Sunday, January 31, 2021

Jamaica: How to Love a Jamaican, by Alexia Arthurs

This is a debut collection of short stories by Alexia Arthurs, who was born and raised in Jamaica and mvoed to Brooklyn, New York with her family when she was twelve. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In the first couple of stories, I believed that it would be a collection focused on young female characters who, like the author, were Jamaican migrants to the United States. But by the end of the collection, I realised that the author's range is quite a bit more than that. Her narrators are young and female, young and male, older and female, older and male. Some are those who have emigrated, some are those who have remained behind in Jamaica, and some have emigrated and then returned. The tensions between the generations, the older and the younger, are perfectly depicted - both the love and the exasperation and misunderstandings. The book like the meals described, is spiced with Jamaican flavours. I enjoyed it more and more as I read on. I look forward to seeing what the author might come up with next and am hoping for a full length novel. How to Love a Jamaican was published in the US by Ballantine Books and in the UK in 2018 by Pan Macmillan.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Kenya: The Perfect Nine, by Ngūgi wa Thiong'o

If I had a deadline for this project, then this would be a much better book to read for Kenya than the one I read previously. This is largely because it is short, being an adaptation as a verse epic of the story of Gīkūyū and Mūmbi, an origin tale of Kenya. It is also, however, a delight to read something that is entirely embedded in indigenous culture, and has nothing to do with later histories of colonization and exploitation by the west. As the author explains, the Gīkūyū people trace their origins to Gīkūyū (man) and Mūmbi (woman). They surveyed the lands around from the summit of the snow capped Mount Kenya. From there, they made their home in a place called Mukuruweini. Their ten daughters were called the Perfect Nine. Supposedly God provided ten suitors for the ten daughters,and the author's interpretation arises from his question: where did the Ten suitors come from? He imagines a larger number taking part in various tests, until only ten remained. The tests which the suitors had to undergo were not opportunities for them to show their manliness to passive and helpless women. The daughters had grown up having to fend for themselves and were capable and self-reliant. In this story, they take as large a part in the quest as do the suitors, and rescue the men just as often as the men rescue the women (perhaps more so). In particular, the disabled tenth daughter, whose legs have not grown with the rest of her body, is nevertheless a better marksman, more skilled with the bow and arrow, than any of the men or any of her sisters. The epic was written first in the author's native Gīkūyū language, and self-translated into English. Since the musicality of the language is vital to verse, I found myself wondering how it sounds in its original form. In English, I found the language a little pedestrian at times, but the story fascinating. Ngūgi wa Thiong'o was born in Limuru, Kenya in 1938. He has written many novels, plays, memoirs and essays and has received 13 honorary doctorates among other awards. He is currently distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. The Perfect Nine was published by The New Press, New York in 2020.