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#14. Disgrace

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I had no idea that J.M. Coetzee was a poet until I picked up this book. These are not sentences beautiful because they contain or express heightened feelings – rather, they are sparse, sometimes dry sentences that are stunning because they are precise, exact. They are stunning also because, read together, they achieve a certain lyrical perfection.

Professor David Lurie is a fifty-two year old man who has married twice and been divorced twice. He has more desire than he has passion, so he sleeps with many women, mostly prostitutes, to quiet the longing. Before long, he loses his job because the authorities discover that he has been sleeping with one of his students. He retires to his daughter’s smallholding in the country to “gather himself.” During his visit, the two of them are the victims of a theft/ hate crime, which has tragic consequences. Prof. Lurie and his daughter, Lucy,  must deal with the aftermath.

This book is set in South Africa so, of course, Coetzee must deal with the issue of racism. His approach is admirable – it is delicate, while still remaining realistic – that is, there are no happy endings, but there are no gross misrepresentations either. At the end of the book, the reader is able to glimpse some hope for both Prof. Lurie and Lucy, although that hope is not of the glittery kind.

A lovely, thought-provoking read. I will be looking up more of J.M. Coetzee’s work.

4 stars

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#8. Season of Migration to the North

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

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A scholar returns to the Sudan after seven years of study in England. He finds his country and his countrymen mostly unchanged. He revels in the familiar and the natural. But there is one stark difference – a man he has never met before named Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa excites in the narrator an insatiable curiosity. Who is this man who does not swoon when he hears tales about the narrator’s experiences in England? Who is this man who, when drunk, spouts poetry in an impeccable English accent? Suddenly, the story becomes Mustafa’s. Mustafa tells the narrator the story of his life in intimate detail.

The voice of the narrator up until this point has been beautiful, engaging. But when the prose shifts into Mustafa’s voice, it becomes positively ecstatic. It is poetry, pure, lyrical, almost mad. It is a voice to wake in the reader a delight that climbs with each startling confession. Mustafa’s story changes the narrator’s life because, not long after sharing the horrifying details of his life story, Mustafa takes his own life or is drowned in the Nile – we are not sure. He leaves the narrator as guardian of his secrets, and of his wife and his two sons.

It is hard to pin down what this book is about exactly – certainly, there are political overtones; there are observations of corruption and rot in post-colonial Africa. But there is also talk of death and sex and a darkness that consumes from within. I can say only one thing with absolute certainty: prose this gorgeous is hard to come by. Re-readable.

#7. Broken Glass

May 7, 2012 6 comments

I’ve strayed from this blog for quite a while, and for that, I apologize, I’ve been busy, getting ready to graduate, watching much more TV than I should have, and quite honestly, picking up too few books, but I have returned, dear reader, with a very good reason – this book by Alain Mabanckou, you must read it

it’s written in a distinct style, poetic, and like a song, with little regard for periods, or question marks, or exclamation marks; it tells the stories of regulars at a bar called Credit Gone West – shocking, lewd, tragic, and sometimes comic stories; it tells also the stories of Broken Glass, the man who writes the regulars’ stories – his own stories are largely broken, and sad, but his musings are high brow; there are many philosophical, historical, and literary references; through Broken Glass’ eyes, the Republic of the Congo comes alive, and the characters he describes tug at separate nerve centers; this is a book that is honest,  intelligent, and wonderfully refreshing; in many ways, it is a commentary on writing and storytelling, and life and love and lust; I wish only that I could have read it in French; still, this translation is very good; it preserves some of the power that I believe the original exudes

finally, I’ll acknowledge that this book was weak in parts, but it was very much inspired in others, and the inspiring bits were so thoroughly wonderful that the weak points faded and completely disappeared; I would read this book again and again and again

4 stars

Africa Reading Challenge 2012

February 13, 2012 14 comments

A friend recently made me aware of the Africa Reading Challenge for 2012. The original rules can be found listed here, but as you will find, I have twisted several of them in order to suit myself. In the first place, I will not be restricting myself to six books, as she has done. I will be reading fourteen books over the course of the year, taking my selections from North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, and the Island Nations. I have endeavored, where possible, to include work from the literary heavyweights of each region, as well as more contemporary work. I have also included male and female voices, fiction and non-fiction, and an anthology of short stories. Poetry, I have neglected, because I am impatient with it. I will be posting reviews of each book here.

Now presenting the list:

North Africa:

Minaret by Leila Aboulela (Sudan, Fiction)

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (Sudan, Fiction)

Central Africa:

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Terrorism by Adam Hochschild (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Historical Narrative)

Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou (Republic of the Congo, Fiction)

East Africa:

Waiting: A Novel of Uganda’s Hidden War by Goretti Kyomyuhendo (Uganda, Fiction)

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanaga Wainaina (Kenya, Memoir)

Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya, Fiction)

South Africa:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (South Africa, Fiction)

The Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva (South Africa, Memoir)

West Africa:

Open City by Teju Cole (Nigeria, Fiction)

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria, Fiction)

The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Quest by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone, Memoir)

The Island Nations:

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (Mauritius, Fiction)

Africa Complete:

The Granta Book of the African Short Story, Edited by Helon Habila

Wish me luck? 🙂