Author Archives: ebichinho7

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.

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Short Story: “Mr. Goop” by Ivor Hartmann

As you might expect, Mr. Goop is someone who does not embody many human qualities. Set in a future, post-apocalyptic Zimbabwe, Hartmann (a native Zimbabwean) tells the tale of Tamuka, a 12 year-old boy who struggles with the many issues a typical boy of his age would, with a wandering attention span, school worries and potential playground bullies. However Tamuka lives in a future land that is no longer Zimbabwe, but merely a part of the United States of Africa, part of a science fiction society that is separated force fields, guarded by reactionary robots and chaperoned by humanoid Geneforms, one of which is Mr. Goop, Tamuka’s guider of sorts throughout the day.

The majority of the story follows Tamuka as he travels from school to home, and from there to visit his father at work in his industrial labor job. While traveling home from school, Tamuka inadvertently falls and gets stuck in a thorn bush on private property, only to be saved from the guards and rushed home by Mr. Goop. Despite this, Tamuka indicates resentment for Mr. Goop for him being so much larger than the Geneforms of his schoolmates, and thus sticking out like a sore thumb as an indication of his family’s low social status.

As the plot progresses, Hartmann develops several facets that mirror real life and many of the issues that we’ve discussed in class. The social class divide is extremely prevalent in how their society is structured, the types of labor available to Tamuka’s family and hatred Tamuka feels toward Mr. Goop and all things that accentuate his poverty. But at the end of the day, the story is woven well to demonstrate heartwarming instances of love and kindness that transcend most social boundaries. While Hartmann may have written the story more for a younger audience, a highly recommend this easy read for those interested in a pleasant story.

Link to the story: http://www.african-writing.com/seven/ivorhartmann.htm

The Misinformation of Denial

A fair portion of the talk with Jude Dibia this evening was spent discussing the concept that many Africans when encountered with homosexuality of some sort are incredibly afraid and act in a way of denial. We see this in Walking with Shadows, the way Ada and Adrian’s brothers act toward the news of him being gay. It takes a great deal of time for them to acknowledge the credibility of what Adrian just said and revealed to them. However, I kept returning to the scene that in Dibia’s novel that, from my perspective, seemed to defy that idea of denial, in fact possibly indicating over-acceptance, if that even makes sense. The scene I’m referring to is that of Rotimi, when he basically forces his way into Adrian’s car in order to take advantage of a free ride home.

Rotimi reveals during the ride that he had a sexually experimental experience with a gay man at the bank that he knows, all the while continuing to insist on his love for women. Rotimi is clearly very confused and frightened, not certain where to turn next for love, turning subsequently to the only person near by whom he feels he can embrace in the moment how he feels, Adrian:

“Slowly Rotimi began leaning toward Adrian. At the point when their lips almost touched, Adrian backed away, breaking the spell.

‘Rotimi stop!’ he sighed. ‘You don’t have to do this.’

‘I want to, Adrian.’

‘No, you don’t!’ Adrian pressed.” (163).

Ultimately what I feel, is that Rotimi is actually exhibiting a sort of denial. He’s denying, whether consciously or not, of the implications and meaning of homosexuality. This also displays one of the underlying issues at the center of this novel, the misinformation that circulates about homosexuality in Nigeria. There is so little accurate information regarding different forms of sexuality that Rotimi doesn’t know how properly analyze his feelings with any other lens other than the one the homophobic Nigerian culture and government have taught him. Additionally, this misinformation and denial fosters massive fear displayed greatly by the characters in this scene. Rotimi is scared shitless to the possibility of being gay and what being in the car with Adrian means for him. That same fear drives Adrian to basically kick out of the car the only person to show him some kind of kindness who didn’t previously know he was homosexual. Ultimately, they’ve created a cycle of fear, misinformation and denial, in which Adrian and Rotimi are the latest victims.

The Human Negligence of Reality

While I feel it is also in a way something that is an innate human characteristic, more than ever I see it recurring as a theme in Dog Days. I’m referencing the human condition of obsessing over self-appearance and how others may perceive you, whether it be positive or negative. For the most part, I feel this ignorance of reality and naivety goes a long way in explaining the master’s insecurities as well as the instability of Cameroon as a whole and the pervasiveness of their social, political and economic issues.

Voiced as complaints in a debate among men on page 132-133, comments are made such as, “Cameroon is doing just fine!” or, “Cameroon doesn’t have a history of political assassination.” Excuses are consistently made to forgive current conditions of living and society, part of the pattern of normalizing their status as we discussed earlier in class. Additionally, this condition plays into the explanation of how the Cameroonian government operated on some level. The government engagement in censorship through the ‘90s and then continued willingness to step in and control aspects of the media displays that same image problem. They become too worried with how they may be perceived.

This also provides some context early on to the dichotomy in character of the master’s son and his treatment of the canine narrator. He seems perfectly content at first and most of the time they have a very cordial owner-dog relationship, but will turn around and spew abusive vitriol at the dog as if it were an invasive species (2). The humans are more concerned with how others in the community will perceive them and their treatment of the dog, more so than reality. As is the case with most cases in their everyday lives, they choose to pretend reality does not exist, that poverty, corruption and unemployment do not exist, for the sake of hoping they look better off than others in their situation. It begs the question also about why they continue with the dog. I think it’s because of the need to show others that they can continue feeding more mouths than necessary in the house as a matter of making a point. Or maybe it’s more a companionship thing. If anyone else has a perspective on that, feel free to contribute. Ultimately though, the irony is that it seems the dog is the one creature who manages to live in reality and take every situation as it is.

Redecoration and oxygen supplies

For much of this class, we have discussed many of the erroneous assumptions and ignorant perspectives held by white Westerners in regards to what they think of every-day life in Africa. This thought really jumped out at me over the course of a couple pages roughly one third of the way through the novel. Specifically, it was the juxtaposition of two scenes that highlighted the discrepancies between the two societies and very different realities that the two races live in.

The section I am referring to is on pages 126 and 127. The first half depicts Adrian engaging in a fairly routine interaction with his family, his wife Lisa and daughter Kate. His topics of conversation on the phone include a reminder to shuttle Kate to her orthodontist appointment for the purpose of fixing a chipped tooth, as well as discussing a possible redecorating they may look at. The disengaged, monotonous tone used throughout indicates the boredom Adrian has with his life, his disregard for suspicious circumstances, but also in a way an ignorance with real-life problems that are revealed in the other half of this section on page 127. Adrian’s thought process follows trivial aspects of their conversation, such as when his wife gives an answer as to what she did the other night with, “Dinner the night before with some friends of theirs, some of whom had asked after him, had asked what he was doing.” Adrian’s mental response is that, “The way she reports this makes it clear she was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer,” (126). He also concerns himself with ordering certain texts from his bookshelves to be brought down. Obviously, these topics carry little substance or meaning, and the section itself seems a little randomly placed in the middle of the novel in Adrian’s narrative section. I feel that the main reason it’s here is to provide backdrop and a contrast for the following setting on page 127.

Adrian then begins conversations with Kai in the section following his memories from back home, describing the dire situations of a man in need of oxygen when there is none to be found. He makes comments such as, “In another country they would be looking for a lung donor. Impossible here, it goes without saying,” (127). He even notes that even if he himself found oxygen somewhere for Elias Cole, Elias would not rank high enough on the hierarchy of the meek to merit any. The drastic juxtaposition of this hospital scene with Adrian’s family memories give a stark perspective as to why white Westerners are often criticized so much. I really think Forna meant this as a criticism of the Western world, who often concern themselves with trivial issues that demonstrate their luxury, such as orthodontia, books and redecoration, as opposed to oxygen stocks, hospital conditions and the survival of patients. I don’t think that she really criticizes Adrian specifically and wishes to cast him in a negative light, simply inspire a self-reflection on the part of Westerners. I come away from this scene feeling pity toward Adrian more than anything. Feel free to discuss what your feelings for Adrian were after this, as this was what I was most conflicted about originally.

The Mirage of Free Press in the Congo

While the legacy of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is deemed mostly positive among democratic states across the globe, his reputation does remain cloudy, not necessarily because of dubious political policies, but for the most part because of the media portrayal of him during and after his term in office.

Even though the film Lumumba concentrates on his political exploits and the difficulties with the Belgian colonialists, Mubatu and the Katanga region, the role that the press and the Belgian-controlled media played in the removal from office and assassination of Lumumba is for the most part underplayed in the plot, with the exception of a few implications. Consistent throughout the film is the lack of blame directed toward that media, something I feel is a misstep by Raoul Peck and the makers of the film. Their role in the film seems almost completely symbolic.

Being aware of the presence of media controls and censorship during Lumumba’s years gives context and perspective to several reasons for the antagonism toward him and his government. This is particularly evident in the juxtaposition I think between a scene early on in Brussels when Lumumba disembarks his airplane for the conference on Congolese independence and is promptly greeted by throngs of smiling journalists inquiring about his arrival, the state of Congo, independence, his plans for the improvement of their political state, etc. In contrast, he disembarks a plane after his arrest to a dozen reporters rushing up to him to question his motives, the deterioration of the Congo and the details surrounding his arrest. The way I interpreted that second scene toward the end, Lumumba remained silent and answered no questions not simply because of his frustration with the situation and anger toward Kasavubu and the Katanga secessionists, but because he had lost hope in the press supporting his cause. At that point he was of the firm belief that whatever he said would most likely be twisted or ignored by a press corps controlled by the Belgians. After all, his arrest and assassination was aided by the Belgians as well as the CIA.

In fact, his last lines in the film are, “One day history will have its say. Not the history they teach in Brussels, Paris or Washington, but our history. That of a new Africa.”

In other words, he knows that among developed, Western nations, history (or the media) are determined by whatever is convenient to them.

The Irony Behind the Role of Feminism

The point I keep consistently returning to throughout the course of Things Fall Apart is the irony between the concepts of masculinity and feminism as are present in the minds of most people in Umuofia, especially by Okonkwo. Okonkwo, like the majority of his clansmen, places great value on the idea that the ideal leader is male, and the ideal male is someone strong (both literally and metaphorically), landed and charming. I feel that while this may not be the explicit intention of Achebe, he demonstrates the ultimate inaccuracy and irony of this statement through the failure and demise of many of such strong male figures and the alternative value on women in society as the actual strong figure in the hearth of the village.

         Okonkwo makes a point of saying starting very early on that he wants to avoid finding the same fate as his father as much as possible. The way I interpreted the first chapter, Unoka, Okonkwo’s father was poor of monetary value and property, but rich in heart and spirit. Unoka valued things like fellowship, merriness and music, all things that brought him inner peace (4). But Okonkwo doesn’t see this as happiness, because he measures happiness by success and popularity, something his father very much lacked. He constantly also belittles and ignores his biological son Nwoye, even questioning toward the end why it had to be him that had a son so effeminate and weak. Ultimately, Nwoye responds to a question about his father after converting religions with, “He is not my father,” (144). This in a way acts as the nail in the coffin for condemning the actions of Okonkwo as incorrect.

         The ultimate irony I find is the status of women in the village and in Ibo culture. They provide the real stability and heart of the Umuofia community, never flinching in the face of strife and war among the men. After his humbling and exile to his mother’s clan, Okonkwo is faced with the question of the importance of women in their community, a sort of reflection he has never seen before. Here is the interaction he has with his mother:

 

“ ‘So you see that you are a child. You have many wives and many children – more children than I have. You are a great man in your clan. But you are still a child, my child. Listen to me and I shall tell you. But there is one more question I shall ask you. Why is it that when a woman dies she is taken home to be buried with her own clansmen? She is not buried with her husband’s kinsmen. Why is that? Your mother was brought home to me and buried with my people. Why was that?’” (133-134).

 

The female is secretly extremely valuable to the continuation and survival of the community. The men and leaders fail to realize that, resulting in the demise of their community to colonialism. One point I can’t quite pin down is why Achebe allows the attacks on women by husbands, or what the point of that content is, but maybe we can answer that in class.