Wednesday, January 09, 2019

There is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan

It's been a while since I posted here and in that time I have read far less than usual. I have been involved in house hunting and currently with one home purchased and one not yet sold, I have two gardens to maintain. Plus, I have been reading some books that are not related to my "Round the World" project. And then there was Christmas..

Still I do have a few books to catch up on reviewing, and this slim volume from South Sudan is one of them. South Sudan only became an independent country in 2011,, and the book was published in 2013 so it was fairly quick off the mark. However it is now out of print and hard to locate, and I haven't come across any alternatives. The conditions there are likely to make it difficult for anyone to publish a full length novel for some time.

There is an interesting introduction written by the editor, Nyol Lueth Tong, who was born in South Sudan but later became a refugee in northern Sudan and Egypt. At the time the book was published, he was at Duke University in the United States.

In the introduction he says "The North has been painted as Islamic and Arabic, while the South has been characterized as Christian and African, and regionally part of East Africa... In reality, however... in the South, more than sixty languages are spoken, and although both Islam and Christianity are practiced, local belief systems dominate the spiritual realm. Moreover, the last several decades of war have forced millions of Southerners to flee their homes... South Sudanese culture, in other words, is a strikingly hard to define thing."

It may be hard to define, but this collection makes a strong contribution towards introducing it to the world. It is to be expected that many of the stories focus on conflict, although unexpectedly, one, "Holy Warrior" by David L Lukudu takes the viewpoint of a soldier for the North Sudanese army. Others show the life of women and teenagers displaced by the fighting. Romantic relationships also feature in several of the stories.

A couple of pieces were different from the rest. "Lexicographicide" by Taban Lo Liyong is an unusual experimental piece which discusses the writing of a dictionary of the Zed language, the language of a fictional island of 125,000 people. The other piece, which ends the volume, is in verse. "Tall Palms", by Arif Gamal, is an excerpt from a longer work "Morning in Serra Mattu: A Nubian Ode". It is a narrative and lyrical work featuring a large boa constrictor, and forms a satisfying contrast to the fighting in the rest of the book.

"There is a Country" was published in 2013 by McSweeney's in San Francisco.

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