Sunday 31 March 2013

African Roar 2012

@omotayome For Twitter

Some of the stories in this anthology portray bleak situations but moving all the same. My description of them is not confused, I write with a keen mind having read African Roar’s two previous offerings (Read my reviews of the 2010 and 2011 editions here and here). Africa Roar 2012 is the third anthology since it started out in 2010. And so far, the yearly anthology has not wavered in standard. The quality of its entries always holds its readers spellbound. It is with that experience you know you have come to reading unmixed African writings. To help fellow hitherto unpublished writers and open them to wide readership are some of the reasons StoryTime initiated African Roar. And it has been doing that good in that regard. There is no being superfluous about it; what StoryTime is doing for African writing remains (arguably) to be rivalled. It is in its third year now and the strength behind it still strong. Through African Roar, I have come to know writers whose creativity still dazzles me till present. African Roar story-select has always been near perfect. A proof of that is in the array of its yearly entries.

Let me tell you, in my own little observation, what African Roar has been able to do in these three years; it has told the continent’s stories unreservedly. However gloomy some of them might come; they are still ours, Africa’s. To maintain a positive pretense by sticking only to the unsullied side of Africa is to go maliciously one-sided: our African world is a mix of both the evil and the routine (if you could call ‘the routine’ good). Africa Roar does not cower to portray Africa in a fake present modern-day reality. Aside the little spoilers characterizing individual pieces, this yearly anthology is a good read anytime. Go read its archives, Africa Roar has paid its due. It has taken our stories trans-continentally. And Africa is the better for it.

I wouldn’t know the reason for the biographic annotation that graces the end of each story. It is a good thing in some instances but shallow nonetheless. For one, the biographic snippets spoil the critical mind of the reader to relate with the themes of the stories in the manner he sees fit. That publishing style only intrudes on the reader’s mind. I don’t give a hoot if what inspires Onyenezi’s You Smile is some Fela’s music as the authors goes on reeling about cultism being the main theme of his story. Laughably, he fails even in identifying his story’s main theme, which isn’t cultism. The best thing is to scroll over those disturbing annotations or only read them when curious to know the writer’s mind for a particular story. This attempt almost spoils my reading of the anthology.  I found it particularly watery having to know an individual view of his story in the mid-process of my making sense of his piece. That does not do it for me as a reader to say the least.

The entries for the 2012 edition are few, fewer than past editions. Know now, some of the entries in this 2012 edition lack optimism, their views are quite grim. And this makes you wonder if they are not intentionally forced to be that way. I hold this belief because some of them are so unconvincing in their portrayal of the realities they write on.

Experiencing Africa; Some Lives.

“The Colours of Silence” – Ifesinachi Okoli

For Mum and Dad, 10 million naira changes everything. I find it hard to believe the cause of the domestic trouble in this story. However, the manner Ifesinachi uses colours to represent every turn the domestic abuse takes is splendid. The 10 million naira is the money which Mum wins in a lottery Aunty Melissa introduces to her. What questions belief is the suddenness of the luck in the winning. Ifesinachi does little to make her story believable. That Mum quite believes she will win the money even before she plays the lottery just seems far from reality and quite unoriginal. Lotteries are games of thin luck. Nobody knows when they will win.

“You Smile” – Chika Onyeneze

The “You” pronoun make a story so you-beaut. As common as this style has become, when properly used, it could make a piece good. It is how you relate with it that adds to its exceptionality. In You Smile, nothing is working as the lead character, You, suffers on.  You Smile relates the socio-ills we always smiled off. Even in this piece, You only remains sane as he smiles on. He can’t act otherwise, everything is insane already. The constant smiles are the only thing that humanizes his sufferings. Various contrived reprieves maintain his smiles: religion, the usual banter amongst neighbours and Nduka, the bottles, and Nduka’s teenage pleasure.

“Soldiers of the Stone” – Uko Bendi Udo

Kulaja Giri is constantly rattled by the ghosts of his marshy pasts. He can’t forget them easily; the ghosts breathe hard on him, on his present, even when he relocates to New York. When Marco gangsterism spites Kulaja in New York, he wishes he could wake his past ghosts up, get back his Serra Leone militancy and assume his fearless self, the one he daily runs away from.

“The Revenge of Kamalaza Mayele” – Vukani G. Nyirenda

Kamalaza desires Kampeteu, but first he must battle the custom that bars out his sexual desire. When he fails in his pursuit, he will pick a newer pursuit with the flute as he seeks to even his misfortune with a misplaced revenge.

“We Can See You” – Abdul Adan

This is very much akin to the commonplace immigrant story and its usual after-trauma of home coming. If the foregoing were the only fascinations in this piece, then the reader might not be excited. Conversely, what this piece drives at are more than the limitedness in the usual telling and retelling of immigrant experiences. We Can See You ordinarily, yet remarkably, tells the individual trouble of a life that is liberated but imprisoned in the misfortunes of his kinsmen and friends. When Mahmud Yare comes home from America, he is everyone’s bread and so will suffer their ambush. Nothing will save him. But let’s see what Maghrib prayers will do in his dire difficulty. Beside all this, Abdul cursorily uses this piece as a commentary on the corrupt Kenya Telekom Company;

“Mahmud thought back to the days he before he left for America when he ran a phone centre for himself. He offered cheap calls to far places…but with the emergence of cheap cell phones, his service had become unnecessary and he expanded it to include international calls. He received no bills from Telekom, the government parastatal in charge of landlines. All he had to do was make a deal with one of the directors, and offer him a fixed sum, or something to wet his throat…and he was exempted from paying any bills whatsoever”  (pg. 19)


With Ivor Hartmann, the publisher of African Roar, combining this with the publication of AfroSF (a new and also a yearly anthology of science fictions by African writers), I hope African Roar will not be the worst for it. One can only hope African Roar maintains its standard, or even surpasses it, in times to come. We, the readers, can only watch, read and hope Africa Roar won’t soon go under for AfroSF.

Thursday 14 March 2013

“Excuse Me!” by Victor Ehikhamenor

@omotayome For Twitter

Of Humour, a Slip-on Shoe and Witches

Excuse Me!, I spend hours reading every day. The more I read, the more embattled I am. The more I am embattled, the more I hate overbeaten themes and plots. When you are a consistent book blogger, you suffer several headaches from reading junks by fame-seeking-and-instant-publishing-upcoming writers. Life is too short for such insignificant wahala. I already have problems of my own. Any breather will just do; a big relief I wouldn’t lose. “Excuse Me!” provided that opportunity.

Humour is a great gift in the face of nippy tribulation. Nigeria is presently a mess and we all are partly too. This book can’t have been timelier than now. We indeed need humour to ford the muddy water Nigerian is in. Honestly, you are missing out on a lot of humour if you have not, by some unlucky fate, read “Excuse Me!”. You really are. That may be a pointer that your life is being threatened by your village witches. And village witches are real, that’s no cheap stereotype. Take that from me. Take that from “Excuse Me!”, but don’t quote this:

“I was born…in a village full of gods” {witches} – (“Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned” pg. 20)
I had saved on getting a slip-on shoe before parting the money on “Excuse Me!”.  I am still angry though. However, “Excuse Me!” could really be a good substitute. But I will save again and get the shoe. I love books, I love shoes. I am no geek. Simple!

“Excuse Me!” creatively simplifies complex matters and the conscious manner this is done makes the very writing a rousing read. Wars are changing us. The troubles we carry around are ageing us. What makes all those bearable are spices of affective humour. “Excuse Me!” has got an overdose of that. You should read this book. If nothing spurs you to, at least, know you would be walloping your village witches for doing so. By reading this book, you would be triumphing over them; over their plans not to make you to. Remember I said village witches are real? But don’t tell them I said so.

Anger, Resignation and Language

Language is brought to magnificent use in this book. The words are all at once serenading and enthusing. “Excuse Me!” giddy word craft elevates simplicity with grace; the reading is light but the art in them refuses to tediously trundle. Words lively speak in this book, you will feel it. And suddenly, that will almost seem heavenly. Check out Lagos on a rainy day;

“When it rained in Lagos, it doesn’t pour. Broken sewers rise and things long forgotten resurrect in a fetid regatta. Dolls and dung float lazily in tar water. Men and women take turns in increasing the water level by pissing into stagnant waters… The only thing moving in the traffic is the incessant wiper blades clearing the tears off crying windscreens… Conductors’ lips are condensed, gripping tight unlit sodden cigarettes… Okada riders have no holiday as they submerge in broken drainages and emerge seasoned swimmers… Shoprite plastic bags take the place of helmets passengers holding dearly to nothingness. Move. Stop. Move. Stop. Between two to twenty the okada riders form a colony of vultures seeking dead carcasses in wetlands, happy that the hyenas, Nigeria police, don’t dampen their feast” (“When It Rains In Lagos” Pg. 150)

You read some other essays and the humour is lost, giving way to deep-seated anger and resignation. Not everything could be so taken lightly when reality bits, even Victor Ehikhamenor’s flair fails fun in this one. Nothing could be bleaker than this is;

 “Your child’s mouth is wide open. You wiggle to seek and give comfort. None seems available in the jam-packed metal scrap called molue you transit in. In this blurry journey, you seek food and future but nothing is within reach. The bus windows are broken for they can’t be rolled up, a situation akin to our GDP.”  (“A Blurry Journey” pg. 103)

Slouchy-Fading Generations: Hasty Conclusions

Highly unfitting is Victor’s imbalanced obsessiveness of the past over the present. Victor’s reminiscences are absorbing, you are easily drawn to them. Humour could be that deceptive, you swiftly flung your opinion as if you never really had one. When Victor writes in Love Letters, I was taken in by the memory. Memories of my exploit at the craft quickly flooded me. I am a veteran at love letter writing. Being born in the very early 90’s has its joys and pains. For the joys, you straddle the worlds before and after the internet. But the lines at which these two worlds blur into each other are your pains. There was a level of writing confidence that came with love letter writing then. I wrote many. Some never really made it to the recipients. Others got my palms blistered and kneecaps' skin bruised when nemesis overtook me. This was before mobile phones and its SMSes. I would still not know why I never scored an A in my O’level English paper. I will just take it that the exam marker never had the head for my dictions (as if that is the only thing needed to pass an English paper. Lol) I knew dictionary, friend. I was a walking one. Love Letter writing taught me good.

However, having gone through that world and still experiencing the presently cyber driven, I won’t easily accept Victor’s careless conclusion. His and many others of the fading generations always come out clumsily. Scorning the internet for the present days’ malaises is nothing near genuineness and that incenses me. Victor’s drive to quickly make rubbish of this internet age in Love Letters falls tiredly supine. It is just so lazy to be that hasty in linking what was obtainable then to the woes youths battle with now. The present system may have been corroded, but that is just the singleness of the total good internet has given to this age. Believe it, it really is. Excerpts like these below are rather frivolous:

“Unfortunately we no longer write love letters – this vital learning class  that helped raise future poets has given way to text messages (txt msgs), which is the biggest threat to the English Language as we know it.” (pg. 7)
It sounds ridiculous to think that text messaging singularly wrecked that evil. There is no conclusiveness as regard that.  So, when Victor haphazardly includes it there, I am disgusted. It is time somebody started talking about the creativity of words that came with this innovation too? Who will show how Text Messaging has also helped erase verbosity? Certainly, this will not be with the likes of Victor of the fast fading-slouchy generation.
And this too:

“A contemporary village girl would rather accept a txt msg with rchge crd than a well written love letter that can’t boast of one minute call credit” (pg. 7)
The above is another attempt to commonly bring many under a lazy speculative mirror. The thrill that comes with love SMSing overrides what Victor attached to the recharge card power. Many a lady would admire a guy’s pert SMSes over flimsy exhaustible recharge vouchers. But Victor’s single view wouldn’t accept that.

“When was the last time you wrote a love letter? No, I don’t mean those headless and tailless ones on Blackberry chat, Twitter flirts and other forms of instant messaging; those are like pissing in the wind.”  (pg. 3)
Only in Victor’s world are those (Tweets, BBMs, etc) seen as such. How piteous.

Victor never ceases to amuse me and he does hastily jumps again in Ever Jolly Valentine. It is a great worry when an over-contented memory-drunk elder speaks. In his world, everything is pristine and nothing of yours could stand up to his. He doesn’t want any other memory cleaning his out and so, he faithfully holds on to his, running down your own. Ever Jolly Valentine is very much akin to that attitude. Victor’s reliving and tail-end creative analogy is outstanding though. His messages are not rushed until they hit you at the very last paragraph, but that could come off as a dogma too, with Victor leaving you with little room to disagree. Narcissistic Romanticism so plagues many pieces in this book, so when Victor put it this way again in Ever Jolly Valentine, I wasn’t comfortable:

“Ekpoma still has the Ever Jolly Supermarket but it has lost its glamour (and the monopoly) it enjoyed back then. Ambrose Alli University has also lost its innocence. The place is filled with fakes now. Facebook and text messages have replaced the greeting cards that made Olu great. I shudder to imagine the Valentine Day celebrated there now and in many of our Federal run-down universities today.”  (“Ever Jolly Valentine” pg. 10)
The past may have been heavenly and the present hellish, but please save us that tired mantra. This present is different with its innovations in good ways. In the above excerpt, there is once again a subtle attack on the two mediums of Facebook and text messages. Victor will have to do better than making languid connection between what constitute morals and otherwise with the popular use of the new media. What does one call that attitude if not a blind glorification of the rustic past over this dynamic present?

Well, humour may easily buy Victor a pardon when he misses his points and come to marshy conclusions on many matters, but an observant mind wouldn’t when he goofs. I love this book, “Excuse Me!”.