Monday 30 June 2014

2014 Caine Prize Shortlist (2)

  • Read the first part of the review HERE
If you are patient enough, you might like some pieces in this year’s Caine Prize than you thought. Just like how I couldn’t relate with Absurdism in my drama class, few things in some of these pieces, especially those I will be focusing on in the last part of this review, frustrated my reading. The internet does not allow you to easily give the kind of attention these stories demand. The internet is a jealous thing, you know.  And one with more interesting stories to offer. In my drama class, for the grade, I took to liking the Absurdist movement; if only to be able to fault it well and please my lecturer. In the nonsensicalness of Vladimir and Estragon (in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, an absurdist play text), I took up an interest, rationalizing everything in to make sense of everything. In the endless dribbles of Vladimir and Estragon and the bestial servitude of Lucky to Pozzo, I saw how humanity could be vain and nothing and wicked. And so with the responsibility that comes with completing this review, I have made some sense of The Gorilla’s Apprentice and The Intervention and I have dug up some interesting things in them; if only to be able to review them well.

These stories usefully make use of good subtleties. In Billy Kahora’s The Gorilla’s Apprentice for instance, nothing is directly quickly revealed. Before anything is really shown, you must have known, so that when it is eventually revealed, it does not then only become a revelation, but a knowledge that is made known to understand other things. Instances of this abound in Billy Kahora’s The Gorilla’s Apprentice. It is in the same use of subtleties, that Billy’s The Gorilla’s Apprentice and Tendia’s The Intervention share some writing style. 

In “The Intervention”, though politics is a noticeable theme, the writer does not make it dominant. He only turns it into a passing commentary that complements the squabble between the young couple of Tamu and Sarah, and the characters’ lives as exiles. With this, it is only in the sufferings and anxieties of these characters and their conditions as immigrants that commentaries on the devilish politics running down their home country are made. Interesting way of writing there. 

With “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” too, the author never pushes it to you that Kenya is in a political turmoil. After you may have been hooked by Jimmy’s obsession with the old mountain Gorilla, chips of political uncertainties are only made reflective: in how long the tourists will stay at the zoo; in the crazy attitude of motorists on the way to Jimmy’s house; in the screams and billows observed away from the zoo. All these subtleties make these two pieces somewhat engaging.

“The Gorilla’s Apprentice” by Billy Kahora

Nothing matters to Jimmy Gukonyo, only the Gorilla does. The zoo is his escape from many miseries. That boy really has suffered. From a torn home, to the miseries that come with being raised by a single parent and his sight condition; a young boy cannot have bargained for so much despair. Nothing bears him comfort than in the non-verbal company of the gorilla. So, it is understandable that life for the gorilla is also one for him. As the gorilla ails, Jimmy soon seeks a way to talk to it. Semambo is his solution; Semambo is the havoc.

Billy takes feminism overboard in this piece. It does piss me off! We should stop this vogue of making men unjustifiably cruel in literature. This is the kind of literature that preys on the common for some misplaced gender right. We are never informed of what happens to Jimmy’s father, why he leaves Jimmy and his mother. We do not know what he does or does not do. All the reader knows is that he is the devil and the cause for the broken home. The author does not tell you this directly though, but the manner Jimmy’s father is mentioned in the stories makes you assumes as much. When a man leaves his home and child, he is always the devil and the women a saint in her singlehood (as she finds life afterwards in all manner). Just make men the devils anyhow and female characters in our literature are instant heroines. Rubbish.

 “When Jimmy was twelve his father left them, and Jimmy began to come on his own, except for the year he had been in and out of hospital.” (pg. 1)
Why did he leave? Billy will not tell you. Billy will again tell you he left:

“Jimmy knew all about these children – had lived among them, and become one of them after his father had left and his mother had taken them to her parents’ in Kerugoya for six months.” (pg. 3)
And then the father will be called names:

 “‘What are rabbits anyway? Your father is a rabbit. Always up in some hole.’” (pg. 4)
The question for his leaving is still unanswered:

“ ‘You know, when your father left I thought that we would just die, but look at us now.’” (pg. 4)
And Jimmy’s mother is made a heroine:

She would smear on her lipstick and flounce out of the apartment to meet a new man friend. (I’ve no time for boys. I need a man. James, will you be my man? Protect me.)(pg. 4)

“The Intervention” by Tendai Huchu

This interestingly blends a large scale political turbulence with a trivial emotional issue. In this story, the characters are distanced victims of what is happening in their country. This is one piece that almost articulates the drivel and dribble of the exiled. It shows the hypocrisy of opinionated immigrants even as they are ensconced elsewhere away from where it burns. It is easy to wax rhetoric when you are removed off the heat.  For a long time, exile will always be better than home for third world immigrants. They might only say otherwise to constantly always remind themselves; that they have homes, that their exile is not total. But really, the exile is total.

Z will hope the opposition party wins the election here:

 “ ‘Change is coming to Zimbabwe,’ Z said.
‘It’s been a long time coming,’ said the blazo.
‘As soon as our victory is confirmed, I’m packing my bags, leaving this goddamn country and going home,’ Z went on.” (pg. 8)
But when something else happens, his hypocrisy is magnified:

The results were out. The Party had won. The Party had won. The Party had won. The Party had. The Party? I saw a joyful smile mixed in with relief on Z’s face, because the Party’s win was a victory for him too. He had an asylum claim pending with the Home Office and if the Opposition had won, he’d have been screwed. He quickly mastered himself and frowned, now wearing a new look, a cross between sorrow and anger. (pg. 8)

Does anyone understand the dumb poetic outburst of Samba here in the story?:

“The children of Africa cry
When they should be laughing
Can you hear them, can you hear them.
Will you help them, will you help them.
The land of the fat hippopotamus
The home of the mighty Zambezi
The mystical ancestors
The wide African skies
The children of Africa cry
Waa-waa-waa” (pg. 9)

Just what is the significance of that anyway? And don’t tell me it is a mark of some resignation. There are several other ways that could be achieved.

This year’s stories are mixed for me. They all have what you will like them for and otherwise.

Follow Joseph Omotayo on Twitter @omotayome