igoni Barret's From Caves Of Rotten Teeth.
Some of his writings have been published on his blog {} and in the ‘The Punch’ one of his country's national newspaper. Omotayo currently stays in Osun State, Nigeria; from where he views the world and lives his dreams. He is the Head of Department for short-story in ATE OGBON LITERARY CLUB, Osogbo. A club that promotes creative and performing art

Sunday 6 June 2010

Meandering On Black Sisters’ Street

This week, Critical Literature Review present's Ikhide Ikheloa's review of Chika Unigwe's On Black Sisters' Street. We hope you enjoy reading it.

Chika Unigwe’s book, On Black Sisters’ Street chronicles the sad odyssey of an army of young women prostitutes drawn from various parts of Nigeria (and the Sudan!) who invade Europe desperate to do for themselves and their clans what waves of prostitute African governments have neglected to do for them. The ladies, Efe, Ama, Sisi, and Joyce are the main characters in a set of stories that collectively narrate epic struggles in the face of fear and despair. In this well-researched book, Sisi leads this pack of warrior-sisters on the streets of Europe determined to force down the doors of poverty and hopelessness that forced them away from home. They go out daily in search of lonely men - and wealth, the new measure of respect back home in Nigeria.

There is plenty to like in the book. It is rich with environment, populated by colorful, pleasant details that do not overwhelm the senses. It is a book that will take you a few days to read – the prose is languid, seemingly in no hurry to get to a climax. I like the way Unigwe introduces side issues into conversations and they stick with you – issues like sexism and the treatment of women as chattel in Africa. It is a neat trick, how she tucks weighty issues into throw-away sentences.

Every character in this book is driven by a deep hunger. Perhaps the monotony of yearning is the story of a Nigeria gradually turning soulless from material lust. In the process, we have learnt to hate ourselves. Energy seems reserved for mimicking the otherness that resides in the West. Unigwe’s book showcases Nigeria as a nation of people deeply invested in acquiring the trappings of an otherness that emanates from the West.
God must be exhausted and Nigerians are to blame. The book captures the ceaseless supplications for more and more and the pious request for God to annihilate our enemies that stand in the way of our more and more. God must regret the day the devil tricked her into creating the Nigerian; we are such a needy group. We see the new Christianity as the new plague sweeping across a nation of uncritical thinkers.

The absurdities of life in Nigeria are expertly captured. Lagos is filth and dust at dusk advertising the meanness of neglect: The chapter named Ama was the best. It hearkens to the beauty of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, of what happens when language is not in the way of the story. Here, Unigwe writes with confidence and her literary muscle barrels her voice into a full-throated roar. The expert way she weaves local Igbo and onomatopoeic idioms into the English is sexy, kpom kwem.

The book offers plenty to frustrate the reader. The prose is uneven overall; as a result the book sometimes has the consistency of pulp fiction. The use of Pidgin English in this book added nothing to the book. Unigwe’s knowledge of Pidgin English seemed tentative or perhaps watered down to make it more palatable to a broader market. Pidgin English has an image problem. In the hands of Nigerian writers it undergoes an extreme makeover and acquires an inferiority complex.

The book’s chapters are not numbered; they are repeatedly named after each “sister” or the streetZwartezusterstraat. There are about thirteen chapters named Sisi. Confusing. The chapters see-saw between multiple consciousnesses; the reader is force-fed the future up front and in the next chapter, the past walks up to the day. The reader learns of the future death of one of the characters – on the first few pages of the book.

The book is not quite convincing in its analysis of how the girls chose prostitution. It is not for lack of trying. Indeed, Unigwe is guilty of an over-analysis of the characters’ motives. She obviously interviewed a lot of prostitutes. One wonders if they held back from this sister who went to too much school.

The plight of Nigerian girls in Europe is the most visible symbol of the wanton rape of generations of youths by badly behaving Nigerian rulers. Unigwe appears however to have no stomach for conflict. Europe harbors a huge contingent of ladies from Edo State in Nigeria. There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to avoid this reality.  The chapter named Alek (Joyce) is my least favorite. It reads like an exhausted affirmative action afterthought. The character was developed as coming from Sudan, escaping the war, ending up in Nigeria and then Europe after her soldier-lover got bored with her. Darfur does not belong in this book. The chapter sits like a patronizing ode to the notion that prostitution is universal.

On Black Sisters’ Street is a good story fiercely resisting flight because it is airborne on timid wings. This is a shame because Unigwe has the muscle to communicate proprietary feelings using Standard English. My humble advice is that Unigwe should relax and take maximum advantage of her mastery of loose limber prose and let the words fly recklessly with her imagination. That would be quite a book.

[Ikhide R. Ikheloa is an arts critic, writer and journalist. He can be reached at