Tuesday 29 December 2015

“The Story of Anna P, As Told by Herself” by Penny Busetto

“I wander down to Roman ruins. There is a bench and I sit down…
A man sits down on the bench beside me, a small round man with a bald head.
– Ma guarda quei gatti. He points and I follow the line of his finger to where two cats are mating.
– Gurda come le paice, alla gattacia. Look at how much she likes it, the filthy she-cat…
 – Anche tu gridi cosi? Do you also scream like that? I don’t reply.
He takes my hand and leads me to a crowded caffe across the road where he orders a grappa standing up at the counter. By now his arm is around my waist. He pays, drinks, and guides me to his car parked nearby. We get inside. He pulls me to him, already busy unbuttoning his fly, then pushes my head to his lap. I hear him gasp as he fills my mouth.
Before he is spent we are interrupted by a traffic policeman who knocks officiously on the window and tells us to move on. The man drives a short way to a park with a lake. From a public telephone booth he phones a friend and arranges to borrow his apartment for the afternoon. In exchange, he says, the friend can also have some fun.” (pg. 57)

This is not a usual book about abuse and the abused. This book chronicles pains in an interesting way. The point of view switches from the first person to second person personal pronouns to accommodate layers of horrors. It does not beg for cheap sympathy. Stories similar to Anna P’s are often cheaply relatable, they prematurely bleed you of strength and emotion. You don’t ask for a full narrative if your sister runs home abused, you lurch to avenge. Such is the common response stories of abuse glean from you. When they lack depth, they still spur you to act. The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself is rather deep. It does not exert immediate response from the reader. It tasks the reader’s patience as it plunges the reader into the grim quiddity of Anna P’s life. With an efficient POV that runs in media res, Penny Busetto seems to worsen Anna P's victimhood. She pulls her about. In the Book of the Present, I loathed Anna P. She cuts across as dull, soft and pliable. Everything grows on her. Any stranger could dig into her cone, anytime, anywhere (see. pg. 41-42). She is empty. Her utter emptiness reminds one of Michael K in J.M Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K.  Anna P was beginning to repulse me until I understood her in the Book of Memory. In the Book of Memory, her story wrenches the heart. Book of the Future is a cul-de-sac. There, Anna P’s freedom edgily stretches her. 

When the Sugabelly-Audu narrative broke more than a month ago, we mocked her. We wished her back to her hellhole. What kind of a girl gets serially abused and still stays in it? We rationalized and questioned. This is one of the ways we attack the abused. This is crazy. We are mad. There is a clear similarity between the Sugabelly-Audu saga and Anna P’s. Psychological troubles are often generally misunderstood. We are stupidly quick to label them unusual. This world is reeking of many unashamed predators. The sooner we know this, the better for the emotionally tarred. Anna P’s mother is clueless and Anna P bears the brunt. 

In a simple yet assured prose, Penny Busetto bares the most dampened part of the human soul. With a character floating between loss and amnesia, The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself investigates the extremity of sexual trauma. The life of this character is disturbing. Anna P freely lives on the pages, she does not give a F about the world. She does not take herself seriously. She does not wallow in the bespoke grief life causes the abused. She lives on a routine. Her life is a timetable. She seems not to need the world even as she yearns for it in Sabrina and Ugo. With a sedentary teaching job, Anna P lives a terribly lonely life as she is torn between worlds, between her past South Africa and present Italy.

“I am not sure any more how I ended up here on the island. I think I came to see the ruins and forgot to go back. The local school needed an English teacher and I was asked to stand in until the Ministry in Rome appointed someone.
But that was twenty years ago…
I am always filled with a yearning for something I can’t put my finger on or understand. At times the pain is so great that I wish I were a man and could pay a woman to hold me for a few hours, to make it pass. My body longs to be held and comforted, to know the warmth and softness of touch.” (pg. ix)
I am always wary of literatures that further stereotypical stories of places and their people. The Story of Anna P as, Told by Herself does that bad with the Italians. Most of the Italians appear daft. They are shown as bereft of simple civilities. In this book, sex wafts around unashamedly in Italy. This thickens the common discourse of Italy’s pervasive sexual bestiality. Nearly every male character in this book is a sexual predator. This is bad. From the hotelier, Ispettore Lupo, the stranger on the street, the random lift giver, and to Signor Cappi, everybody pines for Anna P’s sweet pile. This book tends to a subtle but destructive vilification of Italians. That one may consider this kind of narrative normal shows how insidious a single narrative could be.

Also, I find Anna P’s diary useless as she suffers amnesia. Isn’t a diary a sort of a reminder? In her Friday 9 November entry, she writes of buying a knife. A week after (Friday 16 November), she laments not knowing how she comes about the knife. And I began to wonder: does she write in scattered pages; can’t she flip through her diary to rescue herself; what’s the point of keeping a diary if not to help memory?

Friday 9 November
How much is it? I gesture towards the knife.
She names the price, doubled I am sure because of what she perceives is an English accent, the illusion of foreign wealth. I accept and draw out the money. She wraps the knife carefully first in tissue paper, then in wedding gift wrap, white with silver wedding bells and the words Tanti Auguri, Congratulations, repeated over and over…” (pg. 45)
Memory fails her here:

Friday 16 November
I open my handbag and catch sight of a small parcel wrapped in white-and-silver paper. For some reason the sight bothers me. Without removing it from my bag I unwrap. Inside it is a knife. I touch it, running my hand along the handle, touching the hard cold blade. I wonder where it comes from.” (pg. 57)
What is the point of the diary please? This is the issue I have with the diary.

The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself is an interesting book. Read it.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

“The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma

Two things upset life for the Agwu’s family: the temporary absence of the “Guerdon” man and a superstitious anxiety. The Fishermen is a witty book, it makes sorrow almost a pleasurable thing to read. This novel is a receptacle of the gnashing ruins that nearly wipe out a family. The tragedy here is a bleeding one. Pages gush with unimaginable sorrows. With an elegant simplicity, Chigozie Obioma narrates a woe all at once terrible and vivid. With vivacious expressions sharply fleshing out images, the reader is inured to misfortunes. You are pulled into a participatory reading of the text. The Fishermen’s chic use of words entices the reader. In a way that smacks of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chigozie Obioma creates beauty and shreds it. This book elaborates a quotidian family life interspersed with the fragile political tensions of the 1990’s. This is majorly the story of four brothers soused in fleeting joys and suffusive griefs. 

In a clearly portrayed 1990s, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin, all brothers, turn fishermen of fishes, hope, and disaster. Their childhood is battered repeatedly and adulthood soon steals on them. At Omi-Ala, they draw evil home. The turbulence that wracks their household creates a million stories for the reader’s delight. Flashbacks and foretelling chapter titles mix well in this book. Chapter titles like Fishermen, Sparrow, Locusts, and Fungus are suggestive of impending issues. The Fishermen blends the superstitious with the cultural. Everything you take away from the book is subjected to your belief. Life’s checkered nature is wicked as it bites hard on these brothers. This book is a quiver of memories, if you witnessed the full cycle of the ‘90s, memories of those times will flush you as you read. The Fishermen packs enough of infantile gimmickries and mischiefs to double you up. I could see bits of myself in the childhood of these fishermen; in their pranks and wits. My mother would never know (except she read this) why money charged for grinding pepper kept soaring each time she sent me and my sibling to the grinder. The surcharge paid for our stay at game houses. If you never played SEGA game console, your childhood needs to be reconstructed. Trust me. Your childhood is bland. This sent me chortling silly:

“After this fight, we got tired of going outdoors. At my suggestions, we begged Mother to convince Father to release the console game set to play Mortal Kombat, which he seized and hid somewhere the previous year after Boja – who was known for his usual first person in his class – came home with 14th scribbled in red ink on his report card and the warning Likely to repeat. Ikenna did not fare any better; his was sixteenth out of forty and it came with a personal letter to Father from his teacher, Mrs Bukky. Father read out the letter in such a fit of anger that the only words I heard were ‘Gracious me! Gracious me!’… He would confiscate the games and forever cut off from the moments that often sent us swirling with excitement, screaming and howling when the invisible commentator in the game ordered, ‘Finish him’, and the conquering sprite would inflict serious blows on the vanquished sprite by either kicking it up to the sky or by slicing it into a grotesque explosion of bones and blood. The screen would then go abuzz with ‘fatality’ inscribed in strobe letters of flame. Once, Obembe – in the midst of reliving himself – ran out of the toilet just to be there so he could join in and cry ‘That is fatal!’ in an American accent that mimicked the console’s voice-over. Mother would punish him later when she discovered he’d unknowingly dropped excreta on the rug.” (pg. 15)

This book could make for a good literary feminist reading. The frail place of women in the society, how they are subalterned, how they are made as the other, is subtly spread across the book. Women characters in the book seem lopsided and almost unintelligent. Things slip off them before they even know. The character of Mother is interesting. For someone who seems to “own copies” of her children’s “minds” (pg. 103), she seems not to be as vigilant as such. She is only fully realized in the presence of Father. Her maternal vigilance falls apart with his momentary absence. There is Iya Iyabo too, a gossip, someone who fits well into your stereotypical construction of a fish wife. This was in the ‘90s. This makes for an interesting study of women and their roles across ages. Was your ‘90s filled with these types of women or not? You could even do a brief study of women in the society from the ‘90s till now, and see if anything has really changed. Doing a literary feminist criticism of this book will then be critically assessing that aspect of feminist theory which Toril Moil calls the ‘feminine’ aspect as opposed to the ‘feminist’ phase of gender criticism. This ‘feminist’ aspect she calls a political position (see Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory, 2nd ed.). Feminine reading of the text will be exploring “a set of culturally identified characteristics” of women and see if women’s place in the society as portrayed in this novel has not been exaggerated or understated.

In a flush of thick mishaps, events in this book follow after the law of causality. This calls David Hume’s “Necessary Conjunction” to mind, the way minds are copies of experiences (see David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding). Causality says the human minds run in a tight chain of causes and effects. By experience, we habitually give ready conclusions to things. If A happens, then we know B will necessarily follow. This curious case of automatic relation of things and events deepens the tragedy in The Fishermen. People’s experiences with the crazed yammering of Abulu make Abulu a god. Even the supernatural seems to be at a loss on how to deal with Abulu. Ikenna is driven sore and begins providing conclusions to Abulu’s utterings. Even their educated Father falls prey to this automatic relation of events. It is just human to necessarily conjunct related events. This is the way our society is built. Chigozie Obioma takes us to that tender territory of our psyche and how it affects our lives and communities.

I love this book! Editors of this book did something sterling. I could not find a sentence out of place. The use of punctuations marvel you. Words jump out of the book and pull you in. You can feel their hands on you. This is editing at its best. I love The Fishermen.



  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
  • What About Meera by Z P Dala

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Etisalat Prize for Literature 2015 Shortlist Announced

Etisalat Prize for Literature 2015 Shortlist Announced

Lagos, Nigeria: December 14, 2015: Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Penny Busetto and Rehana Rossouw are today announced as the three shortlisted authors for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature. The Etisalat Prize for Literature is the first pan-African Prize that is open solely to debut fiction writers from African countries. Now in its third year, it is acknowledged as the most prestigious literary prize for African fiction.
The three books, selected from the longlist of nine, are:

         Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo) - Tram 83 (Deep Vellum)
         Penny Busetto (South Africa) - The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself (Jacana Media)
                    Rehana Rossouw (South Africa) - What Will People Say? (Jacana Media)

The shortlist was selected by a three-member judging panel: Professor Ato Quayson, Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto (Chair of Judges); Molara Wood, writer, journalist, critic and editor; and Zukiswa Wanner, author of Men of the South and London Cape Town Joburg.

Chair of judges, Professor Ato Quayson, comments: “The variety of styles and subject matter of the books on this year's Etisalat Prize for Literature shortlist reveal the vitality of contemporary African literature. They contribute to our understanding of what it is to love, to laugh, to improvise, sometimes to despair, to know and yet be fooled by the assurance of such knowledge, to work for our ablution in the fate of another's suffering, and ultimately to embrace life in all its bewildering complexities.”

Zukiswa Wanner adds: “This year's Etisalat Prize for Literature shortlist showcases the varied voices emerging on the African literary scene, bringing something beautiful and unique to the reading experience.”

The third member of the judging panel, Molara Wood concludes: “The shortlisted books challenge ready notions about new writing from Africa. They expand the field of literary engagement with themes of nationhood and the self. These are highly original voices whose works will charm and astonish new readers, through the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and deservedly so.

The shortlisted writers will be rewarded with a sponsored multi-city book tour and will also have 1,000 copies of their books purchased by Etisalat for distribution to schools, libraries and book clubs across the Continent.

NoViolet Bulawayo won the maiden edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature with her highly celebrated debut novel, We Need New Names, while Songeziwe Mahlangu emerged winner of the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature competition with his novel, Penumbra

The winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature will be announced in March and will receive £15,000, an engraved Montblanc Meisterst├╝ck pen. The Prize also includes an Etisalat sponsored fellowship at the University of East Anglia, mentored by Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland.

The distinguished Patrons of the Etisalat Prize are noted the acclaimed writer Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Pulitzer Prize Winner Dele Olojede (Nigeria), editor, critic and 2015 Man Booker Prize Judge, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, OBE (UK/Zimbabwe), writer and public intellectual Kole Omotoso (Nigeria), editor, writer, broadcaster, consultant and co-founder of Allison & Busby, Margaret Busby, OBE (UK/Ghana) and novelist, poet and playwright Zakes Mda (South Africa).

For more information about the Prize, visit http://prize.etisalat.com.ng/

About Etisalat Nigeria
In just seven years of operations, Etisalat Nigeria has become a major industry player with a growing subscriber base of 23 million in a highly competitive market. Its portfolio of voice and data-centric products include – Easy starter, Easycliq, Cliqlite, Classic Post-paid, Easybusiness and Easyblaze; all tailor-made to meet the needs of its customers.

Etisalat Nigeria is one of the 19 operations of the Etisalat Group spanning Africa, the Middle East and Asia and serving over 182 million subscribers. Etisalat Nigeria is committed to delivering innovative and quality services to its growing subscribers.

Monday 14 December 2015

“Season of Crimson Blossoms” by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season of Crimson Blossoms grippingly depicts the vagaries of life. It bares realities and its intricacies. It examines the moral rules we live by. Humanity could be confusing; the same rigid laws that guide us, snuff us out. In the manner characteristic of Victorian literature, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim explores a puritanical society. Interestingly, he portrays well the fragile veneer masking strict morality. The society portrayed in Season of Crimson Blossoms is typical of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Binta Zubairu and Hester Prynne share a striking similarity in their woes. This is how a puritanical society works: freedom is rejected for adherence; practicality is celebrated over sheer pleasure; the human will is heavily influenced by prescriptive religious mores. With that prescriptiveness, society turns against itself in its constant moralistic sanitization. Humanity is seen striving for divinity, and there lies the evil that ravages it. Humanity is humanity. The Supernatural is the Supernatural. When humans long to be preternatural, many things give. In Season of Crimson Blossoms, Binta Zabairu gives; Hassan ‘Reza’ Babale gives, and everything that surrounds their stormy relations.

The novel is the story of love (lust?) in unexpected places. Like life, other things follow this. Binta is at the centre of a complex commotion that trudges to a dampened climax. In Binta’s self realisation, she constantly battles with her society. Nobody wins an African society easily. Ask Ezeulu in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. An African society heavily relies on the Ubuntu philosophy where personhood is only realized in communality. You are nothing outside the approval of your society. Binta breaches societal and religious norms, and the consequences are overwhelming. Beyond the travails Binta suffers and the boisterousness of San Siro are Nigerian politics and the consequent ethnic-religious crises. There is Senator Buba Maikudi, a roguish politician oozing grimes and candies from the same side of the mouth.  The book uses riveting yet subtly dark humour to capture the entity called Nigeria.  Yaro’s, Zubairu’s, and Fai’za’s parents’ lives serve as a counter-narrative to popular perspectives on the many ethnic-religious crises in the North. Season of Crimson Blossoms is a complete debut of everything wrecking a closely knitted society as ours. Above all, it lauds an individual’s will to rise above the conventional. Binta wills freedom here:

“She wanted it to be different. She had always wanted it to be different. And so when he nudged her that night, instead of rolling on her back and throwing her legs apart, she rolled into him and reached for his groin. He instinctively moaned when she caressed his hardness and they both feared their first son, lying on a mattress would stir.
What the hell are you doing? The words, half-barked, half whispered, struck her like a blow. He pinned her down and, without further rituals, lifted her wrapper. She turned her face to the wall and started counting. The tears slipped down the side of her closed eyes before she got to twenty.” (pg. 54)
The above is not just sex. A woman’s soul is being gruesomely wrenched off. Sex in her home is following through duteous motions. One would have to understand the kind of society Binta is in to well appreciate the bravery Binta summons there, as she mounts her husband. Hers is a society driven by strict religious dicta: a society that normalizes the objectification of women; a society where you fuck your wife and she does this:

“When he’s done, always put your legs up so his seed will run into your womb.” (pg. 51)
You will cry here. No wetness. No pleasure. And Zubairu, Binta’s husband, just rams her on:

“…when he was tossing and turning on the bed next to her, she knew he would nudge her with his knee and she would have to throw her legs open. He would lift her wrapper, spits into her crotch and mount her…She would count slowly under her breath, her eyes closed…And somewhere between sixty and seventy – always between sixty and seventy – he would grunt, empty himself and roll off her until he was ready to go again.” (pg. 53-54)
I love the way language is used in this book. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s use of language impresses. In fact, before you get yourself into the story, language hooks you first. In showing the way Binta breaks free, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim paints it well here: 

“Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, like a field of miniscule anthills scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart.” emphasis mine (pg. 3).
You will love the poeticity of his language. Meanings are compressed and left to swell in your mind. Check this:

“After growing wings through indiscretion, Hajiya Binta, contrary to her expectation, did not transform into an eagle, but an owl that thrived in the darkness in which she and Reza communed.” (pg. 123)

My favourite in the book is how this everyday teenage act is simply shown:

“…the girl was already up, wiping sleep from her eyes with a cotton ball dipped in facial cleanser.” (pg. 33)
Everything in this novel reflects the postcolonial. I like this. The postcolonial always aims to deconstruct and break hegemony of discourses. Characters in this book de-stereotype societal held norms. There is a subtle attack on societal negative ancientness. Binta breaks Patriarchal power in many ways. An instance is the way she perpetually scorns Mallam Haruna’s proposition. Characters triumph in their complexities to challenge pigeonholing. Reza may be a street rogue and bestial political tool, however, the orderliness he enforces in San Siro shows an unconventional intellect at play. The lord of San Siro, a place where street scums trade in the illegal, Reza’s humanity shines off nevertheless. His soft spots for Binta and his familiar trauma are the two sides of him he struggles to manage.

However, some of the many deconstructions in this book are not without their faults. In the overreaching attempt to stab stereotypes, Abubaka Adam Ibrahim seems to desperately over essentialise characters and incredulity stings you in the face. Some characters in this book shove unbelievable intellects into your face. The book takes it far when Reza sees the need to get Leila a book while in his captivity: 

“I found this on my way back yesterday at a second-hand bookseller’s. I thought you could do with something to read. Keep you company, you understand?” (pg. 284)
It is Reza! Not Fai’za and her friends, who we know to love books. I find the passion Binta shows towards literary works unnatural. I see it as a belaboured attempt to elevate this character into something she is not. This is an imposed intellection, another place where deconstruction terribly fails. Consider this:

“While dusting the small pile of books shelved on the little cupboard in the corner, her eyes fell on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. But Binta picked out a Danielle Steel novel instead and tossed it on the couch…” (pg. 34)
At a time in the book, she is seen philosophising about the old man’s struggle at sea, relating it to her own life. That part of her marvels me! What an intellectual!

You should read Season of Crimson Blossoms. There are so many things to love the book for.


Upcoming this month:

  • The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila