Book Review | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus”

As   achristian my entire life, this was a particularly painful read. In university, my friends and I coined a term “too churchy” as reference to people who were over the top Christians. By this we meant that these individuals thought they were holier than thou and used their Christianity as excuse for everything, for rash intolerant behavior and mostly a lack of personality.

Purple Hibiscus takes through the life of Kambili, growing up in a christian household, however this family, although perfect from the outside is an example of religious extremism. Her father expects perfection from her and her brother controlling them through the use of a timetable that tells them when to eat and when to study or watch TV or do anything really. Her desire to please Papa often comes across as desperately sad, a plea for a father’s love and acceptance. Often when she is doing something she knows he wouldn’t approve of , she can hear his voice so clearly, its like he is there with her. Chimamanda  convey’s this longing of a daughter seeking her father’s approval quite well.

Kambili’s subsequent love for Father Amadi for me felt like she was using him somehow as a substitute for male attention she never received as a child, or perhaps because she was the first person to truly compliment her and introduce her to a more carefree part of herself she never knew existed. Also, because of her age, it makes sense why she would fall for him, as she’s around an age where she’s bound to explore parts of herself and didn’t seem to have been able to do this before. However, I did feel it was also an exploration of some reports that have emerged over the years about the Catholic church.

I also love the relationship themes explored between Kambili’s father and aunt, which tends to be the case in most African families where a wealthy relative wants to control everyone through the use of what I usually refer to as the economic whip. It also on the surface explores how women are usually marginalized and disadvantaged economically which is why for years Kambili’s mother said silent as her and children suffered cruelly from her husbands vicious temper and why even in death no one bothered to investigate the horrors they suffered at his hands.

Overall, its an incredible read that I could not put down. An excellent read, highly recommended.

 

Advertisements

Book review| Khaled Hosseini’s A thousand splendid suns

For almost three decades now, the Afghan refugee crisis has been one of the most severe around the globe. War, hunger, anarchy, and oppression forced millions of people to abandon their homes and flee Afghanistan to settle in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. At the height of the exodus, as many as eight million Afghans were living abroad as refugees.

  • Extract of the Afterword by Khaled Hosseini

A thousand splendid suns follows the story of Mariam ( a Afghan woman) who born as a harami often feels left out and unworthy of love. When Nana dies Mariam is left to navigate the world on her own, sent of to the big town of Kabul to marry Rasheed. While he seems decent at first, Mariam finds life with Rasheed to not be what she expected. With the invasion of the Taliban, Mariam forms an unlikely friendship with Leila, a Kabul teenager who has lost everything in the war. Through this friendship Mariam finds her purpose after all and find that she indeed is deserving of love, affection and good fortune. For Leila, Mariam offers her the mother she never had, making the ultimate sacrifice.

A thousand splendid suns explores many things, one of them being a harami. This plays a central role in the way Mariam is treated throughout her life. You could say it is a curse of her own undoing, though she faces the consequences for a crime she did not commit. The role a family structure plays in Afghanistan is crucial in examining the way in which Mariam was raised versus the upbringing of Leila, which before commencement of the war could be described as shielded. Another theme explored by the book is the role of women in modern and historical Afghanistan. Women often had to endure being treated as less than equal to men and often their fate was determined by the men in their lives. A man to a woman was more of protection and survival than anything else. Heartbreaking was that the women often had no way to lodge complaints of abuse against husbands. The words of Mariam’s Nana spoken very early in the book, are a central part to the book “Like a compass needle that always points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”

I particularly enjoyed the book for the imagery it gave, often I felt transported into the story easily understanding the feelings of both Mariam and Leila, the two heroines of the book. The book is written from the perspective of both the central characters giving us a glimpse into their thoughts. Most important for me though, was the way Khaled show cased the effects of war through the lives of ordinary people whose lives a turned upside as a result. I believe western media has done a remarkable good job of dehumanizing Afghan people in recent years, often painting people from the middle east as violent Islamic extremists.

This is my first read by Khaled, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’m told The Kite Runner is just as epic and I look forward to reading it soon.

We need to redefine the concept of a “working marriage”

Recently, I listened to a radio program discussing marriage and why divorce rates continue to be steadily increasing and that perhaps our older African way of doing thing i.e picking brides and grooms for our children was better that the modern “love”matches we see today. It was stated that there was hardly divorce then and marriages were “working”.

I have a problem with this definition of  a “working marriage”. I don’t believe that marriages back then were “working” simply because divorce was almost non-existent. A “working marriage” should not be defined as the absence of divorce but rather the presence of love, affection and companionship. As you may know, divorce in the earlier years was a taboo and any divorced woman will tell you it was unbearable to be a divorcee. Women were constantly told that  monna ke selepe, wa adimanwa  and that monna ga a botswe ko a tswang,  loosely meaning that men where free to come and go as they please and that you could not say much if he decided to have an extra martial affair. In that context, can we say marriages then were “working”?

Many conversations I have had with older people have insinuated that they were well aware of these extra marital affairs but felt quite helpless as women as they were expected to go with the flow and not embarrass their parents by returning home. In any case, we know the unhappiness in marriage traditionally is always blamed on women as is the inability for a couple to conceive ( This might be discussed in a later post).  Again, we must remember that men were mostly the sole bread winners and women were forced to stay in less that ideal marriages for survival reasons. Perhaps what has changed in reality  is women and the freedom they have allowed themselves. Even though women continue to suffer from the gender pay gap, they have been allowed more independence than ever before and have a voice to say no, it’s too much, I won’t allow myself to be treated like this, and I don’t want to be in this marriage. In that regard, the men must evolve with us, in knowing that they can’t trample all over us anymore as they are used to.

So were older marriages really then “working”? That’s a question best answered by the earlier married.

Book Review| Lauri Kubuitsile’s “The Scattering”

I can not review The Scattering without first giving a history lesson.

In 1904 the German colonial rule declared war against the Herero and Nama tribes of what is now present day Namibia. The Herero tribe was defeated in the Battle of Waterberg and driven into the Omaheke desert.  It is estimated that over the years leading to 1908 over 100,000 Nama and Herero people were killed. Many were killed by dehydration, starvation and exhaustion after the Germans prevented them from leaving the Namib desert. After the defeat, thousands of Herero and Nama people were imprisoned in concentration camps, the worst being Shark Island, were they were treated as slaves, many of whom were women and children. Many more died here as disease was rife and they did not have access to proper care and sanitation. Shootings, beatings and hangings were common among the labourers and many Herero women were gang raped and forced into sex slavery as a means of survival. In fact, it has been argued that Shark Island functioned more as an extermination camp than anything else.

Many prisoners were used for medical experiments and body parts were often taken from fresh corpses for these. It has been estimated that over 300 skulls were taken to Germany for these experiments. Some have been returned in prior years and some still remain in Germany today.  This has been regarded as the first genocide of modern times by the Whitaker Report of 1985.

The Scattering follows the story of Tjipuka and her husband Ruhapo through the years immediately before the war during and after. It follows her separation from her husband, thinking he was dead and their eventual painful reunion after almost three years.  It sees Tjipuka see war, pain and loss break down her once strong childhood friend making her almost unrecognizable, caring within a broken spirit. One by now she loses her family and friends, until she herself exclaims how easy it has become to leave behind the dead as they travel through the desert desperately searching for the border into Bechunaland to seek refuge.  Her breaking down however, comes with her the death of her son Saul after being captured and taken to Shark Island. Even more painful for her is she knows not where he was buried, as he was taken away with others that died that day to be buried in mass graves in the desert.

After years of war, she find her husband Ruhapo, alive and well in Bechunaland, but war and so much loss and suffering has changed them both. Even though the love they once shared burns still, they find strange foreign bits in each other that they can’t move past. Tjipuka’s body seemingly betrays her and she gives birth to a German baby, who even though she loves, can not raise as she reminds her of all the mistakes she has made in her life.

Tjipuka’s story is similar to another woman in the book Riette’s whose dreams of becoming a nurse are sadly cut short by her family. She is forced into a marriage with an older neighbor who already has two daughters. When the second Anglo-boer errupts, her farm is set ablaze and she and her adoptive daughters are captured into the British concentration camps while her husband if off fighting the war. After losing both girls to the cruetly of the camps she finds solace in the arms of an Irish doctor who although loves her, has a young wife to return home to. When she eventually befriends Tjipuka in Bechunaland, they bond of their shared experiences of concentration camp horrors and love for the enemy.

The scattering is a story of hope, tragedy, human cruelness and above all the strength of the human spirit to survive anyhow where it has a why. Lauri captures well the pain and agony of death and the desperation in running away from her as she crawls at you.  She also captures well the hopelessness that comes with knowing any day could be your last and knowing, your life not much to the enemy.

An excellent read that I would recommend to all those who stay hungry for African stories.

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony|Why I think he’s encouraging the angry black woman stereotype

If you haven’t watched this movie and intend on doing so, this review maybe will be a spoiler. 

What’s with Tyler Perry and dramatic movies about black women?

I watched this movie recently and upon leaving many fellow cinema-goers felt Taraji’s character had been done dirty by her husband. While I do acknowledge the sacrifices that she made for him over 18 years, working more than one job to support him, I particularly didn’t like the fact that she had no dream of her own. Her character is played down as a naive woman who continuously makes foolish financial decisions for her husband all in the name of love with no ambition or drive to become anything outside of her husband.

Furthermore, her obsession with him and his new wife was a little unjustified. Back to my point of no dreams of her own- how does she claim new wifey is living her life, when she never actually dreamed it for herself? Yes, she deserves a luxurious life for all her hard work over the years, but in the entire story it was always her husband who wanted these things, the luxury yacht, the private plane, the big house for her, not her wanting them for herself. May I also point out that she drove a jeep into his trailer TWICE all by herself.  This rage that she was constantly filled with only fuels this idea that black women are constantly angry and violent. Her wanting his new rich wife, points her out as a materialistic. As for the sneaking onto their honey moon yacht seen, that was dramatic, how did she do that? Fly in on her pet dragon? Of course she did, because she’s crazy.

Tyler Perry, with all do respect to the movies he has done, which actually have created jobs for women of color in an industry that’s determined to sideline them, has a habit of making black women look deranged and downright foolish.  Why couldn’t her husband have not bothered to buy back the family home or divorced her after making it big, thus giving a better reason to her madness? In all honesty I felt like Taraji’s character was simply angry that she allowed her time to be wasted and now wanted to cash in on the new money he had suddenly made without her. Don’t get me wrong, I understand her rage ( only 35%) , but why did this anger problem that she supposedly got from her daddy have to be a quite anger in him but a ranging bull dog in her such that it drove her to her death? Is it because she’s a woman and as a black woman, you are a little out of it.

The story line in itself was like weak punch and even though Taraji is a personal fave for me, she couldn’t quite perform the miracle necessary to rewrite the script. I found myself a little disappointed at the end of the movie, who truly was I to sympathize with; Mr or Mrs Gayle? And is there a way to share the struggles of black women without necessarily belittling them?

If you have watched the movie, do share your thoughts, I would love to see things from your point of view.

I’m in the Kalahari Review |The Magic of Perseverance

I have been rejected by the Kalahari Review three times, let that sink in, three over a period of probably four years. I take rejection pretty hard. Writing is my baby, it’s something I put quite a bit of effort in. The rejection almost broke my spirit so I waited for a little over a year before trying again. I continued to submitted once a year since then so finally, here I am.

If there is one thing that the whole experience has taught me is that writing is hard, really hard and often times requires great courage. Like E B White said, I admire people who have the courage to write anything at all. Good writers didn’t wake up and become good, they wrote a lot of probably unusable material before ever penning their first master piece. If there is anything I wish I was told when I was younger is that practice beats talent almost 98% of the time. More or less, I was made to believe that you either had it or you didn’t. I thought I had. That alone made rejection a horrid pill to swallow. In time I began to realize  that I couldn’t just simply think about writing or telling great stories, I had to actually do it and that sometimes, your work isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t fit the publication that you are submitting to.

This realization about the actual loneliness of the writing process, the need to dig deep to feel everything your character feels to be able to express it better has made me a kinder critic to other peoples work. Also for me, having my work there finally here feels like I have grown as a storyteller, I am evolving and telling stories that matter to me and it shows. I believe that might be the greatest lesson overall.

So write, everyday, every moment or ski or whatever it is really that you want. You get better and stronger at handling the word “no” and somewhere along the line, someone, somewhere will say “yes”. Read my story here

Book Review |Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half a yellow sun”

I have been dreaming of war. I’m driving around  thinking of gorilla soldiers jumping up behind every tree I pass determined to take down my beloved Biafra. That’s the power of good prose; the ability to transport you into the story and feel the fear, anxiety and emotion of all the characters.

Chimamanda’s Half a yellow sun was surprisingly an easy read for me to get through. I have previously struggled with her novel Americanah. I found it some what “heavy” for lack of a better word, cumbersome to get through. This novel however, is told through three people who’s lives intersect. Ugwi a young house boy who looks up to his master greatly and in his eyes he can do no wrong. Master for him is someone to be obeyed who is well read and Ugwi aspires to be like him. Olanna is a young lady from a rich family who leaves her family to live with Ugwi’s master, unmarried which causes Master’s mother to despise her and Richard a English writer who’s dream has been to explore east Africa.

What I love about the way  Richard especially is portrayed is his ignorance when he first enters Nigeria which I feel many people abroad have of Africa generally. His love for the language is endearing although I found him identifying as Biafrian and Igbo funny in the sense I didn’t feel he understood what both those terms really meant to the others. His relationship with Osana’s twin is also an interesting one to read about. Although he does genuinely seem to love her,  as evidenced by his mourning for her, he seems to be having a bit of trouble in the bedroom department. Richard’s longing for Nigeria when he’s back in London and his impatience with his Aunt shows sometimes our hearts can belong with places we haven’t known for long.

Ugwi a village boy hired  as a house boy embodies a lot of traits of someone who hasn’t been exposed to much outside of village life. His blind love for his master and deep respect for him clouds his judgement in realizing that Master although intelligent can also be wrong. Again, he has a somewhat possessiveness over his employer. I especially hated how Ugwi never got word of his family through all the years of war. It seemed to be that house helpers as always are never thought of as deserving to know about those they love, whereas news of Master’s mother were relayed without much difficulty. Ugwi though is portrayed though in all his humanness and in the end as sheltered as he might have been at the beginning, we get to see the effect war had on him as well. Olanna’s over dependence on him showed her privileged upbringing.

Olanna, a young lady who comes to live with Ugwi’s master unmarried, is a rich girl. It was hard at first to be sympathetic towards her, rather my sympathies lay more with her twin.  Between the two she has inherited the good looks of the family and as is usual for African families is the one who is assumed to get married and bring hefty lobola. Her twin on the other hand, is seen to assume a more manly role in the family taking over the family business. As the story progresses, I began to feel sorry for her when her father attempts to offer her as a bed-mate in order to win a business deal. I found that deeming and irresponsible on his part. Her loneliness is driven by her lack of mother-daughter bond with her mother as well as the tension that exists between her and sister Kainene. In the end however, more respect for her is gained when she chose to stay in Nigeria during the civil war instead of leaving with her parents as well as her adoption of “Baby” a child her husband had as a result of a one night stand.

The book essentially is a history lesson. It made me want to gobble up any information I could about the Nigerian civil war. Also, I felt, it gave a human side to it all. Often we talk about war on the surface, instead of telling the individual stories of the people experiencing it. It also deals with the results of war, the hopelessness of soldiers losing a battle and gang rape which was difficult for me to read. It explores the themes of marriage and educated women supposedly having more choices in that department which I found interesting because although this may be true, it is again the same women who are unmarried today in our societies because they are considered intimidating (Probably will be explored in depth in a future post.)

Overall, if you are willing to learn a bit of African history surrounding  the Biafran war and be transported to the center of the action, from the battle field to the ordinary day to day life of people being starved to surrender then this for you.