December 19, 2014

African Roar 2014 | Book Review

African Roar 2014 is the fifth book in the African Roar anthology series edited by Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Siguake. It's an annual collection of fictional short stories authored by African writers, and published by StoryTime Publishing. African Roar 2014 is a collection of nine short stories authored by relative unknowns. Flight by Jayne Bauling; My Wedding by Obinna Ozoigbo; The Side Dish by Edwin P. Magezi; Beth's Aid by Tabitha Wanja Mwangi; Talking to a Lizard by Obinna Udenwe; Coming Home in a Box by Olorunfunmi Demilade Temitope; The Bell Not Touched by Nonso Uzozie; Spinoza's Monad by Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso; and A Salute to Safety Sam by Tendai Machingaidze. This is the first collection I have read from the series, and it begins with one of the best, and most inspiring introductions I have ever read, written by the amazing Ivor Hartmann.

African Roar 2014 begins with the interesting tale, Flight by Jayne Bauling (South Africa). In Flight, Phindile has been forced by her mother to shelve her dreams and ambitions so her spoilt little brother can have a better future. It's a simple tale about a caged girl that's pretty good. It's the best of the bunch.

Obinna Ozoigbo (Nigeria) follows Jayne with his tale, My Wedding. It's about a child bride in the Nigerian city of Kano. It's a story with the potential to crush but it misses because Obinna muddles it with crap. It should have been simpler and less cluttered so that this twelve year old's horror doesn't leave you after you're done with the tale.

Edwin P. Magezi (Uganda) livens things back up with his tale, The Side Dish.  I like it. I found it humorous and interesting, and then I got to the end. Magezi wraps up his tale in a manner that I found reminiscent of some of the African tales I grew up reading and listening to. The ones with those "teaching" moments where a devious character is punished or experiences a drastic turn around that drills into its reader the idea that there are consequences to being bad. Tales such as the one where no one helps move the giant rock obstructing traffic in the middle of the road until one "good" person finally does and finds a reward underneath it that has been placed by a wealthy man to reward society for doing good. Or the stories about an old weary beggar on the side of the road who's an angel in disguise, testing people's kindness and generosity. That kind of thing.

Tabitha Wanja Mwangi (Kenya) follows with Beth's Aid. Wamboi is a young girl from a poor background who really, really wants more that what her hardworking parents can provide. It's another good one in this collection.

Obinna Udenwe (Nigeria) penned Talking to a Lizard and he's the first to drop the baton in this collection. In Talking to a Lizard, Edeh and his cousin follow their grandfather Ngele to another town for his annual trip to visit his friend. It's a "meh" tale that bored me.

Olorunfunmi Demilade Temitope (Nigeria) follows Udenwe's poisoned lead with her tale, Coming Home in a Box. In Coming Home in a Box, word spreads that the great chief is dead and arrangements are made for his burial. Family and foes gather to decide how his immense wealth should be split up. It's a familiar African tale, the stuff Nollywood dramas are sometimes made of. Coming Home in a Box is boring and doesn't at all fit in with the caliber of prose I expected to find in this collection. Will there be another tale to prop this collection back on its feet?

Definitely not a tale from Nonso Uzozie (Nigeria) who wrote The Bell Not Touched. A dim, eye-roll worthy story about the mysteries of a giant bell in a village school. I'm just going to stop there. After Nonso's prose I became worried that the best of African Roar 2014 ended with Tabitha Wanja Mwangi's Beth's Aid.

Spinoza's Monad is a badly written tale of two Nigerian lesbians trying to raise a child together in their local community. It was penned by Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso (Nigeria). It's a bland, overly dramatic tale that did not hit any of the chords that it rightly should. I mean this is a tale of Nigerian lesbians who get artificially inseminated and try to raise that kid in a traditional Nigerian community. That's a goldmine of material to work with but Chukwunonso makes it an emotionless mess, that lacks depth and is unworthy of being in this lineup.

Finally, African Roar 2014 closes out with A Salute to Safety Sam by Tendai Machingaidze (Zimbabwe). A Salute to Safety Sam is a mushy travelogue that was a waste of my time. I wish African Roar 2014 had picked a more deserving short story to bid us goodbye until next year.

Overall, it was a great idea to start with Jayne Bauling's Flight. The quality of stories take a dip with Udenwe's tale, and continue that way with all other subsequent authors. I applaud the creator(s) of African Roar for this producing this series. Please do not stop. Inasmuch as I wish I had a better reading experience, I love the concept of this series, and its potential to introduce us all to new talent from all over the African continent. To support the African Roar series, I'll endeavor to review every new African Roar series on this blog every December. Kudos to everyone who had a part in this series. Much kudos to Ivor Hartmann.

[Image via StoryTime]

December 07, 2014

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila | Book Review

Waiting for an Angel is Helon Habila's debut novel, and it won the 2003 Commonwealth Writer's Prize. After reading the first few pages I realized I had read this story before so I flipped back to the publisher's note I had skipped in my hurry to get to the story. It confirmed that the first part Lomba had been published in the year 2000 in the collection, Prison Stories, and Lomba had previously been titled Love Poems. Lomba also won the 2001 Caine Prize for African Writing. Waiting for an Angel is partitioned into parts that often focus on a character and his or her connection to Lomba, so in the end Waiting for an Angel is one story chopped into different parts. Lomba is followed by The Angel, Bola, Alice, Lomba (again), Kela, and James.  Lomba is a good read but it really wasn't anything special. The rest of Waiting for an Angel is really good with Bola and The Angel being some of my favorites.

Waiting for an Angel is set during the period of Nigerian military regimes in the 80's and 90's. It is historical fiction, and in a way that makes it a more important read. It gives us an idea of what life was like during that period of turmoil especially for those who tried to stand up for what's right. I've been a fan of Habila since I read Measuring Time in 2009. Helon Habila has done a great job with Waiting for an Angel. You should read it.

[Image via Amazon]