Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, BOOKS, RAMBLES, REVIEWS

HOW TO BE A NIGERIAN WRITER by Elnathan John

You know the value of books. The process of making them intrigues you. You want your name on the front cover of a book and, like an earthworm inches through dirt into the ground, you want to make your way into people’s homes, heads and hearts. I am here to help you achieve that.

 

First, you must look the part. It is important to look like an African writer. Find multi-coloured kampala fabric and use it to sew shirts which you’ll wear to all writers’ events. Or an old t-shirt. You shouldn’t look like a model or banker. Your precious time is spent thinking of plot and theme and words, not on dress and grooming. Your hair needs to be unkempt. However, nothing says authentic-tortured-African-writer like dreadlocks. Please, note that in Nigeria there is a difference between dreadlocks and ‘dada’. Dada is less refined, naturally matted coils of hair due to superstitious neglect. Dada is uncool. Dreadlocks are deliberate. They are cool. They make you look wildly creative. If someone asks; no, you are not a Rastafarian. You are an African writer.

As a writer, you must flaunt your vices. You need to show that you are a flawed character. If you drink, drink too much. If you smoke, do it at inappropriate times. Show up at an event reeking of booze. People will understand. Vices are a tool of the trade.

Now, you have the basic tools: a multi-coloured kampala shirt, cool dreadlocks, and vices. You must set about the business of writing.

You do not need to read a lot to be a Nigerian writer. In fact, as a Nigerian writer you can make shameless statements like “I don’t really read much”, in public. All you need is a burning desire to write. It is sufficient to have read Shakespeare and Achebe, and maybe a little of Chimamanda Adichie for contemporary reading. The only thing you need to really study is a dictionary or thesaurus.

Please, note that all Nigerian characters are Africans who act the same: children are respectful of elders; parents are always responsible, wise individuals teaching children valuable lessons of life. Characters do not use cuss words or talk about sex, even when in the company of peers. Nobody’s mother smokes and we have no homosexuals in Nigeria.

Use big words instead of small words; ‘Discombobulate’ instead of ‘confuse’. How can you write like a layman when you are an African writer? It doesn’t matter how many people read or understand you. What matters is that you impress those who do.

Use many words. It is always better to err on the side of verbosity than to err on the side of brevity.

Protect your work fiercely and always insist that people give you constructive criticism. Anyone who points out, rightly or otherwise, that your writing isn’t quite there yet, is evil and an enemy of your hustle. You must believe that there is nothing like bad writing. After all, you were inspired by the spirits before you began writing – what do critics know?

Do not waste your time or money on editors. Editors are failed writers whose life ambition is to frustrate the hustle of real writers like you. Show your friends your work. But only the ones who are not jealous of your hustle, and who remind you that your writing is the best thing since point-and-kill. Find some popular person from your village who will write you a foreword without actually reading your book. Then, go to press.

Go to Ibadan or Lagos. Find a cheap printer who can print 1,000 copies without ink smearing on the pages coming out lopsided. Arrange for a transporter to bring your book home.

A book is not complete without a book launch. In Nigeria, a book launch is a fund-raising ceremony. It is not important to have writers at this event. Well, maybe the book reviewer. You need your state governor (who may not come but will send a representative with a cheque or a pledge); your Local Government chairman; your Pastor or Imam to bless the event; and any minister, senator or rich person that you know. It is important to find a Chief Launcher who will encourage others to donate to your hustle. Do not leave it to chance or the discretion of the Chief Launcher, unless you are sure of his capabilities. In Nigeria, nobody is allowed to embarrass the Chief Launcher by giving more money. So, if you can, gently hint that you know he will set the bar high for others to follow. That is the job of the Chief Launcher – setting the bar as high as possible.

You do not need a marketer, publicist or publisher. These people eat into your profit margin. If you have a car, carry a few hundred copies in the trunk at all times. Be your own marketer. Steer conversation toward your book and tell them you have written this really cool book. Someone will ask for it and you will tell them to hold on for a minute while you get it from your car. If you don’t have a car, have a big bag that can carry at least 10 copies. Do not be ashamed to carry your books to public gatherings. Book by book, God blessing your hustle, you may end up selling off the 1,000 copies your printer produced, and maybe even go for a reprint.

Get an award. It doesn’t matter what. It may be from your church bulletin which you have been writing for since you were in secondary school or your old boy’s association newsletter. You can even have friends get together to organise and award you the ‘Roforofo Prize for African Fiction’. Then, you can have on your book, ‘Award Winning Author’. No need to state what award it is. An award-winning writer is a good writer.

It is my hope that you make it as a writer and have many successful books in the market. And with well organised book launchings, you can be sure that God will bless your hustle.

 

 

ElNathan John is a satirist and award winning author of the novel, Born on a Tuesday. He blogs at http://elnathanjohn.blogspot.com/ … Follow his tweets at @elnathan

el jo

He is the creator of the Nigerian ‘How to series…’ Google it! You might also want to check:

How to worship the Nigerian God

Damn You – Letter to Nigerian Literature and all involved

How to show Nigerian love

http://dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/how-be-nigerian-mechanic

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Posted in LITERARY MISSIONARY, REVIEWS

RISE, LIVE TO YOUR WRITE!

Life is one big contradiction in every field but it is more so when you are a writer—or so I think. You think you are there, you think you have the right words. You are in the moment and you bask as Mother Muse slowly pours herself unto your pages through the medium of creativity.

Depending on the time, you push yourself to the end or just rush it to a stop. Finally, you smile at seeming perfection. Ah! For the conscious writer, something pricks you to note that the work might have flaws here and there. So, you might decide to get editors or throw the work away. If you get the right editors, your headache begins. Have you ever noticed how those folks always seem to find faults here or there? Some of the faults are so obvious you have to hit yourself in the head! Ouch! How could you have missed that? This is the beauty of patience and seeking counsel. (Yes, if you miss the editorial seat, you might miss a lot of good stuff that might have made your work better.)

Anyway, you do your rewrite and maybe feel the work is okay… Or you keep editing till you tire out. I have been known on occasion to keep editing right up to the door of the final proofer and printer doors! Anyway, finally, you push the work out, hoping that someone will like it somehow and it will be the ticket to giving you something good. Some of us, and I am a front man in this group, edit and refine our work tying as many screws as possible.

In most cases, you get your work or book published and the feeling, for most, is indescribable. It is like a baby given to a parent. The looks of wonder at the new you is something the adjectives of the universe will not dare present. You hold that book close… Yes, I know there are a few who would look at their own book with bad eyes especially if it didn’t come out the way they like. Talk of all those parents who discover that their children are disfigured or not of the sex they want! But no, we are not talking of those sorts of parents. We are talking of the proud ones and yes, I didn’t derail. We are still talking about books.

It is easy to find authors who pick their published books and see things they wish could have been done or written differently. Many times have authors been caught reading what they hoped they might have put. Some would take a pen and correct a few lines shortly before reading at a festival or something. Sometimes you begin to see things that might best have been removed or something that might have been added for effect. It gets to the case of seeing your grown child not being the perfect baby you had once viewed. The hope is that with the next book, you will take extra precaution and have your heart more expressed.

Usually, the ideal thing that most writers come to discover is that a work is best left to fallow for three months or maybe a year… just enough time for you to have become a stranger so that you will edit your work through fresh eyes since looking at the same thing over slowly makes it seem perfect. But time is not on the side of anyone and how long can one really take? The changes and all might never be enough and we usually have to just halt. Much like what poet and scholar, Hyginus Ekwuazi says echoing older writers of yore, no true work of art has ever been truly completed. You simply have to get the maturity to let it go, and pray that point was a time worth your imperfection.

So much to writing, so much to reading. Oh well. In the end, who knows what I might want to edit from this piece… I will be mature and let it fly. Wherever your writing and reading takes you this weekend, and in the coming week, make it worth the time. Cheers!

 

(Reblogged from forever ago… Still me 🙂 )

Posted in NAIJA POETRY, POETRY, POETRY FROM THE WORLD, REVIEWS

Unalloyed and Revitalizing: Thoughts on Amina Aboje’s ‘Promises on Sand’

Title:   Promises on Sand
Author:   Amina Aboje
Publisher:   Kraft Books
Year of Publication:   2017
Number of Pages:   87
Category:   Poetry
Reviewer:   Paul SawaPromises in Sand - Amina Aboje

Although I write the occasional poem, I do not see myself as a poet. Avid reader that I am, however, I consider myself competent enough to review any form of literature. After all, I am the end user. The myth that only a poet can review poetry has long since been debunked. When all the lights in your house go out, you do not need to be an electrical engineer to realise that something is wrong.
I’ve always appreciated poetry, but have a tendency to be overly censorious of lyrical fluency and the depth thereof in much of what is expected to pass for verse today. The book which I am about to review, not only dependably delivers on both of these criteria, but goes further to embolden the believer, tickle the lover, and reignite any dying embers in the heart of the disillusioned patriot into a blaze.
The anthology, Promises on Sand, is Amina Aboje’s first published work. It is subdivided into four parts.
The first section, “The Glow,” is my favourite. It affords the reader a glimpse into the primary essence of the mime behind the rhyme. The reckless abandon of an unfettered childhood expressed in “Voice of the Wind,” which gives way to the first gentle tugs of young love on the heart strings in “Fusion” and “Never Enough,” is tempered by the idealistic purity of “Stay with me.” As a theist with a deep love and appreciation for nature, I am struck by Amina’s liberal use of natural imagery with occasional glimpses of the Divine revealed in and through the natural world.
The second section, “Of Loss and Hope,” takes on a more sombre note, yet in its entire sobriety, hope is never lost. Amina juxtaposes the reality of death and consequent effusions of grief with the hope of rebirth and reunion. In the six lines of “Except I die,” I see physical rebirth subsequent to death, like the seed in nature; I see spiritual death and rebirth as the hope and joy of the theist; and I see the daily process of dying to self and thereby awakening to another life. Then, of course, Amina has not neglected to highlight the miracle of birth, disappointments, betrayals and the perplexing paradoxes in this pilgrimage of life, for which she asks for direction in “Guiding Rod” – pragmatism garnished with idealism. Did I mention that this section is my favourite?
Section three, “Time Transience and Nature,” takes the cake! The brevity in style (each poem consists of only three lines) goes to reinforce the transience of time. Like a butterfly from flower to flower, Amina flits from one thought to another … universality, diversity, beauty, nature … as if to remind the reader, “Life is brief. Make the most of it.” It is amazing what three lines of poesy can do. This is, without question, my favourite section.
The fourth section, “Pangs of Nationhood,” strikes to the very soul of Nigeria. Despair translates to despondency which then begins to nudge at a realization that births defiance, as in the closing stanza of “Promises in Sand,” where the citizenry rhetorically inquire of the political class, “…how can you think there’ll ever be you without me?” “The Accomplice” sheds light on the dynamics of the corrupt class while “Musings” gives voice to the common man who laments, “How did I become so common?” The senselessness of internal conflict, the gaping chasm between the haves and the have nots, and the shamelessness of treasury looters as expressed in “Mindless Battles” and “Guiltless Shame” is still unable to quench the undercurrent of hope in “Still Green” and “Centennial Bliss.” Patriot that I am, this section is my favorite.
If I were asked to do the impossible by describing this book in two words, I would say … Unalloyed and Revitalizing. Amina Aboje has, in this book – Promises on Sand, somehow connected the profane with the profound and the sacred with the sagacious. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.

(Paul Sawa writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Inquiries on the book as well as requests for interviews and reviews can be got from the author by email aminaaboje@yahoo.com. Amina Aboje is the winner of the Mandela Day Poetry Prize 2016  and lives in Abuja)

Posted in INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS

Documentary Review: Dancing Mask: The ANA Story by Carl Terver

I once learnt that the title to a piece of work is like an abstract, letting the consumer in on what the work is about. My head is still dancing around how the idea was begat that the title of this documentary should have anything to do with ‘dancing mask.’ Whoever thought up the idea it doesn’t matter, even if it is adapted from the words of the master himself, C. Achebe, in ‘The world is a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.’ But what can I say? The documentary is about an association with the name ‘Nigeria’ in it; a name itself that has been on a journey like that of a ‘dancing mask’ trying to understand itself. Either way, ANA – Association of Nigerian Authors – in its long years has decided to tell its story, and Dancing Mask: The ANA Story, a 54 minutes documentary straight out of Box Office Studios, directed by Tee Jay Dan (Mr Tukura), helps us see it, not standing in one place at all, thankfully.

Few seconds after 0:00 the story begins. Prof. Olu Obafemi starts it. The storytelling is batoned to Kole Omotoso, then to Mabel Segun, first generation writer, and then to Wale Okediran. The passing of the baton by the quartet is accomplished with such charm that the story flows, as if premeditated, from one narrator, or interviewee, to another. A technique the director will rely on for the rest of the documentary. It is perfect. The quartet handle the storytelling taking up to a quarter of the 54 minutes before other players, counting up to twenty-one (not specific), come in, prominent amongst them, Denja Abdullahi (ANA President 2015 – 17). Quite a number to tell ANA’s story in all its 30 years of existence; yet it is done leaving out almost nothing, apparently, if you ask. But this task – getting the story, putting the backstage work together, editing and all, to show that JohnBull is a speller of his name, relies largely on the intelligence of the director, to pull it off.

As it runs through the pages of Nigerian literature about the earlier times that a story cannot be told without the interruption of the military and their accompanying martial music so is ANA’s, formerly SONA (Society of Nigerian Authors), rattled at its birth by the coup of 1966. And martial music, too, interrupts the documentary’s soundtrack just when the narration of ANA’s story begins. This soundtrack effect is repeated at 10:25 as the story of Ken Saro Wiwa is told, and heightened at 11:49 towards a short rendition of the Ogoni struggle and demonstrations. Many things begin to come to light as the minutes read.

No minute wasted, The ANA Story (I decide to use only the subtitle of the documentary for our convenience) is unfolded. Those who have been in the Association long enough – your quartet – take the viewers (or now, listeners) to the history, the motivations, the spirit and the come about of ANA. They share their experiences too, which like a memoir, arrest the viewer, so that even only at the eighteenth minute before the introduction of new narrators the documentary will seem to have lasted for hours because of the weight of story covered, an element of compression deftly handled by the directing. (This is maintained throughout.) As this goes on, pictures, which narrate faster, lend subtextual and complementary consolidation to the documentary like some sort of album art, playing on the screen at intervals. For instance, a good number of book cover images are used to back-up where a narrator mentions the works of writers who had written out of ‘psychological distress,’ about dictatorship in their time, civil unrest, the Biafra War, and such. Same thing with the introduction of Mamman Vatsa, military General, whose literary history has almost been annihilated from our memory, an image displays beautiful lines of poetry (his’) hardly found today.

But with every good thing there are spoilers. The ANA Story begins to lose its mirth when it kindly left its more inspiring history of the eighties up to early 2000s and begins to brag about achievements in the years 2011 upfront. About its Teen Authorship Scheme at about 31:00; NWS (Nigerian Writers’ Series); Denja Abdullahi, becoming too sell-speak in his remarks about the strides of ANA, talking about how ANA ‘touched the grassroots’ and ‘carried the whole country along,’ reminding you of the pain of listening to our politicians speak. As if to continue with the spoiling an interviewee tells us about when she won the Best Literature Award in Africa (38:00) and you begin to think of coloured Sergeant Bombay.

In The ANA Story like its proverbial mother, Nigeria, it comes to light or officially known that it has bore the woes of experiment, sharing the pains of the limbo its mother is in. It has been suffering from lack of funds; ANA has no staff and no asset, per se; it has no secretariat; sometime in its past one of its president with a ‘sober’ hand had to curtail its excesses and ‘amorphous activities’; it has to tackle the atrophying culture of reading. But ANA has better days ahead. Someone should call Teju Cole because history is about to be contested: a Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village is going to be built to immortalise the pen-comrade who fell by the hands of evil men.

Before the ‘shooting-devil’ at 45:35 (when the person behind the camera starts to be careless) the director, too, begins his own kind of creative carelessness: 38:00 to 45:00 and so on. the ANA story here is about the bewailing of the reading culture, the debate of the death or life of the book or libraries and about funding. The soundtrack seems out of sync, sounding more apposite for a clip where a scientist is studying the progress of a specimen in a lab, or reminding you of the underwater soundtracks in Nat Geo Wild, or even something to take you to the site of some ancient shrine. At 44:21, too otherworldly eliciting the wrong effect from the viewer. Not even when Mabel Segun gives the description of a piece of land property owned by ANA in Abuja as resembling paradise, the soundtrack again, too intense, relegates her rendition to the background causing an internecine effect. But the viewer is saved some minutes later.

Done in memory of Chinua Achebe, it features clips from Dike Chukwumerije’s Made In Nigeria (2017) show, courtesy of Box Office Studios, with the artist of the same name doing a tributary at the beginning and end – as the credits disappear at the edge of the pixels – of the documentary.

Doing just more than a cameo in the documentary includes, again, Dike Chukwumerije, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Richard Ali, Khalid Imam, Charry Ada Onwu, Lola Bala Gbogbo and Ado Dangidan Dabino, a guy who speaks only his language. Save for a few peccadillos here and there the director, Tee Jay Dan, has done his best, so far as one can tell, earning a B with or without a plus, I leave the viewer the verdict.

After 52 minutes of screenplay Mabel Segun tells the viewer ‘ANA will live forever.’

 

 

PS: The documentary shall be premiered later this year (2017)

 

 

Carl Terver is a porer of the English sentence and a critic of pop-culture. He likes to think of himself as an imaginary grandmaster. He is a fan of contemporary writers, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Adam Gopnik, Hua Hsu and Teju Cole.He is a critic at Praxis. @CarlTerver on Twitter. carl terver

Posted in EVENTS, REVIEWS

WHEN SATAN CAME TO ABUJA: WRITERS BEWARE!

If you know anything about Abuja, then you know it is the new city of sin. Not so new. It has taken over from Lagos and all those other evil lands. Preachers have done their best but it seems there are a lot of people who are fighting the prophets… Have you heard about the church of Satan? There’s much happening in the capital city.

So, I came to Abuja but there are several people who know that already. I should blog about what has been happening since Sunday. The capital city is burning with activities and every day has been some day of book and book magana plus one religious this or that. Now, let’s talk about yesterday, Saturday 30th April 2016. It was the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Guest Writer Session at Nanet Suites. The artistes of the day were Obinna Udenwe (author of Satans and Shaitans), Ishaya Bako, a film maker, and a musician, Austin Oroko. Yeah, Obinna was the Satan holder. Of course, you know that is what this piece is about, no?

The session started with a musical interlude – okay, maybe an opening – by Austin Oroko. Next, Obinna Udenwe read some pieces from his engaging thriller, Satans and Shaitans, which was joint prize winner for the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prose Prize 2015. The book is about terrorism in Nigeria and shows a backstory of what might be happening – of collaborations between the most powerful and wealthy people in the country; Christians, Muslims and everyone else. All of them working to ensure that they maintain power and get stronger in their caprices. This book if looked at critically might be confused as the testament behind what has become Boko Haram today. Remember it is fiction though. Obinna hinted that when he wrote the book, people had mentioned that he would be killed. Well, he published the book in the United Kingdom in 2014 and Nigeria in 2015. Still, he was still alive.

Ishaya Bako took the next turn showing his twenty-minute movie, Henna. The movie is set in a typical Northern Nigerian environment. It is centred around Reina, a girl of puberty age who is meant to be given out in marriage to a Mallam, just a few days after seeing her first menses. Now, we are shown Reina is a very brilliant student. It becomes disturbing that her dreams would be cut short because tradition dictates she must submit to the whims of a husband. I was touched because when I served in Bantaje, a community in Taraba state, some years ago, I had some of my finest and most beautiful students just disappear from class. It is like, you just don’t see them again. Much later, you might find them in town or get the memo from someone – they are married. The end.  Somewhere else, her friend Amina, dies after being married at a very early age. Ishaya’s narrative is engaging and he puts a twist to the tale that defies what would ordinarily happen in society. This was the second time AWF was hosting Ishaya. I was there at the first when he screened Fuelling Poverty, which I hear has been – or was – banned.

During the screening, Ishaya moved around, getting comments from members of the audience even as NTA interviewed him. Luckily, we didn’t say anything wrong or he would have caught us! Hee hee hee. Anyway, it was time for questions and answers.

Several questions were asked. Notably, Paul Liam challenged the love angle of Obinna’s narrative and said that the character, Donaldo, had not been properly developed and there weren’t pointers to what he eventually became – a murderer or so. Then, we were whispering, and the idea mainly from Paul Liam that there was a link between Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Obinna’s Satans and Shaitans was raised. There is this thing about the wicked Christian father who deals with the daughter in the two novels. In the case of the Obinna’s novel, the father is an Evangelist. Nana Sule, who sat beside me, was the one whose mouth we chewed the question into. The question was if it was possible that the author would have made a different person the wicked one, say the mother, or made his narrative markedly different from Chimamanda’s. Obinna replied that there was no way he could have done so because in Igboland, where he comes from, ‘fathers especially Christians like that are known to be the callous and wicked ones.’ Mothers are caring so there is no way he could have written it differently. Oh well. Now, we know that Igbo renowned Evangelists are all abusive and vicious. Thanks Obinna.

There were other questions thrown the way of Ishaya Bako the film maker and Austin Oroko – the Otong Kong smooth sounding musician. Oh, I should add that Nana Sule after asking Obinna the question above threw some words towards Austin: ‘I like – scratch that – I love your voice!’ Hmm, no be small blush o! Before the event started, he had passed by us in the restaurant and the girl had complimented his hat with a twinkle to her eye. We noticed the blush then, though I tried to cover up for my guy. So, the house went all rowdy at her ‘I love your voice’ compliment o. Dr Emman Shehu, our AWF President had to hold Austin’s head down so that it wouldn’t swell too much and blow.

There was a raffle draw for books to be won. Almost all of my people from Aidee Erhime to TJ Benson [who was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Prize, Fiction Category], Nurudeen Temitayo [publisher of AMAB books who published the Nigerian version of Satans and Shaitans] Nana Sule…won. Halima Aliyu was the only one who didn’t win o. Halima is the Lead Editor at AMAB, the author of Fire on the Tip of Ice (a collection of short stories) and a brilliant mind. We sat together through the event – did I say that before? I was touched when a father brought his son, Favour, to me to sign Home Equals Holes for. I pray more parents would expose their children to such forums early enough.

It was soon time to head out after taking pictures and all those good stuff of chatting, yabbing and all. I tried to convince two new acquaintances, Aisha and Hadiza Obi to follow their thoughts to join AWF. I hope they will.

Did I mention some of the other guests that attended the event? Okay, there was Abubakar Adam Ibrahim [award winning author of Whispering Trees and A Season of Crimson Blossoms], Emma Shercliff, the fine critic Mike Ekunno, Dr. Abigail, Amina Aboje, the Galadima of Lokoja, Hajo Isa…amongst others. The AWF Guest Writer Session holds every last Saturday of the month at Nanet Suites, Central Area, Abuja while they have critique sessions every

IMG_20160430_181447
Emma Shercliff, Su’eddie & Abubakar Adam Ibrahim [Grinning in a shaky picture thanks to Halima Aliyu’s excited hands]
other Sunday in the month but the last at Terazzo Lounge, Port Harcourt Crescent, off Gimbiya Street in Area 11, Garki Abuja. 4pm prompt for all events. Hola if you need any more info or if you want to register into the forum. Anyways… back to that Saturday night…yesterday.

I got my stuff and took a walk with three friends – Laolu was one. The literary discussion had only begun. But let me not bore you too much. There’s so much to be discussed on the literary scene and new narratives to be written with others meant to be rewritten. I only hope we are courageous enough and get the platform to engage meaningfully.

Bonjour!

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, FICTION, LIFE, REVIEWS

RAMBLES, ATONEMENT, HEALING AND RENEWAL: READING KHALED HOSSEINI’S THE KITE RUNNER

I was recently admitted into the new age spirit of an e-reader, a Kobo specifically. It took reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini to remind me that I still love that traditional smell of a fresh book that reaches to you like the smell of fresh fries on a hungry stomach.

In The Kite Runner, we are introduced to a certain present time by the lead character narrator. He talks of a phone call in 2001 that has changed him. Then by the next page, he takes us on a ride through his memory lane talking of his entire life from childhood to the time when he got married and that very time – 2001. It took some 150 or so pages to get there so you can imagine that with the excitement of Hosseini’s narrative and flowery diction, I had to trace my way back to Page 1. Now, the e-reader wasn’t fast enough to get me there – or I didn’t want to waste time – so I jumped to one of my bookshelves and picked the paperback. I read the two pages in seconds and was back on speed with my book (Page 175).

Oh! Did I mention that I am still reading the book? It is one you should. I think Khaled Hosseini is worthy of every praise he is getting. His story as I have read so far traces how we make decisions that haunt us. Our lead character out of childhood jealousy and a hope to impress his father betrays his best friend (Hassan) and does not stand up for his friend in a time of danger. This is despite Hassan being in that position because he had stuck to his ground

The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner

retrieving a kite for the honour of our lead character (Amir). Hassan forgives Amir and begs him to play but guilt strangles any joy that Amir might have had. In the end, he sets Hassan up and makes him to be driven away.

Okay, you don’t get the picture. There’s this caste system and Hassan is the son of the servant of Amir’s father. So, despite being born at the same time with Amir and sharing the breasts of a woman brought to suckle them (Hassan’s mother ran away and Amir’s mother died after childbirth), Hassan is to be Amir’s servant too. They become friends and Hassan is OVERTLY loyal. He is a strong boy who stands up for Amir always. Now, eventually Amir gets envious of his own father liking Hassan. He also wants to win the love of his father who doesn’t think much of children who prefer reading to playing soccer! Anyways, so, that is the point where this and that happens, Hassan still sacrifices a million times more for Amir and has to leave with his father breaking a relationship of many years.

War and instability comes to Afghanistan. Amir leaves his native Afghanistan and migrates to America with his father (his mother is dead, by the way). Time rolls on itself and a lot happens; his father dies, he gets married etc etc. He hopes to have fresh starts but he discovers; the past never really leaves us. It cannot be really buried. Perhaps ignored sometimes but never buried in entirety. Like our shadows, this past clings to us and when day shines we find it walking beside us. Well, that’s most of what I have made of his position.

As I read on, I think empathically of what Hassan’s life would be like at that point. How the pranks and nonchalance of the young Amir changed the destiny of Hassan and his father. I am thinking of how our acts of commissions and omissions end up being the decider on the making or breaking of people. I am thinking of my own childhood, decisions I have made and wondering if there aren’t holes to the past that I need to fill in whatever way. In some cases we have little or nothing to do but if we think deep we will discover that though we can’t right all wrongs, there are certain things we can do to make amends and be better.

As Hosseini says, there is a way to be good again.

Yes, there is a way to be good again. May the times give us the grace to be better each moment and work to right whatever wrong we can. We only live once, why don’t we make it worth it?

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, CALLS FOR SUBMISSION, REVIEWS

REVIEWERS WANTED: WHERE ARE YOU?! [INTRODUCING SEVHAGE REVIEWS!]

Hi, my name is Su’eddie Vershima Agema and yes, except working with a publishing house and holding some literary administrative positions, I LOVE BOOKS, WRITING AND PEOPLE! I also like bringing books to people’s attention and finding a way to share works I love and works of people I come across…

Now, we have a blog, http://sevhagereviews.wordpress.com and we have had some wonderful reviews and interviews: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Caine Prize Shortlist 2013) and Reward Nsirim are just a few. We are launching some interview series soon to feature amazing Nigerian, African and international writers! Yaaaaay! Plus, we have features of reviews on their works as well as select pieces. If you haven’t seen it, get there and see it…

Book World!
Book World! 

Oh well, too much talk. We need reviewers! Have you been reading any good book and would love to share your thoughts on it? Thoughts on literature… We welcome them all. Please send an email at sevhage@gmail.com with the title: ‘REVIEW’ and we will take it from there. Do you think that you can’t really review professionally? Oh, come on! That isn’t a problem… I am not sure I can… and I prefer the ones that only show what you feel. So, if you can, simply write your thoughts and let’s see how we can make all of it fun…

Trust me, you will be connecting to a great community and who knows where it will take you to tomorrow? I offer you my friendship too and let’s see where it will take us to.

Cheers!

Posted in MEET THE POETS, POETRY, POETRY FROM THE WORLD, REVIEWS

BEYOND THE SHOUTS OF A MOTHER AT A STILLBORN: AN ANALYSIS OF MANDLENKOSI LANGA’S ‘MOTHER’S ODE TO A STILLBORN CHILD’ BY SU’EDDIE VERSHIMA AGEMA

There are different views to understanding poetry. You can look at that which you find facing you directly – look at what is written on the surface and leave what is beneath. Some other times you have to look at what lies beneath. Think, why did such a writer write such lines? In what time was such a piece written? What was the condition of the writer? It helps to also read the poetry of contemporaries of such a writer in the person’s place. The contemporaries (poets) of Mandlenkosi Langa are the likes of Dennis Brutus, Oswald Mtshali, Stanley Mogoba, and Sydney Sepamla. Let’s look at the poem in full so that we will go along together in understanding this:

You languished patiently
for months on end
in dungeon darkness

From Viral Nova... To watch an incredible video on a man who turned a still born loss to joy, please click here: http://www.viralnova.com/stillborn-baby-crib/ Su'eddie
From Viral Nova… To watch an incredible video on a man who turned a still born loss to joy, please click here: http://www.viralnova.com/stillborn-baby-crib/ Su’eddie

in intestinal convolutions
and indefinable chaos

You had neither shadow
nor silhouette
You had every right
to riot and complain
or raise your voice
in protest or defiance

I could feel your lust
to join the dead
living world
Your muted attempts
to burst like Christmas chicken
into life

It is not my fault
that you did not live
to be a brother or sister
or lover of some black child
that you did not experience pain
pleasure voluptuousness and salt
in the wound
that your head did not stop
a police truncheon
that you are not a permanent resident
of a prison island.

(‘Mother’s Ode to a Stillborn Child’ by Mandlenkosi Langa; in Black Poets in South Africa Edited by Robert Royston. London: Heinemann Educational Books,1974)

Tough love, wouldn’t you say? It makes one to think deep again beyond the analysis of whatever might have come down. Let’s look at this from the surface first. We find a mother [yes, let’s give the woman this accord] here who is addressing her stillborn. A lot of mothers will be happy to have a child and when something happens wrong to the child, they are saddened. In this poem though, you find a near nonchalant mother talking to her baby and saying: ‘Oh well, you are better dead’. This is a deep poem on whatever level you decide to look at it. Poetry, like art, is an expression of one’s innermost feeling. It leaves you thinking of what might have gone through the mind of the poet. Like experiences, and other forms of art too, poetry is subject to many interpretations even as it speaks to each reader differently.

To have an idea of a poet’s mind though, sometimes you have to ‘visit’ the person, by understanding the circumstances and situation of the timing and writing of such a poem. This is understanding the poet’s reason for writing as opposed to however you might later understand the poem…for yes, each poem and work of art speaks to us and affects us differently, sometimes in ways that the poet might never have imagined.

The above poem, was written by Mandlenkosi Langa during the South African Apartheid period. The persona [we should always remember that the poet is not always the person in the poem; the person in the poem is called the poetic persona, much like the narrator in fiction etc] addresses her stillborn child. To understand this poem, you need to understand that the Apartheid period was one where blacks [the poet and the persona are black] were maltreated and subjected to a life of living on the run. It was evil to be black and one could be killed, beaten, maltreated for simply being a person of colour. It is more like the highest form of ‘racism’ and it was worse because 1) this land was originally the land of the blacks 2) They had the number in terms of population. 3) They had no access to jobs, proper schooling and a lot that the whites had… among others….

Things got so bad that some women rather than cry at a stillborn would shrug and say ‘Well, you are saved. Rest well’. That’s the spirit of the poem above.

The poem starts with the persona addressing how the baby within started off. Note the careful use of words that are not bright or cheerful: ‘languish…in dungeon darkness…in indefinable chaos’… From the outset, the persona knows that the baby had a difficult time within the walls of her body. [ASK: Could the body of the persona be a metaphor for South Africa and the troubles of the land?] The next stanza questions the essence of the humanity of the baby. The persona states that the baby had no form; no shadow, no silhouette. The baby had every right to protest… [ASK: Could the baby, from this stanza, be a personification of the suffering blacks in South Africa? Remember they had no dignity and are below humanity; therefore without shadow or silhouette… In that case, they had ‘every right/to riot and complain/or raise … voice/in protest or defiance].

The third stanza addresses the lust of the addressed to join the dead. Well, with all the troubles, it will seem that is what anyone will desire… So, in the end, at the last stanza: we find this mother without remorse at the death of the stillborn. She even thinks the stillborn is better dead! After all, ‘you are not a permanent resident of a prison island.’

So, there you go… There’s always more than meets the eye, not so? Let’s have your thoughts on this too and if you can, let’s have you put your heart to paper and scribble the spirit of your soul to show its very depths.

Posted in FICTION, LITERARY MISSIONARY, REVIEWS

Brittle Paper Launches an African Fantasy Story Series! – and it is FREE to read and ENJOY!

Yaaaay!

So much excitement as Brittle Paper, premier blog and site for African tales launch a new story series…

The story is one of fantasy and is written by the crazy writer, Eugene Odogwu, who is also a graphic artist (aside: he has done amazing covers, I know this, because he is the official cover artist at SEVHAGE Publishers – a department under my unit. Hola in the comment box if you want us to hook you up on a cool cover… but back to his tale). The new tale series is titled

In The Shadows of Iyanibi, a fantastic tale that is sure to keep you glued to your phones and ipads.

Iyanibi_01

Synopsis:

In the Shadow of Iyanibi is a story about a brave and gifted girl named Ihumbi, who is swept up in a series of frightful encounters involving the search for a missing sister in a forest of deep, dark shadows.

The three-part tale follows the confrontation between young Ihumbi and Urunma—a forest-dwelling demigoddess always hungry for the souls of lost children. Urunma is a mother’s worst nightmare and a child’s greatest fear. Preying on a child’s desire for sweet and colorful things, she steals the souls of children lost in the forest and holds them in enchanted captivity.

The story vicariously transports you to the enchanting gloom of an old forest and a brave girl’s attempt to confront the ancient horror that lies deep within its shadows.

In the Shadow of Iyanibi is a richly-imagined and suspenseful tale of bravery and the steadfastness of a sister’s love.

It’s a three-part story, accompanied by custom illustrations, that will run over six weeks.

Monday the 12th of January is the date to save on your calendar so you don’t miss the first story. Yup, it was published and appears here

In a post on the blog, the curator, Ainehi Edoro talks about why they decided to put up the series:

One of the most talked-about projects we launched last year was Ayodele Olofintuade’s Adunni, an original Brittle Paper story series featuring custom images made by NYC-based Nigerian artist, Laolu Sebanjo.

Seeing that we received such positive response from readers, we have been working hard to release more series.

We are happy to announce that three story series have been slated for 2015, the first of which is Eugene Odogwu’s (see more here).

I had cause to work with Eugene on the story and I think it is nice – but that is my opinion. You have the chance to read through and get yours. If you love something African different from the usual Chimamanda Adichies, Su’eddie Agemas (ooops! Did I write that?!), Achebes, amu nnadi’s, Ekwuazis and the like, then this would make for some change.

So, it is back to waiting for January 26th to read the new one… So, meanwhile… Back to writing something regular 🙂

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, REVIEWS

THROUGH THE DEEPENING DEPTHS OF CAT EYES: THOUGHTS ON PEVER X’S NOVEL By Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA

Open your thought bank, and see this clearly as we think it from the dark like we are viewing it all through cat eyes: You grow up not knowing your father. You have heard so much about him and though you would naturally want to see him, to catch a glance of what your progenitor is like, you despise him. You wish him to be an old wrinkled evil thing. After all, a man who has been absent and not kept touch with his family for so long would have to be an ogre! You pray him to be a hag of a man with marks all over. He left your mother with you to go overseas for further studies and because of him at a certain stage, your mother puts a hold to your education so that you wouldn’t want to know too much book and leave her—thank God for libraries and hidden books. Well, eventually a message comes one day: your father, whom you are even named after, is coming back. He comes back and the shockers begin. Your father is the complete opposite of the dinginess you might have imagined. He is handsome, cool and lovely. Your mother betrays you and rushes into his arms like a Prince Charming that has always been there. But it doesn’t end there. Your father has come from abroad with a new wife and a daughter! Chai! Did I mention that the daughter and new wife are white—and have cat eyes? What worse betrayal can he try to bring about? Think, what would you do? Or maybe you should get Pever X’s Cat Eyes to get an understanding and see what unfolds…

Cat Eyes is a coming of age story centred around Pededoo, a headstrong chap who has lots of teen issues. He tries to have a manageable relationship with his father who has come home after a prolonged silence abroad. In his company are a white woman and a daughter, Melissa-Jane—who is a beautiful intelligent blonde. Pededoo takes an instant dislike to the trio cruelly naming Melissa-Jane Cat Eyes due to her greenish coloured eyes. She likes the name to his chagrin and repays every evil Pededoo pays her with sweetness. It is not long before the teenager is falling for his step-sister.Cat Eyes Cover

But this is only the beginning of the contradictions. More things unfold as Pededoo goes on many adventures that would teach him—and readers—life lessons on love, literature, beauty and so much more. The tale is set in the imaginative countryside of Boor by mountains, riversides, an orchard, barns and the like. The entire action of the novel takes place within two weeks in the summer month of August,1988.

The book is told in the first person narrative and readers see through the eyes of Pededoo. The use of this style is quite relevant and significant to the plot progression as most of the suspense and ironies seen in the book are as a result of the views of the narrator. While the author might have pulled his suspense and slow revelations in the book differently, using this style of narration makes readers to be as blind to many things as the person through whom the story is told. After all, if a blind man leads, stumbling, wouldn’t they who follow likewise do same?

Pever X writes with a great dose of Mark Twain behind his lines. If the writings were to be like one’s breath and Mark Twain like alcohol that could be smelt in that breath, there would be a roomful or more than metre long of that smell.  From the particular characterisation of a teenager (Pededoo) on the countryside with his teenage companions and pranks, one can easily match the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer footprints. The author seemingly admits to this inspiration and borrowing for his character and book in a scene in the book speaking through the book’s narrator thus:

I found books written by Mark Twain very interesting, especially The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective. I admired Huckleberry Finn and felt we had a lot in common…[the comparisons between the both are shown] But there were times I wanted to be like Tom Sawyer… I was aware his knowledge came from reading books so I continued reading and resolved never to stop until I got as smart as Tom Sawyer… (47).

It is important to state here though, that despite the telling of a work in a Mark Twainian style, Pever X’s voice is original[ly African] in its own right, adding spices and a whole lot of local colouring to make his novel both entertaining, informing, absorbing and particularly, African.

Pever X brings to life a place that you might not find on any real landmass—Boor in setting, creation and all being far from what any town in Benue state is. This is easily forgivable noticing that his descriptions are apt and enough to make a native of Ushongo, the place where Boor is located as stated in the novel to think the place really exists. Thus, the author paints a picture that is easily viewable with the mind’s eyes.

In an age where most of our cultures seem to be swept away by an encroaching globalisation with bigger civilisations eating our own traditions, most writers make it a duty to try to salvage what they can through the introduction of native characters in their works, using diplomacy (use of native words), infusing local histories and the like. The scholar and poet, Hyginus Ekwuazi, states that this is our [African writers’] way of trying to clear the weed behind our backyard so that it remains attractive. Some might see this as being like the famous puppy trying to put out a fire with its fart. Whether or not, it works, is not in much contention. Pever X, in the tradition of the typical African writer, sprinkles a large dose of his tradition into his work. We notice in the first instance that the setting, despite its being in a countryside that would not be recognisable in the geographical reality of his locale, is in Tivland. This gives the author an excuse to put in a large cast of Tiv characters like Pededoo, Jimba, and Kaun.

We also come across the naming of certain objects such as adudu (a small basket made from reeds), akacha (musical instrument) and Kwaghir (Tiv puppet theatre). It would be easy to say that the use of these are because of the absence of a more appropriate way to address them such that they wouldn’t lose their proper representation to a person who is familiar with the Tiv background against which Pever X writes. However, we notice the deliberateness of his nativisation in the presence of such words as Bagu (Gorilla), Alôm (Hare), and the like. Note that in many places these names are pronounced aside their English meanings, in addition to a glossary being supported at the end of the whole work. We also find folktales in the novel with an example of ‘how Alôm the hare – the trickster and hero of Tiv folklore – came about with long ears’ (44).

The author tries to present a tale that is both locally and internationally relevant. Through the characterisation and dialogue, we notice a blend of Tiv, Igbo and Ghanaian names. The novel also takes us on a journey through Nigeria, Ghana, America, and Europe at different points through reminiscences of the narrator on his grandfather’s musical career, his father (Pededoo Senior)’s experiences, that of Melissa-Jane on her life in Boston and a few other cases.

Certain readers might have a few issues with Cat Eyes. The first is the confusing voice of Pededoo. This teenager is meant to be a countryside—rural if you want—African boy who stopped going to school in his JSS 3. The reader is thus shocked to hear his rich vocabulary and his seeming adult voice. The voice of the narrator—and by extension, the narrative—is somewhat American. The author tries to explain most of this away by noting in different parts of the book that the narrator is a book aficionado. At this point, a certain scene comes to mind. It is one of Pededoo and Melissa-Jane (Cat Eyes) playing King and Queen or more appropriately, lovers. Pededoo recites a line from Shakespeare and she challenges him to go on first by saying he knows only that one line. When he quotes a few more lines, she challenges him saying that he knows only short lines. He continues and soon they are exchanging lines before they are interrupted by their gnarling stomachs (129). Earlier in the book the narrator had noted: ‘I later read fourteen original and unabridged plays by William Shakespeare… I could recite many of his one hundred and fifty four sonnets in my sleep, I’d read them all. Several times over’ (48). We read elsewhere too that reading became like food to him: ‘I never stopped reading. Each free minute found me with a book’ (50).

Most of the books Pededoo reads are American and some of his favourite characters and models are picked from there (47-50). Is it any wonder then that he loves Mark Twain and his characters—Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer—with a passion? The books devoured by this character mould his persona and fashions his voice, it broadens his view and mindscape beyond his environment. Thus, we realise the power of books and reading. In addition to this are certain movies that he watches like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America (18).

The 164 book is divided into twenty-five chapters and a glossary. Each chapter starts with a quotation that acts as a precursor and/or a summary of what to expect in the chapter.  Chapter XIX, for instance, starts with ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ from Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI. It is therefore not surprising to see later on in the chapter that the minds of the people involved become somewhat married. To take it a step further, this is the chapter where Pededoo and  Melissa-Jane play the Shakespearian line exchange game (as shown above). Thus, each chapter comes with that quotation from diverse sources such as Owl City, Mark Twain (not surprisingly), Leo Tolstoy, Richard Barnfield, Haruki Murakami, Euripides, Helen Keller and The Bible. Each chapter ends with the words ‘from the land beyond the seas’.

From adventures with fireflies, horse rides, mountain climbs, music, book renditions, romance, history recreated, history kept, the book deepens like the onion, layer after layer, going on various winding paths to keep you reading till the very last page. Note though that if you want a fast paced thriller, full of overt inanities and the like, if you are looking for head-over-heels sick humour, something shallow…then Cat Eyes is not for you. Like Twain’s style mentioned, it is a slow flowing endearing book that grows at a leisure pace. It is an irresistible coming of age tale that will capture the hearts of those whose spirits can still be found.