Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.
This is why I don’t read hyped up books. So much excitement and build up and no-one who mentioned the sheer disappointment of most of it but definitely the ending.
And that’s impressive for a story that’s only 200 pages and with a plot – see title – that could definitely provide a lot of thrills, philosophising and secondary story-lines.
Instead you get a repetitive, stagnant story filled with passive characters. There is very little motivation (why does she kill, why doesn’t she put a stop to it, why doesn’t she actively participate in her daughters’ lives), no-one seems to learn. Even the lack of different surroundings doesn’t provide anything to the story or even a sense of claustrophobia, only slightly more boredom.
The end – always a risky business – is sheer “Ma’am, I’m done with my assignment!” in hopes of being allowed to leave early.
And just like that it’s 200 pages of hoping for ‘so much more’ wasted.
My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday 2017
Terwijl westerse filmmaatschappijen romcoms en romantische films maar blijven afschuiven op kleine feestdagen (Moedersdag, Valentijnsdag) met een klein budget en D-niveau acteurs, is er een plek waar de liefhebber van zachte, oppervlakkige, (absurd-)grappige romances nog terecht kan: Nigeria.
Want Isoken en The Wedding Party zijn niet de enige films in dit genre: misschien is het zelfs een subgenre: men moet trouwen maar oh jee [x] gebeurt! [x] kan hier vervangen worden door ruziënde families, bittere exen, rampzalige wedding planners of een combinatie van drie.
In het geval van Isoken is het De Liefde. Moet je gaan voor De Liefde of voor zekerheid? En in hoeverre moet je daarbij ook aan je familie denken (die is zéér belangrijk)?
Of het zelfspot van Nigeriaanse filmmakers is, of dit gewoon Nigeriaanse humor is, weet ik niet, maar al de slapstick-achtige situaties en karikaturale personages zorgen voor een lekker melig zooitje tussen de zoete momenten door.
Dus, kijk niet voor de veertiende keer Love Actually of Bridget Jones’ Diary maar zoek het eens zuidelijker.
Isoken, Tribe85 Productions 2017
Het is alweer bijna tien jaar geleden dat Egyptenaren Tahrir square overnamen in de hoop op een revolutie die naar een betere samenleving zou leiden. In deze documentaire wordt zichtbaar hoe dat ging, en hoe dat fout ging.
Wat ook nadrukkelijk zichtbaar wordt, is wat wij hier allemaal maar aannemen als gewoon, en dat niemand van de gefilmde protesteerders om veel vragen. Men wilt geen basisinkomen, gratis elektrische auto of luxe appartement in het centrum van de stad. Nee, de Egyptenaren vragen om brood, gelijkheid, de kans om als een eervol lid van de maatschappij beschouwd te worden, in plaats van steeds maar weer omlaag getrapt te worden. Ze vragen om een einde van corruptie.
Naarmate de revolutie verloopt, zie je ook de naïviteit langzaam verdwijnen. Zó’n verenigd blok zijn de mensen ook weer niet, en sommigen kiezen de makkelijkste weg in plaats van de meest hoopvolle. Maar ook hier het punt: makkelijk oordelen vanuit onze veilige invalshoek.
Mensen zijn vermoord door de overheid die hen zou moeten beschermen, omdat ze om beter vroegen. Maar een klein beetje beter. The Square draait daar niet omheen en weigert ook andere partijen de schuld kwijt te schelden. Het is een verlammende documentaire; deze geschiedenis is nog zo recent en alweer zo ver vergeten door hen die er geen onderdeel van zijn.
‘Viva la revolucion’ wereldwijd, zolang ze maar te behappen is. Want wie weet nu hoe het tegenwoordig in Egypte is?
The Square, Netflix 2013
It was the first day of my humiliation.
I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.
There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.
There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.
And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.
It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.
But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.
Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016
The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.
Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.
Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.
It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018
I must leave this city today and come to you.
I typed and deleted the start of this blog for about four times. It’s an impressive story, a frustrating one, not a happy one but a hopeful one? Here’s me scoring high on cliché bingo.
So, okay. Stay with Me is about a Nigerian couple that can’t conceive and because offspring is very important, is offered (‘offered’) a second wife to make sure offspring does happen. But this is liking saying Lord of the Rings is about some rings, there’s much more to it.
It’s not just a slice of life, it’s a slice of culture. It’s for everyone who isn’t familiar with Nigeria and Nigerians, a look behind the scenes. Yes, we all have relationships and romances, but how, why, and in what way? What sacrifices are desired (by the partners, their families, their surroundings), and who are you if you’re not parents of a child/children?
I was warned beforehand that the subject could get pretty heavy, and there have been times I cursed out outdated ideas and the people still clinging to them. But as an anthropological view, as a psychological view, and to freaking root for Yejide.. this story has a strong pull.
Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Alfred A. Knopf 2017
Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black.
I read books situated in South America and Asia and Africa to remember that Western culture and/or society isn’t the only one on this planet. With Welcome to Lagos I sometimes felt like I was ready a satire of how people think about African cultures. Surely it isn’t really like that? But when a (semi-)local is writing about it, you might take their word for it. And see that some known things about African countries aren’t exaggerated.
In this story the reader follows people from different walks of life that come together in Lagos. And Lagos is a creature, not just a city. The country of Nigeria is a beast, and the different people living in it are sometimes prey, sometimes predator. I’m not just talking about literal, military violence, but about poverty and corruption as well. And yet, these people find each other and connect in some way.
It’s a story about people functioning (in some way) in a country that isn’t even half way there on the road to whatever. As an ignorant white person I was surprised by the casual poverty and people abusing it, by the reach of the corrupted in power. As mentioned before – is it really that bad?
It’s with credit to the author that it doesn’t turn into one long complaint about the city and its civilians. Welcome to Lagos feels like something you could read for Anthropology class: to make sure you see the people not the system.
Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo, Faber & Faber 2017
He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.
First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.
Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.
Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.
The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016
I’ve had Jidenna’s Long Live the Chief stuck in my head ever since leaving the theater for the Black Panther showing, and I think that could give you a bit of a clue about the film and how it leaves you. Assuming you don’t hate superhero movies, and aren’t racist or sexist. P.S.: the song isn’t in the film, the soundtrack is cool and fitting (either way).
The character of Black Panther has been shortly introduced in previous Avengers/Marvel movies, but finally he and his country get their own movie. Which of course comes with a moderately interesting villain, love interest, family issues and hardships he has to work through.
But, and here where it turns out not to be a black Captain America; the director doesn’t take one step back on the blackness and African-ness of it all. It’s in the music, it’s in the accents, it’s in the attitude; for once there’s a story in which an African people are by far the superior ones. With special mention to all the women that are allowed in the spotlight, showing all the things they can do without needing (the leadership of) men.
So even though it’s still a Marvel movie in many more colours, it’s cooler and feels less plastic. And the soundtrack, that soundtrack.
Black Panther, Marvel 2018
The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.
A much recommended book that didn’t disappoint one bit. How often does that happen (rhetorical question)?
I often appreciate a family epistle, using people to show history through the centuries. Sometimes their surroundings are more interesting, something the characters and their impact on later generations are the elements that make the story.
Homegoing does both. It starts in Ghana, with the time when white people were just a minor element, a mark in between tribal issues. It goes on into the twenty-first century. So that means kingdoms rising and falling, slavery, wars, segregation, the American civil war and civil rights movements, fear for lives solely because they’re being lived in dark(er) skins. And during all that, people. Likeable people, confusing people, people you worry for. There’s their family mythology, but Yaa Gyasi never makes you forget that these are (just) humans.
It’s ugly, how close to the skin it plays. Colorism, racism, the superiority feelings of white people. This is reality, and there’s no judging tone; the situations speak for themselves. Doesn’t mean this story is non-stop hard to read, just another gold star for in Gyasi’s book. All in all, add me to the voice of recommendations.
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, Alfred A. Knopf 2016