Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Book Review-'The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things'

By +Caroline Anande Uliwa @CarolAnande-Instagram @CarolAnande-Facebook @CarolAnande-Twitter

Like rummaging for goods in a pile of flee market treasures, there’s a smile teasing your psyche as you find yet another sensuous piece. Such is the smell of adventure found in this anthology of short stories ‘The daily assortment of astonishing things’ from last years selected writers in the Caine Prize for African Writing. 

“Her hair was alive; a constant stream of liquid dreadlocks emanated from the top of her head and covered her bare breasts…I tried to look at Mlenga, her face even more beautiful in the creeping light. I looked into her big eyes and drowned in the pools of their spellbinding essence. She slowly faded and disappeared with the rising sun, along with the rest of the non-human festival attendees.”—The Wandering Festival by Bwanga Kapumpa from Zambia

Stories like ‘the wandering festival’ are in the fantasy genre, expanding the very narrow pool of fiction works in fantasy based on African mythologies. Commendable still is the way Bwanga here, straddles a delicate perspective as the subject in this story is light-we’re at a festival. However the setting is teetering on horror, yet so warmly described by the main character who is just curious & nonchalant. 

Writer Lesley Nneka Arimah from Nigeria dips her feet into another genre in fiction that is thin with authors, that of Sci-fi rooted in Africa. Her story in this anthology ‘What it means when a man falls from the sky’ is so relatable, no wonder she’s one of the shortlisted writers from last year’s Caine prize. The manner in which she drops the facts that we’re in a different world. Is effortlessly woven into the narrative. You don’t get a sense the author is working too hard, convincing you of this alternate world by using elaborate ominous descriptions.

There are other treasures in this book, certainly all the five shortlisted stories, in their own way leave a clear imprint in your memory. Here the winning story ‘The memories we lost’ by Lidudumalingani from South Africa, which had him scooping the Caine Prize of £10,000 last year; certainly stayed in my memory bank. http://caineprize.com/the-winner/

“I looked at my sister and found her face, as it had become in earlier months, emotionless. In the past few days she had given me hope that she had returned. Now tears rolled down our cheeks. I knew then that she still felt something, that the last few days of holding hands. laughing and jumping in the rain were not a dream.”-Memories we lost 

This story is endearing not so much for its word architecture but its authenticity, poured from the emotions of the main characters. Lidudu focuses on the weight of the affliction suffered by his protagonist’s sister, singeing the whole story with the mood of it.

Complex humor can be enjoyed in the story ‘The lifebloom Gift’ by Abdul Adan from Somalia/Kenya. His piece is very interesting in the way it collects sad circumstances, by dressing them in a unique prescription of bravery. “Ted was quick to take the old man’s alarm bell away from him lest he called anyone. I grabbed his little wrinkly hands and told him to stay mute or face the lifebloom wrath. We pulled his pyjamas and set the pegs in the right order. The old fool kept squirming and convulsing so much that I had to hold him back by his back as Ted tended to his every mole…”

Lesley Nneka Arimah the shortlisted writer
featured in this book, from Nigeria here she was
present at a reading session hosted by CDEA
of her short story in this Caine Prize antholog
‘At you requiem’ is another gem in this collection written by Bongani Kona from Zimbabwe; another of the five shortlisted writers for the Caine Prize last year. His piece has a strong start where we meet a character who has died and his cousin brother is recanting the event, not so much for anyone but himself. We see then his revealing mixed feelings for his cousin, through a clever flash back the author uses that eventually ties to the death. 

Various authors in this book tackle complex issues in society like Bongani here who looks at addiction & suicide as well as sexual abuse on boys. Tope Folarin (Nigeria) in ‘Genesis’ highlights mental illnesses and subtle but vicious racism. Where in ‘The Goat’ Tope also looks at fundamentalist religious beliefs and their falls in African modern settings.  

There are times throughout this book, when you’re just left agape with lush African backdrops like in Okwiri Oduor’s-‘The daily assortment of Astonishing things’. This piece had me sad for the mother, then was charmed by the sheer truancy of her son Dudu. The authors descriptions were also a lull.

“He ran across the street, past the marabou storks and the parked tuktuks and the vandalised lampposts. He ran past the cobbler’s hovel and the milliner’s shack and the mechanic’s oil-stained lot. He ran past the man who hawked a cure for syphilis and a salve for knock-knees. He wished that another cargo train would crawl out of its lair, wished that he could jump onto the roof of one of its coaches and ride all the way home.”-The daily assortment of astonishing things by Okwiri

I encourage you to get your copy for a dip into a sensuous sip of contemporary African stories. The book is published by Kwani Publishers in Kenya and FEMRITE books in Uganda and so you can get your copy in their outlets. You can otherwise order the book online http://caineprize.com/anthologies/ . In Tanzania it’s available at TPH bookstores. 

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