Short Story #41. Faeries of the Nile (Mansoura Ez-Eldin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of spades.

Story: Faeries of the Nile, by Mansoura Ez-Eldin [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story] (translated from the Arabic by Raphael Cohen)

Comments: Mansoura Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian writer and journalist.  In this story she explores the responses of a woman trapped in a very limited situation: physical poverty, a betraying and abusive husband, the death of their only son.  The “river faeries” sing to the woman, entrance her, seduce her, and she succumbs…  One critic says that it is a story about sexual repression, but I think that it points to much more than just sexual desire.  It is about the woman’s desire for freedom, for self-determination, for a voice.  The story itself gives the woman, Zeenat, no voice: it is told from the points of view of an omniscient narrator, and of the husband.

There are some great phrases: “my wife cried a lot, at her mother’s direction”; “She obeys me as if castigating me with obedience”.

The Guardian’s reviewer found the story “incredibly dated”, and Think Africa Press said it “show[s] a little too strongly the influence of past generations and styles… Faeries of the Nile is a story in the tradition of tiresome magical realism”.  But I agree more with the Goodreads reviewer who calls it “a great piece of imaginative literature” and other more positive reviews.  I would be happy to read more by this author.

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Short Story #40. Desirée’s Baby (Kate Chopin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the queen of hearts.

Story: Desirée’s Baby, by Kate Chopin [available online here]

Comments: Oh wow. This was my first encounter with Kate Chopin, and now I am anxious to read more.  Set in Louisiana in the late nineteenth century, it is a powerful story about racism and prejudice.  There is no need for the author to comment, the story speaks for itself.  Character is built up quickly by this skilful writer – the person of Desirée’s mother, for instance, comes through strongly, though she is given only a few lines.  Prejudice is still widespread in society – we are all, in some way, Armand Aubigny.   And many of us are, in some way, also Desirée.

The ending reminds me of the conclusion of John B. Keane’s play Sive, in which the tragic heroine leaves her home and heads towards the swampy bog.

I’m so glad I’ve encountered this story and this author.

Short Story #39. Street of the House of Wonders (Rachida el-Charni)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the ten of diamonds.

Story: Street of the House of Wonders, by Rachida el-Charni [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story]

Comments: The story-line here is fairly simple: a woman’s necklace is grabbed by a thief on the street; she is disillusioned by the bystanders’ response – they don’t help her, refuse to get involved.  It’s a story-line open to many possibilities.  To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed – I would expect more from a story at this level (i.e. included in such an anthology).  The description of the woman fighting the thief really wasn’t really adrenalin-filled.  I found myself wondering “how did he pinch her while holding a knife in one hand and the necklace in the other?”  or “would she really be whispering under her breath, rather than screaming aloud?”  The translation (from Arabic – el-Charni is Tunisian) seemed a bit literal in places, not really lively English.  And the final paragraph is too blatant in its expression of the victim’s opinion of the crowd; something more subtle might have been more effective.

 

Short Story #38. The Veldt (Ray Bradbury)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the nine of hearts.

Story: The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury (available online here)

Comments: A masterly story from a master story-teller.  It’s hard to believe it was written over 50 years ago, in 1950.  It’s about the role of technology, supposed to make our life easier and smoother, being used for evil in the wrong hands.  And those hands are not found in some totalitarian state, but in our own offspring, who use the technology against us… A wonderful read.

Short Story #37. The Mouse (Saki)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of hearts.

Story: The Mouse, by Saki (available here)

Comments: This is a very short (1,520 words) and funny story by one of the classic masters of the genre.  A mouse gets trapped in the clothing of a gentleman just before he boards a train – how does he divest himself of it when a lady occupies the same carriage?  The twist comes in the last line.

Take a few minutes to read it.

Short Story #36. Stickfighting Days (Olufemi Terry)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the ace of spades.

Story: Stickfighting Days, by Olufemi Terry [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story]

Comments: This story won the 2010 Caine prize for African writing, one of the judges saying that Sierra Leone-born Terry “presents a heroic culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception” (from the Guardian).  It describes the fighting exploits of some boys who live on a dump and scavenge for a living.  It is a story of violence, which initially is controlled by certain implicit – and explicit – rules, but which at the end gets out of control and leads to death.  I don’t enjoy reading about violence, and had to push myself to finish this story.  I found it hard to feel any sympathy for Raul, the protagonist, and one important scene, in which he offers an apology to an opponent for certain tactics he had used in a fight, I found quite unconvincing. The apology seems to spring from values which have up to then not been identified in Raul, and which would be appropriate coming from an Eton or Harrow lad, “I say, old chap, awfully sorry about that…”  I really did not have a clear idea of who Raul is, or of why I should identify with him.

Short Story #35. Sea Oak (George Saunders)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the seven of hearts.

Story: Sea Oak, by George Saunders [online here]

Comments: I liked this story, though it’s not a genre that I would normally appreciate.  Thomas, who works as a stripper, his sister and his cousin, both single mothers of very young kids, poorly educated, unemployed, and “lazy”, and his aunt Bernie, a figure of self-sacrificing goodness, live in a run-down housing complex which is very dangerous for the kids.  Bernie dies suddenly.  And then comes back from the dead, with a message to the others about how to get out of their poverty-trap.  But she is no longer the good, clean-mouthed person that she was in real life… Will the family take her message on board?

Poverty, unemployment, poor education, poor housing, the aspirations – or the lack of them – of people in that situation, are described in an undramatic, realistic way.  This makes the return of Bernie from the dead all the more puzzling – why does Saunders use this format?  What is he trying to tell us through the various paradoxes?

I loved the dialogue, especially that of Min and Jade.