Friday, September 22, 2017

France: Submission, by Michel Houellebecq

Since we have an election going on here in New Zealand, this seemed a very appropriate book to read right now. It's set in 2002. The protagonist is a middle-aged lecturer at the Sorbonne, an expert on nineteenth century author J-K Huysmans. (I had never hear of Huysmans, and had to google to check that he is actually a real figure.) Fran├žois is bored and lacks any sense of meaning in life. In the meanwhile, an election is taking place in France. In the first round of voting, Marine Le Pen's far right are ahead in the vote with the new Islamic Brotherhood just edging the socialists out of second place. So for the second round, the socialists throw in their lot with the Islamic party, which sweeps into power and introduces far reaching reforms.

All children are to have the opportunity of an Islamic education. Education is privatised. Henceforth the Islamic schools and universities are by far better funded than the Christian and Jewish institutions, as money pours in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Francois's university becomes an Islamic one, and he is offered promotion, on condition that he converts to Islam.

The book is described as a satire, but it's not what I have thought of as satire in the past i.e it's not laugh-aloud funny. But it is thought-provoking, especially regarding the essential meaningless of life in modern Europe. Will Fran├žois be happier once he has converted to Islam (and acquired a beautiful young submissive wife, with the promise of more to come?) I strongly suspect not.

submission is translated from the French by Lorin Stein and published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (New York, 2015)

Now, I'm off to return the book to the library - and to vote - although not for an Islamic party (an option which is not on offer, even if I wanted it!)

Friday, September 08, 2017

Uganda: Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

This book slowed me down a little, as it's over four hundred pages long. It is in six sections, the first section telling of Kintu Kidda, who in 1750 sets out for the capital of the Buganda Kingdom to pledge allegiance to the new leader. His actions along the way result in a curse being placed upon him and on his clan. The next five sections tell the stories of various modern day descendants, and show how the curse plays out in their lives, and how they seek to overcome it.

Unlike many African novels published in the West, there is very little evidence of the West in this book. The characters do not emigrate to the West, or dream of emigrating. Neither are we treated to much exposition of either the benefits or evils of colonialism. Apparently the author, who now lives in Manchester, was rejected by publishing house after publishing house in England. They all supposedly thought the book "too difficult" for Western readers. This puzzled me a little, as the book to me did not seem difficult at all. Perhaps they really wanted to say "not Eurocentric enough" but felt they couldn't say that so said "too difficult" instead. At any rate, it was first published in Kenya in 2014 and was much acclaimed. This edition was published by Transit Books in the United States in 2017.

I found the book very readable and fascinating in its insights into the lives of the people of Uganda. However, somehow I did not feel emotionally involved with the characters and ended up feeling as if I was viewing them from something of a difference rather than being totally drawn in. Nevertheless, I was happy with my choice of book for this country, which does not seem to have the volume of literature that has come from, say, Nigeria where the choices are almost endless.