Jan 31, 2013

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta – A Review

December 2007, Fiction
Interlink Books, 335 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1566567046, Available on Amazon

Everything Good Will Come is Sefi Atta’s debut novel set in Lagos, Nigeria. This is the story of Enitan; born on the eve of her country’s independence. Through her eyes we witness the changes the young republic and her citizens go through – military coups, the rise of an indigenous ruling class, political activism and so forth.

Enitan’s father, Sunny Taiwo, is an ambitious lawyer with a destructive rebellious streak and her mother, Mama Taiwo, a fanatic who uses religion as an escape from past hurts. As a child Enitan is sheltered, na├»ve and spoiled; her parents use her as a proxy in their fights, each vying for her undivided loyalty.

The book opens in 1971, the summer before Enitan leaves for boarding school. She meets her neighbour, Sheri; a vivacious girl whose freedom as the oldest child in a large family challenges the relative comfort of Enitan’s sheltered life. They become fast friends and this friendship carries through their years in boarding school and later life.

We follow Enitan as she leaves for university in England, starts working, and later makes the decision to return to Nigeria. It is when she returns to Nigeria that much of the story takes place. Working in her father’s law firm as an underpaid associate, she makes tentative steps towards independence which brings her into collision with Sunny. Sunny, though vocal about the need for personal freedoms doesn’t take well to his own daughter challenging his authority at work and in the office.

Sheri on the other hand has lived through two major life altering experiences which change her prospects for education, career and marriage. She’s bold and assertive, owning her decisions and living as best she can. Sheri does not allow herself to be a victim and this speaks well for her as she tries to navigate in a world whose structures are often unfair to women.

It is through her friendship with Sheri and others such as the men in her life, and her changed worldview that Enitan comes into her own. She sees herself as an active participant in her country, and starts to speak out about injustices even at personal risk. By the end of the novel she is no longer the little girl who sits at the Lagos Lagoon “on its cockle plastered edge” flinging her fishing rod made from tree branch, string and cork from a discarded wine bottle. She is fully matured, and makes decisions that affect her, not minding the consequences.

The latter part of this book really spoke to me. Seeing Enitan transcend the limitations placed on her by her parents and later her husband was rewarding. She asserts her individuality and doesn’t scurry into hiding when she’s called upon to act decisively.

This book was a great recommendation. I knew I wouldn’t be steered wrong by an author so highly spoken of by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  

Jan 29, 2013

Do we care about books?

Last year during the run-up to Zambia’s Ngoma Awards, I was approached by the creative minds at C1RCA1964 on suggestions from a consumer’s point of view; they’d been tasked with helping the National Arts Council of Zambia establish a brand presence online. I brought up the issue of book marketing for Zambian authors before and after the awards period.

Anyone who has ever looked for Zambian literature online or in stores is familiar with the frustratingly spare selections. I’ve always seen the Ngoma Awards as an opportunity for the nominated authors, in all genres, to get a leg up. However, this isn’t the case and the reasons are legion.

Talk to the writers and they’ll say Zambians aren’t supportive and don’t buy works by local authors.

Talk to consumers and they’ll say that books aren’t readily available, and when available the price and quality are insurmountable barriers.

If you ask me, I’d say it’s a combination of the reasons stated above. What’s left of Zambia’s publishing industry is mostly driven by demand for educational materials – textbooks, classroom readers, exercise books and so forth. Publishing novels has almost become an afterthought which makes the barriers to entry for budding authors quite high.

We don’t have publishers aggressively seeking manuscripts for publishing or editors plugging their abilities to take a manuscript from good to great. So, many writers are left to figure it out on their own and often times look outside the country for publishing opportunities. Getting published is no easy feat given the competition out there but having good resources available can make the difference between having your work read or not.

A worrying trend I’ve noticed is the pivot towards self-publishing. Though not as widespread yet among Zambian writers, it’s definitely on the rise and noticeable. Before you stone me, hear me out. I believe it’s a legitimate option and has created wonderful opportunities for people whose works might never have seen the light of day. However, the built-in shortcuts can be detrimental. An example is editing - skipping the intensive editing process in a bid to make a quick profit compromises quality and dilutes the writer’s brand. Is there anything more annoying than a poorly edited book riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, compounded with a poorly thought out story line? 

This is where I believe institutions like National Arts Council of Zambia can play a role. They are the conduit between artists (writers, painters, musicians, etc), the government and business community. We've had way too much lip service about the appreciation of arts and the need for a vibrant community when the structures remain deficient. The status quo is unacceptable. 

Publishing and bookselling remains a costly business but if we are going to see a revitalisation in our reading and writing culture, as well as the availability of quality works a concerted effort is needed. This is not something that we need to look to Scandinavian countries for generous donations. And it cannot be undertaken alone by government or writers themselves. Do we really value literary art, and if so how much work are we willing to put into it to showcase and preserve it? 

Jan 16, 2013

Love Games: Episode 2

Here is episode 2 of Love Games. Unfortunately they're going on a four-week hiatus to accommodate the African Cup of Nations which kicks off this Saturday and will be a mainstay on television until February 10.

Happy viewing. 

Jan 15, 2013

Love Games: Episode 1

Love Games is a weekly series currently airing on Zambian television. It follows the lives of five women as they navigate love and relationships in urban Lusaka. The filmmakers have graciously shared the content on the internet. 


Jan 14, 2013

The Screaming of the Innocent by Unity Dow – A Review

March 2002, Fiction
Spinifex Press, 215 pages,
 ISBN-13: 978-1876756208, Available on Amazon 

For my first read of 2013 I chose Unity Dow’s Screaming of the Innocent. I found this book a few months ago when updating my Amazon wish list in the run up to Christmas. The initial lure was the book title, and upon further reading I recognised the author’s name. Unity Dow is a lawyer, human rights activist and writer, and also served as Botswana’s first woman High Court Judge until her retirement in 2009. In 1992 she was the plaintiff in a landmark case which successfully challenged the legitimacy of the Botswana Citizenship Act which banned women from passing their nationality on to their children. You can read more of the case here.

If the above wasn’t enough to keep my interest, the opening paragraph did the job.
“He bore her no malice. He simply wanted her, needed her. Surely, in needing and wanting, there’s some affection, even if not quite love. And she was, by all accounts, available. He watched her as she laughing with her friends: throwing back her head in the air, making flapping movements with her arms…This was the second time he’d driven past the little group of children. He’d had no problem singling her out – he’d watched her before.”
This is how we’re introduced to the sinister side of Mr Disanka, a successful businessman and “good community man.” He’s described as a good man by all accounts, a devoted husband and father. He has a mistress and several extra marital children for whom he provides within society’s boundaries. Disanka is also shown as an indulgent father, spoiling his lastborn daughter, Morati, affectionately known as DeBaby “The Baby.” She’s so indulged to the point of obesity with a never ending supply of soda, sweets, ice cream and so forth.

As Disanka stalks his prey, Neo Kakang, described as a “hairless lamb” the reader is given insights into what lies beneath the veneer of the good man. Success and status are a heady drug for him, and he does not shirk from the cruel acts he commits to keep him in that position. He has killed before and will kill again for muti (traditional medicine). He and two other men, intent on using muti to advance themselves, engineer and carry out the scheme.  

The story then jumps five years and we meet Amantle Bokaa, a young National Service participant who has been posted to work in a health clinic in the remote village of Gaphala, Neo’s home village. Amantle arrives in Gaphala hoping to help patients but is instead treated a lackey by the two onsite nurses and is assigned to clean out a storage room.

It is in cleaning out the storage room that she comes upon a box labelled ‘Neo Kakang: CRB 45/94.’ Having previously met a woman with the surname Kakang on her first day of work she makes the connection and reaches out to the woman. She is Molatsi Kakang, Neo's mother.  Opening the box opens the proverbial pandora’s box and we’re taken back to the events leading up to Neo Kakanga’s disappearance five years prior, and the subsequent investigation.

The police resolved that Neo was killed by wild animals, a story never believed by her mother and the other villagers in Gaphala, and closed the case. The villagers suspected a human connection in her disappearance, and the discovery of the articles in the box brings back to the fore their anguish and frustrations at being casually brushed off by the police.

This sets in motion a string of events spearheaded by the strong willed Amantle who in the quest for truth sets out to unearth what really happened to Neo, and why the police closed the case when there was strong evidence to suggest she was a victim of a ritual killing. It is through this process that the reader learns more about the inner workings of the government bureaucracy (local and central), village politics and society.

The subject matter in this book though undoubtedly dark is presented quite skilfully by the author. She is unafraid to peel back the layers on her characters and show them to be flawed beings, just as we all are, without detracting from their essence. Unity Dow weaves together a fascinating tale that’s hard to put down and shows that even in the midst of horrific darkness there is hope and this hope is carried by ordinary men and women.

A tragic story told by a wonderful writer. I absolutely loved it. My 2013 reading season has started on a terrific note.

Jan 3, 2013

Bigger, better 2013

Dear readers,

I trust that you all made a safe entry into 2013. Tis the time to reflect on our accomplishments of the past year, what we hope do better in the new and so forth. The one thing I hope to do on the blog this year is get back into my book reviews. I really slacked off last year as I had other distractions that took my focus away from enjoying my African literature and sharing reviews. Worry not, I did a lot of reading but it wasn’t much of the African literature that I’d hoped to do.

I have no shortage of promising books sitting on my bookshelves, and if I stay on track I should have enough to see me through the end of the year if I keep a steady pace of 1-2 books a months, not counting the other non-African literature I’ll keep up with. 

I will also be working on an updated look for the blog to freshen it up a bit and one that will allow me to set up an index of the book reviews making it easier for you to search. 

Thanks for your support, and a happy 2013 to all!