Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oh dear, I do set myself up. I have a (bad) habit of switching on the telly and channel-hopping if I stop for a tea or lunch break. On "Celebrity Big Brother" I just witnessed the sight of someone called Jack (bully Jade Goody's boyfriend, I believe) declaring (I paraphrase) that Africans keep lizards to control the mosquitoes. Really? Which Africans would those be? Africa is not a country, it is a continent with fifty-four countries! Certainly in South Africa we have lizards and we have mosquitoes, and the lizards eat the mosquitoes. We don't keep them specifically for the purpose. Now I don't believe that britons keep badgers to eat their hedgehogs, but that's just about as facetious a thought...

Sorry...must turn the tv off!

From the Stacks Challenge write-ups coming soon - loving it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

If anyone is interested in gender and development issues, I highly recommend the South African journal AGENDA:Empowering Women for Gender Equity. They have just issued a call for submissions, so for all of you interested:

CALL FOR POETRY: AGENDA #71- Women and ICTs (working title)

Agenda requests poetry contributions that explore topics of gender, feminism
and/or the rights of women and girls.

Contributions will be considered for publication in issue 71, working title:
"Women and ICTs (Information Communication Technologies)".

Poetry submissions may or may not relate to the journal theme.

Length of poetry: Poems maximum length to fit a full page of Agenda Journal
(24cm X 19cm; smaller than A4 format but larger than A5 format).

Deadline: 12 March 2007

Submission requirements:
All submissions must be emailed to editor@agenda.org.za.
All submitted poems must include a bio and contact details of the author.
If you would like to publish anonymously please state so clearly in your

Poems that have not been selected for publication in the journal will be
published on the Agenda website. If you do not want your poem published on
our website please state so clearly in your submission.

Kristin Palitza

Empowering Women for Gender Equity
20 Diakonia Avenue
Durban, 4001
South Africa

Tel +27 31 304 7001
Fax +27 31 304 7018

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Tamil class of the new semester last night and, naturally enough, after 5 weeks off it was as though everything I'd already learned had quietly erased itself. My mind was a perfect blank (good place to be - sans panic - for meditation, but not so good for class). In the end it all worked out.

I learned a few new linguistic oddities: there is no equivalent for "happy" pongal, instead one wishes "sweet" pongal. This reminds me of the fact that in Afrikaans there is no "happy birthday," instead one wishes "much luck on your birthday." I wonder when "happy" entered the English lexicon as a catch-all phrase for well-wishing?

When I last mused on linguistic turns of phrase, I mentioned that "sawubona" (hello) in Zulu, in fact literally means "I see you" and how I enjoyed the sense of community fostered in the language itself. My mother sent a wonderful reminder of the further complexities of greeting in Zulu which is worth quoting here:
Of course, as you know, the "sa" in sawubona is plural, implying not only the speaker her/himself but also his family including the ancestors - all of us see you. And it's ok to say sanibona (plural) even if you're speaking to one person because s/he brings with her/him the whole family. So the sense of community is embedded in the language.
Isn't that fascinating? Of course, at this point in my own studies my accent is so appalling that it is enough of a challenge just to get folks to decipher what I'm saying, never mind linguistic complexities! I keep saying "feet" and "material" instead of "lesson" - they are the same word, but different stresses/punctuation!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thanks to musical dave for drawing my attention to the cast list of the movie HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Since so many of you seemed interested in the Philip Pullman books, I thought you'd like to know. Nicole Kidman will be great, and we'll all get a bit of eye candy with Daniel Craig (is he old enough? The stage version two years ago had Timothy Dalton as Asriel). I'm afraid I don't recognize half the names on this list, but perhaps I'll recognize them on screen.Those of you who haven't finished NORTHERN LIGHTS/THE GOLDEN COMPASS yet, read up so that we can all watch it and compare notes when it comes out!

Labels: ,

This weekend was the Tamil harvest festival, Pongal. We drove west to spend time with the family, for this festival which is a wonderful gastronomic delight, a bit like American Thanksgiving. Saturday night was a meeting of the local Tamil association (an rapidly expanding group apparently, caused by the relocation of many companies outside London - cheaper rents etc - especially IT firms). The evening was a bit of a variety show with lots of small children showcasing their poetry, dance, and singing skills (even a rendition of Abba's "Dancing Queen!"). There were wonderful performances by genuine musicians too, playing the veena (a stringed instrument), mridangam (type of drum) and violin.

South Indian violin is the same instrument as the western violin, but it is played in a different way. The musician sits cross-legged on the floor with the violin propped on his/her knee and resting on the chest (no cricks in the neck!). To the audience the musician appears totally relaxed, and as though playing requires no effort at all, which is obviously not the case. Our particular event saw the very talented Balu Raguraman from the Institute for Indian Art and Culture in London, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which runs excellent music and dance classes (we've been to concerts there over the years).

With a six hour round trip, reading HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX out loud to the Giri is coming on apace. Harry has received terrible detentions - writing out I must not tell lies with a special quill that writes not in ink on the paper, but carves the word into his hand, blood welling (urgh). All school organizations and teams have been banned, by order of the High Inquisitor and Harry is planning to start extracurricular tutorials on Defence Against the Dark Arts for his fellow pupils. Drumroll...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Favourite conversation overheard in the past week (at the Oxfam bookshop in Canterbury); very small person aged about four, with parent:

"Mummy, can we buy a DVD?"
"No, sweetheart, we don't have enough money for a DVD."
"But Mummy, if we don't have enough money for a DVD, how come we've got enough money for books?"


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The announcement of the Costa (formerly Whitbread) Book Award winners today, reminds me of my previous musings over the International IMPAC/Dublin Literary Award finalists. The longlist is vast and wide ranging: something for everyone (almost too huge, in fact). My focus, naturally is to explore the titles by African writers:
Leila Aboulela MINARET (Sudan)
Andre Brink PRAYING MANTIS (South Africa)
J.M. Coetzee SLOW MAN (South Africa)
Diana Evans 26A (UK/Nigeria)
Nadine Gordimer GET A LIFE (South Africa)
Abdulrazak Gurnah DESERTION (Zanzibar)
Uzodinma Iweala BEASTS OF NO NATION (USA/Nigeria)
Dan Jacobson ALL FOR LOVE (South Africa)
Zakes Mda THE WHALECALLER (South Africa)
Jude Njoku THE QUICK SANDS (Nigeria)
Helen Oyeyemi THE ICARUS GIRL (UK/Nigeria)
Johan Steyn FATHER MICHAEL'S LOTTERY (South Africa)
Ndikaru wa Teresia CRY OF THE OPPRESSED (Kenya)
Rachel Zadok GEM SQUASH TOKOLOSHE (South Africa)
Who would you choose to take a closer look at? Paul Auster? Neil Gaiman? Kate Grenville? Arnaldur Indridason? Elizabeth Kostova? Haruki Murakami?

The shortlist ("up to a maximum of ten titles") will be announced in March/April, so that gives three months to read at least some of the titles. Anyone like to join me? Let's call it the IMPAC/Dublin challenge - select your own "up to a maximum of ten titles" and get cracking!

Labels: ,

Monday, January 08, 2007

Thank you to Debi for her post which drew my attention to this rather interesting meme as a way of overviewing the past year. The idea is to take the first line of each month's post in order to reflect the year (if you click on the month the link will take you through to the original post). So here goes:

After living across several continents and making amazing friends along the way, I have also managed to shed them too (and very sadly) through insane schedules and an inability to juggle my schedule sufficiently well to find the space to write emails and letters.
LOST IN TRANSLATION is born! I explain why I am starting a blog.

Up to London again on Monday night (I feel somewhat yo-yo like!), this time for our fiction reading group.
Yes, I have stopped the daily commute to London, yet seem unable to tear myself away entirely.

Strange how some things intersect.
A frequent theme on this blog.




Apologies for the silence - it has been a momentous few months.
I miscarry and survive (more or less) to tell the tale.

Either we have hope within us or we don't.
Poetry keeps me sane.

It has bucketed down with rain for the past couple of days so I've been forced to stay inside and do some tidying (no bad thing).
And then there was housework...

P.W. Botha, the former South African president, died on Tuesday night.
Small mercies.

I can't really say "happy" World AIDS Day, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that today is indeed World AIDS Day.
I climb on my soapbox.

Not an inaccurate summary of the year really, when all things considered!

If you'll forgive me, I am going to just climb onto my little soapbox again (as briefly as possible). Last week I was channel-hopping whilst drinking a cuppa, and came across something called CITY HOSPITAL. What caught my eye was a discussion about blood donors and how, at this time of year, blood donation is always at its lowest because so many people come down with colds and flu. They also mentioned that in the UK only 5 out of every 100 people are blood donors. I was shocked. When I miscarried in July I really did nearly die, losing half of the blood in my body before they were able to stem the flow and I very gratefully received 3 units of blood. Ironically, because I have received a donation I am now not allowed to donate. Ironic because having been on the receiving end I am absolutely keen to give back what I received, and can't. If you are healthy and able, please please please donate blood wherever you are. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for other kind souls doing exactly that and that is a chilling thought for me. I am deeply grateful to all of you who do give blood. If you'd like to know more about giving blood click here.

Hopping off the soapbox now...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Woohoo! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's HALF OF A YELLOW SUN has been selected for the Richard & Judy Bookclub (for those of you in the US, that's a bit like being selected for Oprah's Bookclub and should massively affect sales). I am so thrilled for her - Adichie's work deserves all the attention she can get. Full story here.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Someone who I am delighted to see on The Independent's list I discussed yesterday is Binyavanga Wainaina. Wainaina is an impressive mind and gifted writer, but he is also a real inspiration as to what can be accomplished with skill, vision and tenacity. In 2002 Wainaina won the Caine Prize (often referred to as the "African Booker") for his short story "Discovering Home." Here's a taster:

Somebody has locked themselves in the toilet. The upstairs bathroom is locked and Frank has disappeared with the keys. There is a small riot at the door, as drunk women with smudged lipstick and crooked wigs bang on the door.

There is always that point at a party when people are too drunk to be having fun; when strange smelly people are asleep on your bed; when the good booze runs out and there is only Sedgwick's Brown Sherry and a carton of sweet white wine; when you realise that all your flat-mates have gone and all this is your responsibility; when the DJ is slumped over the stereo and some strange person is playing "I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie Wo-o-orld" over and over again.

With the proceeds of the prize he set up an innovative website www.kwani.org which he used to inspire and publish young Kenyan writers. This has rapidly expanded and he now publishes not only short stories online, but KWANI? is available in print and Wainaina is beginning to publish full-length books as well as the short story and cartoon format found in KWANI?. In December they produced a literary festival and they have begun running writers workshops - so lots of great, productive things happening.

Wainaina does travel to the UK fairly regularly: in 2005 he spoke at the British Library and 2006 at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, so do keep an eye out for him. In the meantime, if you don't like reading short stories online, you will find his prize-winning story "Discovering Home" in DISCOVERING HOME: A SELECTION OF WORKS FROM THE CAINE PRIZE FOR WRITING 2002 at the Africa Book Centre, along with copies of KWANI?. Each year the Caine Prize shortlisted stories are published in an anthology - a great taster of some of the new voices coming out of the continent (just search by Caine Prize on the ABC site, and all the anthologies available will pop up). The first Caine Prize winner in 2000, Leila Aboulela, has done very well with her titles THE TRANSLATOR, MINARET and COLOURED LIGHTS. The following year the winner was Helon Habila whose WAITING FOR AN ANGEL was a remarkable debut. I look forward with great anticipation to his second novel, MEASURING TIME, coming out in February this year.

Wainaina wrote a hilarious and biting piece in GRANTA 92: THE VIEW FROM AFRICA, extracted here:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular...

Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Ouch! But so true. Granta has reproduced his piece in its entirety here, do take a look.

Labels: ,

Last month The Independent published a special feature, "Art of Africa: the 50 greatest cultural figures shaping a continent." The great Senegalese musician Baaba Maal served on the panel deciding the lineup and contributed an accompanying piece on artistic endeavours on the continent. I particularly enjoyed some of the things he had to say about music:

"In Podor in Senegal, the place where I grew up, everyone is an artist because art in Africa is not a commercial enterprise but is part of life itself.

Let me explain. When I was young, I used to watch the fishermen by the banks of the Senegal river. They were working close to the desert in intense heat, and whenever they stopped working they would start to sing. In Podor, people sing naturally about their experiences, their lives and their relationships. It is not just musicians and singers who perform. Everybody has a part to play - even children are allowed to join in if they have the inspiration. It doesn't matter if your voice is not the finest; everyone is involved.

Musicians are respected, but only in the context that the music itself belongs to the community - not to the person who is playing an instrument or singing a song. Those instruments have been developed over many years, while the songs themselves are inspired by the people as a whole rather than by any individual."

This concept of communal ownership over many aspects of living is fairly common throughout the continent and it is interesting to hear it expressed here with regard to music. Maal himself is a gifted musician and great live performer. He has a well-designed and informative website with music to listen to while you're reading it. If you are in the UK at the time, he will be playing WOMAD in July.

The "Top 50" list itself is varied and interesting and drew my attention to individuals I had never heard of, particularly in the fields of architecture and fashion. For the full list and the Maal piece click here. In summary, the writers chosen are:

Oga Steve Abah, Playwright (Nigeria)
Chinua Achebe, Author (Nigeria)
Ama Ata Aidoo, Playwright (Ghana)
Ayi Kwei Armah, Author (Ghana)
Biyi Bandele, Author (Nigeria)
Lueen Conning, Playwright (South Africa)
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Author (Zimbabwe)
Athol Fugard, Playwright (South Africa)
Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Author (Sierra Leone)
Ousmane Sembene, Film-maker (Senegal)
Wole Soyinka, Dramatist, Novelist, Poet (Nigeria)
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Author (Kenya)
Binyavanga Wainaina, Author (Kenya)

A curious selection and, as always, dominated by men. Having said that, most of them deserve to be represented here. I am surprised to find J.M. Coetzee missing. Ama Ata Aidoo is also an author, Biyi Bandele a prolific playwright, Tsitsi Dangarembga primarily a film-maker, and Ousmane Sembene an author. So the description given to Soyinka as "dramatist, novelist, poet" could really be assigned to most of them, which is precisely why they are so influential as writers and do deserve to be here.

Of course, it is easy to find fault with any list but I must say I am miffed by the exclusion of a writer I consider to be a great shining star - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I do feel that the British slant of the judges let them down here. Delia Jarrett-Macauley is a wonderful writer and well-deserved the Orwell Prize for MOSES, CITIZEN & ME, but if I am going to be a pedant, she is British of Sierra Leonean descent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is Nigerian and lives in Nigeria. I would have to exclude Jarrett-Macauley on the grounds that she is British. I am a real fan of Jarrett-Macauley and happen to think she will continue to produce great work in the future and is certainly a writer to watch, but I think she herself would be surprised to find her name on this list. Any thoughts?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 01, 2007

A very happy new year to you all!

I am feeling saint-like for shopping for three consecutive days last week with a gaggle of teenagers. First I should explain that I am NOT a good shopper, and specifically not a good clothes shopper. My worst nightmare is dragging around shop after shop, filled with hordes of people - mostly not looking where they're going - and trying on clothes. I buy clothes when I need them, or not at all (the exception to the rule is sari shopping in India, who can resist those gorgeous silks?! The best thing about sari shopping too is that since there's no need to try anything on, the decisions are simply about colour and fabric). Here in England the post-Christmas sales were on of course and so clothes shopping was what the young 'uns wanted to do (age range 13-23 and a mixed gender group too; oh, the complications!). To be fair, because I wasn't trying anything on, it was fairly painless; I am a very good coat and bag rack, I discovered. And I give free fashion consultations. Quite useful to have around really.

I promptly blew the whole "I am not a shopper" theory by raiding the Chaucer Bookshop, the Hospice charity shop and the Oxfam bookshop on the way home afterwards, emerging with a bagload of books. We just like different things, but I certainly can shop! My latest haul:

THE MOON OF GOMRATH - Alan Garner (20p, 1965 edition in pristine condition; My favourite of his is THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN which includes just about the most claustrophobic description ever of squeezing out of tight places deep underground)

SWALLOW, THE STAR - K.M. Peyton (20p; I've never read this, but as a teenager loved her Flambards series; some of Peyton's out of print back catalogue is being reprinted by Fidra Books, so this seems highly appropriate to get up to speed).

Three of the now out of print Mantlemass books by Barbara Willard: THE LARK AND THE LAUREL, THE SPRIG OF BROOM, THE IRON LILY (79p each, pristine copies from the 1970s; I haven't read them since I was a child, but snaffled them up as I loved them then and have rarely seen them since, so am looking forward to the re-read. I'll have to keep a lookout for the missing ones in the series). Also Willard's THE MILLER'S BOY, which I've never read.

WHITE MUGHALS - William Dalrymple (£1, in pristine condition).

THE BLACK INTERPRETERS - Nadine Gordimer (£3.99, hard to come by, printed in 1973)

THE LITERATURE AND THOUGHT OF MODERN AFRICA - Claude Wauthier (£5, 1966. Looks interesting; originally written in French and the focus is mostly Francophone African writers, which I don't know an awful lot about as I don't speak/read French, so I am looking forward to this).

- Amos Tutuola (£12, but well worth it - absolute gold dust: hardback first edition 1962 in pristine condition, SO exciting! The cover blurb says "Four years...is a long time to wait for a new book by the inimitable Amos Tutuola, whose reputation is now almost worldwide..." Isn't that interesting? Published by Faber & Faber at the time, my guess is that he has passed out of the awareness of the general reading public now.

Retail therapy!

May your year ahead be full of wonderful reading.

Labels: , , , ,