Posts tagged ‘African Literature’

The million $ question

Out of sheer boredom, and because “The heartbreaking work of a staggering genius” was no where to be found, I took Dave Eggers’ “What is the What” to the Starbucks corner of Barnes & Noble and started reading. The book, we are told, is an “Autobiography” of Valentino Achak Deng, a lost son of battle-weary Southern Sudan who flees his little village of Marial Bal, through the ‘howling grey desert’ of northern Kenya, through the ‘yellow nothing’ of Ethiopia, to the safety of Atlanta (where he & his friends got harassed, molested and robbed by those who blamed he and his friends’ ancestors for selling their ancestors into slavery). On the way, he has lost his family, his innocence and two of his childhood friends (who were killed by an Ethiopian, & female, soldier who lures them out of their hiding place by an unlikely invitation: “Come to Mother, children. Come to mother”).

Make haste not to judge [!] for there is more to the book than a handful of head-scratching scenarios. There is humor, there is wit, their is a vividness that makes putting it down, even after 6 hours of intent reading, a necessary evil. The icing, and the story that lend it’s name to the title, is the myth of creation by the Dinkas (the tribe to whom Achak belonged) his father used to relate to business acquaintances after a luxurious dinner, and around a cracking wood fire.

It goes:

“–When God created the earth, he first made us, the monyjang. Yes, first he made the monyjang, the first man, and he made him the tallest and strongest of the people under the sky…
“Yes, God made the monyjang tall and strong, and he made their women beautiful, more beautiful than any of the creatures on the land…
“…and whan God was done, and the monyjang were standing on the earth waiting for instruction, God asked the man, ‘Now that you are here, on the most sacred and fertile land I have, I can give you one more thing. I can give you this creature, which is called the cow…’
“…God showed man the idea of the cow, and the cow were magnificent. They were in every way exactly what the monyjang would want. the man and woman thanked God for such a gift, because they knew that the cow would bring them milk and meat and prosperity of every king. But God was not finished.
“…God said, ‘You can either have these cow, as my gift to you, or you can have the What.’
“…So the first man lifted his head to God and asked what this was, this What. ‘What is the What?’ the first man asked. And God said to the man, ‘I cannot tell you. Still, you have to choose. You have to choose between the cow and the What.’ Well then. the man and the woman could see the cow right there in front of them, and they knew that with cow they would eat and live with great contentment. They could see the cow were God’s most perfect creation, and that the cow carried something godlike within themselves. They knew that they would live in peace with the cow, and that if they helped the cow eat and drink, the cow would give man their milk, would multiply every year and keep the monyjang happy and healthy. So the first man and woman knew they would be fools to pass up the cow for this idea of the What. So the man chose cow. And God has proven that this was the correct decision. God was testing the man. He was testing the man, to see if he could appreciate what he had been given, if he could take pleasure in the bounty before him, rather than trade it for the unknown. And because the first man was able to see this, God has allowed us to prosper. The Dinka live and grow as the cow live and grow.
The grinning man tilted his head.
“–Yes, but uncle Deng, may I ask something?
My father, noting the man’s good manners, sat down and nodded.
“–You didn’t tell us the answer: What is the What?
My father shrugged. –We don’t know. No one knows.”

I haven’t finished reading the book so i haven’t discovered what the what is. However, I have a sneaking susupicion that it’s in search of this very “what” you and I are in this mess [otherwise known “as the Great US and A”). That we are going through whatever it is we are going through because of it. And would go through whatever we need go through due to, gosh darn it, our heedless refusal to settle for — a cow. We had it coming, ladies and gentlemen! None but us is to blame!

So.. [anyhow.. anywho..]
You ponder over your brand of “what”. Eye will try to see if Achak got his figured out.

June 1, 2009 at 5:43 am 4 comments

Achebe’s “The king is naked”

I guess it all boils down to who you consider yourself to be. Or, as Micheal Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) would say, on who your daddy is. I never considered myself as part of the people so the idea that the people considers me as one of its own never had much appeal. Which is why I don’t particularly jump up, as if somebody has shoved hot stuff under me, when the subject of “hizbu” is brought up. Even if the vulnerable among them break my heart as much as the next Ethiopian. Citizen of the world, is how I like seeing myself as. Or … another member of the human “go’T”. If you go bullying around, you won’t be my friend. Whatever name you go by, whichever country you vote in and whoever your daddy may be.

Individuals, I can stand. Individuals, I can even bear to be around. Maybe not for 24 hours but for a reasonablly long time. Hearing their woes, holding their hands, listening & understanding (judging, devising, psycho-analysing). Because individuals are just another me. They may look mighty and detasteful in groups, but alone, they are vulnerable & earthly — sometimes not even a match to the sister ;). (Yes, I’ve been told I can be a control-freak sometimes)

But groups…, groups make me feel sick. Because groups are usually stupid and illogical. Groups laugh at bad jokes, taunt the vulnerable and stand together no matter what. What’s worse: they take pride in it! Which is why get-togethers and meetings are the most agonizing moments of my life. Because I have to kiss them, ask after them and their family.

So yes.. this is another point Dostoevski, or atleast one of his characters from “The Brothers Karamazov”, and I don’t see eye to eye on.

This all doesn’t mean, ofcourse, that I won’t (theoretically, atleast) die for “the hizb” if need be and think “the hizb” knows best. I would & do all that, inspite of the silent hatred I harbor for them. And inspite of the silent hatred they would harbor for me when finding out this is what boils beneath the friendly abesheet exterior. And everybody harbors for everybody else when they aren’t standing together and referring to themselves as “egna”, like some member of the Moa Anbessa Yiddish clan ;)).

And, like all those in a love/hate relationship, or in a relationship (period!), nothing more I enjoy than talking and reading about the short-comings of these very “hizb” I would, theoretically, die for. And Chinua Achebe’s “A Man of the People”, is full of it.

Odili Samalu, the narrator, is a high school teacher and an ex-member of the P.O.P (People’s Organization Party), whose life completely changed after a reunion with his old teacher and Minister of Culture: Chief the Honorable M.A. Nanga. A man, Odili tells us, “who had used the people’s opposition (to white colonization) to enrich himself” and “is one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation” yet is loved by the multitude so much they would “dance themsleves lame” every time he makes an appearance. For the next 150 pages, Odili (with his “sardonic sense of humor” and unruffled-by-illusion look, sometimes, at his own vanity too) shows us just how much the people deserve their government. The concluding paragraph says it all:

Overnight everyone began to shake their heads at the excesses of the last regime, at its graft, oppression and corrupt government: newspapers, the radio, the hitherto silent intellectuals and civil servants – everybody said what a terrible lot; and it became public opinion the next morning. (more…)

June 11, 2008 at 11:56 am 2 comments


The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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