Friday, October 31, 2008

I've been reading TELLING TALES edited by Nadine Gordimer, a collection of short stories by 21 writers from around the globe who gave their pieces without fees so that "profits from the sale of the book could go to HIV/AIDS preventative education and ... medical treatment." It is quite a line-up of literary luminaries, but I've just focused on the African writers.

Down the Quiet Street by Es'kia Mphahlele describes an amusing tale of a police officer who discovers criminal activities (or not) taking place under his nose in the form of funeral processions. He, and we, are left guessing. Charming. Mphahlele's famous DOWN SECOND AVENUE describes people I knew as a teen, so I have a soft spot for him, and am very sorry to hear that he died on Monday.

The far darker Death of a Son by Njabulo S. Ndebele follows a couple dealing with grief and its effect on their relationship when their young child is shot by patrolling soldiers. Now, I should have felt a connection to this story. Military vehicles patrolled our township in exactly the same manner, and in fact I remember a baby killed by a stray bullet while his mother did nothing more sinister than sit on her verandah. And yet, I felt the heart was lacking from this story - it was hard to make a connection with the characters. For me, flawed by slightly stilted writing.

Chinua Achebe's Sugar Baby was wonderful! I have only read his novels, rather than his short stories, but on the basis of this offering will search out the book from which it is extracted: GIRLS AT WAR AND OTHER STORIES. It surprises with subtle humour in the rather unlikely subject of food scarcity during the Biafran War - what do you do in these circumstances if you have a sweet tooth and feel deprived?!
Cletus and I made the journey on the following Saturday and found Father Doherty in a reasonably good mood for a man who had just spent six nights running at the airport unloading relief planes in pitch darkness under fairly constant air bombardment...

I spoke up first. I had a problem with hay fever and would like some antihistamine tablets if he had any in stock. "Certainly," he said, "most certainly. I have the very thing for you. Father Joseph has the same complaint, so I always keep some." He disappeared again and I could hear him saying: "Hay fever, hay fever, hay fever" like a man looking for a title in a well-stocked bookshelf, and then: "There we are!" Soon he emerged with a small bottle. "Everything here is in German," he said, studying the label with a squint. "Do you read German?"
"Nor do I. Try taking one thrice daily and see how you feel."
"Thank you, Father."
"Next!" he said jovially... (pp.139-140)
As to the obsession with sugar (or the lack of it) you'll have to find a copy for yourselves!

Gordimer's own offering, The Ultimate Safari, threw me for a loop and therefore warrants its own post. More later.



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