A MONKEY’S WEDDING

At first I thought this book by Norman Silver (1946) was a bit policor, but in the progress of reading this idea moved to the background. This book is set in South Africa (the writer was born in South Africa), more specifically in Johannesburg and the area of Yeoville. 

We meet four young female friends. Rebecca (coloured), Reena (white), Thuli (black) and Jay (Indian). The setting with these four girls from different background planted the idea of policor in my mind. The young adult novel is far more complicated than that. The novel shows the complexities in the post-apartheid world of Johannesburg, and and area, that changes from year to year, colours change, prosperity changes, poverty changes,  upward mobility, and downhill mobility. People looking for better places, people looking for survival and these four girls see it happens in their multiple relations and in their families and in their neighbourhood. They see the rise of crime and drugs and degradation, they see it with their own eyes, within the walls of the livingroom. 

The children have crossed boundaries in their relations. Will it have a positive effect on others? Can they be a force for change? Or will they be swept away in the forces that sweep the streets, like crime and filth and addiction?  

Norman Silver – A Monkey’s Wedding – 2000 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor norman silver a monkey's wedding

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE

Have you found a beautiful place to die? Malla Nunn, born in South Africa and residing in Australia, writes about this place in her crime novel.

One of the main characters in this novel is dead, his name is Willem Pretorius, he was the chief of police in the Jacob’s Rest, near the border with Mozambique. He was also the pillar of society, son-in-law of a leading light in the world of apartheid. His family ran the place and made sure that everything went according to the will of Pretorius.

Emmanuel Cooper is a policeman who arrives in this village from Jo’burg. His task to find out who murdered this pillar and staunch supporter of the new political order in 1952. He has an English background, not a Boer one. In his slow but persistent way he sets about his work and unravels thread after thread. Not even the interference of the security services can make him packing. He has the backing of his senior Van Niekerk, who runs his own agenda.

In this novel we encounter a regime of apartheid at the local level, the whites(especially the Boer) who stick together, all others are outsiders for instance the Jewish shopkeeper Zweigman from Germany who has a hidden past. And what about the rich farmer Elliott King, who bought a parcel of land from Pretorius, a transaction not liked by the sons of Pretorius. Cooper searches the outskirts for clues and people who might want to drop a word. He travels to Mozambique to search for clues that can open the secrets of Pretorius. Cooper is being helped by the policeman Shabalala, who went through his traditional Zulu ceremonies together with young Willem Pretorius. 

As part of the apartheid rules we find the decency concept of staying within the limits of your colour (or perceived colour). Did Willem Pretorius cross borders? Did his wife and children know? Did Shabalala know? Or has it been a false trail?

Malla has spun a colourful tale, she has woven a nice and captivating story. It is a pity that at the end the different strands  of the story do not easily come together, a bit too much force was needed to finish the handiwork of this novel. 

Malla Nunn – A beautiful place to die – 2008 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor a beautiful place to die

DEBBIE GO HOME

Less then 120 written pages, divided over 10 stories (yes, short stories).
Pages of craftsmanship.
Pages of terseness.
Pages of hidden gems.
Pages that expose a society.

In these ten stories the South African writer Alan Paton (1903 – 1988) writes about events at a reformatory where he held a position of leadership (1935 – 1949) during the years of apartheid. He was in search of justice and a future for the boys who stayed under his care. The delinquent boys were given more freedom at the institution when they showed good behaviour. 

A wonderful little book.

Alan Paton –  Debby go home – 1961

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor debby go home alan paton

SOZABOY

This is a forcefull book, written in “poor” English, as the writer wanted it. In this way he captured the mood and the situation of the protagonist who is a young man who learns to be a driver and in another town he meets a beautifull young girl Agnes, who happens to be from his homevillage. She brings with her the experience of Lagos. 

But then strange things happens, strange to the young man Mene who has little experience of life. He sees things changing in his village of Dukana. There are rumours of an Enemy and rumours of a Front. Mysteries words and mysterious meanings. When he sees soldiers he is not straight attracted to them, but his wife Agnes want a man who can protect him. So he decides to join the army and become a Sozaboy (a soldier boy). He is fighting this enigmatic Enemy and is at the Front (whatever that may be). All the while he thinks of returning to his mother and wife (all the time in that order).

A young man caught up in a civil war, unmentioned are names like Nigeria, like Biafra. The situation is clear to the outsider, but becomes less clear. Where is the line between your own army and the Enemy. One day you wake up and you are in the territory of the enemy that previously belonged to you and your fellow sozaboys. It is the folly of a fight.

The writer want to impress on us that war is a folly, it is without meaning.  But is war always without meaning?

Ken Saro-Wiwa left a a very good book to us, part of his legacy.

Ken Saro-Wiwa – Sozaboy – 1995

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor sozaboy ken saro wiwa

A MONTH AND A DAY

At first I thought this book is about his time in prison, but this book by the late Nigerian businessman, writer, poet, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa is more a book about his life, his writing, his political activities and a bit about his family.

Ken shot to international fame due to his activities to highlight the plight of the Ogoni people in the south east of Nigeria, right in the oil rich delta of the Niger. It brought him into contact with worldwide organizations to defend the rights of minority groups. He did not take the side of the Biafran side during the civil war, for he was in favour of a federal Nigeria, with much leeway for all the different ethnic groups. He saw a country being dominated by the Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa/Fulani powers. He wanted more diversity and more power at the local and ethnic level (including more oil benefits for the Ogoni !).

It is a book by a talented man who was able to succeed in many different activities. This in itself is impressive, but there is something else that impressed me. It is the attitude of those in command, those in position of authority, those who want to attain those positions. It is the shocking way they treat people, the way they abuse people, the way they bend the rules, the way they treat people as if they were animals in a rottendown shed. When you live and act in a society where people are treated without decency and dignity you are lamentable. 

Ken Saro-Wiwa – A month and a Day –  A Detention Diary – 1994

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor ken saro wiwa mont day

IN THE SHADOW OF A SAINT

This is a story of a son who tries to understand his father and who  has to come to terms with the legacy of his father.

The father is Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941 – 1995). He was a Nigerian civil servant, bussinessman, writer and activist for his Ogoni people who live in the Niger Delta, polluted by oilspills. He was executed by the Nigerian government of dictator Abacha  by hanging and his remains were put in a nameless gave.

The son is Ken Wiwa (1968) who was born in Lagos, but who was educated in the United Kingdom as his father wanted the best education for all of his children. He worked in journalism, moved to Canada and later went back to Nigeria to serve several presidents as a special adviser. Now he is selfemployed.

In this book the younger Ken searches for his relationship with his father, a father who was a busy man and who was a kind of father to all the Ogoni people. What was his public face and what was his private face? How did his position in society and the activities he undertook effect his fatherhood in the familycircle.

In an honest account Ken junior shows the difficulties he encountered with an absent father, with his own expectations of having to receive or deny the legacy of his father. He talks with children of other famous people who left a legacy: Zindzi Mandela, Nathi Biko and with Aung San Suu Kyi who all three had a famous father. Did they continue the legacy, and how did it effect them?

He also searches the relationship with his immediate relatives, especially his mother. What was his role when his father was murdered by the government? Was he able to take up the leadership in the family. Ken could have taken some more time to relate this in depth, but at the same time this could be a troublesome road, as most of these relatives are still alive. 

Ken Wiwa – In the shadow of a saint – 2000

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor in the shadow of a saint

UNE SAISON A RIHATA

Long, long time ago I read Segou, volume 1 and volume 2. An impressive historical novel, written by Maryse Conde, the writer who was born in Guadeloupe. This a country at a fair distance from the African continent, where she has resided for many years. Now this book is fiction on a fictitious state in Africa. 

In this book we meet Zek, who has studied in Paris where he met his wife Marie-Hélène. She hails from the West Indies. The couple decides to move to the ancestral ground of Zek. They move into an old colonial house, while Zek takes up his job at a local bank. M-H does not feel at home. Her thoughts linger on the places she left and the people she left in the West Indies. And she thinks about Madou, the younger brother of Zek who has risen in the ranks of the new political elite of the country, run by the dictator Toumany. She sits at home, with no purpose and no strength to find her place. 

One day Zek brings the news that Madou will come back home to celebrate an important Natiuonal Day in the life of this young country. This younger brother is now a minister with ambitions, and with feelings of love for M-H. 

Through all these complicated relations we find a political angle as we meet people who look for an another way of running the country. We see how personal plans are being thwarted by the political world. 

At times this book is a bit too stereotyped and the issues have been written in many books already. 

Maryse Conde – Une Saison à Rihata – 1981

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor maryse conde une saison a rihata

P.S. The English language translation that I have read is a secondhand copy. The first reader wrote his comment about this book on one of the first pages:
“Not too bad – but with little interest – a book to pass on. 
MB 2007. (Anyway better by far than all the other books by Africans that I have read. Perhaps the style loses a lot in translation! who knows!)”