Book Review: God Help The Child by Toni Morrison

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“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” 

I have always wanted to read a Toni Morrison book, I’ve known about her for a while and I am sure I have shared a few quotes by her here and there but I never really got to reading one of her works. Finally, I walked into the bookstore with only the intention of getting any of her books. Well, actually I was looking for The Bluest Eye as it was recommended by a friend but it was out of stock so I picked up the only one they had, God Help the Child. I should’ve started reading her work sooner.

When light-skinned Sweetness gives birth to a blue-black skinned daughter she is shocked by the child’s colour and cannot accept it. The father’s child leaves her and she’s left to raise the child on her own in a society where different shades of skin colour are underlined. Sweetness does not show or give the child any affection. Her daughter testifies against a woman accused of a paedophilic crime, putting her in jail. Only then is Sweetness so proud of her that for the first time she gives her a bit of affection.

Years later, the daughter, Bride, is a successful business woman and absolutely stunning. Her skin gives her a unique element of beauty, giving her confidence even in her personal world where a part of her childhood haunts her. Her boyfriend Booker breaks up with her without much of an explanation. Both of them love each other but allow their childhood wounds to get in the way. Bride finds the woman she had testified against on the day of her release from prison, and offers her gifts to help her start over. It goes awfully sour. Bride ends up on a course to find Booker, whom she realises she didn’t know much about and wants to know why she broke up with him. All feelings are brought to the surface when they meet and they both discover deep truths about each other and how those revealed parts of them have shaped and led them to where they are.

I bought it in the morning, sacrificed a few hour of sleep and finished it by midnight. All read in a breath. It is a thin read but it is loaded with so much depth. There is a lot of hard truths concerning childhood pains and scars. The scars that constantly remind the adult bearers of those scars who they are, where they come from, and this novel shows that sometimes even in adulthood those scars can rule their owners.

Bride and Booker have a lot in common, in the way they hold on to things that happened to them years ago and without acknowledging it, they let those deep-seated issues form a crack between them. Morrison covers so much emotional breadth and depth. The characters are all believable and on point; you hate the husband who left, the mother who deprived her child of things that a child needed to feel and see, and you love and sympathise with the adult who still has a broken child in her.

If you’re into books that unwrap raw emotions, dig really deep and unfold the truth of human behaviour and actions then you will love this. This book might just turn you into a big Toni Morrison fan.

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(Image: The Marc Steiner Show)

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She showed an interest in literature at an early age. She Studied humanities at Howard and Cornell Universities, then had an academic career at Texas Southern University, Howard University, Yale and later at Princeton University. Her debut novel The Bluest Eyes came out in 1970, followed by a success of other novels such as Sula, Beloved, Home and many more, including this most recent one, God Help the Child. This multi-award winner has written plays, children’s literature, academic papers, non-fiction and articles. She has worked as an editor and literary critic.

Book Review: A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe

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“When light streaks the sky, hope begins to burn.”

Publisher: Heinemann

Year: First published in 2000

The hardships of a mother to keep her children alive, to give them the best and create a better life for them, are hardly recognised or applauded. This is worse in poor societies where women labour and break their backs to ensure that their children are fed and are able to get an education. These are challenges that aren’t made any easier by patriarchal domination and the in-law system that can be harsh to them. Yet, for their children they manage to soldier on.

After Nasula’s husband dies his family takes all the money and the house that he had left behind for her and their only daughter, leaving her in dire poverty and forcing her to move back to her village. These are the nineties, a time of economic hardships and a disease that is going around consuming so many people. Nasula dreams of a better future for her daughter Sula, with education and independent of marriage. Sula is a brilliant pupil and she needs to continue with her schooling but money is a problem. Nasula needs to find a way to raise the large amount needed to pay for her fees. Her attempt to ask her in-laws only leaves her disappointed. A good friend advices her to go to Lusaka to go sell her in-demand bag of beans. After making the journey and ready to sell, a predator snatches her last hope of getting money to send her Sula to school. She might be forced to fight her way to find the thief or just give up and go home to tell her daughter that she has failed.

 

The wheels of the story move along swiftly and each chapter passes on the baton to the next without fail. It might be because I have spent years around Zambians but this book is written in true Zambian style. I can hear the accents, the voices, I can see the gestures and the small details that can be attributed to that particular people of the country. I can envision the setting in the book and together with Sinyangwe’s good hand, it becomes a pleasant read.

The way he uses characters and settings of the story to capture the realness of the period in which the story takes place is satisfying and the subjects that he brings to our attention are done so in an enlightening and easy to understand way. The way he leads us through the challenges that Nasula faces, the dangers in the city, the corruption, the hunger, the disease and the way a lot of matters are handled by the different characters in the book are close to the truth. It may be fiction but you can almost taste the realness of it all; the culture and the lives that these people lead. You are in Zambia.

It’s a well written story, it’s enjoyable and it’s a quick read. It doesn’t linger on the need for sympathy but rather refreshes you with the way the main character shows courage all the way. The strength of a mother. I think a lot of women, mothers even more, will enjoy this story. People who can relate to it on different levels and appreciate the way it speaks to them.

Binwell Sinyangwe is a Zambian novelist and poet who was born in 1956. He studied Industrial Economics at the Academy of Economic Sciences in Bucarest, Romania. A Cowrie of Hope is preceded by another novel, Quills of Desire. He has had a number of poems and articles published in various Zambian magazines and newspapers.

Book Review: Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe

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“Rain has two faces…It can give life, but its arrows can also cause death.”

Publisher: First by Heinemann Educational Publishers

Year: 2000

A prostitute has drowned after being raped on the beach.  The last man who spoke to her is Bukuru who everyone calls a madman. The police take him in as the suspect and two weeks later he’s put on trial and investigators conclude that he’s responsible for other rapes and murders of prostitutes that have been going on at the same beach. After the first day of court the judge decides that Bukuru should be assessed by a second psychiatrist. This appointed doctor arranges a meeting with Femi, a reporter who wrote a piece on the case and whom Bukuru asks for to tell his story.

Bukuru tells the whole story from when he was born to when he took his post at the Monitor paper. He later meets a prostitute whom he becomes close to. He decides to write her story and he discovers that a well-known man, Isa has returned to her life. Bukuru abandons Iyese and fears taking the risk of having Isa come after him. He also doesn’t want her reputation as a prostitute linked to him. The same Isa later rapes and murders her, after she gives birth to a boy and she, believing that the baby is Bukuru’s, doesn’t let Isa into the its life. The child who survives with a slash on the leg is taken to an orphanage. When Isa is appointed the leader during a coup, Bukuru believes that he will come after him and so he leaves everything and lives on the beach as a madman until the day of his arrest. After Femi reads the story he travels back to his own personal story and how he found out that he was adopted. Trying to sort out the puzzle, with the knowledge that he was in the same orphanage that Bukuru had mentioned, and that he bears a scar on his leg, could it be that the madman is his biological father?

The beginning of the story starts with a bang, a case to follow, questions are raised and there’s a mystery to follow, a truth that seeks to be found. This just moves the story forward at a good pace and is worth following. The plot! Ndibe did well, I have to say. All the events are so well connected, cohesive, interesting and entertaining. There’s nothing in his sketching of reality that is incomprehensible, all the information he throws at us is at good doses and he never digresses. There are books that have parts that can be skipped and nothing’s lost but in this one, he made sure that every line has something to offer and isn’t to be lost. Even when the active voice changes, we are kept on track with the story, all the events breeze through the story so easily and smoothly and interact so impressively with the rest of the story.

The main character is a rollercoaster, one minute he’s worth all the sympathy in the world and the next, he’s just an annoying coward who one can feel really needs to get a steel pair. However, it’s such a good way of making him and everyone around him believable and gives space to love and hate him. All the characters are well-developed, their attitudes, appearances, defects and relationships are spot-on.

Ndibe’s way of placing topics such as prostitution, power and fear is worth a cheer. There’s a way he shows the ways in which prostitutes start, live, struggle, are treated and it’s not in a manner that begs for pity but more in a realistic and honest way. The power hungry and the ones who are victims of that power also play a role, but what I like is that he didn’t throw all of that in our faces in a way that would’ve made his story what people label another “typical African story.”

I just cannot fault this book in any way, and the end is also unpredictable. Once I reached the climax, I thought I could predict how it would all turn out but the author knew how and when to stop. I would recommend this book for people who prefer a mobile story, events going forward with revelations along the way. African literature lovers will enjoy this and anyone just looking for an entertaining story.

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(Image: OkeyNdibe)

Okey Ndibe was born in 1960 in Yola, Nigeria. Before moving to the US he worked in Nigeria as a journalist and magazine editor. He earned his MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1988, in the US, he was the founding editor of the award-winning magazine, African Commentary which was published by the great Chinua Achebe. He also worked as a professor at several colleges, he has contributed many poems and essays to a various publications. Arrows of Rain is his first novel, and after it he published the novels, Never Look an American in the Eye, and Foreign Gods, Inc.

Pretty in Pink with Jackie and P!nk

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Pages and melodies – bliss!

“Falling in love is like getting hit by a truck and yet not being mortally wounded. just sick to your stomach, high one minute, low the next. Starving hungry but unable to eat. hot, cold, forever horny, full of hope and enthusiasm, with momentary depressions that wipe you out.” – Jackie Collins

“The truth about love is it’s nasty and salty
It’s the regret in the morning, it’s the smelling of armpits
It’s wings, and songs
And trees, and birds
It’s all the poetry that you ever heard.”

– Pink, The Truth About Love

In the Darkness

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Silence has sirens

Cardiac sounds burn to the grounds

Romantic nights of sore endings

Stars quit their morals

Skies betray the eye’s trust

The moon wears his lewd ornaments

Around his thick fleshed neck

He makes a deal with the hungry sun

“Hide until greedy graves feed”

 

Eyes are bleached in pale shadows

Unblinking mistresses of the face

Silence has melodies

When the sockets run free in bloated seas

 

Darkness dips its toes in sloppy pores

Death becomes a smiling whore

Gyrating its thighs on the laps of our beloveds

Kissing their eyes with its sooty mouth

 

Here we are the ones left behind

Buffoons circling the eyeballs of coffins

Death and life juggling our tender lungs

Gambling with the ones we breathe for

 

In this long and short while of endings

Hearing silent sirens

Here we are with nothing

But a night gone with everything

Book Review: Oil on Water by Helon Habila

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“We believe the sun rising brings a renewal. All of creation is born anew with the new day. Whatever goes wrong in the night has a chance for redemption after a cycle.” 

Publisher: First published by Hamish Hamilton. Now Penguin Books.

Year: 2010

The wife of a British oil engineer has been kidnapped and two journalists are recruited on a mission to find her. Zaq is an infamous journalist who was well-respected in his times, while Rufus is a young reporter who’s craving to make a name for himself in the industry and he’s a great admirer of the ageing hack. They set off on what may seem to be a straight-forward mission but the unknown awaits them as they journey into the dangerous oil zones of the Niger Delta.

At first there are other journalists added but after they return to Port Harcourt, Zaq and Rufus find themselves carrying on to find the truth. They end up being guided by an old man and his son, moving from one abandoned and destroyed village to another. Along their journey, people have been taken by the military, death has left a scent behind, the waters where people depended for fishing have been contaminated, the air is heavy with the smoke from the burnings and animals and plants have been killed. Zaq contracts a disease and his love for the bottle does not help his condition, yet he’s determined to carry on. Rufus makes a great deal of discoveries about the darkness and corruption in the world he has entered and learns about the events that led to the disappearance of the woman he’s out to find, while his life could be in danger and there’s a possibility of him losing his fellow journalist.

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Oil on Water expresses the real catastrophe that took place in those oil-abundant regions. There’s a good illustration of environmental decay, the struggle for power, political corruption and the destruction of communities that were once closely knit and thriving. Habila writes the story by jumping from one period to another; relating the present and then shifting to recalling memories. It is a good form of writing and most of the time, if you are willing to keep up and pay attention, it makes the read interesting. However, there are parts where you can find yourself lost in some of the temporal shift. At one point the main character is in a terrorised village and the next page you find yourself in a different location that sounds similar but you have to focus hard to find out where exactly he is. The protagonist is realistic and very easy to root for. At times he appears to be a novice who may have found himself doing the job because of circumstances far from passion yet along the way he seems to have the knack for the job. A combination of fear and guts, which makes him an acceptable character and one that people can relate to. The ending was not as thrilling as I had expected, I was left wanting more and hungry for real excitement. It could have left me with my mouth hanging, a major discovery that grabs balls with sharp nails but there was just something flat about the ending. Overall, the entire story itself is well-written and there’s a good flow that pulls you into the pages so that you want to see what happens next.

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Image: British Council

Helon Habila is a novelist and poet, born in Nigeria. He did his studies of English Language and Literature at the University of Jos. In 2001 Love Poems, one of the stories in his short story anthology, received the Caine Prize for African Writing. His debut novel, Waiting for an Angel, came out in 2002. It went on to win the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book (Africa Region). After winning the Caine Prize, he was invited to be the first African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia, where he stayed as a Chevening Scholar, and later as a PhD Candidate. Together with Parrésia Publishers, he started a publishing company called Cordite Books in 2013. Some of his works include Measuring Time, Dreams, Miracles, and Jazz: An Anthology of New Africa Fiction, Prison Stories and many more. Habila divides his time between Nigeria and USA.