Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

ChewingGum

Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

Libyan fiction

Source review copy

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore via goodreads

 

Mansour Bushnaf is a well-known figure in Libya ,this is his first book in English ,he has been writing since the 1970’s ,his writing end up with him spending ten years in jail during the Gaddafi regime , apart from novels he is also a well-known playwright .Here he is on the bbc talking about the lack of reading and books in Libya due to the recent regime .It is also the first of a new venture in publishing from Darf publishing , a name connected with publishing Arabic literature since the 50’s .

At this point in the story , Mukhtar finds himself face to face with the statue which become central to his life and our story

Just after Fatima left him .

Chewing Gum is actually a very unique book one that  I’m pleased to have been sent it has an unusual narrative style as it is told in little vignettes .At the heart is the story of a man Mukhtar  , he has seen the love of his life walk away from he was Fatima walk away  and we see how their lives twist and turns in the ten years after this as they are from different places ..The other thread of the story is a crazy craze for chewing gum that arrived in Libya in the 80’s as they started to import it from first turkey ,but as the book moves on you see it come from other places as the connections of Libya with the world changes  over time .Then there is a statue from the time Italy ran the country  that also is symbolic of past events and also the present day .All of this takes place in one part of town ,so what you see is a cross-section of the country in one small place .

The gum , in brief , became , everyone’s obsession.But the actual enjoyable act of mastication remained a privilege of the few one of which ,without doubt ,was our heroine .

Fatima caught up in the gum craze that swept Libya

This is one of those books that long after you’ve put it down you think did that represent this .Now it is a story of lost love ,a man pining at one point Mukhtar is compared to the statue having stood or appeared to have stood in the same place looking down the street at the way Fatima left .Now you could see that as the lifetime of Libya and the years stood like a statue being the years under Gaddafi ? Now the chewing gum is a motif for the outside world and how it connected  to Libya over the time ,but also like the Statue, the act of  chewing gum is also a way of passing time ,also like Gum it  loses its taste maybe Libyans lost the taste of the regime long before they overthrew it or in the gums case throw it a way .What Bushnaf has tried to do is use the gum craze and get people involved academics ,the regime ,shopkeepers and use all these to explain the times .As I said this is a book that you have to read to get it is one that just doesn’t fit easily into a box ,it isn’t like another book from Arabic I’ve read (I am under the belief it is written in English will be translated back to arabic by the writer at a later date ) .Also I do love the simple retro styling of the cover .

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King Lazarus by Mongo Beti

King Lazarus

King Lazarus by Mongo Beti

Cameroon fiction

Translator – Peter Green

Source personnel copy

As I said yesterday I was shocked when in Alain Mabanckou in his book ,Black Bazaar, they were discussing early French language fiction from Africa and Mongo Beti was mentioned ,it served to remind me I hadn’t reviewed this book that I had read last year .So too  Mongo Beti ,was out spoken as a kid about religion and colonialism in africa .He was expelled from his missionary school but did manage to get to university in France where he studied literature , first at Aix-en-Provence he then went to the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris ,before returning to Cameroon ,where he wrote journalism ,including a scathing piece on the writer Camara Laye for what he saw as a book pandering to western tastes ,not African tastes.He then choose to write novels himself ,writing a number of books a number of which appeared in the ealry collection of the African writer series  .He did end up spending a lot of his life in exile .

The same day the reverend father mustered all his determination and will-power and sought audience with the chief .What took place no-one discovered .Directly Le Guen left ,the chief summoned his brother ,telling him to send away all the palace wives .

“Except the one and only wife to whom I shall be married in the eyes of god ”

“And which one might that be ? ” Mekenda enquired cautiously .

The Chief makes his choices .

After reading up on Mongo Beti his motivation for writing this book became clear ,this book is a vision of how he saw Cameroon ,missionaries and tribal life in his homeland .The book centres on The chief of the Essazam ,who has decide to embrace the catholic faith .Now this is where the problems start for him ,because he has a number of wives 23 in all .The church has been pushing him to choose just one of the women so he choose the youngest of his wives to be his only bride in the eyes of god .Now this isn’t the simplest thing for him to do because the other 22 wives don’t want to lose the position or lose face within the tribe ,thus setting up a trick situation .On top of this the chief is being pushed into this by Le Guen the priest ,as Le Guen in turn is facing pressure from his bishop to make the chief convert as they see him converting as a powerful figure for the church in the country .

At the time of the events this story describe ,the girl was barely fifteen .An impetuous ,passionate  creature, la bell ,Medzo ,her opulent Bosom the more striking for the bird-fine  adolescent body .Already the most attractive women in the place .

WHat happens to Medzo ?

Well as you see this is very much tribal world and way of life clashing with the incoming Christian religion  .The title is a spin on the old tale because instead of everything turning to gold as the priest and his bishop hopes ,it in fact has the opposite effect for the Chief .Given that Beti was critical of Laye ,you can see that this book which he wrote after that is very much a book that appeals to Africans in the post colonial world at the time it was written 1958 France and both the UK were starting to withdraw from Africa ,in fact Cameroon became independent just two years after this book was published .Satire is the way Beti choose to show the world of the chief and the priest ,to show the madness of the two worlds clashing the Christian world and it values and the Tribal world .The Pressure on Le Guen to make him decide to become a Catholic ,without seeing the bigger picture .Beti has written here a sharply observed  book capturing a shifting world in time that world of older values and western messing with these values .This book seems out of print which is a shame but old African writer copies seem easily available online .This book shows yet again how in the early years of this series the Late Chinua Achebe ,who sadly passed away last week ,made some great choices for this series by picking strong voices out of Africa.

Have you read any books from Cameroon ?

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Translator Helen Stevenson

Source library book

A couple of years ago I review another book by Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass .Since I read that a couple more of his novels have appeared in English translation so when I saw this one in the library I decide it was time to review him again ,as his style of writing had intrigued me the first time I read it .He still lives in the California where he is a professor of french ,he is also quite a controversial writer  for how he sometimes shows a lot of african problems are of their own making .

So to the book Memoirs of the Porcupine won the Prix Renudot a prize that has a number of big name winners in the past . Memoirs of a porcupine is the story of a porcupine he is the spirit of Kibandi a young eleven year old that is facing his journey into adult life .His father has taken him in to the forest to drink a liquid that had been stuck in the ground for many years and thus the narrator the porcupine appears .After this Kibandi turns to killing people and this is the account of this murderous spree by his spirit animal and Kibandi where they went through the village killing people  ,now his master is dead the porcupine feels free to tell their  story .Now the porcupine has helped in the killing using his special talents  but he was Kibandi spirit so had too .As the memoir moves on he also starts to calls himself later in the book Broken glass eluding to the book I read before .

I wasn’t present at Kibandi’s birth ,not like some doubles ,peaceful doubles they’re called who are born the same day as the child ,and watch them grow ,their masters never see them ,they only intervene when necessary ,when their initiate falls ill ,for example or has a jinx put on them ,it’s a dull life being a peaceful double ,in fact  I don’t know how they stand it .

I was reminded of the Pullman’s  book here ,but also Mabanckou sly humour at times .

Now like broken glass there is a very loose feel to Mabanckou prose style almost like it is written by a porcupine or a drunk , a  certain beat to his work as you read .I ve read a couple of interviews and articles about  him like this one in the economist ,and I can feel a rumba beat that he says he so enjoys  in this book , but also a passion for clever word play ,a style that seems simply written but is deep oh and he doesn’t like full stops there isn’t  any in this book but after a time you get how  the grammar works  .Again he has been compared to Beckett as I often see (although part of me wonders if any one you can’t easily put in a box are compared to Beckett or Faulkner ,you often see them mention ) .But having read Ahmadou Kourouma waiting for the wild beast s , I feel Mabanckou is firmly placed in the Franco african school of writing some parts of this book echo Kourouma style wise and even further back to other writers I ve read .This is where elements of magic realism ,surrealism but also a large chunk of oral tradition the tales told by the village type ,the parables to warn of where you can go wrong  .The heart of this book is rooted  in African myth the myth of animal doubles has appear in many places around the world even Philip Pullman used the in his “his dark materials ” books .As well as looking back he is looking in the present part of me wonder if Kibandi story is partly about the child solders and the violence that have been seen in the region of Africa in the where  Alain Mabanckou is from  .neighbouring Uganda the lords resistance army has used very young men to run riot and kill millions .Not overly sure but there is a feel Kibandi story is a warning of what can happen when child on the verge of young adulthood can  go the wrong way .Again I leave his book wanting to try more of this unusual writer ,but also maybe wanting to read earlier Franco african writers to help better place him as a writer (that said I have since I read this ,I have read Mongo Beti book King Lazarus a long out of print book from the african writer series ).

Do you have a favourite french language African writer ?

Have you read Mabanckou ?

The tongue’s blood does not run dry by Assia Djebar

The tongue’s blood does not run dry by Assia Djebar

Algerian Fiction

Translator – Tegan Raleigh

Assia Djebar name has flown high in the nobel odds the last couple of years so I decided to try her ,before she does win it .Assia Djebar is her pen name her real name being Fatima-Zohar Imalayen ,she is a Algerian of Berber origins , she was the first Algerian women to go the prestigious ENS  the elite Parisian college .Her first book was published in 1957 ,she was also the first Maghreb to be voted on to the  Académie française and won the Neustadt prize .I must say given all that she is still not well-known in the english speaking world and really should be .

This collection the first of two books I got by her from the library is a collection of short stories and a 80 page novella Felicie’s body ,I ll leave the stories mainly set in Algeria and all dealing with a female perspective on what it is to be a women in modern Algeria ,Felicie’s body deals with a women near the end of her life and indeed after her death she is french catholic and was married for her life to her Algerian husband who died before her now nearing the end of her life we see her having to take a muslim name to be buried beside her beloved husband this story really catches what it is to be between two worlds as this family is some of her children drawn to Algeria other to France we see how this family copes with her death of the mother and her wishes to be buried beside her husband in Algeria .

You arrive on a Monday morning in February ,unconscious already.In the ambulance ,I sit down next to my sister Ourdia ,who’s come with you from Oran .I tell myself this time you’ve come to die by my side ,right under my eyes .But will you at least look at me ,just once ? Smile at me ,maybe talk ?

The opening of Felicie’s body .

I was trying to  think of a way to sum up her writing and how it impacted me but I think  she  has  best summed up by a quote of her own –

I write like many other Algerian women with a sense of urgency against regression and misogyny .

That sums up so well how this book grabbed me and her as a writer feisty and lots of strong female characters .I asked my self is this a potential nobel winner having read other Nobel winners work and the answers is yes and I hope she does so her work can reach a wider audiences of readers .Her’s is a voice that lifts the lid on the female Muslim world of north africa and also how these women or there families are effected in France .The translation works a treat her the translator is new to me but has done a great job here .The book was published in the US  by seven stories press in 2006 and the original stories were published in French in 1997 .

Have you read her works ?

Have you a favourite North African writer ?

Waiting for the wild beasts to vote by Ahmadou Kourouma

Source – personnel copy

Translator – Frank Wynne

 

Earlier this year when I interview Frank Wynne the translator of this book to name his favourite translation he choose this book .By the late Ahmadou Kourouma ,he grew up in Ivory coast ,from a well-known family he spent time in the french military and studied in Lyon in france (mathematics).But after his homeland of Ivory coast gained independence from france in 1960 ,he questioned the leadership of Felix houphouet-Boigny  and was sent to prison and after that spent thirty years in exile returning in 1994 just after the death of Felix H-B .Ahmadou Kourouma died in 2003 .

So what is waiting for the wild beasts to vote about well ,it is a story of an African leader told by a Bingo a sora (a storytelling singer) told over five nights .The leader Koyoga was an orphan that became a leader of the gulf coast ( a made up african country but easily a number of countries round ivory coast )and along the way gain a huge mythology about his life and what had happen to him .we see the french involvement at the start with what are called the naked people ,then Koyoga father was the first of this tribe to wear clothes .Then we see Koyoga a solider take power in his homeland and start of with ideals and standards a friend of the west france in particular .But then his promises start to fall apart and people start to doubt him so he turns to violence and corruption to keep power .

When you recovered the Qur’an and the aerolite,you will ready yourself for democratic presidential elections . Elections based on universal suffrage supervised by an independent National commission .You will seek a new mandate secure in the knowledge that you will triumph ,that you will be re-elected .For you know ,you are certain ,that if by chance men refuse to vote for you ,the beast will come from the jungle ,will lay their hands on ballot paper and will elect you by a landslide .

The closing page and the title of the book is made clear .

Well this book is a must read for anyone ,part magic realism part african folk tale ,also a chunk of history of post colonial africa .Is Koyoga far-fetched ,well no if you’ve watch the film  the  last king of Scotland or any programme about the regimes and the leaders in Romania ,North Korea and many others to know that fact and fiction and what these people did in their lives are very blurred . Kourouma is a wonderful storyteller Bingo brings the leaders life to life through his tales .This book is also closely related to the Latin american dictator novels by Roa Bastos or Angel Asturias in the fact like them it examine the character of the people in this case post french africa ,there is some say that it was Togo president Eyedema was the main blueprint for the leader as he like Koyaga had a mythical status having being the sole survivor of a plane crash .But in my opinion it is far wider than that and yes it is based in africa but erase the names and some of the place it could be south america ,south-east asia or even post soviet states .So if you want an insight into africa ,the mind of a dictator ,how much the western world has influence in the third world .I know this is due out shortly as an E-BOOK as Frank told me when I meet him at IFFP prize .This is probably in the top ten novels about Afica for me if not top of that list .It sold over a 100,00 books in france when published .

Do you have a favorite African novel ?

Do you have a favourite dictator novel ?

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