Jun 14, 2011

Quills of Desire by Binwell Sinyangwe - A Review


January 2000 (reprint), General Fiction
Baobab Books, 171 pages, ISBN 0-908311-59-1
Available on Amazon.com
Quills of Desire is Binwell Sinyangwe’s first published book, and the second I have read. The story centres on Wiza, a young and intelligent secondary school student. Wiza is ambitious, and seeks to use his education as a ticket out of poverty. His family holds the same dream for him and push him to succeed, hoping for him to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother (another gifted son).

Wiza is a respected and popular figure at school among his fellow students and teachers alike. And with his affable character comes a healthy dose of arrogance which to his detriment pits him against some of the more insecure students who see him a threat to their own comfort.
His father, Chambuleni, is a wise man of few words. He counsels Wiza to be more deliberate in his thoughts and actions. Chambuleni fears Wiza’s unpredictability and penchant for mischief may prove to be a barrier to future success despite his excellent school grades.

As the book progresses we see Wiza mature in some ways but held back in others by his own inner demons and the seeds of mistrust sown earlier that are eagerly cultivated by those with personal grudges. He is a flawed character and though I made concessions for some his shenanigans because of his age I wanted to reach out, pull his ears, and say through gritted teeth “remove your head from your hindquarters, Wiza, and see where you’re headed.”
As he stumbles and falls, I ache for his pain. To see his potential squandered is a loss, and no one feels it more acutely than Wiza himself. Forced to make difficult decisions about his future, he rebels against it not wanting to give up the dreams to which he has held on for so long.
The cast of supporting characters add to the story and do not merely serve as a fluff. Wiza’s parents though not very educated are not simply village illiterates who worship the ground their sons walk on. They provide guidance, wisdom and love – which are qualities you look to find in parents regardless of their position in life. His school chums are also entertaining to follow – I was reminded of my own boarding school experience and some of the adventures we had (trips to the Headmistresses office, included).  

Probably what struck me most about this book is how each of us has Wiza in us – the over-confidence, arrogance and short-sightedness. While not everyone suffers like Wiza does because of fate, family backing or whatever, anyone of us could be him. Sinyangwe doesn't write in manner to elicit pity for his protagonist but rather a sense of empathy and compassion. He makes the reader confront some harsh truths about the fragility of the human condition.
I hate to go into more detail, lest I give away the whole gist of the book. This is another winner by Mr Sinyangwe, and I recommend it. The writing is easy to follow and very vivid. Go out and buy it!

NB. The one thing missing in this book that is available in his second, A Cowrie of Hope, is a glossary of words for some of the Bemba/Mambwe words used. Worry not as there is only a handful of here and there, and that shouldn't serve as a distraction. I can help if needed. J

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