Friday 31 August 2012

"Farad" by Emmanuel Iduma

Perhaps my want of descriptive words is due to the unusual nature of this book. Imaginably, I must just admit Farad is innovative and avoid any struggle with confusing adjectives. In truth, I earnestly searched for words to deconstruct Farad with. It is a novel as labelled; a collection of stories in passing; and a melting mixes of consensual resolutions. However, Farad is never to be grouped. Iduma’s writing proficiency surges with a new kind of independence roaming freely. Farad allows its characters to reel out personal concerns, albeit in a confident way. The reader is beforehand dazzled with beautiful expressions and later sponged into the characters’ travails and yearnings.

This book is an experimental fulfilment of the uncommonly common. It is broken into eight different stories with unrelated plots. This is surprising. This style will definitely make you angry. The stories are disjointed but united in denouement. After everything, you will also grieve over your taste for normalcy. Everything about this book is resplendently different. Iduma is a daring writer; and this debut does not portray otherwise. Farad is a collage; a delicate calligraphy; a head with multiple faces. Though its resolution is single, the divergent parts are necessary.

D.H. Lawrence thus described a good novel in this manner; “…it can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness and can lead our sympathy from things that are dead.”  That balances well with what Farad is. Farad thoroughly searches through the complexity of human existences and the differences of religion discoloured by deceitful ethnicity. It goes on to attune them with the simple yet delicate issues of everyday worries – the daily worries that easily connect with our feelings.  Farad is authoritative in its distinctness, it despises the dead way of novel writing.

This book is that which you call it and what you think it is not. Both meanings are in the contradiction of your thinking. Iduma writes with such poetry that he makes us parts of everything in the book.

To enter her room would have been to stay in water while drowning, to hit my head on the wall when already bleeding” (pg. 103) “I begin to think that mirrors should be like Photoshop, that I should be able to look into them and see my face in greyscale and sepia” (pg. 94) “The vicarage had been built forty years earlier. Sometimes, living there, I felt I was part of an archaeological narrative.” (Pg. 63)

Farad: Reading 5/8

Memory Band >-> Ella is stuck in memories of horrible scenes and personal encounters. Frank becomes her only passage from incoherent mutterings. In seeking Frank’s help, emotions will be toyed with, for there will be flooding questions of the hurriedly flung affair between Frank and Goody; Goody’s mother’s disapproval of Frank; Chris’ marital lifestyle and the cause of Abacha’s death. But since all these will be unravelled only if Frank attends to Ella’s sickly state, Frank will, in trying to heal Ella’s memories, make discoveries about his life, his relationships and the psychology of the human mind. The memory band is elastic and when stretched, will also reveal the harsh beauty of the Lekes. Everything is a Memory Band of dreams collectively shattered and quickly salvaged in chips. This is what a memory is; a collection of fragmented pasts gummed into relevance and worthlessness. The story sets in Ife.

One Man >-> Iduma is creatively good. He intelligently leeches off the Jos crisis to create the displacement of beliefs in the grand scheme of things. One Man tells what one is used to with a touch of colour. Munachimso is the One Man. He is the one who crosses the ethno-religious boundary. Even when he sees death, he dares it. Muna is an unusual bred of a priest and a man of disdainful history. This story tapers his setting in Ife.

Helper >-> There is a gifted side to separateness. Ugo may not be understood, yet her life bears great influence on those who must have encountered her. Her family thinks she is the crazy one and later considers hers a worthy destiny. For the love of Ugo, her brother becomes lost. Music finds him; for that is what Ugo stands for. This also sets in Ife

A Father’s Son >-> This reads more of Iduma’s life. There is an inclusion of his recent lives in this story. Iduma is a current participant of Trans-African Photography Project and so is the son in this story who follows his photography passion to Mali. Iduma studied Law at Ife, the father’s son does too. I only hope Iduma is not as frustrated as this father’s son is.

The Sound of Things to Come >-> Mo’s dreams presage many happenings. Above all, it bodes Beams’ disenchantment from her routine cycle and Edwin’s lonliness.

The eight different stories are pieces of a central whole. They fit together as you progress in the reading. They all are interlocking experiences of the presented characters.

Spotting the Slips

I am familiar with Iduma’s writings. I have read many of his essays. It is just so unfortunate that Iduma can’t prevent his essayistic language from smearing his narrative. This is so unfortunate indeed. As one reads on, one almost cannot separate the voice of the author from the characters and one character from the other. They all seem to speak with the forceful tone that comes with Iduma’s uniformed style of writing essays. Although the dictions are crafty, they carry a rigid tone that leaves no room for individuality of voice. That might have worked if the book is majorly mono-characterised. But with a novel that seeks to unify various characters in their complexities; it really pulls it down.

There are some contradictions and inconsistencies too, though minor and could possibly escape passive reading. On page 81;

I didn’t have my brother’s email address, and I didn’t want to guess.
This statement sounds outright lame. Can an email address ever be guessed? It does not fit and shouldn’t have been included. If the trait of the character that says this suggests a low-intelligent personality, that might have been permitted. You don’t guess an email, you know it.

There is another one on page 42;

“In those moments, he saw or imagined how Leke was shot. His memory painted a picture of Leke stepping out of his car; he must have been confused at all the noise around him, all the people with green branches, all the parked cars – which had made him park his car in the first place. He imagined how, when the first shot rang, Frank must have tried to enter his car but failed, given the number of people who had gathered around him, begging to be let into his car.”
I really can’t understand how Leke turns Frank here. The mistake may be slight but it is misleading and confusing all the same.

Expressions on page 2 and 75 were almost identical.

Do you want anything?…he began to think anything could mean a drink or a purpose for coming.” (Pg 2)
And then on page 75;

“You want anything?” I asked. After I asked this question, I felt foolish. I realized it sounded as though I was asking if she wanted to drink..
If the same hospitality discomfort between Frank and Goody also plays out between Muna and Taibat, there are other totally different expressions that can achieve that. Using those similar expressions do not show the uniformity in the common mistake made in hospitality, it only hints on dearth of creative expressions.

Iduma can’t be wholly blamed for these loopholes, the editor should be.

Into your reading list I commend Farad.

Friday 17 August 2012

"Tropical Fish" by Doreen Baingana

There was a time in the history of Uganda when a beast ruled, hunger triumphed, hospitality forsaken and economy brutalised; that some would die, many would become ordinary time-markers and mysteries would be archived for posterity. Tropical Fish is such book that registers haunting past with natural telling skill. Only a skilled writer could relay weepy stories with reinvented taste. Without any dubiety, Doreen’s Tropical Fish rolls out stories with simple yet compelling naturalness. Tropical Fish is filled with riveting prose.

These lines speak more of the book’s hypnotic simplicity;

“Finally, I put on as many of the necklaces as I could, moving them over my head in worshipful dance movement, head bowed solemnly, then up with secret ritualistic pleasure. My chest grew heavier and heavier as the beads and stones and glass trailed down my knees… Carefully, I climbed down the chair, necklaces and earrings swaying, moved the chair away and faced the mirror… I stared at the girl in the orange-reddish glow. Who was she? …She could be anyone: a queen, a bishop, a rich loved wife… I was decorated, celebrated, Christmas tree, here to make the room shine, to turn the world to happiness” (pg 18-19)
Tropical Fish is the stories of individuals as well as a country ran aground by tyranny. It follows the stories of three sisters at the various stages of their lives. Doreen narrates the story of a horrendous political era through the times and lives of its citizens. Rosa, Patti and Christine are the three sisters whose separate horrible encounters become the microfilms of the survivors, the victors and the fallen in the 1970s' Uganda. These sisters are once kids galloping around realities, then teenagers exploring indulgences to stab boredom. Later on, they grow into adults paying for political and parental malformed pasts. Doreen spares no detail in narrating the story of a once battered Uganda. This book fumes with so much political anger, and that indeed does it in.

Idi Amin was a beast in a human materialisation. Tropical Fish charts Idi Amin’s multiplicity of wickedness. Doreen’s effort to garb her strong political emotion in subtleties fails and soon degenerates into sizzling outburst oozing from both ends of her prose. Our happiness and unhappiness may quite be important factors in determining our writing, but when creative writings change into sermons, the author’s sense of meaningful brevity is lost. Sure, Uganda was repeatedly walloped under Idi Amin in the 1970s. However, dedicating a whole prose work to crucify his dusty bones only makes him a personage of some kind. It makes his image live on in our minds.  No one should give that hell of a man such pleasure of fame. There are countless instances where Doreen’s truculent tone and characters’ reminiscences get in the book’s way. It is as if Tropical Fish is Idi-Amin’s scrapbook. This is piteous. This man shouldn’t be put into reckoning. He is dead. Let’s not give him the opportunity to scorn us in our winding recollections. That only ends up adorning his image.

Tropical Fish is segmented with the lives of the three sisters of Mugisha’s family. There are Greenstones, Hunger, First Kiss, A-Thank You-Note, Lost in Lost Angeles, Tropical Fish, Passion and Questions from Home. These are eight miseries of a nation and of the hurdles of individuals. The book packs a bit of humour with juvenile diffidence to relishing effect. With Christine’s simplicity, Patti’s religiosity and Rosa extremity; the book is wrapped up in revealing stories, though trickling with the pus called Idi Amin.

Depressions and Stories

Green StonesThis introduces the reader to the early lives of the Mugisha’s family. As it is with most subsequent parts of this book, this story is much focused on Christine. Christine recounts her story of the things that fascinate her as a child. Though this is told through the observance of a child, the details of the story are not infantile trash. Christine’s secret love for her parents’ room, her mother’s jewellery and her disillusionment with her father’s personality-switch set off her challenging adulthood. In this piece, there is a justifiable strong urge to question the credibility in Taata’s personality degeneration. It is believable he is a drinker, but the manner his leisured drinking habit deteriorates to binge drinking is quite incredible. Taata’s trait suddenly swerves only to fulfil Doreen’s ambition of a depressing story.

HungerPatti is the less exuberant of the three sisters. This makes speaking through her diary understandable. Hunger is where one is allowed into the depth that is Patti’s life. Patti is too reticent to speak all the time. Hunger is the only place her horrible childhood is revealed. Patti communes with hunger at Gayaza Secondary School where she is a boarder. She nearly subdues hunger with obsessive religiosity. However, religion almost always fails her. In fighting hunger, she loses dignity.

First KissChristine’s first-kiss changes everything for her. With her first kiss, her womanhood immaturely blossoms at a preteen stage. On her way to Nicholas’ planned rendezvous, some other things turn up. The story might have been a delight without the intrusion of Idi Amin’s evils. If the whole idea of this book is to reflect on Amin’s highhandedness and have his dried bones nailed to a cross, First Kiss surely has an overdose of that. I cannot take in Christine’s unbridled reflections on the decrepit building and abysmal conditions of her primary school. If that is also to portray the wickedness that ruled at that time; the portrayal is certainly overdone.

Lost in Los AngelesChristine seemingly survives all to find rescue in Los Angeles. She struggles to define herself as she finds meanings to her living. This story is in black and white; the degradation of Uganda and the cosy hospitality of the West. The rushed pace at which both worlds are compared is irritating and too overreaching on Doreen’s part. This smears the pleasure for the reader. Aside tracking the development of Christine, the story is insignificant in the book. It is filled with excessive grouchiness. It shoves the stark inhumanness rocking Uganda in the reader’s face.

Exempting these…

Doreen’s prose is sticky. Your attention is rarely lost. She is good at opening up even the tiniest of details to the reader’s interest. She does this with Green Stones and Tropical Fish. In Green Stones, she maximises on the childishness of the lead character to reveal the shocking episodes playing out in Christine’s family. Through the anal eyes of Christine, nothing is left untouched; the boredom of a disarrayed home is fully explored, the two-facedness of ethnicity is bared and the unattended emotional yearnings of vulnerable children are fully rendered. In the course of Christine’s furtive visits to her parents’ bedroom, more interesting stories are exposed. In Green Stones, Doreen uses the na├»ve to achieve great depth.

Tropical Fish highlights powerful literary descriptiveness. This is among the few pieces that I have read which succeed well at pulling out the psychology of a character through sex. Consenting sex is usually presented in the light of mutual engagement. That may not always be the whole truth. What if sex is also the display of differentiating moments between varied emotions? Christine’s fling with Peter is presented as such. At her sexual engagements with Peter; the inferior-superior distinctiveness between them is shown.

“I lay on the bed in my clothes. Peter took off his clothes and draped them neatly folded over a chair… Then he took my blouse and pants off methodically, gently, like it was the best thing to do, like I was sick and he was the nurse, and I just lay there. In the same practical way he lay down and stroked me…, put on a condom, opened my legs, and stuck his penis in. I couldn’t bring myself to hold him in any convincing way… One thought was constant in my head…: I was having sex with a white man. It was strange because it wasn’t strange” (pg. 94)
Christine’s affair with Peter is a story of a country being slowly raped and speedily vanquished by the Western economic incursion.

This book is an expressive adventure through the stark reality of a nation’s past gloom. Tropical Fish is dunked in the past memories of Uganda's fiercest political time. The stories in the book are not cobbled together. Doreen indeed writes them with genuine empathy. Tropical Fish was worth the reading.