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I realise the sheer obnoxiousness of commenting on something that has just appeared on one's own site but I thought it worth recording that for the third time today I have sputtered out my coffee as I glanced over Victoria Williams' 'I Check My Mouse Balls'.
It's a shame that the era of mouse balls is at an end.
It's a shame that the era of mouse balls is at an end.
The Obituary Tango
Mixed bag from Africa
By Arja Salafranca
August 31, 2006
The Obituary Tango: A selection of writing from the Caine Prize for African Writing 2005 (Jacana R125)
The settings are familiar: overloaded minibuses careening around Kenya, a car hijacking, a dead zebra lying in brown dust in the bush.
Familiar and yet unfamiliar, The Obituary Tango collects stories from north of our border and presents another Africa to us South Africans. There are also a number of local writers included here.
The annual Caine Prize awards previously published short stories by African writers from the continent. Publishers are invited to submit work published in the previous five years. Both winners and short-listed candidates are then invited to participate in a writers' workshop somewhere in Africa.
This anthology, then, collects the winner of the 2005 prize, Segun Afolabi's Monday Morning, along with the other four short-listed candidates.
In addition, a number of writers attended the workshops, and produced the remainder of the volume. It is thus a mixed bag. There are some very good, gripping pieces, but the majority were run of the mill.
Some were startlingly powerful in language and execution, until it came to the conclusion, and the whole story seemed to crumble away into meaninglessness.
I think part of the fault lies in the fact that the stories were produced while on a workshop - publication is assured - and the best writing is not always written "to order", so to speak.
Surely a better showcase of these writers' talents would have been achieved if they had been asked to submit their best pieces. So, on to the winner and the standouts, among the short-list.
Nigerian Afolabi's Monday Morning is one of those powerful narratives. It tells the story of a group of refugees who've recently arrived in the city, escaping rape and war.
The mother's hand had been hacked off, and in a moving scene she touches her sleeping husband with her paw which she normally keeps hidden in the day.
The story is about the children, Emmanuel and Alfredo, and how they try to acclimatise to life in a place where they are strangers, and xenophobia is manifested in the down-turned mouths, sour expressions and "the eyes narrowed to slits".
It's a poignant, incredibly complex story. Not only are they dealing with loss and displacement, but the older boy, Emmanuel is also reaching that time in his childhood when his parents are beginning to lose their omnipotency and perfection.
He starts to regard his father as fat and stupid, and this compounds the welter of emotions he is dealing with.
Ugandan Doreen Baingana's Tropical Fish is another excellent story . It follows the affair between a 35-year-old white man and a 20-year-old black student at Makerere University.
This is not a relationship in the traditional sense of the word. It's not going to lead to anything more than a roll in the hay now and again.
Christine, the student, is forced to confront her own ideas of what she really wants in the relationship when she falls pregnant. The affair has offered no more than "bubble baths, gin-and-tonics, ganja sex" and time in a clean, white house where Christine can forget the dust of the places she comes from.
But in the end, nothing more is expected from this liaison, and you suspect, as Christine waits in a matatu one afternoon, wondering what she wanted, that she has learned far more than she realises. It's love across the colour line, a big deal for this student, but it's more than that: rite of passage; certainly a threshold has been crossed.
South African Muthal Naidoo's Jail Birds, first published in Botsotso magazine and now also available in her collection of the same name, is a finely detailed story about life in jail as a political activist under apartheid.
Told in colloquial, immediate language, the story moves along quickly, and remains a fine, sharp piece of writing. The story Naidoo writes while on the workshop, Aunty and Ma is a sassy story of a man who has been shot dead and his dazed realisation of who killed him.
Moving onto the stories produced while on the workshop, I find far less to recommend them. However, Kenya's Shalini Gidoomal's Travelling Cargo is a brilliant story in which a couple is attacked in a hijacking - strains of the familiar here - and bundled into the back of the woman's car, handcuffed to each other.
The attackers have guns, and the couple spends the next few long hours struggling against each other, wondering whether they are going to be killed or set free.
It's a taut, tight piece of writing which illuminates an experience that is all too familiar to us as South Africans, although this is set in Kenya. The pace doesn't flag for a second.
Equally brilliant is Nigerian Tolu Ogunlesi's To a Cartoonist in which the narrator addresses the cartoonist who produced those famous cartoons depicting Mohammed, published in Denmark, which caused a furore. It's a clever, witty piece of writing.
Local writer, Pravasan Pillay conjures up the world of bored 12-year-old Pinky Pillay with astonishing foresight in Green Apples.
Pinky has started smoking, hates school, eats condensed milk on her bread and is suffering all the beginnings of teenage angst. She's a lovely, likeable protagonist and I hope we'll be hearing more from Pillay the writer.
First published in Tonight