Short story #5: Ships in High Transit (Banyavanga Wainaina)

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

Story:  Ships in High Transit, by Banyavanga Wainaina (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: To understand better where Wainaina is coming from in this story, it may help to read first his article in the Winter 2005 issue of Granta, “How to Write about Africa” (available here).  This is a funny/sarcastic look at the stereotyping of and generalizing about “Africa” that occurs in contemporary writing.  Okay.  I’m Irish, I get the resentment at stereotyping.

Ships in High Transit is about reality and image; the image of “Africa” that the Kenyans in the story are deliberately concocting for European and American tourists, the image of themselves that they portray to each other, the image that they have of the tourists… Where is reality?  What is true, and what is crap?   A good discussion of the story can be found here (a blog post from 2006).   See also the discussion about “the Real Africa” and Wainaina here, including the comments.  I note that not everyone is impressed by his living in the USA and buying into the system there – a little like what the Irish would call “taking the King’s shilling”.

Personally, I think if any group of countries today suffers from being radically and wrongfully stereotyped, it’s “Eastern Europe”.

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Short Story #3: An Ex-mas Feast (Uwem Akpan)

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

Story: An Ex-mas Feast, by Uwem Akpan (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: This is a story about a fairly common situation: the eldest daughter and the eldest son move out of the family home to live elsewhere.  Except that in this case the daughter is 12, and she moves out to work full-time at prostitution (up to now she’s just been part-time), while the eldest son is 8, and he runs away because he believes that his wanting to go to school, his need to have the money to pay the school fees, is the root cause of his sister’s leaving home and thus the break-up of the family.  The family lives on the street in Nairobi, Kenya.

The author of the story, Uwem Akpan, says that when he moved from his native Nigeria to study in Nairobi, he was “taken by the phenomenon of street kids” there, and that this story is based on a real incident.  (Link to interview).  It is one of the stories in Akpan’s collection “Say You’re One of Them”.

The best comments that I’ve read on the story are here: http://earthgoat.blogspot.it/2005/06/ex-mas-feast-by-uwem-akpan.html , and I’m not going to try to improve on them.  I’ll just add that this story brought me into a world I’d rather not really know about (a 12-year-old girl counsels her 10-year-old sister on how she will need to use condoms as a sex-worker?  a mother routinely gets her children to sniff glue so that they will be less conscious of their hunger pangs?), yet without making me feel emotionally manipulated.

I’d be very interested to know more about the author’s view of religion (Akpan is a Jesuit priest) – here, for example, he tells us that the mother prays in thanksgiving to God that her daughter the prostitute has been given business by rich white men…

Much food for thought in this story.