Nigeria Posts

“Season of Crimson Blossoms” by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

It occurred to her then that in the final analysis, dreams can be dainty and beautiful, like butterflies, and just as fragile. 

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s debut novel Season of Crimson Blossoms is about the love affair of  fifty-five-year-old grandmother and widow Binta Zubairu with a twenty-six-year-year-old local ganster Hassan Reza. They met when Binta stumbled upon Hassan robbing her home. The story is set in conservative Islamic Northern Nigeria where an affair such as this would be frowned upon, let alone the vast age difference between the two. It is complicated further as Hassan Reza reminds Binta of her son who passed away many years ago. Similarly Binta reminds Hassan Reza of his mother! For a while the two are able to keep their affair a secret until it is discovered — it has explosive repurcussions. Not only upon the immediate family but society too. The women at the local madarasa are unforgiving and hostile.

Season of Crimson Blossoms is an extremely powerful book for its sharp etching of Nigerian society. At the same time if plucked out of context these scenarios would probably not be unusual in any other country. It is not necessarily a story about the love affair of a far older women with a man young enough to be her son and the moral implications of it. Not at all! It can also be construed as a commentary upon the extreme conservatism that exists in various pockets of this world.  Within these spaces are to be found individuals with a fiesty spirit and a strong free will who are most often unable to express themselves sufficiently for the presence of the conscience keepers in their homes and communities. It is also fascinating to read how deftly the author creates the story offering different perspectives but the strongest that shines through is that of Binta and it is done ever so gently that it creates empathy for her character in the reader’s mind. The harsh judgement that the women folk at the madarasa pronounce upon Binta hurts and anger’s the reader as much as it does Binta. Life is certainly as fragile as butterflies!

It is no surprise then that this debut novel won the prestigious Nigerian prize for Literature worth $100,000. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim won the prize after defeating 173 other writers including Caine Prize winner Elnathan John for Born on a Tuesday  and past winner Chika Unigwe for  Night Dancer .

Season of Crimson Blossoms is extraordinary. Days after the book is over, one cannot help but think about it constantly.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim Season of Crimson Blossoms Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2017. Pb. pp. 290. Rs. 499.

31 January 2018 

Hisham Matar “The Return”

My review of The Return has been published in the Scroll on 10 July 2016. The url is: http://scroll.in/article/811475/as-polls-near-number-of-cases-filed-against-opposition-leaders-in-goa-go-up ) 

I had never been anywhere so burdened with memories yet also so charged with possibilities for the future, positive and negative, and each just as potent and probable as the other.

Hisham Matar’s third book The Return is a memoir, unlike his previously award-winning novels. He is of Libyan origin, born in New York but now a British citizen living in London. His childhood has been spent in Nigeria, Egypt and the UK. He is the son of a prominent Libyan, Jaballa Matar, who was abducted by the Egyptian secret police and delivered to Muammar Gaddafi. Jaballa Matar vanished.

“He was taken to Abu Salim prison, in Tripoli, which was known as ‘The Last Stop’ – the place where the regime sent those it wanted to forget.” There were rare letters smuggled out of prison, which the family treasured. After a while even those stopped coming. Twenty-two years later, after the Arab Spring of 2011, Hisham Matar returned to Libya. He was accompanied by his mother Fawzia Tarbah and his wife Diana Matar.

The Return is about Matar’s homecoming, so to speak. It is also about his public campaign to put pressure on the Libyan government to provide information about his father’s whereabouts. As Matar says, he is “a very private man”, but he is “writing something way beyond my person”.

Jaballa Matar was a young Army officer under King Idris’s rule. He returned from London to Egypt full of hope when a young soldier named Gaddafi led a coup in Libya. Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule soon manifested itself. All those considered to be close to the previous government were sent out of the country on minor diplomatic missions. Jaballa Matar was sent to the United Nations, where he spent a few years before resigning and returning to Libya.

My father was one of the opposition’s most prominent figures. The organisation he belonged to had a training camp in Chad, south of the Libyan border, and several underground cells inside the country. Father’s career in the army, his short tenure as a diplomat, and the private means he had managed to procure in the mid 1970s, when he became a successful businessman – importing products as diverse as Mitsubishi vehicles and Converse sport shoes to the Middle East – made him a dangerous enemy.

Despite making his home outside Libya, Matara considers himself an exile.

I am often unnerved by exiles I meet who, like me, have found themselves living in London but who unlike me, have surrendered to the place and therefore exude the sort of resigned stability I lack. Naked adoption of native mannerisms or the local dialect — this has always seemed to me a kind of humiliation.

There is a calm pace to the text, almost matching the cadences of Hisham Matar’s serene voice. ( http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/out-loud/hisham-matar-and-david-remnick-on-returning-to-libya ) But the almost lyrical prose cannot mask the horror of the human right violations committed under Gaddafi, which Matar documents. These range from the barbaric torture of the prisoners and the massacre of more than 1200 inmates in Abu Salim prison to snippets of information about Matar’s father.

Matar’s uncle Hmad Khanfore, an aspiring playwright, was incarcerated in prison for 21 years. Upon his release he met his nephew to thank him for the campaign that assured his release. He also recounted the horrors of the massacre.

It began with a group of disobedient prisoners who started a scuffle and tried escaping by jumping the guards. There was firing and some prisoners and guards were killed. But the standoff continued, with water supply to the prisoners being cut off too. By sunset the guards were willing to negotiate with the representatives of the convicts. When they returned they were accompanied by the three senior most figures in the regime:

Abdullah Senussi, who was the intelligence chief and brother-in-law to Gaddafi; Abdullah Mansour, also in intelligence; and Khairi Khaled, the head of prisons and brother of Gaddafi’s first wife…Throughout these exchanges, Senussi was in regular contact with Gaddafi. His phone would ring and he would stand as straight as a reed and start whispering. His phone rang again now, and once more we watched him take a couple of steps away before answering, “Yes, Your Excellency. The situation is completely under control, Your Excellency. Absolutely, we will do exactly that. Rest assured.”

At dawn, before daybreak, the prisoners were matched into the big open courtyard where rows and rows of soldiers were standing, dressed for battle, with several of them poised in firing positions. The dead prisoners were dumped into rubbish bins and rest of the prisoners handcuffed – Israeli cuffs, their latest design. “A thin plastic wire that drew tighter with the slightest resistance. You felt the pain not so much around the wrists but inside the head.” Later, six courtyards were filled with the prisoners and the shooting began. Surprisingly, Matar’s uncle Hmad, his brother Ahmed, Uncle Mahmoud, Cousin Ali and a couple of others from the Ajdabiya Group, the opposition and from the 1990 case were spared. They “witnessed” the execution from their cells by hearing the sounds.

Of course, memory plays a role.

I am not sure if my recollections… are accurate or if they have been affected by my state at the time. Either way, this is how I remember it.

At this point in the text he is referring pointedly to his meeting with Gaddafi’s son and entourage in London to enquire about his father but it is an observation that holds true for the entire narrative. Despite lobbying with the British government to help extricate information from the Libyan government about his father Matar was unsuccessful in finding out whether his father was alive or dead. He had become so desperate that at the height of the campaign he wrote a letter to Gaddafi’s son, Seif el-Islam, detailing the known facts of his father’s case and asking them to clarify his fate.

I was a desperate man, willing to talk to the devil in order to find out if my father was alive or dead. That was how I was then; I am no longer like that now.

The Return is about the loss of a father. A masculine text in that sense. Perhaps has to be, since it is wholly preoccupied with Matar’s search for his father. This is echoed throughout the book, as he invokes other renowned literary texts that focus on the father-son relationship, such as the one between Odysseus and Telemachus.

But it is also evident in, for instance, the way Matar refers to his mother, who is a big pillar of support to him and his brother, as “Mother”. She is introduced by her name only two-thirds into the book, when it is mentioned by a grateful Libyan whose family had been provided shelter by the Matars.

And yet Matar does recognise and acknowledge the invaluable contribution women make to surviving in a conflict zone, especially with their insistence on information from the authorities about missing relatives. This is a common feature of gendered participation in conflict and post-conflict zones. And it happened in Libya too.

…from 2001 onwards, mothers and wives began to camp outside Abu Salim prison, holding framed photographs of their sons and husbands. Their grief was never acknowledged. They kept growing in number, until the moment when a young human rights lawyer decided to defy the wishes of the dictatorship and take up the case of the families. When in 2001 he was detained, they all marched to the Benghazi courthouse to demonstrate against his arrest.

The Return is a heartrendingly painful but dignified memoir. It is disconcertingly beautiful.

Hisham Matar The Return Penguin Random House UK, London, 2016. Pb. pp. 280. Rs 599

4 July 2016 

Press Release: The Read Quarterly

The Read Quarterly  TRQ1-Pack-480x640

Neil Gaiman Kickstarter video and Eoin Colfer original fiction help launch The Read Quarterly.

The Read Quarterly (TRQ, www.thereadquarterly.com), the magazine launching in January 2016 to discuss the culture of children’s literature, has today revealed its first issue cover and has announced that the magazine will contain an original four-part Eoin Colfer story, Holy Mary, to be published through the first year. The Read Quarterly will be a forum in which global children’s literature can be discussed and debated. Created by children’s literature enthusiasts, each with a wealth of experience in the publishing industry, Sarah Odedina and Kate Manning, this quarterly magazine will provide an environment in which both writers and readers can share their enthusiasm, introduce new ideas and challenge old ones.

TRQ have also announced details of how to support the first issue of the magazine via Kickstarter and have revealed that Neil Gaiman has been instrumental in setting up that campaign, even recording a video for them to help push the crowd funding.

Sarah Odedina, one of the founders of the magazine, said “We have had such fantastic support since we announcedSarah Odedina The Read Quarterly.  We are excited by the Kickstarter campaign as we feel that its energy suits our magazine so perfectly. Support has already been flooding in from such luminaries as authors including Malorie Blackman and Neil Gaiman, publishers Neal Porter and Louis Baum and bookseller Melissa Cox. We look forward to growing our magazine to reflect the energy and drive that is so characteristic of the children’s literary scene around the world”.

To support the Kickstarter please go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/748565480/the-read-quarterly.  Pledges for the project start at £20 and you will receive not only Odedina and Manning’s undying gratitude and the joy of supporting the project from the start, but also exclusive prints, bags and original artwork.  From publication, the magazine will be stocked in bookshops and there is also a subscription service from issue two onwards.

Kate-ManningIf you are interested in stocking the magazine, please contact Kate Manning at kate@thereadquarterly.com.

An annual subscription costs £40. For more details please contact subscribe@thereadquarterly.com

For media enquires, please contact:

Kate Manning kate@thereadquarterly.com

 

List of some of the contents of Issue 1

So,we’re about to announce the details of how you can get behind issue 1 and it’s only fair we let you know what’s in the magazine we hope you want to support.

Here’s some of the content list for issue 1 of TRQ. We’re really excited about the wide range of articles and the amazing spread of contributors from around the world, and we hope you like them too. Admittedly, we get a sneak preview of what the articles are about, but hopefully the article titles are tantalising enough.

We have…

‘Hunting for the Birds: A Designer’s Memories of Childhood Reading’ by Stuart Bache, UK

‘Cinderella and a World Audience’ by Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong

‘The Last Taboo: What Interactive Prints Says About the Digital Revolution’ by Elizabeth Bird, USA

‘The Artisan Publisher: Tara Books, Chennai, India’ by Gita Wolf, India

‘A New Arabic Publishing Model’ by Kalimat Publishers, UAE

‘Children and the Magic of Bookshops’ by Jen Campbell, UK

From Institution to Market: Publishing for the African Child’ by Ainehi Edoro, Nigeria/USA

‘The Theme of Independence in Children’s Literature in India’ by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, India

‘The New Internationalists: The Changing Scene of Illustrated Books Published in the UK’ by Martin Salisbury, UK

‘A Singaporean Interpretation of Classic Children’s Stories’ by Myra Garces-Bacsal, Singapore

‘American Nonsense and the Work of Carl Sandburg and Dave and Toph Eggers’ by Michael Heyman, USA

‘The Work of Beatrix Potter and the Loss of Innocence‘ by Eleanor Taylor, UK

‘A Look at Translation’ by Daniel Hahn, UK

And that’s not all, we also have…

Original fiction (well, the the first of four parts) by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Adrienne Geoghegan, Ireland

Original poetry by Toni Stuart, South Africa

A comic strip explaining what Gary Northfield (UK) really hates drawing

An illustrator profile on Catarina Sobral (Portugal) who has illustrated our amazing first issue cover

AND

A Literary Crossword by Tristan Hanks, UK

9 October 2015 

 

Abeer Y. Hoque “The Lovers and the Leavers”

Abeer HoqueBut it hadn’t been the smell of Indian food that had offended Sailan. It was Appa. Gabriel had never considered their father’s post-work rituals consciously until that day. Upon returning home, Appa would go upstairs and remove his suit, uniformly grey or navy, leave on a thin white singlet that stretched over his ballooning waist, and tie on a well-worn lungi. Downstairs, he would gather the newspapers from the hall table where his mother had discarded them, and get an apple from the kitchen. Then he’d squat in the corner of the living room, eat the apple, and read the papers. What was wrong with wearing pants? Sailan had asked. Or maybe squatting in the study instead of the living room? 

‘The study is crowded,’ Appa said mildly, choosing to reply to the second query, combing through the few remaining hairs on top of his head. 

‘Because you use it for storage,’ Sailan said. 

Appa shrugged. ‘There’s enough space in the living room for all of us.’

‘The space is not the point. We can’t use the living room for entertaining. I’d just like to bring my friends over without feeling as if we’re entering a television programme about displaced immigrants.’

It was true that their living room didn’t look like any Catalan living room Gabriel had been in. The paisley print curtains didn’t match the plastic-covered furniture, and there were piles of papers in all the corners. Appa never cared for how things appeared, but his contempt for Sailan’s tone overcame his disregard. 

‘We are displaced immigrants,’ he said, in an uncharacteristically sharp way. 

( p.125-7)

Abeer Y. Hoque’s first book, The Lovers and the Leavers, is a collection of twelve interlinked short stories with photographs and poetry interspersed. The stories revolve around a bunch of characters, spanning a few years, though it is never let on in numbers. You can only gauge time by the different points of life the characters are at. Some were toddlers but when the book comes to an end, they are married. These are stories told from different gendered and social perspectives. These stories are about different kinds of love and inevitably the pain of being rejected that are at the crux of the stories. But it is the manner in which these are told that is so refreshing.

About a decade ago, fiction written by the subcontinent diaspora, especially of those settled in America was popularly referred to as ABCD or “American Born Confused Desi”.  A story had to be told by the immigrants. There are many writers who have established their name doing it but there is a new generation of writers emerging. Writers who are poised, at ease with their dual identity — of being Americans and of belonging to the land they originated from, it shows in their confident style of writing and the wonderful ability to blend the various cultures they are privy to. Abeer Y. Hoque belongs to this category. Gently, forcefully and with grace she is able to flit between cultures evident in the use of language — “sophomoric sexuality”, “old-fashioned bideshi manners”,  and “coloured monkeyboy”. To be able to talk about different cultural experiences without being patronising and yet, with searing insight she communicates the feeling of alienation apparent at times. For instance the reference to “their ‘gora’ meals as they called them, more for the pale shade of the food than the race of people. Bags of potato chips, popcorn, rolls of cookie dough on special occasions.” (p.206)

The Lovers and the Leavers is a fine example of stylish storytelling. It is by a writer who seems to be at peace with being identified as a Bangladeshi American writer, born in Nigeria, and with no qualms about discussing life as she has experienced it — a mixed bag of cultural influences. I love it.

Abeer Y. Hoque The Lovers and the Leavers Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers, 2015. Hb, pp. 240. Rs. 499

14 August 2015 

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Ghana Must Go

Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs. At the moment he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden considering whether to go back to get them. He won’t. His second wife Ama is asleep in that bedroom, her lips parted loosely, her brow lightly furrowed, her cheek hotly seeking some cool patch of pillow, and he doesn’t want to wake her.
Ghana Must Go

There is a moment in reading, when you need to put down the book and take a deep sigh and say, “Wow”. This is new. Not necessarily the plot, but the style, the ease with which the writer flits through countries, social and economic milieus, without sounding trite. Plus the style of writing is so refreshing. There are no apologies made about references from other cultures and languages. They are used as lightly and easily as if they are going to be understood by a new generation of readers — the Facebook generation. A bunch of youngsters who are very well-informed and reading voraciously. Understand different cultures and know how to navigate their way through. Ghana Must Go falls in that category.

The title is borrowed from the phrase “Ghana Must Go”, a slogan that was popular in 1983 when Ghananian were expelled from Lagos. This is a story about a family of immigrants based in America. Folasadé Savage (Fola) leaves Lagos for Pennsylvania to study law, but meets her future husband and brilliant surgeon, the Ghanaian husband, Kweku Sai. Fola abandons her professional aspirations to raise their four children. But after losing his job at the hospital under unsavoury circumstances, Kweku abandons them all and returns to Ghana. The family splinters and regroups when the news of Kweku’s death in Accra brings them all together. It is a story that has to be read, to be experienced. It is a bittersweet story that will stay with you for a while.

Taiye Selasi was born in London of Nigerian and Ghanaian parents, and raised in Massachusetts, now lives in Italy. Earlier this year she was one of the twenty recognised as Britian’s upcoming novelists. It is an award that is well-deserved. The other two pieces of writing by Taiye Selasi that I enjoyed are “Driver” in Granta: Best of Young British Novelists and her essay “Bye-Bye Barbar” ( http://thelip.robertsharp.co.uk/?p=76 ). The latter is on being a cultural hybrid or an Afropolitan. This is what she says:

the newest generation of African emigrants, coming soon or collected already at a law firm/chem lab/jazz lounge near you. You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

It isn’t hard to trace our genealogy. Starting in the 60’s, the young, gifted and broke left Africa in pursuit of higher education and happiness abroad. A study conducted in 1999 estimated that between 1960 and 1975 around 27,000 highly skilled Africans left the Continent for the West. Between 1975 and 1984, the number shot to 40,000 and then doubled again by 1987, representing about 30% of Africa’s highly skilled manpower. Unsurprisingly, the most popular destinations for these emigrants included Canada, Britain, and the United States; but Cold War politics produced unlikely scholarship opportunities in Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, as well.”

Trust me when I say. Read Ghana Must Go. ( Possess the printed book for the fabulous cover design.)

Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi. 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499