Dec 27, 2010

A Heart to Mend by Myne Whitman - A Review




December 2009, Romance
Authorhouse, 250 pages, ISBN 978-1449047504
Available on Amazon.com


Myne Whitman is an author I came across during my (ongoing) epic search for good African literature. She’s Nigerian, and currently based outside Seattle, Washington. I was immediately struck by how engaged she is with her audience on her blog - Myne Whitman Writes, and felt compelled to read more. She is also actively engaged on Twitter (@Myne_Whitman) and Facebook (hint…hint…to other African writers).

Available on Myne’s blog are excerpts of her debut novel, A Heart to Mend which I devoured in one sitting and found myself wanting for more; I was hooked. I went out and bought my own copy of the book, and here are my impressions.

Young and sheltered, Gladys Eborah moves to Lagos in search of work. She moves at the behest of an estranged aunt, who years ago turned her back on the family seemingly because of her distaste for their poverty. Aunt Isioma is eager to help Gladys land a job, and to build a relationship.

As Gladys navigates her way through Lagos, we see her emerge as a competent and independent woman. She’s building a foundation for her career and relationships; one cannot help but cheer for her. She’s a very believable and likeable character, and definitely isn’t a caricature of a dumb village girl gone wild in the big city.

Enter Edward Bestman. Edward is an ambitious and wealthy businessman. He’s immediately attracted to Gladys and pursues her with a single minded goal. He expects Gladys to succumb completely to his charms and at the same time attempts to keep himself emotionally unattached. Edward is haunted by his past, and this makes him a complicated character. Past experience has taught him that most of the women he dates have an ulterior motive and their hedonistic little souls will attempt to suck him dry.

His defence mechanism is to pursue meaningless attachments, in which neither party has expectations for the long-term. This comes into conflict with Gladys’s high moral code. She will not cheapen her affection for Edward nor will she accept his trinkets as her due. She wants to be on equal footing in their relationship which proves difficult given their socio-economic differences and experiences that have shaped their world views. It is difficult but not insurmountable! Gladys is unwavering in her commitment to Edward, even when pushed to the limit. She proves to be a steadying force when needed the most.

Myne does a really good job developing the story. It is neither rushed nor drawn out too long. We are given a first hand look at the lives of ordinary people as they deal with shifting family dynamics, loss, new love, trust and betrayal, and ultimately redemption!

As someone who has never visited Lagos or the surrounding areas, it was refreshing to see vivid descriptions of places frequented by the locals that aren’t your standard fare on the Discovery Channel. It was also nice to look into the workings of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

I really enjoyed this book and can confess to reading it all in one, almost uninterrupted run. My minor quibble overall is that at times the business jargon for the Stock Exchange was a little distracting. I didn’t need all that detail to understand the complexity of Edward’s business. But with that said, it didn’t stop me from reading more and wasn’t a deal breaker.

I recommend A Heart to Mend. I know it’s marketed as a romance novel but it’s much more than that, so please do not let that label act as a deterrent if you're someone who automatically shies away from the genre.

While I wait for her next book to be released, I’ll be reading more book excerpts on her site. Please join me.

Dec 22, 2010

You're not my father!

Every time I hear a modern president being referred to as Father of the Nation I suck my teeth and have to stop myself from bashing my head against my desk. I abhor the term and all that it represents in modern African politics.

Father of the Nation uses paternalist symbolism that I believe is quite detrimental to our way of living and thinking. This paternalism places the president in the role of the father and the citizen as the child. And as we know a parent often acts for the good of the child. I can see how this is appealing to our leaders – being a father figure in our lives makes them feel good about themselves.

This portrayal of a father figure evokes images of a kind nurturer with our best interests at heart. Someone who spends sleepless nights agonising about the future and the difficult decisions that must be made to reach certain goals.

Alas, this is not the case. Our so-called fathers use their elevated positions to mock us. Decisions that impact our daily lives are made behind closed doors, often shrouded in secrecy and when questioned a condescending smirk and pat on the head are the response – “don’t worry your pretty little head about such matters, father and his friends know what’s best for you.”

I am sure you do not need a laundry list of actions perpetrated by ‘those who know better’ that run counter to the interests of individuals. But let’s indulge for a moment.

- overturned election results that favour the opposition
- constitutional amendments to remove term limits
- unfettered political power used to quash dissention and to make everyone ‘tow the line’

I reject the notion of a benevolent father-figure sitting in state house – doling out gifts and favours to well behaved children like father Christmas at the mall.

As a matter of fact, I want that person to be an Executive – answerable to the people who put him/her in that position; a position with a defined job description and length of stay. They do not answer to donors who poured money into their constituencies but to ME, the person who walked into that booth and walked out with purple finger tips indicating I had exercised my constitutional right to vote. We have delegated authority to elected officials to make certain decisions, and if dissatisfied we reserve the right to say, “Thank you for your service, but we’ve decided to go with a different person in a different direction…”

Dec 15, 2010

Do.Your.Part

“A story about a place, a people or a nation can be used to dispossess and malign depending on how the story is told. A story can also be used to empower and repair broken dignity.”
“As Africans we risk losing our culture and heritage by constantly co-opting those of others in our dress, language, music, and value systems.”
I am sure you’ve seen the above statements in one form or another, and have probably even used them too. Your responses likely ranged from incredulity to anger or disappointment to shame. But now I ask a question of you – what are you doing to channel those feelings towards something positive? What’s your active in reversing the negative stereotypes and the ignorance that so aggravates you?

I am not here to preach or guilt tip anyone. I firmly believe we can all make a difference. This won’t happen by some act of God, individual governments, UNESCO or NGOs. It will be you and I to do that work!
  • Speak to your kids in your native tongue(s) – THEIR native tongue(s). Without this ownership our connectedness diminishes and languages are lost.
  • Challenge yourself and others to read books by indigenous writers. Make the suggestions in your reading club, social circles or whichever platform you are engaged.
  • Make your voice heard during constitutional review processes or other forums targeted at citizenship engagement.
  • In the way you are voicing concerns about Julian Assange’s arrest and imminent extradition, do the same about the mounting political pressure on free media in countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Likewise do the same about the erosion of democratic processes such as handpicked succession planning crammed down the throats of voters. 
Above all, do not allow apathy and laziness to rule your thoughts and actions. If you do, then do not expect anything to get better. Take the leap faith to jump off whatever ledge you're desperately clinging!

Dec 13, 2010

Q&A with Austin Kaluba

Austin Kaluba is a Zambian writer whose work I came across during my internet wanderings. After reading his short story offerings, I went on a hunt to find more of his work. As luck would have it, during my phone interview with Theresa Lungu (author of Twilight in the Morning) I happened to mention my interest in Austin’s work, and she forwarded me his contact information. 

Austin graciously accepted my request for a Q&A, and here it is! I would encourage you to read his short stories -
Maria’s Vision (Africa Writing Online); An African Attends St George’s Day (Maple Tree Literary Supplement); The Hate That Hate Produced (New Contrast literary journal).


I am eagerly anticipating his work to be published, and hopefully you will be too.



Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born on 9th April in Kasama Zambia. I am fourth in a family of 10. I went to two primary schools Misolo and Henry Kapata. I later did my secondary education at Kasama Boys before doing a one year journalism course at Africa Literature Centre.


What inspires you to write?
I started writing in my early teens. I was a voracious reader. Reading was like a possession which culminated in writing. I read African writers in the Heinemann African Writers Series. I think Bwalya you remember the orange covered novels. Well, I devoured most of those books together with James Hadley Chase. I thought Chase was American. Later I discovered that he was English though he set most of his novels in America.

When did you start writing, and why?
You might not believe this. I made my first attempt to write a story when I was in grade 7. I can’t remember what the story was about. I found the experience satisfying. With no creative writing school in Zambia, I thought of doing journalism which I found was closest to my career.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I am experimenting with several types of writing which are not conventional. I have written two published pieces in an epistolary form. This is writing a story in a letter form like the Colour Purple by Alice Walker. I am also working on stories written in a stream of consciousness and magic realism.

What themes or genres are you most comfortable writing?
I am more comfortable writing about race especially how blacks in the diaspora live in alien societies of their former colonial masters who ‘created’ or distorted their new cultures which they either love or hate. Most of stories are about rootless characters confused in their new environments. They include illegal immigrants, prostitutes, asylum seekers and women living with abusive husbands.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?
Creative writing like journalism is hard work than most people think. I hate the actual writing process but love to have written. I mean when I start writing it is really hard developing characters, setting, the voice and several technical aspects to make the story come alive.

What are your current projects?
I am working on a novel to be entitled White Shadows. It has a Somalian protagonist who escapes violence back home just to become a terrorist in Britain. The novel will tackle racism, cultural shock and self discovery. A publisher, Ayebia, is looking at my short stories which they will publish soon. The publisher is a former editor with the defunct Heinemann Africa Writers Series.

What books and/or writers have most influenced your life most?
I have been inspired by several writers and novels. I can single out Peter Abrahams, the South 
African writer among my first love. Then there is the Godfather of African literature Chinua Achebe, Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah,Ferdinand Oyono, Ben Okri and Dambudzo Marechera.

Most people write part time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
When I am not writing, I play my guitar or read poetry. I also like going to the pub.

As an upcoming author, what are the unique challenges you face?
One major challenge is to revolutionise Zambian literature so that we can compete favourably with writers from countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Zambia has been rightly called a literary desert. It is high time we made it an oasis of creativity in the field of writing.

Do you correspond with other Zambian or African authors to discuss marketing
strategies, story ideas, writing challenges, etc?

I correspond with my good colleague Theresa Lungu who is one of the greatest story tellers I have ever met. She has read a number of my short stories and okayed them for publication. I also communicate with a fine Zambian poet Wampembe Lukonde. The other writer friend is Leonard Koloko who is on the Copperbelt.

Where is your work available? Online magazines, journals, etc?
My work is available both online and in literary journals like New Contrast. People can google some of my stories online :
Maria’s Vision (Africa Writing Online ); An African Attends St George’s Day ( Maple Tree Literary Supplement ); The Hate That Hate Produced ( New Contrast literary journal )

What are your thoughts about Zambia’s publishing industry -the writing and reading culture?
At the moment there is no literature worth studying in Zambia. Creative writing is still in its infancy. There is work to be done to establish creative writing at the University of Zambia, colleges and online. I remember writing an article in the Times of Zambia entitled Zambia Fails Literary Test. The article was written sometime in the 1990’s. Not much has changed since that time. A scholar of African literature some Obi Nwokolo wrote an article that was published in the Times of Zambia about the changing trends citing myself Theresa Lungu, Agatha Zaza and Ellen Banda as pioneers of the change.

Any last words, thoughts, ideas? How can you be reached?
My last word to UNZA school of humanities is to establish a creative writing course in the English department. I would also advise budding writers to do creative writing courses online to improve their writing. I will soon start a creative writing course for Zambian writers online. I can be reached on
akaluba (at) yahoo (dot) com

Dec 3, 2010

Where is your soul?

I surrender!!! I will never understand the kind of callousness and greed it takes for anyone put in a position of leadership (elected, appointed or anointed) to screw over people. If you read between the lines, you’ll see I am using much stronger language but for the sake of my mother who reads this blog, I’ll behave.

What ever happened to the ideals of serving your fellow man? As I think of the constant news of politicians and their comrades raking up wealth on the backs of the everyday man – I have to ask, what has happened to us?

Perhaps I am incredibly naïve to think that those of us who come from areas with crushing poverty would take our responsibilities more seriously. Who is better suited to fight tooth and nail for development opportunities for an area or group of people than a native son or daughter? If we are truly endowed with intelligence from our maker, why is this not TOP PRIORITY?

Why are native sons and daughters at the forefront looting and negotiating sweetheart deals for themselves and those closest to them - and thus broadening the gap from the rest of society? Are we so different from vultures lying in wait to pounce on an emaciated prey?

We open our mouths wide, crying like dying beasts about the evils of colonialism and neo-colonialism, while forgetting we are now the architects of our predicaments.

…Firms owned by MPs and Ministers overrepresented in lucrative government deals
…Pastors using church offerings and gifts to build mansions
…First ladies developing an appetite for only Ferragamo shoes


All while...

...mothers and children die in childbirth because of inadequate health facilities and trained staff
...thousands of children are growing up on the streets of major cities after the death of parents
...children are allowed to be incarcerated with their mothers in prisons whose conditions are akin to pig houses
...our brightest talents hawk cheap products on street corners and congested markets instead of harnessing their potential in viable industry.
I don’t get it.

Dec 2, 2010

I Do Not Come to You by Chance - A Review




May 2009
Authorhouse, $15.99, 416 pages, ASIN B002KHMZOA
Available on Amazon.com


I finally picked up a copy of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s debut novel, I Do Not Come to You By Chance, and I’m so glad I did. Who would have thought a story that involves 419 scams would be entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a little sad in the same package? But altogether, it was fantastic read!

If you asked me to describe the theme of the book in a sentence, I would say this -

It honestly depicts the struggles young, ambitious Africans often face when trying to navigate their way in a world littered with connected elites and the impoverished classes. 

The central character in the story is Kingsley (Kings to his familiars). He is the product of a well-educated, middle class family fallen on hard times in Nigeria. His parents are poor but wear the cloak of honesty and morality proudly. They would rather starve than eat food bought with a crooked farthing. And Kings struggles to balance his responsibilities as the eldest son,
the opara, and his yearning to do something meaningful for himself.
“My father was learned and honest. Yet he could neither feed nor clothe his children. My mother was also learned, and her life had not been particularly improved much by education.  I thought about my father’s pals, most of whom were riding rickety cars...about most of my university lecturers with their boogie-woogie clothes and desperate to fight off hunger by selling overpriced handouts from students. Yet Uncle Boniface – our saviour in this time of crisis – had not even completed his secondary school education.”
Kings is not unlike many of us young Africans who are nourished on the teat of “education is the key to success,” – the means of escaping poverty. However, as he sees the fortunes of parents diminish with the increasing political and economic instability in his country, it’s ever more obvious that being connected aka having long legs is critical. His idealism is severely tested as he has to make difficult decisions that not only impact his life but those of his immediate family and the woman he would like to marry.

In his uncle Boniface aka Cash Daddy, he finds a mentor. Someone who gives him a much needed boost up in the world. Cash Daddy makes no apologies for the lucrative 419 scams he runs; it’s a necessary evil. If people weren’t greedy enough to fall for the scam there wouldn’t be a scam, right? Make no mistake, Nwaubani isn't excusing the criminal element of the scams; what she does is weave a very believable story about the motivations that may drive people to such extremes, and how lives are irreversibly affected.

Cash Daddy is an uncouth but entertaining character. He often speaks unkindly of the ideals Kings and his parents stand for, and this made me grimace a few times.  His descriptions of the
mugus, the unsuspecting white people caught in his trap, are particularly unflattering as well but one can’t help but smile at the mental images. However, I can see why he sees things the way he does. The world he lives in takes no prisoners, and one has to have the street smarts to not only survive but to make IT.  And those that don’t, well...
“Is honesty an achievement? Personality is one thing, achievement is another thing. So what has your father achieved? How much money is he leaving for you when he dies? Or is it his textbooks that you’ll collect and pass on to your own children?”       
Nwaubani is quite adept at describing family and societal pressures, that it hooked me right from the start. I recognised many of the characters and scenarios. The book flows easily and is quite addicting.

This is a very good book, and well worth the price you’ll pay on Amazon or at your local bookseller. Also check your local library and you might get lucky. 

Dec 1, 2010

A new direction

DECEMBER 1, 2010

Today marks World AIDS Day. This is always a particularly sad day for me as I remember the people I have lost to the disease over the last fifteen years or so. However, this a new day in a different year and I am flipping this thing on its head. I need to think positive, and stand in solidarity with those infected and affected.

I do not take my life granted, and even more so as I think of the loved ones who lost the battle before they even hit their prime. My thoughts and my actions can make a difference in this fight. And the same applies to you, dear reader.

An easy way to start transforming our thoughts and behaviour is by changing how we talk about HIV/AIDS.

- We gain nothing by labelling it a disease sent to punish promiscuous and immoral people. I think we all know there are enough people dead or living with the disease that, if anything, were non-promiscuous and moral in their living. And even if they weren’t, who are we to throw stones?
No one deserves to contract this disease! And if you still think that way, you may need to look inside yourself and ask some hard questions about your empathy for your fellow man.

- I know there is a push to have HIV/AIDS accepted a long term illness akin to diabetes or cancer, so as to remove the negative stigmas attached to it, and this is a good thing. However, this is not license to become reckless and immune to the messaging about prevention and care. I have heard enough people adopt a disturbing degree of fatalism that truly saps any optimism we may have to decrease infection rates and to stabilise those who are on lifesaving ARVs. The fight is far from over!

As we live our lives day-to-day, let us not forget the important lessons:

KNOW.YOUR.STATUS
GET.TESTED
STAY.FAITHFUL
AND
HAVE.A.POSITIVE.OUTLOOK

Together we can make a difference, and reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS permanently.