Blogging the Caine prize 2012: Kahora and Kenani stories

I have been reading the shortlisted stories for the 2012 Caine Prize, but I am not sure that I feel confident enough to write full reviews on each, so I chose to write a few comments – without having any of the longer posts. Plus I am also late for both discussions.

I read and re-read the stories by Billy Kahora (Urban zoning) and Stanley O Kenani (Love on trial).

The first, as the title indicates, is set in contemporary Nairobi. A big city, and the characters are very much urban people, though with some connections to rural areas. They are not poor, but rather belong to the elite. My initial reaction to the story was to be slightly confused, because I felt there were really two stories being told: one of Kandle the drunk, and the other of Kandle who is manipulating his bank employers. Yet, a re-read does make a bit more sense, even if the main character is not particularly likeable, or even sympathetic, in my opinion.  It is a complex story, and I am not sure I totally understood what was going on.

The second story takes place in Malawi, and has the stock character of the village drunk who discovers two young men engaging in a homosexual act in a local toilet. I liked the way Charles defends himself, but then he disappears from the story, which ends not unexpectedly with the village drunk getting his comeuppance.

Which of the stories did I like? I enjoyed both, though I felt that Kenani’s story seemed to be more straightforward than Kahora’s. If I were to rate them: Kahora’s story would get a 4, while Kenani’s story would get a 3.

Note: several others have blogged much more extensively than yours truly on these stories, and once I post this I will actually go and read their reviews/commentaries!  See http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/ for more links

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Ghana Library Association 50th anniversary Seminar 1

I attended the first of two professional seminars being organized by the Ghana Library Association on Friday 18 May 2012.  This was part of the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration, having been founded in 1962.  As is often the case, the event took place at the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) Hall here in Accra.  The central location is a great plus, and I suspect that it is not too expensive, which is great for local NGOs.  Personally I find that the set-up is very traditional, with raised stage – about a metre and a half higher than the floor – with a long table and the usual podium.  Definitely a high table, and an audience.  But at least the chairs were OK, the air-conditioning worked, and the microphones worked, so I shouldn’t complain.

The organization of the event was good; I arrived early – as usual – around 7.30am – and already the registration table was set up, with tantalizing 50th anniversary promotional items displayed for sale.  How could I resist?  I didn’t… Folders were ready, and copies of the papers were available on a CD!  Less paper, less trees, less hassle doing photocopying and dealing with people who want copies of papers but don’t really need them or didn’t pay to attend.  It’s also good to listen to a presentation, and then know that one can read it later at one’s leisure.

The programme did start a little late, but the first part went quickly, and everyone kept to time. As there was a significant sponsor plus some donors of books, there was time for them, but that was OK.  [It seems this is becoming a part of programmes where there are sponsors – as I noticed this was an integral part of the Blog Camp 2012  as well.].  A group photo followed, then there was the usual snack break, before getting down to the main presentations.

Prof Anaba Alemna (at the Dept of Information Studies, University of Ghana, Legon) spoke about “Libraries – Key to national development”, arguing that the potential for libraries in Ghana has not been realized because of lack of enabling legislation and support from key groups.  Valentina Bannerman (University Librarian at the University of Education in Winneba) discussed the role of libraries in building a knowledge economy.  And the final presentation was by the ever controversial Kosi Kedem (Chair of the Board of the Ghana Library Authority and former Member of Parliament) who managed to criticize four key groups of stakeholders for not supporting the creation of a National Library in Ghana.  Naturally the last presentation did inspire lots of questions and some rebuttals; but that was enjoyable, and thought provoking. Unfortunately the event had to come to an end, otherwise we would have been there for several more hours!  

Blogging the Caine Prize, 2012: Bombay’s Republic

A group of book bloggers, “inspired by” Zunguzungu are blogging about the shortlist for this year’s Caine Prize, and with a reminder from KinnaReads I thought I should make my own contribution, since I was going to read the stories anyway.  This is more a personal reaction, rather than a full review.  Many others, more qualified than I, will do full justice to each of these stories.

The first story is Bombay’s Republic, by Rotimi Babatunde, who is from Nigeria.  It is also the first of the five stories which I read.

I admit that initially I thought it was quite a long story, but maybe that was because I was reading it on a screen rather than from the printed word.  [All right, I know that statement definitely dates me!].  But on reflection, I found that it actually moved pretty swiftly.

The mood of the story is mixed:  I smiled in several places, and shortly thereafter found myself shrinking with slight disgust at descriptions of tiger leeches and

how the leeches must not be plucked out because their fangs behind and, instead, should be scorched off with a match or lighter, since burn marks are kinder on the skin than sepsis festered by their abandoned fangs.

There are two parts to this : one in Nigeria, the other in the Far East/Burma. The first part covers Bombay’s experiences in the colonial army during World War II, while the last part is situated in Nigeria as it experiences the end of colonialism and the beginning of independence. Although the second does relate to Bombay’s experience during WWII, the author’s portrayal becomes more of a satire on political developments. It works as one story, but I found the first half much stronger – mainly because the commentary was a little more subtle.

Generally it is not a subtle story, but that’s OK. It is, as I mentioned earlier, funny, satirical and poignant.  I enjoyed it.

Rating: If I were to rate it out of 5, probably a 4.

Definitely recommended.

BlogCamp 2012 Ghana: some reactions

I missed most of the morning of BlogCamp 2012 Ghana.  My fault really, as I have been having tyre problems for most of the last week, and should have really done something about it on the 1 May holiday, but I didn’t. So the consequence of procrastination was that I ended up having to spend nearly three hours dealing with it at Abossey Okai rather than being early/on time for the Blog Camp.

So I missed most of the plenary sessions for the first BloggingGhana Blog Camp, which has been talked about for at least as long as I have been a member of this group of bloggers – about two years or so…

So what did I find most interesting/relevant?  I liked the session on Citizen journalism, though I suspect many of those who attended didn’t seem that engaged – despite the facilitator’s attempt to get those present to express themselves.

The session on Women and social media was quite interactive. At first we weren’t sure how many of us would be there, so we rearranged chairs into a small circle, which we enlarged a couple of times as more joined.  Although sometimes shyly, and often very quietly, participants started expressing their fears and concerns about women blogging and what they should/could talk about.  I think we could have gone on for more than the 45 minutes or so we were allocated!  Confidence needs to be built up so that more and more women will decide to talk about issues they are passionate about.

Thanks to Kinna Likimani and Dorothy Gordon for pushing  the agenda!

March and April 2012 book related activities

I just realized that April was an extremely slow month for posting – ouch! True, I was busy with family visitors, but I am not sure that stands as a good excuse.

Yet, looking back I did read a fair amount. In April and March combined I read 15 books:

four either by Ghanaians or with a Ghana setting:

  • Three cheers for Ghana (Robert Peprah-Gyamfi) [basically the author’s account of a visit to Ghana in the mid 2000’s after a long absence in Germany and the UK]
  • Diplomatic pounds & other stories (Ama Ata Aidoo),
  • The black body (edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah) and
  • Abina and the important men, by Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke [the last I thought was very good]

one non-Ghanaian African novel: As the crow flies (Veronique Tadjo)

six thrillers/crime novels (one of my favourite ways of relaxing):

  • Our kind of traitor (John Le Carre)
  • Sharp shooter (Nadia Gordon)
  • The office of the dead (Andrew Taylor)
  • The girl on the landing (Paul Torday)
  • A reliable wife (Robert Goolrick)
  • Legends (Robert Littell)

three literary works:

  • Super sad true love story (Gary Shteyngart) [for Accra Book Club]
  • A mercy (Toni Morrison)
  • Pigeon English (Stephen Kelman) [also for Accra Book Club]

On the book buying front, I bought nine books – all physical items, no e-books!  I do feel I have to do some work on my To Be Read shelves

  • six on Ghana/by Ghanaians
  • one a cookbook (a personal weakness)
  • one mystery
  • one on marketing to women

Book related events included:

  • Ama Ata Aidoo’s book launch (at British Council) and book reading (at Goethe Institut)
  • two Accra Book Club meetings – mentioned here

Plans for May?  None really, apart from the May read for Accra Book Club.  Generally I tend to go with my feelings rather a planned set of readings.

 

Accra Book Club and Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English

During April 2012 the Accra Book Club read, met and discussed Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman. I recommended that we read this book as it had a Ghana connection (perhaps the main reason) and also because it made the UK Booker prize shortlist in 2011, with several good reviews.

Interestingly none of us were really thrilled or highly enthusiastic about this book. Some admitted to not liking child narrators, and felt that Harrison Opoku did not behave in a “realistic” way for an eleven year old, even if he had just come to the UK.

There were also questions about the so-called pidgin English expressions which Harri uses; none of us had heard any of them despite having lived in Ghana for many years. Maybe because of our own Ghana experience somehow aspects of the emigrant/immigrant experience didn’t seem to ring true.

Personally I did wonder where Kelman got the Ghana background from – again, aspects of which grated a bit. We also felt that many of the characters seemed to be stereotypes.

And of course there was the omnipresent pigeon – a pigeon!?

However, this was a first novel, so I suppose one could give the author a bit of slack.

I wonder whether anyone else has read it, and felt this less than complete enthusiasm?