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

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.