Friday 18 October 2013

African Roar 2013 (An anthology of 13 short stories)

Sometime this week, I was at a carpenter’s shop. I was to give him a description of what I wanted him to do for me. I thought of sketching or showing him a snapshot of what I wanted. Anyway, I relied on words. Awfully, my words failed at description, at successfully substituting the sketch or the snapshot. I struggled with descriptive words as I resorted to gestures and voice modulation. Maybe he understood me. Maybe he didn’t. I wouldn’t know. However, I left there feeling unfulfilled. I didn’t used words well. I could have done better. Some of the books I have been reading lately are seriously starved, lifeless and unable to communicate. Just like my encounter with the carpenter. It is Updike who says “but one can’t give more than he has received…” (see “Burn This Book” edited by Toni Morrison). So who says the many books I have been reading recently didn’t affect my carpenter’s experience? And who says they have? *winks*

My recent readings failed to draw me into their worlds. Talking about them, lukewarmness would be a compliment. And that’s the simple reason I have been shying away from reviewing them. I may bellyache if I do, which is as bad as just ranting. I want to review objectively. Anything totally rubbish is not just worth my time, my words, this space, the awareness, the readership. So, I have been mute for some time until now. Perhaps because African Roar 2013 is an anthology of short stories. And not all stories in an anthology can be as all bad, some will still be well worth talking about. 

I have been following African Roar since its inception in 2010. Read my previous comments here, here and here. I have always found the short story genre interesting. Like living, it’s in mixes of its interesting own. It could sometimes be misshapen but not entirely shapeless. I believe the short story is the proper depiction of life in its multi narratives. That is also the reason why I see more tangibility in Alice’s short stories than Morrison’s novels (or sometimes novellas). They both are feministic though and true to their engagements but one moves me closer to life than the other. I love short narratives, they cannot afford pretense. The space is little. They come to tell life better without as much dithering. When they dither, they fail. When they do, it’s clear to all. I think the allure of the short story influences what Oyebanji Ayodele has attributed to its fleeting nature.

In 2010 I reviewed African Roar as speaking with the synergy that tells of the past, present and continuing-present. In 2011, it guides you through the labyrinth of issues its writers are concerned with. Last year, it portrays bleak situations but moving all the same. So, this year, when I say it is as good as some parts are also lost on you, know I am frank. No word minced. African Roar 2013 is better enjoyed at its half. That is the way I see it. In African Roar 2013, the themes are of the dire needs for companionship, of social battles for a better living, of tortuous fates, of insensitive paternity and of evil catching up with the doer. These mixes are interesting. You should read this year’s anthology, there are a lot going on in it.

Of Companionship:

Alison Bwalya's “Home” connects identity with pains, with death, with reinvention; the reinvention that makes us half human and half un-human. Being un-human is worse than being a beast. We are memories. We collect them and they define us. We slip on them and we become the un-us, the new 'us' opposite to what our loved ones know, the ones they can't relate with. We slowly kill ourselves and others because we have lost some memories to gain more. We think of home and know not where it is; here or there. Fungisai is reinvented. Katherine is memory. Neville is killed; he is un-him, he is un-past and Katherine is gone. Forever. And Fungisai is reinvented. Immediately.

Just how far will you bear it before you yank his penis off? In Lydia Matata’s “Cut it Off” we see the different abuses that could push a woman to such end. The abuses that could make a woman suddenly turn to what makes her lover male and slices it off. This story stages a montage of a phone-in show as listeners call in to comment on a woman who has recently cut her husband’s off. It is a story of the abused gaining public confidence from a woman’s bold step. This is one of the stories that you may have to read twice to get. You are half into the story before you know how one conversation is different from the other. So many are talking and the paragraphing is poor. The writer fails at dialogue separation. And that muddles the characters together. It is so noisy in there.

Of Social Battles for a Better Living:

There could be only one main reason why Khaled is leaving Bunkpurugu, Hassan and Grandmamma behind. Khaled’s journey to Accra is not only of his own salvation. It is of others’ too. For one reason though, it is of Hassan’s salvation from the many Khaled-esque troubles. Read Aba Amissah Asiboni’s “Salvation in Odd Places”.

Ola Nubi’s “Green Eyes and an Old Photo” graces my reading. Oyedeji wants a better life abroad. He goes to England studying and working. As his family’s burdens weigh on him, he also struggles with racism. There is black hatred everywhere. He seeks a better life and finds Sandra. He later has Sarah and his trauma becomes a loveable memory.

Of Insensitive Paternity and Tortuous Fates:

Bryan Bwesigye’s “Through the Same Gate” interests me. His is of a good story telling and one of the reasons you should read this anthology.  The flashback is well laid and you are not lost. The narrator is called all sorts. His great tribulation is his stepmother, Annette. He bears it well and gets inured to it. That he lives with his father does not bring reprieve. With his tears also comes the relief he needs from his bottled up emotion.

It is fate that separates Samira from Njeri and Atenio, her childhood friends. In their infantile convenience, they had built colourful future together. Abdiqani Hassan’s “The Faces of Fates” explores the irony of their separation. But more ironical is the way they meet later again. Life could be that funny.

African Roar keeps coming every year to showcase our writings. We should appreciate this. It isn’t everywhere you come across a medium as this which is committed to giving voices to relatively unknown writers. African Roar promotes us, our stories.

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