Creating a monster


I wish the Twilight trilogy had come out when I was a kid. That way, I could have read about vampires and scoffed at these pale pathetic beings. I could have gone to bed to dream of sugar, spice and rainbow-shitting unicorns.

But no. My childhood was pre-Twilight; before Stephenie Meyers managed to dig deep into the recesses of her lack of imagination to create characters that would forever shred all vampiric street cred and turn them into immortal objects of derision.

Before Meyers, there were real writers who didn’t shame the horror genre. They were called Anne Rice and Stephen King. I read their books and watched a young Kiefer Sutherland in Lost Boys and my innocent little brain kept all the images to unleash them before my eyes at night. My imagination, as with most children, was overactive, and gorging it on terrifying books and movies certainly did not help.

Remember in Science class when they told us plants and people compete for oxygen at night and that’s why you shouldn’t sleep with a potted plant in the room? I used to imagine waking up a shriveled gray mass of skin and bone, while a fat grinning cactus sat on my windowsill, thriving off of my oxygen and singing songs from Little Shop of Horrors.

My mind was capable of taking harmless facts and, from them, spinning gruesome horrors, covered in blood and gore and more blood. After reading Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, our pet dog became a radioactive bear-wolf-demon and, if I dared to peer over the covers, I’d be sure to find him poised at the foot of my bed, ready to attack me and take over my body. And no one would ever know that I was missing because my soul would hover in space, unseen for all eternity.

When I read A Christmas Carol, my heart wasn’t filled with yuletide warmth at Scrooge’s conversion into a good guy. No; at Christmas that year, I was convinced that the ghost of Jacob Marley had somehow found its way from the Dickensian world into my Mbarara village – and it was headed towards my bedroom. In the night’s quiet, I heard the infernal rattling of chains and waited for a ghostly face to appear inches from mine, to judge me for whatever sins I might have racked up at that age, and condemn me to an eternity of incessant torture.

I would glance over at where my siblings slept soundly, insulted by their unaffected sleep and swear, swear to never read a book or watch a movie again. I figured that if I stopped feeding my brain with information, it would have nothing to stew into festering terrors to keep me up at night. I resolved to be an ignoramus who could curl up and sleep peacefully.

Inexplicably I’d eventually dose off and wake up to another day, the night’s horrors forgotten. I’d find myself bored and pick up a book about a schizophrenic doctor with an evil alter ego and convince myself that this time, I wouldn’t let it get to my head.

Africa Reading Challenge 2012


I like the “2012” at the end. Gives it a rather auspicious feel. Like the World Cup or something.  Well, if you’re a book lover like myself, you’ll agree that this is sort of an event.

First though, let’s get a confession out of the way: I have never really done a reading challenge before, besides the Orange January/July (which requires you to read one book by a previous Orange prize winner). I’m really hoping the ARC won’t fall victim to my commitment issues.

That said, I’m really excited about this! The guidelines for the ARC are over on kinnareads’ blog, but I’ll just re-state them here for your ease:

You have to read at least 5 books – about Africa, obviously; preferably written by African authors.

The genre is up to you: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s books…

Reviews are not necessary, but if you have a blog, they’d be welcome! And if you’re from the APWIC group, feel free to briefly review or update me/us on your reads over on that page!

I have tweaked some of the rules for myself. I will do one book from each region of Africa. I decided to do this because I realize that I tend to favour the West Africans over others. This way, I can finally pick up some North African writers – suggestions, please?

Also, I have chosen younger authors, because as much as I adore Achebe, wa Thiong’o and the other heavyweights, I’d like to see what the young’uns are bringing.

Without further ado, my picks:

East Africa – One day I will write about this place by Binyavanga Wainaina

West Africa – Open City by Teju Cole

Southern Africa – Coconut by Kopano Matlwa

Central Africa – African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou

North Africa – ?? [suggestions, s’il vous plait?]

That’s it from me for now.  Good luck with your picks and looking forward to great discussions and recommendations around Africa’s literature!

This Is Proudly African


In the space of two days, thousands of Africans have risen up and made their voices heard. In Dakar, Senegal, crowds successfully protested against President Wade’s proposal to amend the constitution to create a monarchy.

In the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, a “fundraising” concert which was supposed to be given by Jadakiss for the royal family was boycotted. Not surprising given the fact that pretty much all the revenue in Swaziland goes to supporting the king’s outrageous lifestyle.

Buoyed by this impressive show of solidarity, I embarked on a Googling frenzy. Here’s links to a couple of inspiring stories I found:

In Malawi, an ambitious project is underway to turn the country’s oldest ship into a floating clinic. This is going to save a lot of lives and wages for the 25% population who live along Lake Malawi and currently have to make a 16-hour trip to get to the nearest hospital. They are giving the clinic the unfortunate name Chauncy Maples, but that’s nitpicking.

The Sierra Leone Refugee AllStars are a group of musicians who came together during their years living in a refugee camp in Guinea. Out of two old guitars, a microphone and a shared love of music, their powerful sound was born. They’ve done world tours, put out two albums and appeared on Oprah. They also feature on a cover of the Rolling Stone classic Gimme Shelter as part of the Playing for Change campaign and World Refugee Day. Tragedy to triumph, non?

You’re in hell… but America will save you!


This short post is a largely-unresearched (as yet) kneejerk reaction to Foreign Policy’s 2011 list of the world’s failed states.

In a photo essay titled Postcards from Hell, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson portrays heart-tugging scenes from Iraq, Iran, Haiti, parts of Asia and (surprise!) much of sub-Saharan Africa – all of which have made FP’s list of failed states. How did these 60 countries get chosen? Well, the folks at FP chose from “130,000 publicly available sources… 12 indicators including refugee flows, poverty, public services, security threats”.

According to wiki, the Fund for Peace (which ironically sponsored FP’S little show-and-tell) describes a failed state as one which has:

  • lost control of its territory
  • erosion of legitimate authority to make decisions
  • inability to provide public services
  • inability to interact fully with other members of the international community

On these criteria, can we rank Liberia as a failed state? Nigeria? Kenya? How about Uganda? Iran? Bhutan?

Now, I am not condoning abuse of human rights or grave failures to provide public services by governments.The situations of Somalia and Haiti can certainly not be overstated.

It just seems to me that this American finger-wagging was a result of some biased research. The superlative-filled captions that go along with these pictures are just-so to portray exactly what I think the FP is trying to say : If your brand of government is not modelled after the US, if you’re a Jihad-preaching crazy Ay-rab muslim, we’re gonna put you on the list.

If I took pictures of SouthEast DC or the Bronx and slapped some shocking (but true) stats on the US’ immigration policies or incarceration rates, you might think The Mighty Nation was a failed state too.

I’m Cheating on Zadie Smith


I was some place in the midst of Tea Obreht’s novel The Tiger’s Wife when it was announced winner of the Orange Prize for Best Fiction. I was hardly surprised, given the unexceptionally rave entrance she has enjoyed into the literary fold – she made The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 list with no published work to her name; and the youngest on that list at 25. Yugoslavian by birth, her family left the country when she was 7; Obreht taught herself English by watching Disney films.

The awesome thing about it all is that she deserves it. The Tiger’s Wife is a mesmerizing feat of work that combines elements of Magical Realism and Fabulism to tell the war-time stories of a Yugoslavian doctor Natalia’s unique relationship with her recently-deceased grandfather.

Everything in Obreht’s book has character; everything! The guns, the dogs, the peasants, the deathless man and of course, the tiger. Each has an incredible back-story, little anecdotes that are as exquisitely wrought and entertaining as they are imperative to the main story. Obreht is not a writer. She is a masterful crafter of stories.

Another contender for the Orange Prize this year was Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, which I read after it took the Commonwealth Writer’s honor in May. The Memory of Love is an incredible book in its own right.

Incidentally, much like The Tiger’s Wife, it goes between two stories of war – this time, in Sierra Leone: in the 1960s and the 1990s. The 90s are represented by a young surgeon Kai Mansaray who is haunted by memories of the war, and torn over his decision to leave Sierra Leone for a better life elsewhere. He forms a friendship with a British psychiatrist Adrian Lockheart, through which we eventually learn of the terrible things he saw and did in the war.

It is also through Adrian’s work at the asylum that we learn of the psychological effects of war on ordinary people like Agnes and Adecali, witnesses to unspeakable horrors. Literally unspeakable. Adrian slowly coaxes stories out of them, which would otherwise have gone untold. And this is the crux of Forna’s book –

“It was almost as though they were afraid of being implicated in the circumstance of their own lives. Questions discomfit them. Remembering, talking … it’s as though the entire nation is sworn to some terrible secret.”

It is only Elias Cole, a professor on his deathbed, who willingly narrates to us a compelling story of betrayal and injustice set in the Sierra Leone of the 60s. Elias Cole is despicable – I haven’t met such an amoral character since Nabokov’s Humbert-Humbert.  While spewing my disgust on Twitter, Forna actually replied to say she was “glad. It means [my] moral compass is in good working order.”🙂

And yet both Cole and Adrian’s asylum patients suffer what Forna calls the ‘fragmentation of conscience’ – he is tortured by the omissions of his history; they are tortured by the acts they are forced to commit.

The Memory of Love struggles a little to get off the ground, but on the whole, Forna has a very important message about post-war effects on the psyche of a nation. The Tiger’s Wife, on the other hand, is a thrill from start to finish which will leave you questioning superstition and science, and what it means to be an outcast.

I heartily recommend both books!



Come soon, June! (books)


I haven’t read a non-academic book in months! Okay, since March, but it feels like eons ago.

In that time, I have accumulated a handsome list of recommended reads and rave reviews and as a result I am this close to building a time machine that will take me straight to June,* when tests are done and winter break is here and I can curl up with a cup of coffee that I will ignore while I devour a healthy stack of books.

Presenting my Winter Booklist:

1. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht, a literary prodigy whose first book – a mythological telling of the Yugoslavian war – has been gushed over by critics. I sneak-peeked it and must say I’m super-excited to read the rest of it.

2. The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoevsky. Apparently I shouldn’t die without having read this book.

3. The Element: How finding your passion changes everything – Sir Ken Robinson. I love the humor with which he speaks about creativity development and education reform. I’ve only watched his TED talks so far, but I think this read will be worth it.

4. On Black Sisters’ Street – Chika Unigwe.

5. The Masque of Africa: glimpses of African belief – VS Naipaul. I have been meaning to buy this book for a year now, because I like Naipaul’s writing and the exploration of religions is almost always interesting. But after reviews like these, I’m not sure I’ll get it.

In other news, Jane Eyre has been adapted into a movie (again). I have never seen the 1983 version, so I’ll be heading to the cinema for this with a curious anxiety. Fingers crossed Hollywood does not ruin that classic story for us.

*not accounting for all the wild apocalypse theories being flung about lately.


LITTLE UPDATE: I added Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love to this list. I am 7 chapters in and I can already see why it got nods from both the Commonwealth and Orange Prizes.

I also added Unburnable – Marie-Elena Jones because I haven’t read a good Caribbean story since…. since the biography of Bob Marley🙂