Review of Madame Bovary

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“But, in her life, nothing was going to happen. Such was the will of God! The future was a dark corridor, and at the far end the door was bolted.”

Author: Gustave Flaubert

Published: 1857

When Emma marries the doctor Charles Bovary she believes that her marriage will be just like the romantic tales that she reads. To her disappointment, she finds that Charles is a boring and dull man, and the humdrum life in the village also adds to the ennui. After attending a magnificent ball her fantasies of a luxurious and sophisticated life are inflamed. These dreams remain just that and her colourless marriage and life lead to depression and she falls ill. She falls pregnant and they move to a new town.

In that new town she meets Leon who shares her sentiments regarding the rural life. Just like Emma, he also holds romantic ideas that he reads about in fictional books. The birth of her daughter does nothing to uplift her spirits. Romance heats up between Emma and Leon but her guilt only throws her into being a dutiful wife. Leon goes off to Paris and Emma remains dejected.

Not too long after that she begins an affair with another man, Rodolphe. Emma’s passionate feelings for him become so deep that she goes all out to borrow money to buy him gifts, and even suggests that they elope. Rodolphe grows bored of her and deserts her. Emma reverts to her depression and illness. While she’s ill, Charles has to make plans to settle her debts. When she recovers, he treats her by taking her to the opera, where they bump into Leon. The two’s romance is rekindled and they start an affair. Her debts increase and she starts going around trying to raise the money. Emma’s despair drives her to the edge.

 

Emma Bovary represents a society where women were powerless and unable to change their circumstances. She imagines a life completely different to what she has with her dim-witted husband and her only way to escape it is through infidelity. It seems the only weapon she possesses is her beauty yet that is not powerful enough to actually rescue her from the dullness of her life and to materialize her dreams of sophistication and romance.

There were moments where I got impatient with her, where it felt like her fantasies were consuming her and too far from reality. However, I understood the circumstances that women found themselves in in those days. In the nineteenth century women’s successes were measured by marriage – being married and whom they were married to, but it was never based on their own merit or anything that they did for themselves, because they couldn’t do much. Considering this lack of power and her inability to create her own wealth like the men did, her frustration is justified.  It’s also frustrating how men only see her as an object of beauty, without any other value that she could use for herself.

I also thought that if she could have the spine to go ahead with her affairs, running the risk of everyone knowing and the boldness to dive into so much debt and later offer to prostitute herself for the money, could she really not find a way to pressure her husband to try a little? Although women did not have much say in their marriages at the time, she was a brave one and she could have used that to push Charles a bit because clearly he loved her very much and perhaps he could have gone all out to give her what her heart desired. There’s a big gap where communication could have fitted well.

Madame Bovary clearly challenged the society in which Flaubert lived. It was written at a time when immorality took place but could not be spoken of because it didn’t sit well with society to do so, which makes its boldness even more interesting. Flaubert’s prose is exceptional, in that he writes in a way that his style matches the moods in the book. It’s a riveting narrative and a delightful read. There’s harmony in the story, the scenes are all pieced together without losing the reader or being vague at times.

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist born in 1821, in Rouen, France. He was educated at the Lycée Pierre Corneille, and later went to study law in Paris, a study he abandoned after an epileptic attack. He started writing at a very young age and his best known works include Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education. He died of cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 58, in 1880.

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Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”20160823_151744

Published: 1847

Mr Earnshaw, master of Wuthering Heights leaves for Liverpool and returns a few days later with an orphaned boy, Heathcliff. The children, Hindley and Catherine loathe the child on sight but soon the daughter comes to love him. Heathcliff and Catherine become profoundly close while Hindley’s hatred intensifies and he constantly bullies him. Hindley is sent off to school while Heathcliff remains at home with Catherine. Mr Earnshaw dies and Hindley returns home with a wife, and becomes master of Wuthering Heights. Hindley reduces Heathcliff to a common labourer and continues his cruelty towards him, while the love between Catherine and Heathcliff deepens.

On one of their wanderings, Catherine and Heathcliff end up outside the Lintons’ house at Thrushcross Grange. Their plan to watch the Linton kids, Edgar and Isabella, doesn’t go well when Catherine is bitten by the dog. While she’s invited to stay until she’s well, Heathcliff is sent off. Catherine returns home a lady and infatuated with Edgar Linton, although she still has immortal feelings for Heathcliff. She chooses to marry Edgar as she believes it will make her ‘the greatest woman the neighbourhood.’

Hindley’s wife passes on leaving behind a boy, Hareton. He drowns himself in alcohol and misery. Heathcliff returns with vast wealth and a heavy load of revenge on his agenda. When Hindley dies, Heathcliff becomes master of Wuthering Heights and marries Isabella Linton even though his love is only for Catherine. Unable to no longer bear her husband’s cruelty, Isabella flees to London, where gives birth to a son named Linton.

Catherine falls ill and dies after giving birth to a daughter, Cathy Linton. After Isabella dies Edgar takes him but this custody does not last when Heathcliff immediately demands that his son come live with him at Wuthering Heights. The two cousins, Linton and Catherine develop a romance carried on through letters. Heathcliff forces the two to marry. Cathy’s father Edgar later dies from an illness and she stays at Wuthering Heights under the cruel treatment of her brutal father-in-law, and having to look after her frail husband. Linton dies and Cathy forms a friendship with her other cousin, Hareton. Heathcliff takes on a strange behaviour and the intensity of his love for the late Catherine continues to have an unbreakable grasp on him.

Along the story, I couldn’t help but think how messed up the characters are. Some readers could take it as ‘normal’ psychological traits of some human beings while some readers could be so put off by the characters that it could possibly pollute their overall opinion of the whole story.

This is a story of a love so intense it breeds destruction and malice. It is also a story of unending revenge. Most of the conflicts that arise are rooted in the passion between Heathcliff and Catherine. The destruction their love creates bleeds into the lives of the other characters. It is told through the voice of an internal narrator, Nelly Dean who worked for all four masters; Mr Earnshaw Senior, his son Hindley, Edgar Linton and Heathcliff. We are first thrown into scenes that do not offer much explanation about the characters and the temporal manipulation by the author explains everything that raises questions at the beginning of the story. A slight weakness would be in how a servant could have been able to capture as much detail as she gives in the narration. However, the rhythm of her narration reflects Brontë’s ability to knit a story in a coherent manner, never losing its audience.

It’s a gloomy story, too much suffering and infliction of pain, a lot of cruelty and tragedy. What is difficult to understand about the story is its moral. Is there a particular message she conveys or a lesson a reader is to take from the story? However, despite the unpleasant features of the characters and the darkness of the story, it is undeniably a work of smart writing. On a story level it is easy to hate but the narration is worth an applause. I would recommend it for readers who read not only for the entertainment of a story but also for the appreciation of its literary quality.

Emily Brontë was born on 30 July 1818 in Thornton, England. The Brontës were a literary family that produced appreciated novelists and poets. Her sisters Charlotte and Anne were also well-known writers.  In the late 1830s she taught for a short period. In 1842 she studied in Brussels and later returned to Howarth where she spent the rest of her life.  Wuthering Heights was her only novel. She died from tuberculosis in 1848.

Short Story: Playing Records

The cow was late and Uncle Solly had to wait; some said he was still at the morgue and others said the hearse carrying him was somewhere on the side of the road. I kept on asking when he would arrive and was repeatedly corrected, “Stop asking when he’s coming like he’ll walk through that door, just ask when he will be brought.”

People framed the sides of the road up until the bend down our street. It was the cow that was first delivered and a gap of time was given to allow it to be tied to the apricot tree next to the storage shack. There was fear in its eyes as though it could sense that the end was near. The sight of the hearse crawling towards the gate gave me both relief and a sting of apprehension. He was here. I knew he was here but instead of the tall, bald and dark-skinned man with twinkling eyes, a coffin lay inside the hearse and inside was what I was not ready to accept.

I left my post and waited in the stuffy room where his wife, Ous Ouma was lying on the new mattress on the floor. The chief mourner who appeared to be leisurely resting more than mourning. We were oil and water.

“Is he here?” she asked. I pretended not to hear and walked past without looking at her. She was a pile of indescribable enormity, rolls of flesh sitting in a heap that left one with the inability to tell where the parts of her body started or where they ended.

“I said, is the corpse finally here?” she stressed the words.

“No, he decided to cancel on us,” I retorted. Uncle Solly would have been livid with this sort of behaviour but there was a spiralling hurricane of anger inside me when it came to his wife. There was something about her that said if one ever needed to sample hell all they needed to do was spend a few seconds with her. She was hell standing on two feet. That would later be proven right when she left the day after the funeral and never to be heard from again. I would later learn that she hadn’t been a legal wife but a mere girlfriend who had been hoping to get a ring out of my uncle, followed by money and the house.

She had no time to respond as the group of men carrying the coffin into the house, led by the priest, proceeded into the house singing a miserable dirge that drilled holes in my stomach. A curtain was placed in the corner of the room where the bier stood, I hadn’t noticed the funeral parlour employees walk into the house to set them up. Perhaps their swift and unnoticeable movements came with the repetition of the task.

Night’s blanket dressed the sky and drie-voet pots started boiling over the outside fire, tables were surrounded by women with towels and blankets tied around their waists and some with babies strapped on their backs. Prayer came and went. They prattled on about funerals, the hard life in the township and stories that circulated the corners of the streets. The loss was felt by different people in different ways and for different reasons.

Eish, Bra Sols was always spoiling me with two beers whenever he came to the shebeen. Now I’m left with these stingy bastards who just want me as a mattress,” lamented the well-known township bicycle.

Ja ne, that man was a good man. Straight. If only he had picked the right woman, shame,” said a woman with a baby sucking on her sagging breast, with a hint of how she could have made the perfect wife to my uncle.

The aroma of Royco and different kinds of spices filled the night air. There were people who enjoyed these night vigils. Most were genuinely there to pay last their respects to a friend and filled the emptiness left by the loss with an unremitting drive to work and make sure all logistics of the funeral were in top shape. The night died and before the stars could blink, morning was reborn.

The family tent was suffocating; a blend of smelly feet and foul body odour. The stench was unbearably intrusive to the nose. There were faces I had never seen before and only a few of my uncle’s side of the family, which was my mother’s side of the family. My mother had died two days after giving birth and my absent father had was as good as dead.

The skinny woman next to me whose name escaped me competed with the choir. She was off-key and had no singing voice at all.

“It is weeeeeeellllll, with my ssssooooooouuullll,” she croaked. I suspected that the farts I smelled came from her and thought how not so well it was her soul. There was the usual that took place – the mad person springing out of nowhere and wailing, the pastor going on and on for eternity and the young people who whispered among themselves forgetting where they were.

I felt guilty for not being able to weep and throw myself to the ground or wail my heart out like some people did. I wanted to suck in other people’s tears and let them fill my heart to the brim until they’d overflow and gush out of my eyes. There was nothing, my eyes were dry wells. After they left I briefly stood near the covered grave by myself and whispered, “Where are you?”

Just like that the funeral passed, Uncle Solly was buried and the next day brought another new day. This simplicity of life burdened me with sadness – no matter who died, the stars continued to shine, the sun shone and the earth continued to spin. It was a grey morning and the clouds were wet curtains with drips of rain. It was drizzling when I woke. I went out to the front and on the red stoep lay the heap of clothes that my aunt was sprinkling with water from a bucket. I asked what the water was for and she told me that it was just water with a piece of aloe plant to cleanse the clothes.

“You will also have to be cleansed in the same water and have your head shaved,” said one of Ouma’s relatives, a sister or something.

“Not if you paid me,” I said and walked back into the house.

Picking from his belongings meant I’d be collecting memories and it was all too quick for me. Memories were for things in the past and he was not in the past. I wanted my uncle back not his clothes, not things to remind me of him.

My aunt warned, “And listen, you must wear the clothes within three months or else bad luck will follow you.” I wanted to ask what could be worse than losing the only person whose existence had been the reason for my existence. She would’ve smacked the grief out of me.

“Where’s my uncle’s music?” I turned to Ous Ouma.

“I don’t know, the trunk must be around somewhere. There was a lot of work to be done and things were shifted around…” she stuttered.

“Where is my uncle’s music?”

My aunt spotted it being loaded and into a van and rescued it.

“I just wanted to remember him with that music,” said Ous Ouma.

“You can use the memories of when he swiped his bank card for you,” I said.

A choir of disapproving voices rained on me.

I spent the evening trying to negotiate with death and asking if perhaps there had been an error in admin. I wasn’t ready and I refused to accept that Uncle Solly had been ready. They all did their best with repeated words of consolation and tales of him being in a better place. What they didn’t get was that a better place was with me. What was a thirteen year old going to do with loss in her hands and her heart missing from her chest? I didn’t win in my negotiations and I had to accept that death had walked out with my uncle in tow. The things that adults told me didn’t make any sense to me.

“He went like a king.” How do kings go?

“He is in a better place.” Have you been?

Each day, cracks formed on the earth beneath my feet and a river of pain bled towards me. It gushed forward with determination and no intention to stop. It burned. The river. It burned me. I stayed there and waited for it to drown me but it didn’t. Instead, it licked me with its flames and I waited until the day I would become a pile of ashes but it didn’t get there. Broken. Hollow. Haemophilic wounds wouldn’t stop bleeding.

“Are you okay, nana?”

I lied and said I was fine and hanging in there. I was not ready to hang in there so I lied. I made excuses for my pain. They sympathized for a very short time and then they sought what’s normal. I felt that people could only bear so much of a sad face and catch so many tears until they grew tired and all of my grief soon became a burden. I had to be a child and quickly forget because children aren’t meant to understand these things.

I had to repeat after them, about places and the next world of peace. I had to say I had found tranquillity in the arms of deities. I had to tell them I had moved on. I had to tell them that I was only left with scars and that I would find joy in happy memories. I had to lie. I didn’t tell them that each night, after they left and the world left me alone I stared at the door hoping Uncle Solly would return.

“My day was good.” Lie.

“I’m just thankful for the time he was here on earth with me.” Lie.

“I celebrate the great moments we shared while he was still alive.” Another lie.

I refused to go play with my friends or go anywhere except school and church. I wanted to be at home. I wanted to be in the same space that he had dwelled, breathe in the same air that had filled his lungs until the day his lungs decided not to take in any of it anymore. I wanted to look for him and feel him so that I could accept his absence and learn how to be without him. I wanted to feel the vibrations of his beautiful heart on the ground he had danced on.

I wanted to sit on the chair that he used to sit on when we ate in the living room, hold the spoon on my left hand just as he had done even though I was right handed, and chew like him, taste the food he used to enjoy and wash them down with a glass of ice-cold water the way he used to. I wanted to look for my Uncle Solly in the natural spaces he had occupied for so many years. I wished I could see him in the eyes of the people who last saw him and think of him through the way they spoke about him and the way he had made them feel.

The tears that had been locked inside my ribcage refusing to leave and free me of misery dripped out the day I gathered the courage to open the trunk and play the records. We used to sit in his room for hours, with the only words coming out of our mouths being the lyrics. Tea would sit until it got cold and no one would interrupt.

I found my Uncle Solly in his records, in the music he had loved and in the depth of their lyrics and the peace in their rhythm. I was reviving his heartbeat through the melody of the songs, hearing his laughter in the songs and learning to find happiness in the happiness that I would remember to once feeling when I would sit in that same room and sing along to words I barely understood. He was right there in the music.

They never told me how or why he had died and I lost all interest in knowing. The knowledge would not bring his physical presence back to me. For a long time I thought I knew loneliness and the emptiness of not having parents but with losing Uncle Solly I felt its reality. I had to keep on playing his records to never feel alone.

I swayed my head side to side as I sang along, at the top of my voice, to Stevie Wonder as he delivered the poetic lyrics of Free. I hoped that before Uncle Solly passed away he had danced in his heart and that he had truly felt “freer than a smile in a baby’s sleeping eyes.”

They all came to my rescue in the worst of times; Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Louis Armstrong, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Anita Baker, Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye and all of the occupants of the trunk. I cried at most of them but I also laughed at some of the reminiscences they painted. I remembered how I would sing along to Barry with as deep of a voice a little girl could muster and say his lyrics without any understanding of their meaning, “Hey babe, your foreplay just blows my mind.” Uncle Solly would laugh and say that one day I would be too shy to sing the song around any adult.

I slept in the comforting embrace of the sounds of Ashford & Simpson, I grieved to the stabbing closeness of Soul to Soul by The Temptations. There was so much that the songs managed to say in a way that I failed to deliver. I wanted to speak what was in my heart but my infantile heart didn’t know how and all I could do was hear myself in the songs, all my thoughts spinning with the records.

I remembered how we would both attempt to pull the long note with Billy Withers when he sang Lovely Day and both fail dismally. We would laugh so hard, his roaring laughter overpowering my soft giggles. With each trying day, I hoped that it was true what they said about him being in heaven. If that was where he was I only prayed that God would look after him as my uncle had looked after me and love him as he had loved me, and that would be enough for me.

my lover

it all stood still

when he hid time in his pockets

and took it with

i crave the taste of its tick and tock

on the grooves of my palate

 

he left with the sun on a string

swung it behind his turned back

left the curtains of night shut

and darkness laughed at me

 

he sewed the pores of my lungs tight

and i stood at the sidewalk

begging for morsels of air

but he folded my breaths

and carried them with

 

like the dry earth begs the rain to marry him

courting the clouds

and clinging to her damp skirt

i miss him

 

like the old man whose wife is gone

and longs for death to reunite them

like the seeking mouth of a suckling

searching for its mother’s bosom

with eyes shut yet knowing

i miss him

 

i miss the things in him

the things about him

and all the things he leaves in me

my lover, i miss him

Nigger For Life

A raw and dauntless articulation of the stabbing truth about race in America.

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Author: Neal Hall, M.D.

Publisher: Neal E. Hall

Date: 2013

 

Dr Neal Hall is a Cornwell University graduate, he holds a medical degree from Michigan State University and did his ophthalmology surgical training at the prestigious Harvard University. This is where the title of “Surgeon Poet” comes from. Now, what would a well-educated man with an impressive weight of achievements have to complain about? Well, here’s Dr Hall’s unveiling of the reality that a hard-working, educated black man has to face in what he calls “unspoken America.”

More than a hundred poems, Nigger for Life consists mostly of short poems, the poems range from three lines to more than two pages. Dr Hall observes the illusion of democracy, describing it instead as “…only varying degrees of tyranny.” The arrangement of this anthology is free of strict rules of poetry writing, as some poems are titled while some are not. Dr Hall says that the reason for the untitled poems is to “take you to the essence of the poem without the prejudice of a header.” He also adopts both figurative and metaphorical language in carving his deepest thoughts into poetry.

There’s a certain way he manages to straighten the disfigured conception of ‘nigger’ being a human form, when all it really is, is an idea formed and maintained by white beliefs.

Niggers are not born.

There is no innate genetic material

that multiplies and divides into a nigger

The poem evinces the narrow thinking behind this derogatory term that is still a stain on the black population.

As we read through the collection, which he suggest we read sequentially, we become aware of the delusion of freedom and the stinging existence of ongoing hypocrisy. In a poem that emphasises the title of the book he says;

Today

they don’t call you Nigger.

Well!

not loud enough for you to hear.

The brutal reality of how even though the so-called progress has been declared still lingers in the minds of the oppressors and that they still see black people through the same distorted lens. Throughout this profound and deep-seated elucidation of the hidden America, he thoroughly scrutinizes concepts such as religion, politics and the disguise they take, the nature of man, greed and hate. Through his eyes we are shown the concealed actuality of white righteousness and supremacy. He also expresses his concern about the ‘misinformation’ and ‘miseducation’ of black people, and how it contains ‘self-hate and doubt.’ Continuing along the verses we get to see the blindness of the oppressed and how that blindness preserves white power.

It is quite obvious that these thoughts are personal and some poems are direct expressions of his own experience, such as in the poem Dr Nigger and in others where the first-person voice is used. Some poems may seem like merely two lines or simple questions, yet in their naked form we find ourselves with a lot to think about and seek to answer.

Just as he has done in his field as a surgeon, he has used the art of poetry to penetrate the structure of racism in America and enucleate its hidden ills. Although written from his experience in America, the book is relevant to many parts of the world where racial prejudice is a thorn in society. The book is not just for blacks but there’s a lot that both the oppressor and the oppressed can take from it. Dr Neal Hall is undoubtedly an estimable writer and his work is of meritorious service to both the literary sphere and society at large.

 

 

 

 

Untitled

who takes a second each day,

to command their ears

to listen to hearts while they beat?

but when they echo silence

all we want is to replay their song

singing lyrics of regret

and faces melt with could-haves

we fed on quarrels

when laughter was enough

now they’re gone

and we find comfort in a fraction,

of good memories that agree to surface

but we know it’s only half the table

of what we could have had to feast

that if we had learned to love the beat

it would’ve been a daily celebration

but it’s too late

we have but our grief to eat

Review: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

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Publisher: Penguin Group

Year: 2013

She had me at the opening line, Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs.” Yes, tell me more! The pleasure I derive from a story that vibrates with poetry, elegant use of language and deep emotion, is immeasurable. I guess for someone mentored by Toni Morrison and educated at Yale and Oxford we shouldn’t be surprised by Taiye Selasi’s skill with the pen. Ghana Must Go was the phrase that the Nigerians used during their removal of Ghanaian immigrants in the 1980’s. From that period the name also stuck to the striped bags (usually red, white and blue) the immigrants carried their belongings in. The story travels through the emotional and psychological maps of individuals who are pieces of a broken family.

Kweku Sai is a respected Ghanaian surgeon living in the United States with his Nigerian wife, Folasadé and their four children; Olu, the twins Taiwo and Kehinde, and Sadie. A year after a wrongful dismissal hidden from his family, he drives off and abandons his family. Unable to cope with the four kids on her own, Folasadé sends the twins to her half-brother in Nigeria where their experience leaves them bruised. The family ends up scattered around the world, each one of his children brilliant and successful yet carrying their wounds in their own different ways. All of them have been altered by the abandonment of Kweku, his absence and the broken bonds among them.

The death of their father brings them together after a period of frail contact. They reunite with their mother in Ghana where the awkwardness and tension must reach a point of breaking. After years of floating about without a grounding force, can this reunion stitch the wounds and sew back the pieces of the Sai family?

A lot of tears are shed in this book. Selasi penetrates the effects that immigration has on families – the separations and the inability to firmly place one’s roots in a particular place. Our family experiences and the love ties we break and refasten shape us in different ways and play a role in how we absorb love from the world and how we pour it out to others. Although handsomely written, it is easy to lose your way along the way as she constantly shifts the camera to different scenes and characters, in some parts to different periods. To some it could be an undesirable method but to others like myself, it is indeed an impressive style of writing that toys with the plot structure and development of characters.

Taiye Selasi

(Photo: The Wall Street Journal)

Taiye Selasi is of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, born in 1979 in London, and raised in Boston. In 2005, she wrote an essay on what it means to be a transnational and cosmopolitan, young African, titled, What is an Afropolitan? She has published short fiction; The Sex Lives of African Girls, Driver, Aliens of Extraordinary Ability and Brunhilda in Love.