Odokonyero is here

In July, last year, Madhu Krishnan and I convened two creative writing workshops in Kampala and Gulu, taught by Nick Makoha and Jennifer Makumbi, respectively.  Moses Odokonyero and Jacob Katumusiime were very central to the secondary school teachers’ focus group discussions we held alongside the workshop. The results of the workshop are eighteen short stories, written by emerging and young Ugandan writers, now available for public enjoyment in an anthology, published by Black Letter Media.

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Alongside the workshops, in the same month last year, Noosim Naimasiah and I collaborated on a documentary film project on the question of social media and its impact on creative writing. For the film, I interviewed five major Ugandan writers, namely, Jennifer Makumbi, Stella Nyanzi, Nyana Kakoma, Ernest Bazanye and Acan Innocent.

The July days spent with Noosim, Zahara Abdul, Lewis Ainebyona and Esther Mirembe were enjoyable and I am proud of the product of our labour. I am personally grateful to Henry Brefo who has been the key strategy man for Writivism since 2016, Roland Byagaba who has been the man in charge of all things Writivism since September 2017, Rukundo Joschua, and Mulialia Okumu for their labour, and unflinching support.

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The final version of the documentary film is on tour in the United Kingdom next week. The film will be screened in Brighton, London and Birmingham. The Uganda screening news will be released as soon as they will be available. I want to be there, obviously. While I wait anxiously to travel to Kampala for that screening, and the launch of Odokonyero, the anthology, enjoy four of the eighteen short stories in the anthology, below.

Candano by Fred Sunday Mugisha

Tendo by Esther Mirembe 

My Name is Ojwiny by George Ocen 

Let me Write to Dad by Jacob Katumusiime 

It was a pleasure doing these things, to celebrate five years of Writivism, no wonder my electronic self passed out in August, and I missed two weeks at the beginning of the semester. I am happy to see the fruits of all that labour.

On Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”

There is no story that has made it hard for me to review without spoilers as Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”. It is hard to compare it with another short story by a Ugandan, without spoiling too much. But I will try. This is afterall an experiment in writing very brief reviews and not spoiling.

 

“Chief Mourner” is published in the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, A Memory This Size and other stories. It is the very last story, and it is such a powerful way to end the anthology. It is a story that stays with you.

 

“Chief Mourner” is a story of our times. As the trend is when it comes to African literature in English, every single short story is read as representative of Africa, as carrying a burden to paint an image of that country, Africa, and Nyana starts hers thus: “There is a lot to be said about finding out that your boyfriend, Jude has died via Facebook.”

 

Nyana’s Africa is in the technology era. It is an Africa with Facebook. An Africa dominated by social media, that you can read all about African life on the social network. Lives are lived online as much as they are, offline. And news of death travels online faster than it does offline.

 

The protagonist in the story, lives in Mbale, a country town on the Ugandan Kenyan border and her boyfriend Jude dies on his way back to Kampala, from visiting her. Reading this story brought me memories of the days Mateos was a popular hangout place, and Ban cafe was the coffee shop of choice in Kampala.

 

It is a short story that captures our times. By ‘our’, I mean Ugandans who came of age in the social media era. We were born in the 1980s, we were joining university at the time blogging was the thing to do, indeed, Nyana’s tribute to Joel Ntwatwa captures what I am describing. Ntwatwa, whom we lost recently was one of our generation.

 

“Chief Mourner” has a place among the short stories that mark our stamp on Ugandan literature. Nyana is a luminary of our generation. And Jude represents those we have lost.

 

While Ntwatwa died this year, five years after Nyana’s story was published, I feel the story is a literary tribute to him and others of our generation who have passed on. I have here in mind, Hillary Kuteitsa and Boaz Muhumuza among others who died in their 20s and 30s respectively. “Chief Mourner” is told from the perspective of the girlfriend who wasn’t introduced to the family as a girlfriend and how she mourns, and what she finds out about her deceased boyfriend during the vigil and other mourning rituals. When he can no longer answer, as Weasle sings of Mowzey Radio.

 

It is a great story, to which I will return when I dispense with the restraint on including spoilers in the review.

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The 2013 Caine Prize anthology was published by New Internationalist, Jacana, and Sub-Saharan publishers.

Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 16:00

Qualification: My opinion on a number of issues, especially on literature associated with FEMRITE’s early years and on diaspora life, have since changed so radically, from when I wrote this, but I reproduce it faithfully as it was, on original posting.

After reading a few of the publications by many of Ugandan female writers published by FEMRITE (Association of Uganda Women Writers), the predictability of their themes in a way put me off. Notably because the portrayal of men in many of the FEMRITE published stories as villains, as oppressive, as selfish, as brutal, as the sole cause of all problems of the woman became too much and to an extent unnecessarily sensational. In a way, my vigour regarding Ugandan fiction was affected by the FEMRITE spin to the Ugandan experience that blames the Ugandan male for all wrongs in society and the female portrayed as the eternal victim. It used to take a very good commendation from a friend for me to read a FEMRITE book, especially when the friend would tell me what the theme of the publication was.

For some time therefore, I did not pay attention to many female writers published by FEMRITE because I was pushed off by Mary Karooro Okurut’s novels (notably The Invisible Weevil and Child of a Delegate) that portrayed the Ugandan man as hell itself. This attitude however started changing with time as some female authors even when groomed by FEMRITE started writing beyond the anger, beyond the outbursts the earlier FEMRITE authors were known for.

There is no reason why I should bring FEMRITE up when talking about Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish; Tales from Entebbe. Not only because it is not published by FEMRITE but also because Baingana’s book should not be compared to Karooro’s Child of a Delegate for example. The two are so many miles apart. Now, that sounds very harsh to Karooro, but yes, it is my subjective truth. I blame the bias about female writers FEMRITE created in me, especially the first FEMRITE releases, for my late acquisition of Baingana’s book.

So, this history of my bias aside, I bought Baingana’s Tropical Fish, Tales from Entebbe on Friday, 8th July, 2011, and several years after it was published. Praise for Baingana’s novel, or can we safely call it a collection of eight linked short stories told by three sisters, arrives ahead of the book. From the moment, I devoured the first story in the collection, about a last born child’s imaginations of her parents’ master bedroom, I was glued to the book until the last story, Questions of Home! There are many stories I had to re-read and I am sure I will read them again and again. Two stories stand out for me, A Thank You Note and Lost in Los Angeles.

I have read quite a bit of Ugandan fiction about HIV/AIDS but Baingana’s A Thank You Note really deserves my own Thank You Note to her for pulling off a difficult story so effortlessly and so emotionally without the stereotypical tired storyline many writers usually adopt on writing about the impact of the disease. The preachy way the disease is written about mostly bores than delights. Today, it is not HIV/AIDS that I am picking from Baingana’s page-turner though. It is something about her story on an African’s life in America, Lost in Los Angeles. Sometimes I do not want to use my own words to make the points she makes in the story or to try to re-describe what she describes so excellently, so I will extensively quote parts of the story that moved some sense into my head, as regards life in the diaspora.

I must first of all put a disclaimer that she also puts, that there is nothing autobiographical in her book. I must add that I have never lived beyond the borders of Uganda for more than one week, so, definitely I do not directly relate with the story, except that a larger part of the people who influence the quality of my life at this moment live in the diaspora – no big deal, someone says. Maybe they may relate to the extracts below.

Lost in Los Angeles

Pages 122 – 3

It’s the small things that bother me most. My teeth aren’t white, straight, and perfect, like everyone else’s here. My teeth disturb people; they frown when I smile. Small children stare up at me, puzzled. Look Mummy, a freak! I imagine they’ve been taught to say. I have to repeat myself two or three times; it’s easier not to talk. Even black people don’t look straight at me or talk, gesture, or act the way I do. I am just as strange to them. I want to ask why, but don’t dare to. My skirts and blouses, are they too long, too loose, too bright and flowery, out of date?

(…)

Page 124 – 127

I’ve heard Africans who’ve been here too long talk in the same nasal way; it grows on you, unbidden. I swear never to, if I can help it. Like a good colonial subject, I like to think I have a British accent, the proper one.

Luckily, because everything works and is automatic, there is less and less need to talk. My salary mysteriously enters my account; I don’t need to touch money itself, or go to the bank. I find a window-like machine and punch in some numbers. They mean something: out slips money, silently, smoothly, it must be mine. I take it. At the supermarket, I don’t even need to use cash; I give the person at the counter my card and she lets me take the groceries, which are all wrapped up in four or five layers of crinkly paper and packed in coloured boxes with pictures as though they were children’s toys. There’s no need to talk to anyone. In the supermarket, everything is laid out for you; you walk through chilly bright aisles, read the labels, pick out food. The fruits and meats smell of nothing, taste of nothing. A machine tells you how much, and the person at the counter smiles mechanically. She may say, how are you, ma’am, smiling on and off like a switch, but is she really talking to me, me, or to a body buying food? The price is fixed anyway. There is nothing to argue about, nothing to say.

I swipe my card through the metal box, my food rolls down the rubber plank, is packed quickly, efficiently, and I roll it out, down to the garage, a cement cage of cars upon cars, immense and lifeless. No one drives small cars here, and there are very few old ones. Most of the cars are huge and shiny and prosperous-looking. I have a ticket that slipped out of a metal box all by itself; it knew I needed it, it knew I was there. I took the ticket and somehow a long pole rose up, letting me into the garage. The same thing happens in reverse as I leave, only this time there’s a person hidden behind a glass cage. He or she doesn’t glance my way, and after I’ve done this enough times, neither do I. I slip my ticket and a few dollars into a metal drawer, which slips not the glass cage, slides back out with change, and the long pole ahead of me rises up. Smoothly, soundlessly, straight and narrow. Metal, metal everywhere, and I need a drink.

The same thing happens at my apartment. After the side flat perfect roads, I click my garage door open; the metal rises up, disappearing into the wall. I slip not the cement womb of the building, enter my car slot, get out, and press a button. The elevator doors slip open soundlessly, then close. A metal box lifts me up, but it’s so smooth I can hardly feel it. It opens again and lets me out. I wish something would go wrong. I wish things weren’t so perfect. My mouth is sticky from not talking, my face sticky with silent tears. I am home I crawl into bed and try to remember the dirty smells of Kitooro, the dark swirling mud after an hour of rain like vengeance, hard fast rain that means it. The rotting fruit and swarming flies of Nakasero market; the unkempt, uncut grass that creeps, uncontained, uncontainable, disruptive, across any kind of man-made borders. I have been torn from natural living chaos that wrapped itself strongly around our lives. I am alone and trapped in metal. I am lost.

III

My cousin Kema has left for Uganda. I live by myself now. She did a lot to help me settle in, got me my first job, and introduced me to her friends, who are all Africans. They live the Southern California suburban life while saving money to build houses back home, educate their kids, make money, live well, what’s so wrong with that? They are very nice people, all shiny with cream and fatty food, and they welcome new Africans with open arms – those who are educated and ambitious, that is. In America, we are nothing, but Africans: lumped together, generic, black. Our voices get whiny and nasal too, but we can’t erase the African lilt. Our children are American, though: noisy, demanding, insolent, confident, and fat.

Every weekend there is a gathering at one house or another, and we talk about home. When we were there last, five years ago, ten, even twenty. We are going back for good, eventually, but not anytime soon, oh no, who wants to live with the insecurity, the rule of army men and guns, the magendo – black market – such a tough way of life. Here, we have grown soft and comfortable with steady salaries we can live on; why go back to desperately running around chasing deals, sweating in that dusty heat? Someone, another recent arrival (not me I only observe, and smile if anyone happens to look my way), tries to protest.

(…)

Page 128 – 132

We escape our American lives on the fringe and take centre stage again. At these moments we are so far away from America, we might as well be at Sophie’s Bar and Bakery in Wandegeya, sitting on wooden stools out in the open, eating roast meat and drinking Port Bell beer, swatting away the flies. Or maybe up on the Diplomat Hotel rooftop, washing away the day’s sweat with sundowners. It feels that good.

“Daaad.” The child’s petulant cry swiftly brings us back. We are here in America, and we all need our reasons to stay, despite our vows not to die here, oh no! Alone in an apartment where your body may rot for days and no one will miss you? Here, where no one knows you even exist? Imagine ending life in a retirement home, where you have to pay someone to look after you, as if you have no children no family? What disgrace! We are going back home in two years, home is home. Five years maybe. No, for us, our kids have to get into college first; you know the schools at home. When I finish my house; when I’ve set up my business; when I get the UN job I’ve been promised. That’s the only way to survive, you know, to get paid in dollars. If when, if, when, but in the meantime … oh, here’s the food, let’s eat.

We rally around the barbecued chicken, limp salads, meat stew and rice, posho made with semolina flour. It’s the same food every time; not quite home food, but close enough. It’s better than sandwiches or macaroni or some other fake food, and so we eat. The talk subsides to contented murmurs and grunts of appreciation. Afterwards, the women clear up, bustling up and down, their big hips swaying heavily with each move, as purposeful and confident as the huge swathes of bright-colored kitenge wrapped around them. What a warming sight to see. I don’t help much; I prefer to watch. But the single men take note and cancel me off their lists; not to mention, my hips aren’t big enough.

(…)

The fast, syncopated, guitar-energized Congolese music is another way to go back home. It’s a relief from battling the alien world that envelops us the minute we step outside our doors. We cluster together and dance to break away from the self or non-self we have to be at work, among foreigners, in the white world (even though there are blacks there). It’s a difficult act, a tiring one. So why not let the wails of Lingala, well-known oldies played again and again – Franco, Papa Wemba, Kanda Bongoman – why not let them take us back to that safe, known place? Sure, we left it willingly, and it wasn’t haven. Now, it seems like it was.

We know the dhombolo, we love doing it together, churning our waists and hips, arms flung up in the air as if this will save us. But I tire soon. Some of us (“Oba, who do they think they are?” I imagine the others thinking) danced more to zungu music than Congolese hits back home. Black American hits actually, not white zungu; Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, the Commodores.

(…)

Page 136

Raab says he likes my large lips, and I instead of replying, “Everyone I know has ‘large’ lips,” I say, “You can have them,” and we kiss. It’s even easier, smoother, after that. Really, I think, as we explore each other’s face, men and women don’t have to talk; we should just rub faces, eyebrows, noses. Sniff each other like dogs. We do, and end up in his bed (an especially long one), panting and entangled. His long, hairy legs and arms are everywhere, under and over me; it’s like I am making love with an octopus. A warm, furry, active, attentive octopus. I remember an old TV cartoon of a one-octopus band: it played all the instruments, its tentacles wriggling gracefully everywhere. I tell him. He laughs and winds tight around me. I bite his large nose gently, smooth his eyebrows hold on to his long abdomen. Here I am, mind and body together, in this boy’s bed, in Los Angeles. This is new. Let me turn away from the past. I am so tired of it.

Raab is friendly in the morning, as if it’s perfectly normal to wake up with a stranger, an African woman who is hangover and silent, in your bed. He offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to eat anything – maybe some coffee. He gives me aspirin and juice and is casual and sweet. We exchange phone numbers, and then he drives me home in an old Volvo his parents gave him. “Take care,” he says, kissing my check. “Of what?” I ask. He laughs, and waves his large hairy hand.”

 

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the sixth post.

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33

If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.

Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.

Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.

Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;

And while those inside

Eat thick honey

And ghee and butter

Those in the countryside

Die with the smell,

They re-eat the bones

That were thrown away

For the dogs

 

And those who have

Fallen into things

Throw themselves into soft beds,

But the hip bones of the voters

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

And they cover the ulcers

On their legs

With animal skins.

 

And when they have

Fallen into things

They become rare,

Like the python

With a bull water buck

In its tummy,

They hibernate and stay away

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

Originally posted  on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03

Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.

In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;

I was made chief of the girls

Because I was lively,

I was bright,

I was not clumsy or untidy

I was not dull,

I was not heavy and slow.

 

I did not grow up a fool

I am not cold

I am not shy

My skin is smooth

It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.

 

When Ocol was wooing me

My breasts were erect

And they shook

As I walked briskly,

And as I walked

I threw my long neck

This way and that way

Like the flower of the lyonno lily

Waving in a gentle breeze.

 

And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang

For my breasts shook

And beckoned the cattle,

And they sang silently:

 

Father prepare the kraal,

Father prepare the kraal,

The cattle are coming.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

When you saw the tattoos

On my breasts

And the tattoos below my belly button

And you were very fond

Of the gap in my teeth!

My man, what are you talking?

My clansmen, I ask you:

What has become of my husband?

Is he suffering from boils?

Is it ripe now?

Should they open it

So that the pus may flow out?

 

(…)

 

My husband says

He no longer wants a woman

With a gap in her teeth

He is in love

With a woman

Whose teeth fill her mouth completely

Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.

 

*

 

Like beggars

You take up white men’s adornments,

Like slaves or war captives

You take up white men’s ways.

Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?

Didn’t Black People have their ways?

 

Like drunken men

You stagger to white men’s games,

You stagger to white men’s amusements.

 

Is lawala not a game?

Is cooro not a game?

Didn’t your people have amusements?

Like halfwits

You turn to white men’s dances,

You turn to musical instruments of foreigners

As if you have no dances;

As if you have no instruments!

Does one need to add anything, to this?

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the third post.

Dear Beti Kamya

I have been reading all the vitriol that has been directed your way, since you promised our dear president, Baby Face, that you will ensure that he wins the next elections. The more I have read, the more I have found myself in your corner. I mean, the more I have appreciated your current position. Especially that indeed, the opposition never saw any good in you, they did not see your leadership potential while you were on their side, while Baby Face was always wooing you.

I will be honest, Beti. Us, who belong to the much maligned millennial generation (those aged 18-35 in 2016), who only know Baby Face’s leadership of Uganda, came to know you when you were one of the ‘detractors’, at least in public. We heard that you had differences with people in Reform Agenda, as early as 2001, and that in 2005, those differences worsened and led to your loss to Alice Alaso as Secretary General of the party. I sadly looked on between 2008 and 2009 as you tore the FDC party to shreds in your attempt to ‘inherit’ the late Dr. Kiggundu’s position as party chairman. Your opponents also threw some jabs your way, that have lasted!

beti

The things you were saying about ‘Westerners’ then, were too heavy for me, a born of Kabale in the South-West of the country, to say or think anything at the time. I walk around with Westerner guilt anyway. Your words contributed to it, to be honest. That your late husband (May he RIP) hailed from the West, and therefore your children are from the West too, complicated matters. The guilt could not allow me to jump onto any side. Those who said that you hated Westerners did not get my audience, because I was there saying, if she hated them, why would she have married from them?  We could say that I may not have been on your side, but I also wasn’t against you. What does that even mean?

Before the Kiggundu replacement saga, you had in February 2008 been charged before court, with promoting war and inciting violence. The charges were based on an article in Daily Monitor, in which you questioned Baby Face’s nationality! Even if you were then an FDC MP, that article had left some of us who held the party membership cards worried. The nationality and ethnic nationalism question in Uganda is a complicated one, that we have to face at one point, or at several points in Uganda’s life as a country, but Beti, that article! Do you sometimes look back at some of those things you wrote?

kamya-beti

Anyway, you moved on, from FDC and started the Uganda Federal Alliance. I remember when you told Josephine Karungi of NTV that you fell sick during the campaign trail, and even went for surgery and the loud women rights activists did not even call you, to wish you well. EXCEPT: Winnie Byanyima and Miria Matembe. I remember you sharing with the country the fact that Winnie abandoned her husband, Besigye’s campaign trail to bring you flowers. Beti: Winnie cares. She is loyal. To digress: do you think you would maybe support her if she contested for President with Baby Face in 2021? (Just kidding)

Your relevance after the 2011 election played hide and seek, except on most Saturdays when the country tuned in to the Capital Gang to hear from you. People kept talking about you joining NRM, that there was really no surprise that you were made a Minister this year. In fact, some people (of course excluding you) had thought that you would be announced as Vice President. They thought that Ssekandi would not have a chance to set fashion trends in this playful hakuna mchezo term. But here we are, Beti.

kamya

I think people are being unfair to you. You are a complex human being, like each one of us. Those who claim that you were a spy in FDC and the opposition generally want to figure you out, and reduce your complexity to one mission. They forget that before the political phase of your story, you were a successful manager at Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). I have seen others claiming that you needed some money to be able to sustain a middle class life in Kampala. Really? People can want to reduce others to small material conditions. You have a brain on your shoulders that can sustain your life without the trouble that politics is. One of my friends says that you really wanted a position of influence, such that you contribute to national development. She almost convinced me, but then, I do not buy this notion of ‘development’, so I jumped out of her taxi.

I do not want to try to understand you. I would hate it, for someone to try to understand me, too. Our individual lives are complex. Every single person who aims to understand others ends up misunderstanding them. I feel that you have been misunderstood Beti. People are now shaking their heads at how you can turn from the person who was calling Baby Face a monster, a non-Ugandan, to the one declaring that he has stamina and has always had your interests at heart. Again, I refuse to buy their attempts to reduce you to a turn-coat. I know you are not bothered by all the vitriol being thrown at you, you are not the first to be accused by some Ugandans of betrayal, I mean, there is Awori, there is Atubo, there are more people, and more will join the league of the complicated Ugandan politicians and we will forget about you, but I just wanted to say that we would appreciate if you could gift us an autobiography. There is an important story we deserve to know. So that when your detractors spread their misunderstanding of you, we will hit back with your properly laid out story. Please Beti, oblige us.

Quotes from Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, Lucy, like everything else this brilliant writer has produced is a feast of poetic prose that one finds it hard to choose which parts to share as quotes and which ones to leave behind. In other words, it is a book I recommend without any reservation. Because I just have a blog-post and posting the entire book would be an infringement on the writer’s rights, I will post a few excerpts that still make my heart go like, yeeeees, this is so well told, I totally feel, see, smell, taste, hear, etc what is happening. Lucy is the story of an au pair from Antigua and her life in her employer’s (Mariah) home. It is a beautiful coming of age story. No spoilers, just quotes.

Lucy is aware of colonial imprints

As I opened my eyes, the word “Australia” stood between our faces, and I remembered then that Australia was settled as a prison for bad people, people so bad that they couldn’t be put in a prison in their own country. – Page 9

Of how people in Lucy’s America walk

When people walked on the streets they did it quickly, as if they were doing something behind someone’s back, as if they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, as if being out in the cold too long would cause them to dissolve. – Page 10

The Love songs

It was a song that was very popular at the time – three girls, not older than I was, singing in harmony and in a very insincere and artificial way about love and so on. It was very beautiful all the same, and it was beautiful because it was so insincere and artificial.- page 11

The privileged and their pity 

Mariah reached out to me and, rubbing her hand against my cheek, said, “What a history you have.” I thought there was a little bit of envy in her voice, and so I said, “You are welcome to it if you like.” – Page 19

Love and hate are sisters

How do you get to be a person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind, because the weather doesn’t live up to your expectations? How do you get to be that way?

While the weather sorted itself out in various degrees of coldness, I walked around with letters from my family and friends scorching my breasts. I had placed these letters inside my brassiere, and carried them around with me wherever I went. It was not from feelings of love and longing that I did this; quite the contrary. It was from a feeling of hatred. There was nothing so strange about this, for isn’t it so that love and hate exists side by side? Each letter was a letter from someone I had loved at one time without reservation. – Page 20

Of those poems on Daffodils by the way 

Mariah said, ‘These are daffodils. I’m sorry about the poem, but I’m hoping you’ll find them lovely all the same.’

There was such joy in her voice as she said this, such a music, how could I explain to her the feeling I had about daffodils – that it wasn’t exactly daffodils, but that they would do as well as anything else? Where should I start? Over here or over there? Anywhere would be good enough, but my heart and my thoughts were racing so that every time I tried to talk I stammered and by accident bit my own tongue. – Page 29

Appropriation much? 

Mariah says, ‘I have Indian blood in me,’ and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy. How do you get tp be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also? – Page 41

Before you call that place beautiful 

I wished once again that I came from a place where no one wanted to go, a place that was filled with slag and unexpectedly erupting volcanoes, or where a visitor was turned into a pebble on setting foot there; somehow it made e feel ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was ‘I had fund when I was there.’ – Page 65

No need to hide the anger

I was having a thought not unlike this when unexpectedly, Mariah came up to me. The look on my face must have shocked her, for she said, ‘You are a very angry person, aren’t you?’ and her voice was filled with alarm and pity. Perhaps I should have said something reassuring; perhaps I should have denied it. But I did not. I said, “Of course I am. What do you expect?’ – Page 96

Of the sex that sucks 

Bad sex. I wondered what exactly did she mean. From my mother I had gathered that the experience could leave you feeling indifferent, that during it you might make out the grocery list, pick a style of curtains, memorize a subtle but choice insult for people who imagined themselves above you. But I had never imagined the word ‘bad’ could be applied to it, and as soon as she said it I knew what she meant: it was like wanting a sugar apple and getting a spoiled one; and while you’re eating the spoiled one, the memory of a good tasting one will not go away.” – Page 113-4

The Patriarchal roots of the law

Everybody knew that men have no morals, that they do not know how to behave, that they do not know how to treat other people. It was why men like laws so much; it was why they had to invent such things-they need a guide. When they are not sure what to do, they consult this guide. If the guide gives them advice they don’t like, they change the guide. – Page 142

The Power of Names 

Lucy, a girl’s name for Lucifer. That my mother would have found me devil-like did not surprise me, for I often thought of her as god-like, and are not the children of gods devils? I did not grow to like the name Lucy-I would have much preferred to be called Lucifer outright-but whenever I saw my name I always reached out to give it a strong embrace. – Page 153

If there is one writer, from whom I can’t seem to read enough, it is Kincaid. I feel bad that I have only been able to read four of her titles (A Small Place, My Brother, Lucy and Annie John) in one year. I should find time to share excerpts from these, and a fully blown review of at least one of them. I think I did well, considering that access to the books became possible in the last quarter of the year.

One of the many unsaid 2016 resolutions is to read every book she has written (except the Gardening ones, I am still a toddler in that department). I already have The Autobiography of My Mother and See Now Then on my shelf, so I think this is an achievable feat. Till then, stay safe.