Kinna Reads

A blog of books, reading and world literature


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Jerome reviews Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather

(This is Jerome Kuseh’s second review for Kinna Reads; his first was on Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen.  Jerome is a “Ghanaian who mostly blogs about politics and business. He is also a fan of literature and has sometimes written poetry. His business blog is ceditalk.com and for his posts about politics, social issues and his attempts at creative writing, visit readjerome.blogspot.com.”)

A writer’s first published novel sometimes sets the tone for subsequent novels. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart introduced us to the pre-colonial Igbo society that was re-visited in Arrow of God. Ayi-Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born announced the arrival of the post-colonial Ghanaian existentialist struggling to stay afloat in a sea of corruption that had already drowned the rest of society. A task made more difficult by the anchor of family expectations weighing down on his neck. Such a character was also the protagonist of his second novel, Fragments.

Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather (1968) can similarly be seen as a precursor to the seminal A Question of Power (1973). The novel, just like A Question of Power, is set in a rural community in Botswana, a country in which Bessie Head lived as a refugee for 15 years before being granted citizenship in 1979, 7 years before her death in 1986 at the early age of 49. Both novels also describe the agricultural practices of the rural Batswana.

raincloudsWhen Rain Clouds Gather is a story about a political refugee from South Africa, Makhaya Maseko, who enters Botswana illegally and settles in the rural town of Golema Mmidi. The town is inhabited almost exclusively by women for most of the year, as the men take their cattle to graze for extended periods away from the town. The villagers are aided in agricultural development by an Englishman, Gilbert Balfour, whose attempts to modernise agriculture and get the people to abandon subsistence farming are frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the local government, by the “prejudices of the Batswana people” and by the chief of the town, Matenge.  Matenge bears a grudge against Gilbert for destroying his cattle speculation business through the establishment of a co-operative for the cattle farmers.

Makhaya finds a father figure in the village in the person of Dinorego, who is the father of Gilbert’s love interest and eventual bride, Maria. Makaya, shares with the very religious Mma-Millipede,  a deep resentment of all the years of living under apartheid. Mma Millipede tries unsuccessfully to drain Makhaya of his bitterness by preaching the gospel to him from her Tswana Bible.

The novel takes its title from the strange phenomenon of rain clouds that regularly gather in Golema Mmidi although no rain falls, and the town suffers a drought for most of the year.

When Rain Coluds Gather is centred on Makhaya’s integration into the way of life in Golema Mmdii. He becomes a reliable assistant to Gilbert and struggles to help improve their standard of living while contending with the villainous chief, Matenge. He also falls in love with Paulina Sebeso, a single mother of two whose independence and strong will makes her standout from the other women of the town. When Matenge summons Paulina to his dwelling, apparently to punish her, the whole village accompanies her in solidarity, and Matenge reacts in a way which no one could have predicted.

The detailed description of the agricultural practices of the people in the novel is reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and is probably inspired by Bessie’s own gardening.

Bessie shares some of her views in When Rain Clouds Gather. Through Makhaya, she expresses her inability to accept Christian doctrine due to the way in which it had been used as a justification for oppression.

“The philosophy of love and peace strangely overlooked who was in possession of the guns…The contradictions were apparent to Makhaya, and perhaps there was no greater crime as yet than all the lies Western civilization had told in the name of Jesus Christ. It seemed to Makhaya far preferable for Africa if it did without Christianity and Christian double-talk, fat priests, golden images, and looked around at all the thin naked old men who sat under trees weaving baskets with shaking hands. People could do without religions and Gods who died for the sins of the world and thereby left men without any feeling of self-responsibility for the crimes they committed. This seemed to Makhaya the greatest irony of Christianity. It meant that a white man could forever go on slaughtering black men simply because Jesus Christ would save him from his sins. Africa could do without a religion like that.” (AWS Classics, 2008; Page 140)

In all honesty, I preferred reading this book to A Question of Power. It may not be avant-garde or remarkably original, but it is a lot easier to read and I totally loved it!  If you’ve not yet read Bessie Head, I recommend that you start with When Rain Clouds Gather.

 


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Wole Soyinka At 80

Wole Soyinka

Africa’s foremost writer and the World’s greatest living dramatist is 80 years old today!

Happy Birthday to Wole Soyinka!

Long may he live!

Essays Soyinka at 80

This is UK Edition of book

Soyinka was in Accra last week for the launch of Crucible of the Ages: Essays in Honour of Wole Soyinka at 80.  The book is edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Ogochukwu Promise.  Contributors include Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ato  Quayson, Niyi Coker, Toni Morrison, Toyin Falola and many, many more.

The book launch itself was a presidential affair with both the Presidents of Ghana and Rwanda, Governors of two Nigerian states, Commonwealth leaders, members of Ghanaian Parliament in attendance.  Of course, anything in honor of Soyinka cannot possible be too grand.  It didn’t feel like a book launch at first, but by the end of the evening, the writers, readers, and bloggers in attendance had taken our event back.  Take back the book launch!

Abena Busia read her poem ‘The Lion Has Entered the House’ (her contribution to the festricht), which makes poetic use of the meanings of Soyinka’s names and has woven into it the titles of his plays and memoirs. It’s a longish poem so I won’t quote the entire piece here save for the last two stanzas:

“Such it has ever been, in the nature of the trials
Brother Jero, Kongi, Baabu and all the tricksters
Madmen, specialists and oh so vengeful gods or wizards
Require forceful interventions:
So the strong breed, swamp dwellers all
Who stride this Mandela’s earth
Assembled at your command,
To dance the dance of the forests
First as operatic interlude for a hope filled past
And then as requiem for a disappointed future,
In the unending dramatic rituals of poetic words and dance.

No, the dance for justice is not over.
The Lord entered the house
And whatever wizards rule,
The kings and all their eternal horsemen
In a kaleidoscope of death and beauty
Follow the imperative of the brave one come
That with enduring strength and resolution
We still set forth at dawn.”

———

I’ll end with a few pictures from the book launch.  (The Presidency of Rwanda has more official pictures on their Flickr page here.) Also, I’ll be reading Soyinka’s plays to celebrate his 80th. Details soon.

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A Stack of Twenty-Two Books Seeking Attention

The Pile

 

I’ll just go ahead and blame my silence on the pile pictured above.  There are books in there that I need to review, and I’ve been telling myself that if I don’t review those then I can’t say anything else.  It’s bollocks of course but we’ll know about excuses. And procrastination. And excuses.

Daris God ooo…

The stack includes

  • books overdue for review
  • books I want to read and will read
  • books I have to read
  • books I may not read but want to talk about, maybe…
  • books that I’m currently reading

I have this to say about eleven of these books:

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis  – I’ve been crowing about this collection to anyone who will listen in Accra.  Lydia Davis is original; she’ll be my new yardstick against which I’ll measure writers described as original.  You know the saying: a story can be told in many ways? Well, here is an a writer who manages to do that and more. This means that she is a master of the short form – regular length short stories, flashes, one-sentence stories and everything in-between. Here’s a writer who doesn’t waste or let pass anything, anyone or anywhere;  it seems everything can be used in a story.  Run and get this collection. For those who can’t seem to get with the short form, if this collection doesn’t change your mind, I give you permission to stop trying to understand short stories all together.  All hail King Lydia!

I Have Time and Other Stories by Franka Maria Andoh -   This book was recently launched in Ghana.  This is Franka’s debut collection. Funny stories about contemporary, urban Ghanaian living.  The struggle, the struggle!

The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih -   Salih’s Season of Migration to the North is on my top 10 list of books.  I think I’ve read ...Zein before but I can’t recall. It’s a novella so I’m giving it another go.

God’s Gym by John Edgar Wideman – I’ve known of  and been interested in John Edgar Wideman for a very long time and yet have not managed to read anything by him. God’s Gym is a collection of short stories and have been described as deeply personal stories of a writer who’s still trying to figure himself out.  Sounds like a good place to start!

The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda – I read Mda’s Ways of Dying, which chronicles a few days in the life of a Professional Mourner.  I’ve been meaning to get back to Mda.  This book is based on the 1971 trial of the “Excelsior 19, a group of white Afrikaners and Africans charged under the Immorality Act.

The President’s Physician by Dr. Bettina Boohene-Andah  – In 2004, Bettina Boohene-Andah was appointed physician to H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, Ghana’s President at the time.  She is the first woman to hold the position and this book is her memoir.

look where you have gone to sit: New Ghanaian Poets edited by Martin Egblewogbe and Laban Carrick Hill -  Martin, author of  Mr Happy and the Hammer of God, hosts a Sunday evening radio program on literary stuff and some months ago I appeared on the show and promptly borrowed (it was more like bullied and took!) his copy of this anthology.  I’m finally reading it; I fear Martin may remind me to return soonest!

Thomas Hodgkin: Wandering Scholar by Michael Wolfers – When my mother speaks of her early academic career she’s sure to thank JH Nketiah, Efua Sutherland and Thomas Hodgkin.  These three appointed  her research assistant of Efua Sutherland.  They are spoken of in hallowed and very  fond terms.  The first two I met; Efua Sutherland remains forever my Auntie Efua.  But I never met Hodgkin, and his Nobel Laureate (in Chemistry) wife Dorothy.  For those of you in Ghana and/or interested in study of African history, the British Marxist historian Hodgkin was instrumental in the founding of the Institute of African Studies at Legon.  Wolfers’ book is the first detailed biography of Thomas Hodgkin.

Mr. Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo – By now most of you would have heard of Bernadine Evaristo.  I gald I have this book as I keep reading good things about it on Twitter.  This is the story of “Barrington Jedidiah Walker. Barry to his friends. Trouble to his wife.”  Yo, I love the name Barrington as in Barriingon Levy!  I’m so looking forward to reading this book.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo – Oh Lord, I can’t seem to finish We Need New Names. ah! and I want to finish because I want to talk about it. Mostly about how reading this book transforms me into a petty reader. I like a lot of what I’ve read but….

London Cape Town Joburg by Zukiswa Wanner -  Here’s another writer that I’ve been meaning to read.  This is her fourth novel and she was kind to send me a review copy.  I’ll be reading it over the coming weekend and will review it soon.

Would you like to share the books you’re reading or those you won’t be reading?

 

 


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“We promise we shall build the new cities over your bodies” – Kofi Awoonor. It’s his birthday!

Kofi Awoonor 1

Today would have been Kofi Awoonor’s 79th birthday.

Dela, of African Soulja, and I will celebrate the poet on our blogs and on Twitter.  The hashtag is #Awoonor79.

I begin with an excerpt from  “In Memoriam”, the opening poem of Awoonor’s The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook (1992). The poem begins with a “single line honor roll”:

For friends gone ahead: Joe de Graft, Ellis Komey, Paa Kayper, Camara Laye, Chris Okigbo, Alex La Guma, Robert Serumaga, and Geombeyi Adali-Mortty, all the brothers who sang our song,  and went home to the ancestors.

The promise in the last stanza of the poem resonates with me as I hold on to the hope that one day, we will do all this over, do it right, this African Project.

And who said that the drama of the dying
wipes out the consequences
and the central theatre of death?

Brothers, your tombs are the verses you carved
on granitic memories;
oh, how I grieve over the tempests
that blew away the young poets
singers of all our songs in this land of fetters.
We promise we shall build the new cities
over your bones,
that your mortuaries shall become the birthplace,
that our land and people
shall rise again
from the ashes of your articulate sacrifices!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UNCLE KOFI!


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Jerome reviews Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen

(I’m grateful to Jerome for writing this review since I am being quite lazy about writing.  Jerome Kuseh is a “Ghanaian who mostly blogs about politics and business. He is also a fan of literature and has sometimes written poetry. His business blog is ceditalk.com and for his posts about politics, social issues and his attempts at creative writing, visit readjerome.blogspot.com.”)

Intro

After failing to participate in both 2012 and 2013, I decided to take part in his year’s Africa Reading Challenge. This March has been reserved for books by African women authors only, to make up for my deficiency in that regard. I have just read Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen and I’m halfway through Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather. Not being a book blogger myself, I have taken up Kinna’s opportunity to share my review of Second-Class Citizen on her blog. I would like to thank her for the opportunity and for getting me to explore African Literature after I had spent the better part of 2013 reading European classics.

Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

It had all begun like a dream. You know, that sort of dream which seems to have originated from nowhere, yet one was always aware of its existence. One could feel it, one could be directed by it; unconsciously at first, until it became a reality, a Presence.

Second Class Citizen

Jerome sent the African Writers Series cover but I just can’t deal with some of those covers – they’re so bad!

So began the story of an Igbo girl from Ibuza, who was born and raised in Lagos. A young girl named Adah who did not know her age because her parents had not seen the need to record the date, seeing as she was a girl when they had wanted a boy. So she guessed her age as eight, and was certain she was born during World War II.

The “Presence” described in the opening passage was her determination to go to the United Kingdom, a dream inspired by the adoration given to an Ibuza native who had just returned from the UK after earning a qualification as a lawyer. The “Presence” was so strong that it drove her to find her way to school on her own, against her mother’s wishes and even after her supportive father’s death. The “Presence” drove her to earn a scholarship to Methodist Girl’s school, to marry a man, Francis, in order to have a home for her studies (since a woman living alone would be regarded as a prostitute), to earn a high-paying job at the US Consulate and to pay for her husband’s trip to the UK to chase his elusive dream of qualifying as an accountant to pave the way for her dream to be fulfilled. One cold morning, after a long sea journey with her two children, the quest of the “Presence” had been fulfilled.

She had arrived in the United Kingdom. Pa, I’m in the United Kingdom, her heart sang to her dead father.

One would think that the iron will of this young Igbo girl who overcame all hurdles to achieve her dreams would be enough for one story. However, the UK (England specifically) was not what Adah had hoped it would be. Perhaps, she should have been warned by the cold that greeted her. England was cold in every possible way.

As her husband explained to her, she was a second-class citizen there because she was black. That means she had to give up her class privilege (that she had worked hard to earn) and accept the same jobs people with the education of her maids back home would do. Perhaps, if Adah had just accepted this role that had been carved for her, the story would’ve been simpler. But she was who she was, and she had to go get a job at a library and refuse to let her children be taken to foster homes. She was trying to live like a white person. She had broken the unwritten laws of her Nigerian neighbours and irked the childless landlady, so they were thrown out of their meagre apartment and had to rent a room in the house of an old Nigerian man and his white wife.

Now her husband, Francis, felt entitled to all the privileges of an Igbo man over his wife, while not feeling obliged to undertake any responsibility whatsoever. He cheated on her, he beat her, refused contraception on the basis of Roman Catholicism and refused to work on the basis that as a Jehovah Witness, the world was transient and that he had to only focus on the kingdom of God in the afterlife. So he fed fat on his wife’s wages, making no effort to study properly even though he had no work and kept failing his Cost and Works accounting examinations. In time, he became jealous of his wife’s achievements and was determined to thwart all her efforts.

What I find intriguing about Second-Class Citizen is the way in which Emecheta questions religion without drawing any conclusion – from the question of Jesus’s status as son of God to whether it was man’s rib that a woman was fashioned out of.  Adah continuously sees the hypocrisy of her husband’s religion and yet in many parts of the book she had turned to God in distress. God had become a personal helper as opposed to the head of an organised religion.

Another intriguing phenomenon is how much Adah wishes her husband would love her and treat her kindly and how hard she worked to save her marriage. Reading the book, there were times when I was outraged and wished I could speak to Adah to get her children and leave the useless man. Her desire for nothing more than love and appreciation of her extraordinary efforts from her husband is just like Mara in Amma Darko’s classic Beyond the Horizon.

From reading the book, one also comes across the tensions between the Igbo and Yoruba people of Nigeria. I recently read Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra and this book mirrors the levels of distrust between the two major ethnic groups of Southern Nigeria, that is exhibited even in the United Kingdom.

I am in no doubt that Second-Class Citizen is largely based on Buchi Emecheta’s on life. Like Adah, she also went to the UK from Nigeria, left her husband with her children, and became a writer. I have recently acquired her autobiography, Head Above Water and I am anxious to see if there are similarities to the events of Second-Class Citizen. In further proof of my new-found admiration for Emecheta, I have bought, arguably, her most famous work The Joys of Motherhood.

Second-Class Citizen is a great start to my month of reading African women writers, however it should not be kept in such a narrow context. It is raises philosophical questions that transcend the African context. It would make a great read for anyone from any background and I highly recommend it.

AWDF


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Call for Applications: Creative Non-Fiction Workshop for African Women

Let me crow a bit before getting to the details of the workshop.  I had the most delightful International Women’s Day Ever.  I took part in Yewande Omotoso’s Creative Writing Master Class which was organized by AWDF and Mbaasem Foundation.  It was fantastic!. I learnt a lot. Yewande is an engaging and generous tutor so I’m pleased that she, together with Male Kabu, will facilitate this non-fiction workshop.

Here is the announcement from AWDF:

“The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) will be holding a creative non-fiction workshop in Kampala, Uganda, organised by FEMRITE Uganda Women Writers Association from the 21st to the 31st of July 2014. The lead facilitators for the workshop will be Mamle Kabu, and Yewande Omotoso.

This workshop is targeted at writers and activists who wish to use the power of the written word to highlight issues around women’s rights and social justice. Participants taking part in this workshop will be expected to read widely from assigned selected texts, and to complete daily written exercises.

The organisation of this workshop forms part of AWDF’s efforts to raise African women’s voices. Writers who participate in this workshop will be supported to have their articles placed in a range of local, regional and international media. In line with AWDF’s ethos, efforts will be made to ensure that at least 20% of the writers selected for this workshop will be women from existing grantee organisations and activists from civil society spaces.

Accommodation and a travel grant will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend for the duration of the workshop.

Application Guidelines

Deadline for submission is 23rd March 2014. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by 30th May 2014.

To apply, send an e-mail to writing@awdf.org
Your e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application’

The body of the e-mail should contain the following:
1. Your Name
2. Your Address
3. A short bio (maximum 200 words)
4. A sample article addressing an issue around women’s rights or social justice (of between 500 and 1000 words)

* Please state in your email if you are a member of an AWDF grantee organisation or network member

* The sample article could be either published or unpublished”.

The entire announcement includes bios of the facilitators.

African Writers Trust


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Call for Applications: Editorial Skills Development Workshop

From the African Writers Trust:

“African Writers Trust in partnership with Commonwealth Writers will conduct an Editorial Skills Development workshop in Kampala, Uganda, from 16th to 20th June 2014.

Led by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, a book editor with over fifteen years experience at Penguin, Random House and Granta in the UK, the training will target editors from the East Africa region: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

This course is meant for mid-level and more experienced book editors and proof readers working as freelance or within publishing houses. This will be a residential workshop. Air travel expenses, accommodation and meals will be provided to successful candidates.

If you want to be considered for this training, please send a Letter of Motivation not exceeding 1,000 words to gorettiATafricanwriterstrust.org  and mildredbaryaATafricanwriterstrust.org  stating:

  1. Name, nationality and gender
  2. Contact information: Email address and telephone number
  3. How long you have been working as an editor/proof reader
  4. What you find most challenging in your work as a book editor/proof reader
  5. What you hope to achieve from participating in the workshop

The deadline for receiving applications is 4th April, 2014. Applications received after this date will not be considered.

Only successful applicants will be notified by 30th April 2014.”

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