Author Archives: elizasalmon

Short Story: Belonging by Ben Okri

Belonging

The story that I read is entitled Belonging, by Ben Okri (hyperlinked above). We are brought into the sudden world of a man mistaken for a relative after unintentionally crashing a party. Rather than excusing himself, he steps into this unsustainable role, momentarily embracing the sensation of being one of many.

There are three pivotal moments: meeting the man he was mistaken for, being rejected and finding the destination he intended to go to in the first place. Upon viewing his mistaken self, the protagonist thinks: “He was, in the worst sense of the word, middle-aged; with no freedom, even to think independent thoughts.” How comical it is to hear this from a person with all the freedom from his true accumulated identity, momentarily independent from even himself.

Let’s just say his welcome to the gathering ended quickly, and with it a shift in attachments. He originally was to go to the only place he had left to go, to go visit his last ‘relation’ or relative.  The use of the word ‘relation’ here creates an abstraction of what blood ties really mean. From fake blood to real blood – what does it really signify?

These thoughts must have entered his mind as he left his momentary family, and passed by his true relation, “towards a life of [his] own.”

**Side note: this story was a blend of literary modes!! The biography of the author explains that it was what Okri deemed a ‘stoki’ – a mix of a haiku and a short story. I have yet to figure out the haiku component, so please comment if you can figure it out!!**

See more at: http://brittlepaper.com/2013/04/belonging-ben-okri/#sthash.gtpqmZCM.dpuf

~~Book Review~~

Hey folks! I decided to read a novel over break for my digital participation. The book is called Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera, a well-known author from Zimbabwe.

Here is my Amazon review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/RMLYAFP8HF69X/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0374291861&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

Apparently this novel was what brought Vera’s writing to “American readers for the first time.” The setting is in the {1940’s} African township of Bulawayo. The main character falls for a much older man, Fumbatha. I agree with another reviewer that there is minimal plot until the end, since most of the book is extremely detail oriented. By zooming in, Vera slows down time.

“Its done” continued…

“It’s done,” she thought as she scrubbed her husband’s back. What? What’s done?

We touched on this in class but ran out of time to ponder the possibilities. The woman wants to be there when they get a new house boy, she explains, revealing that she called the house when her husband was out.

“It’s done,” she said, for the first time hearing her own voice, and feeling the certainty within it.

Some classmates thought that she would end the relationship. “It’s done.”

Others thought she would move back, she being certain of the change. “It’s done.”

The newly found weight that rested within her words brought to her throat a sudden grasp of control. Of reality. No more pretending. No more imitation.

 

It’s done. This playing. His girlfriend. This or that fake love, according to her.

Within her words I translated them to be:

This is done. We will be a real couple. We will have something true. Whether you like it or not, your flings are over, and it’s time to get serious.

 

This chapter brings us this moment as a boiling over of the slow brewing search for what is real. From the masks to relationships, the wife protagonist is revealing this questioning.

Any remaining thoughts on this dynamic? Would you do the same if you discovered your partner was unfaithful, but you had an opportunity to continue faking it?

On the flip side – imagine what one would do as a ‘Big Man,’ – with a partner on another continent that you only see just a few months out of the year? These stories are true: one night my host mother in Ecuador cried to me that she knew her husband, a resident of Spain for 11 years, had a woman there. What can one say? Is it possible to salvage these relationships?

The struggle that comes after such time away seems too much to bear, but the unknown can be just as painful, as we have seen in ‘imitation.’

Yesterday’s yesterday

Yesterday? Someone asked the woman to confirm that was truly her name…

Yesterday giggled, replying that her father always thought yesterday was better than today.

We have not touched upon the idea of time in relation to Yesterday, and the deeper implications of her name as a theme within the movie. Bearing the label of a time that has always passed, never to return and unchangeable gives me the sense that the experience is like that of being in the present with your anchor hanging back behind. This name – Yesterday – implies strattleing the present, through living as a person within each moment, and past, through constant reminder – a sense of ‘looking back. With each frame within the movie there is a back story; the true ‘Yesterday’ of happiness, when the family was together and healthy. Each time that Yesterday would share her name with another – with a big smile – it seemed we were being reminded of what happened before, and what we cannot get back, but what we can joyfully remember. The sad truth is that by continuing on Yesterday and her family are becoming more and more distant from this past, and slowly crumbling.

Yesterday rests between two characters: her husband and her daughter, which bookend her loose sense and existence of time. On one end there is the husband, which seems to represent the black hole that Yesterday herself is falling down as she too grows ill. By holding onto her healthy past by mentally preparing herself to see her daughter through school is a move of Yesterday turning to herself, and turning to this meaning of yesterday. This meaning is one of looking back and holding onto the power and light that once shone.

On the other end is Beauty – another name which could be discussed – which represents the brighter past of Yesterday. Beauty’s mother never went to school, she recalls of her past, but her daughter will have a future unlike Yesterday’s yesterday. Our protagonist holds on to this ‘before’ through the support and weight of both her husband and her daughter.

The Constant Reminder

The laugh comes back to him, time and time again. It comes in the night, and at other unexpected moments, in his dreams – an echo of its pitch and timbre. But from the little girl it comes whole, pure and absolute. It is Nenebah. And in an instant the sound of that laugh can return Kai to a hillside overlooking the city eight years ago, to the moment following a lost joke, the playful bite during a morning’s embrace. (443)

The development of Kai throughout the novel is a measure of warmth; at first we are exposed to the serious and meticulous surgeon, and at last we see the father and lover within him. Unfortunately he lost his love – Mamakay – years before her death, but he endures – unknowingly placing himself in a position closest to his own memory of love. While taking on a child can be a heavy burden, the quote above shows us that Kai has the more desirable outcome between Mamakay’s lovers. While Kai can never have the real Mamakay, he can have the largest live piece of her that will ever continue to exist. The child is an answer to the man’s desire for agency – to express his love.

We are also left here with the sense that Kai has healed somewhat. He was always the man struck by painful nightmares and memories of violence, whereas now it is a “laugh that comes back to him […] in his dreams.” The child acts as an agent for the late Mamakay, healing Kai as her daughter grows to resemble her mother. While Adrian is distant and will live out the remainder of his life with a memory of love that could fragment with time, Kai has the child to bring forth his love as a father, and act as fuel for his own memory of love. We learn here that the memory of love can hurt, but the ability to fulfill a love can heal.

What do you think about Kai as the new father? How has your view of the character changed over the course of this novel? How has your understanding of love been influenced by the characters in The Memory of Love?

Unsettled distinction.

“’And then we ran back here so we wouldn’t have to look at what we had done.’
His right foot was buried past his ankle. I understood now why he was doing that.
‘How deep is this hole?’ he asked me.
‘Not very deep,’ I said.
He pulled his foot out of the ground and shook the dirt from his shoes.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s already more than they deserve.’” (234)
This passage is striking when one considers that these bodies are the dead of ‘their’ side, not the enemy – and that their fellow soldiers could not rest unless they buried them in their own village. The relationship that Isaac has to these bodies reflects self-hatred and search for distancing from the evil that war brings. Was he not, earlier that day, ‘with’ these men buried now beneath him? By scorning his troop’s actions he scorns himself, indirectly. The image of shaking dirt from his shoes reflects Isaac’s efforts to rid himself of the weight and ownership – metaphorical ‘dirt’ – that rests on his murderous consciousness. So quickly does he shift from being a part of a ‘we’ to placing them apart as ‘they.’ For in reality, he is still alive to make such a distinction. Does his hatred come from ‘their’ failure to make it through the violence? Does he see himself as better for surviving? Or does his expressed distaste shield a weakness and insecurity for what the next day… evening… or hour will bring? The end of the above passage is the final line in the chapter, resting within the reader’s brain. Isaac’s words do not sit well, not for you, me, him and presumably, the narrator. Both Isaac and the narrator lie on both sides of that grave; one who saw the events previous to their death, the other who was forced to face the bodies after death. Even if the action of the fighting remains at a distance from the narrator, one can sense the violence coming closer towards the forefront. What will be next?

As a lizard sheds its tail…

I was struck by the notion of Umuofia (the village) as the protagonist, and one who both helps and puts to ruin the male warrior, Okonkwo. This is the development of a relationship that grows and bursts into a tragic sorrow of disconnection, fear, and betrayal…

 

At the start, he was supported by her. She followed him, and this reinforced his strength.

On the first page of the novel, we learn that the male figure is respected in nine local villages and “even beyond.” After throwing the Cat his fame had only “grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan.”

But as time passed the relationship tumbled, with Okonkwo being challenged by this greater being.

“Umuofia has decided to kill [Ikemefuna]” (57), his beloved son.

Rather than following the direction placed before him by an elder warrior Ezeudu (to not kill the boy), he went with the influential swarm of emotion coming from his village.

“Dazed with fear,” he oblidged to follow the demand for the boy’s death, even though he knew it was not right.

When Ezeudu the elder passed, by a twist of fate Okonkwo was rejected by the village, setting the relationship on a different path.

“The only course open” for Okonkwo was to leave, but those that made up the village “had no hatred in their hearts against” him.  

But he would never forget her, and longed for years to return, bitter that he was not who he could have been.

Okonkwo feels that “he would have climbed to the utmost heights” with Umuafia, (162) but does she feel the same?

He felt barely noticed by her. “A man’s place was not always there, waiting for him.” (171)

When he returned she had changed – grown weak in his eyes – and their relationship was not as strong.

Umuofia was “barely recognizable” to him (183).

When tested, his efforts to represent and protect her were not supported, and she questioned him.

“He heard voices saying, ‘Why did he do it?’” (205)

At that moment he knew he could not live to watch her turn her back on him.

{If you have not read the ending, I won’t spoil it!}

The village, when seen as Okonkwo’s greatest love who betrays him, reinforces the novel as a tragedy. Okonkwo makes the mistake of living for this greater force, or the idea of it, and loses touch with his true self, and what his home has become. The village changes around him, as he remains static, and stuck in his ways of action and anger. Would there be a different outcome, had he stayed in the village for those lost seven years?