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 cliché 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

Sunday 19 May 2013

"Tomorrow Died Yesterday" by Chimeka Garricks

This month, CLR presents Oyebanji Ayodele’s opinion of Chimeka Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday. Enjoy and do engage our guest blogger in the comment box. We appreciate your comments.


Chimeka Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday is a recountal of one of those realities that define the entity clad in the nominal fabric, Nigeria. It is worth mentioning that its emissaries in a matter of months would be cutting murdering its centenary celebration cake. They are used to murdering cakes. And funds. And people. They do so in place of the ill-realities that blot the country.

Chimeka Garricks’ novel resonates with Chinua Achebe’s voice. In the proverbial way peculiar to him, he speaks through one of his creatures in Anthills of the Savannah:

“…Age gives to a man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left…”
Age is a dunce in the case of Nigeria. It stares wide-eyed and unmoved, saliva dripping from its tongue as the nation’s grip on the droopy breasts of its shameful history refuses to slacken. I find myself wondering why all that could proceed from my thought about Nigeria’s resilience in holding unto the ugly side of history, is a quotation from Achebe’s work. It goes beyond the fact that we have just lost him. I’m not trying to evoke a memorial. No. What I’m saying finds articulation in the similarity of the plot of his Anthills of the Savannah and that of the novel being considered. Both stories present how the private existence of a group of friends spill into public discourse.

Tomorrow Died Yesterday tells of the reason one needs to blind one’s eyes to a future that has been aborted before its birth.

There are times when realities seem so bland to take in, their closeness to you notwithstanding. Such realities easily earn the ‘overflogged’ tag. Tomorrow Died Yesterday treads the path of stereotypes and I refuse to mark it down for it. It hinges on one of the nondescript realities that characterize Nigeria: the Niger Delta region issue. I have not read much Literature about this region but, having read Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday and recently, Christie Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, I can assertively say it that the Niger Delta is not only a mine for crude oil, it is a mine for narratives too. All that matters is telling your story. And doing it, your own way.

Chimeka Garricks has told his. His is that of angst and pessimism:

“…‘You still get it, Kaniye, do you? There is no future for the children of the Niger Delta.  Their tomorrow is already dead. It died yesterday’…” (Page 236)

“ ‘Why are you crying, Amaibi? Were they crying for us in ’97? Ehn, Amaibi, answer me. After 1997, weren’t you the one who always wrote, and I quote, ‘violence is now a justified option for dealing with the injustice in the Niger Delta’? This is violence, Amaibi…’ “ (Page 38)

“…After more than six nightmarish years, who would have thought that I’d get an erection again, in Port Harcourt Prison of all places; and they say there was no rehabilitation in a Nigerian prison…” (Page 50)

And a whole lot of other motifs. The novel is complex on different grounds. The scope of its plot is wide, but it is palpable enough that it is not a burden for the author to manage. His four-stranded cord of Kaniye Rufus, Doye Koko, Amaibi Akassa and Joseph Tubo are allegories of the different shades of humanity in the Niger Delta.

The novel reverses the convention in a lot of binary relationships. The most evident are in the light of sex and race. In the duo, the conventional ‘other’ finds a voice that either drowns its converse or that which gives it a similar standing as the privileged.

I remember reading Achebe’s essay, AnImage of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness’ where he alludes (though without resentment) to one Albert Schweitzer, an ‘extraordinary missionary’ as he puts it, who says:

"The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother."

It is in such context that one would understand that Garricks, though indirectly, writes back to the west in his work. Imagine these:

“I turned to the white man. His pink face was a blotchy and sweaty mess. Sweat plastered his thin, fair hair to his big head, and highlighted, starkly, how large his eyes were. He wasn’t really fat, but had a stomach that fell odiously over his jeans. His breathing was loud, wheezing and heaving. I interpreted it as fear.” (Page 7)

“ ‘Gentlemen, let’s focus on poor Manning, okay?” Granger said.
We all smiled at the description. Manning was anything but poor. He was an arrogant, obnoxious bully, and a little more than a racist thug…’ “ (Page 17)

What an honourable disrespect to one’s elder brother!

Garricks does not extend his disrespect to his female characters. In a situation where the African society has always rendered the male in the guise of a hegemonic entity, Garricks’ female characters refuse to be relegated to the background. Not even when ‘victim-hood’ looms. Kaniye’s mother and Dise typify this. Deola, even more.

That a male writer presents this is something tangible to note about how contemporary African Literature engineers a novel mode of treating gender issues. For instance, one would wonder what kind of feminist statement Doreen Baingana makes with her characters in Tropical Fish. Hers is a different approach to the issue of gender, in that her female characters take responsibility for their actions and not that they ascribe them to some domineering males. Here are some instances:

Rosa says this:
“…For swaying my hips deliberately, enticingly, as I danced with you, with others. For those jeans I bought that hugged my buttocks so tightly men turned to watch and whistle as I walked by. I am mocked for saying yes. I am guilty…” (Page75)
Christine has this to say too:

“…Why did I always seem to have my legs spread open before kind men poking things into me? I let them.” (Page 98)
Chimeka Garrick’s prose is scrumptious. His ability to invoke images is alluring. Here are my favourites:

“From Juju Island, Asiama River surges on, in elaborating crooks and turns, expanding at every mile. Then, a few hundred miles from the ocean, the curves stop, and the river suddenly opens out – the swollen head of a king cobra. The river can now sense the ocean and flows faster to meet it. The only obstruction, right in the middle of its path, is Asiama Island. The river is divided by the island. Two hydra heads are formed, but the river flows on nonetheless. It glides round the island, and finally, embraces the roaring ocean.” (Page 32)

“I stared at the beautiful body I worshipped for the past months of my life. The body I knew so well. The breasts were full, firm, big nippled, the aureoles the colour of dark honey. The tuft of hair between her legs was shaved in a neat triangle, one of Dise’s quirks. Her legs were long, slightly knock-kneed. My unborn son slept in the small bulge of her tummy.”
Such is the best compensation for the time a reader spends on a bulky paperback.

The book is bulky (429 pages in all). So are its editorial issues so innumerable that the reader feels like demanding the head of the editor that does a book like this such disservice.

As much as I acknowledge the author’s cultural background, I won’t spare him and whosoever helps him with his Yoruba translations the rod for allowing this in the book:

“ ‘…It’s the neighbourhood with the best bole and fish in town…’ …
Bole with dry groundnuts?” I shook my head in disbelief.” (Page 62)
For someone to have written booli as bole is a signal that our indigenous languages are on a fast track into extinction.

Chimeka Garricks is a writer to watch out for. His prose is luminous one cannot but anticipate other offerings of his.

Oyebanji Ayodele blogs at