Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the nine of clubs.
Story: Oxford, Black Oxford, by Dambuzdo Marechera (in The Granta Book of the African Short Story)
Comments: I find this story difficult to review – partly, I think, because I’m afraid of being thought not politically correct!
It helps to know a bit about the author. Read his author page on Goodreads, or one of the many articles you can find by googling his name, such as this one. Born in Rhodesia in 1952, he came to study at Oxford in 1973, an experience which he found alienating. This story is largely autobiographical. A review in The Guardian says that Oxford, Black Oxford, “is a scabrous assault on the way Marechera (who was a wild and ill-disciplined, albeit brilliant student) was belittled by both the university tutors and his fellow students. The story begins and ends with bitterly ironic visions of beauty and hope, but the despair at its centre suggests that these intermittent moments of joy are remnants of an optimism that is being ground away by adverse reality.”
My problem is that the story seems to invite us to sympathise on racial grounds with the student protagonist who repeatedly gets seriously drunk, damages property (and, it is hinted, people), and fails to cooperate with the disciplinary process. Sorry, but I can’t sympathise with anyone for that. Call me a crank who’s forgotten what it’s like to be young, if you will – but it’s not because he’s African that I fail to sympathise with him. And if felt belittled and used by the other student in his tutorial group – well, given that there were only two of them, and that the other student was having an affair of sorts with the professor, anyone in Marechera’s place would most likely feel the same. But it’s not because he’s black.
Marechera was an angry young man, and coming from the Rhodesia of the 1960’s he had a lot to be angry about. But he needed to find a better way of dealing with it than blind drunkenness and violence. It doesn’t seem like he ever did.