Digital Participation: Blood Diamond

For my digital participation I watched the film Blood Diamond, which was directed by Edward Zwick, who is known for directing films based on global racial and social issues such as Glory and The Last Samurai. My interest with Blood Diamond, however, revolves around the idea of the “single story.” I was curious how successful an American director could be at presenting a story about one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars without playing into the single story.

For those who don’t know, the civil war I’m referring to is Sierra Leone’s which lasted from 1996 until 2001, as portrayed in The Memory of Love. The story follows Solomon Vandy, a fisherman enslaved to dig for diamonds all day in order to help fund the rebel faction Revolutionary United Front. After finding a golf ball-sized diamond, Vandy is sent to jail in Freetown where he meets Danny Archer, a white rodesian smuggles who was jailed for trying to smuggle diamonds into Liberia. Meanwhile, while Solomon is in jail his son is abducted in Freetown and forced to become a child soldier. Archer, who finds out Solomon knows where this massive diamond is located, pledges to Solomon that he will help him relocate his family if he brings him to the diamond.

This movie quite obviously has the “single story” theory written all over it. There is a horribly violent civil war. There are child soldiers. There is a humble working man main character who is ripped away from his family and forced to succumb to the will of rebel warlords. There is a government bent on indiscriminant violence that draws no distinction between civilians and hostile rebels. There is a white “savior” that blurs the line between good and evil, emerging within the storyline from his selfish wrongdoing beginnings to a man who offers up his diamond to Solomon while lying on his death bed.

So yes, this is the single story. But I have no problem with the single story if it is true. The truth is that this was the reality of the civil war in Sierra Leone, one of Africa’s most brutal wars in the last century. The incorrect response to criticizing the single story is to render it useless, as if it bares no resemblance to reality and contains no lingering lesson. I applaud Zwick’s effort, as long as it was a portrayal of the truth.

Digital Participation: Adichie on Homophobia

In February of this year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichia wrote a response to the rampant homophobia in her native Nigeria. I found the piece comforting in its unabashed, systematic dismantling of homophobic arguments. I noted many parallels between our discussion of Ireland’s article and Dibia’s novella, and her response. Of particular interest to me was her complication of homosexuality as western import. She writes: “There has also been some nationalist posturing among supporters of the law. Homosexuality is ‘unafrican,’ they say, and we will not become like the west. The west is not exactly a homosexual haven; acts of discrimination against homosexuals are not uncommon in the US and Europe. But it is the idea of ‘unafricanness’ that is truly insidious. Sochukwuma was born of Igbo parents and had Igbo grandparents and Igbo great-grandparents. He was born a person who would romantically love other men. Many Nigerians know somebody like him. […] people like us, born and raised on African soil. How then are they ‘unafrican?’”

Her relation to the issue is particularly touching when illustrated through her witness of a gay schoolmate’s experience of persecution. Though the piece does not sing with the same aesthetic beauty as her short stories (though why would it, as a completely differently oriented text and medium?), I enjoyed the connection it might bring to bear on “the Shivering.”

Digital Participation: Wedding in Kenya

We spoke earlier in the semester about classic tropes towards Africa, whether it’s the typical  fundraising campaigns or young European or American teens coming to “save” the continent and it’s people. Well today Africa is a Country posted an article about Africa, once again, “touching” someone “deeply.” The article is quite funny and serves as an example of how many people still fit the stereotype/trope of seeing Africa as this amazing country without knowing anything about it. Here’s the link for those who want to have a nice chuckle.

Digital Participation: “Radiance of Tomorrow” by Ishmael Beah

I read the book Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah’s second book after his memoir was released a few years ago about his experiences as a child soldier. Amazon wasn’t letting me most a review directly on their site for some reason, so I’ll put my review on here.

Building off the story of life as a child soldier in the war in Sierra Leone when he was younger, Ishmael Beah returns respectably to his home in country in his sophomore novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. While it is notable that he is following up his memoir in novel form, his beautiful narrative voice is not lost with the new fictional characters.

The words float smoothly and gorgeously off the page in his unique translations of his native tongue, Mende, telling the tale of a scrappy group of war survivors who bit by bit return to their ravaged home village of Imperi for the sake of closure and possibly trying to avoid change as much as possible. The characters range drastically, from the respected elders Ma Kadie and Pa Moiwa who begin the novel by first arriving to their old village only to spend months simply clearing all the bones and human remains, to the educated teachers Bockarie and Benjamin who desire to make a difference in the children of the war, to the stoic and savage 18 year-old Colonel and his crew of young adults who have learned to scavenge and survive on their own.

There lies one of my few complaints of the novel: the blandness of most of the characters and their and their lack of dynamics, which ultimately leads to some predictability about the plot of the novel. However this does not take away at all from some of the beautiful themes throughout the story. I don’t think I’ve ever been so depressed and disheartened about the plot of a book, while simultaneously so filled with optimism and possibility.

The villagers who remain desire to rebuild their old small community to be as vibrant as it was before the war hit seven years prior, but they encounter endless obstacles that prevent true rebuilding. Between Benjamin and Bockarie’s exasperation with the corruption in the academic system that keeps away salaries and resources, or the police corruption that controls the town leaders, or the big industry mine that takes over all the town’s jobs and ultimately forces out what’s left of the ruins of Imperi.

But here is where the genius of Beah strikes repeatedly. Despite the continued depressing plot turns and the destruction of the beautiful Sierra Leone they used to know, he linguistically weaves hope into each turn of the chapter. In the wind the characters all notice throughout Sierra Leone, life and positivity is breathed into their spirits, as if to remind them, and the reader of the beautiful possibilities there could be in a new life.

All in all, Radiance of Tomorrow is an somewhat brilliant, but extremely important read. As the title implies, there is endless optimism and vast potential for what Sierra Leoneans could rebuild their country to be after the brutality of war for so long. The novel begins with those of the past trying to rebuild the past, but ends fittingly with those of future generations beginning to lay the first stones for the spectacular Sierra Leone they dream of.

A must read as a follow-up for those who read A Long Way Gone, themes of corruption and loss of innocence remain, but optimism is still restored.

Tsotsi; A Film Review

Tsotsi, a 2005 South African film directed by Gavin Hood, features a young carjacker named Tsotsi and his crew in a post-Apartheid slum, stealing and killing to make ends meet. In a solo act, Tsotsi hijacks the car of a wealthy, black South African home which had an infant in the back seat. Despite the traumas of his childhood, Tsotsi regains his grasp on morality as the responsibility of the stolen child alters his everyday perceptions of the world and people around him.

Although I had some logistic problems with the movie (such as the child being neglected on multiple occasions and still remaining healthy and alive), I thoroughly enjoyed the film. From a cinematic perspective, the director did a fantastic job on creating mood, suspense, and emotion, especially through his ample usage of face-shots that captured the underlying emotions going on between the characters. (I love a good story that doesn’t need words to explain it all!) The plot itself was slightly unrealistic, as Tsotsi eventually returns the baby and doesn’t get killed on sight by the surrounding police officers, but it also grappled with questions of humanity that can be hard to answer in an impoverished, violent, and cruel world. Mostly, Tsotsi encounters other people who have had the weight of the world’s cruelty on their shoulders as well, yet still manage to incite hope within themselves to keep going. At first, it seems that Tsotsi is resentful of such optimism, and his demons emerge to quash such positivity. Yet, having something as vulnerable and defenseless as a baby provokes Tsotsi to regain his direction in his volatile life.

My favorite scene was the interaction between Tsotsi and the crippled homeless man, who Tsotsi pursues to ask him some very philosophical questions. From an acting standpoint, both Tsotsi and the homeless man give some profound performances as they go back and forth between relating to one another and threatening one another. Ultimately, we see that Tsotsi’s violent behavior is his defense mechanism, which beautifully illustrates how trauma can isolate an individual from their world and themselves.

Take A Break From Reading Because…Music Is Great!

I’m a huge music person, totally open to every genre, any style, and even though this course focuses on African Literature, I felt like sharing this song by Nigerian R&B duo P-Square. I read on the Wikipedia page for the song that they faced some criticism for their controversial dance moves that seem to resemble the Azonto dance that originates from Ghana.

I first discovered this song earlier this year through this video. My first thought while watching this one was: “THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN AT AU! It would be so wicked! I’d totally attend this workshop.” It was interesting how much it resembled dancehall music from Jamaica.

Well, enjoy & good luck with finals everyone!

[Music is life. Music is music. Music is great. Live for greatness.]

A Marvelous Work of Realistic Fiction

For my digital participation I read Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. This beautifully written book is one that I recommend not only to those enrolled in this class, but other as well, as it is just such a powerful piece of fiction. I saw that another post that recommended this novel with a link to a talk by the author. I agree with the reflection said, and if you get a chance, the novel would be a great way to spend an chilly afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate on the couch over winter break.

My review can be found here.

I bought the book, so if you’d like to borrow it to read, let me know!

Digital participation- African Poetry

The following is from an African poetry blog on Tumblr. I don’t know why it just occurred to me, but it’s important to acknowledge outlets such as tumblr as a source of uncensored creativity.

Digital Participation-Child Soldiers

This is a short account of how a man Ishmael Beah became a child soldier in Sierra Leone when he was only thirteen. I think this is really important because it shows how people who are subjected to becoming part of and taking part in such inhumane violence are affected.

Digital Participation: Book Review of Murambi, the Book of Bones

I read the novel, Murambi, the Book of Bones, by Senegalese author, Boubacar Boris Diop. This novel, which is told from many different perspectives, is a story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Though we get the stories of many who played a role or fell victim in the genocide, the story focuses on one main character, Cornelius Uvimana, who goes back to his homeland of Rwanda to reflect on the tragedy after spending over 20 years abroad. As he is reflecting in Murambi, the stories of those who were in Murambi at the time of the genocide are told in a first person narrative. Diop comments on many issues we have discussed throughout the semester and includes themes that are common with some of the other novels we read.

Here is the link to my Amazon review: