Author Archives: kschultz22
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:
The story, Mist of Bitterness, is about a woman who is in a difficult when she finds out that her son has sickle cell disease. When she first met her husband, Odinkaru, she became pregnant with his child but she later had problems with the pregnancy and had to have an emergency abortion. Because of this abortion she is no longer able to have children. Even after they get married, she does not tell Odinkaru because she knows that he will leave her. To avoid this, she decides to get fertility drugs and buy maternity clothes to pretend she is pregnant. She then adopts babies to make it look like she was still getting pregnant. Her plan is going great until her third child, Chiwetalu, is diagnosed with the genetic disease, sickle cell. This diagnosis forces her into the predicament of having to finally tell Odinkaru the truth. I thought this story was interesting but I wish it would have been longer so I would have been able to find out whether she told her husband or not and what his reaction was.
In her collection of short stories, Chimamanda Adichie does something that is quite ironic. Typically in American books, short stories and movies, when an African character is presented, they are presented with all of the stereotypes of Africans. In movies, African men are seen as very angry men who always carry around large guns; women are shown in small villages weaving baskets; and of course the children are always portrayed with “pot-bellies”. Through Adichie’s short stories, she reveals the stereotypes of Americans, especially women.
One passage that really stood out to me is in regards with the typical characteristics of an American mother and how they treat their children. In the story, “On Monday of Last Week,” Adichie critique’s how parents, especially mothers, care for their children through Kamara. After getting of the phone with Neil, she thinks about how American parenting in a nutshell is constantly worrying about the health and safety of the child. Though not directly, Adichie presents the attitude towards Americans that just because their child has a full stomach they have time to obsessively worry about little sicknesses that in reality are nothing to worry about. The “sated belly” she talks about is a symbol for security. If a child is full, then this means the family must be living a comfortable life. This is also a comment on the stereotype that when an African child is shown as very thin in a movie or in a commercial asking for donations, he or she must live a very hard life, when in reality this assumption in many cases is not true. Adichie also comments on the fact that in America it is now seen as a major accomplishment if parents are able to raise their children well. Where in Africa, and as it should be all around the world, parents are expected to instill good values in their children, thus it is the norm for children to be raised well by their parents. Kamara says that it bothers her how women go on television and brag about how much they love their babies. Understandably, this is because Kamara believes it is not an achievement to love your children, but the expectation that you would do so.
In general Adichie’s main point in all of her stories, but more specifically in “On Monday of Last Week,” is that while Americans are judging and stereotyping the lifestyles of Africans for so much violence and not enough development in countries, Americans have begun to lose simple values. One of these values is to love your child unconditionally without seeing it as a major achievement.
Throughout the story of Welcome to Our Hillbrow there is mention of witches in Hillbrow and Tiragalong. The most significant part of the novel is when the narrator is describing the burial of Refentse:
“…when your mother slipped and fell into your grave on that hot Saturday morning of your burial. As Tiragalong believed, only witches could fall into a corpse’s grave on burial. Medicine men had confirmed that…such things only happened to witches after they had bewitched the deceased…”
This scene shows some of the beliefs revolving around witch craft in South Africa that is actually still seen today. As in the United States during the Salem Witch Trials, there has always been a stigma around those are believed to be witches. Many times they are blamed for anything that goes wrong in a village or town, as Refentse’s mother is blamed for his suicide. I found these beliefs to be interesting so I decided to do some research on the current presence of witch craft in South Africa.
One major aspect to point it which I think is shown in the novel is that most of the witch craft accusations are aimed at women. Unfortunately this has led to the mutilation of young girls. Another aspect that is brought up in the novel, espiciallly with the description of the burial is that witches are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the lives of those in the rural areas.
To help stop the violent attacks on women, or anyone thought to be witches, the South African government made it illegal to accuse anyone of doing witchcraft with the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957. Something I find interesting is that South African President Jacob Zuma said that during the Apartheid era he used witchcraft on white people, giving them powers of witchcraft. There has also been evidence of more witchcraft in rural areas during political changes in the country. In many rural areas, body parts are taken for magical or healing uses. This, which is called muti, is illegal in South Africa, yet the country has seen many murders as a result of this practice. In fact the province of Limpopo saw a death toll of 250 in just one year from muti murders. Hospitals have actually been accused of storing body parts that were taken in the manner of a muti. Witchdoctors are still used as a way for people to get medical attention, as Yesterday did in the film.
Just like the AIDS crisis, witchcraft is a problem in South Africa that has been masked by the Apartheid era.
Throughout the novel I began to dislike Elias Cole more and more. Because of this I thought it was actually comical how his role in the death of Julius paralleled his own slow death at the end of the novel. When Elias is in his cell he hears Julius struggling to breathe because he is having an asthma attack and does not have his inhaler. Instead of telling anyone about it, he just leaves Julius there to die, even handing over his notebooks which he knows will prove Johnson’s case against Julius. This is ironic because once Elias is older and is in the hospital where Adrian works, he is dying from respiratory problems, but does not have much access to the breathing machine he needs to keep him alive longer.
One line from the paragraph in which Elias is describing how he let Julius to die alone is the sentence, “We were in an unforgiving place” (409). I found this line to be both ironic and foreshadowing Elias’s own death. This sets up the fact that he dies from respiratory problems because he let Julius die from an asthma attack (a respiratory condition). What I do not find clear is if Elias realizes this connection himself and that is why Aminatta Forna has him say it as some hidden self-realization, or she was just trying to emphasize the idea that in Sierra Leone at that time whatever a person did or said always came back to haunt him or her, as did Elias’s actions. Another aspect that is ironic about how this statement relates to the situations in the novel is that Elias says this to help him make his case as to why he did not get help for Julius, but in the end the sentence gives reason to why he later suffers from respiratory problems himself; he was never forgiven for allowing Julius’s death to happen, therefore his actions came back to haunt him. The ironies in the deaths of Elias and Julius add to the idea of The Memory of Love as a melodrama.
Dinaw Mengestu carries out the significance of the title, All Our Names, throughout the novel. One way in which he does this is through his characterizations of “Langston” or “Isaac”, Helen, and Isaac, and by how many names they have. “Langston” or “Professor” or “Isaac”, for instance is called many names throughout the novel which reflects his characteristic of being a wanderer and having no place to really call home. Helen has had the same name since birth and has also lived in the same small town of Laurel her entire life. Isaac, although we never learn of his birth name, asks to be called “Isaac” throughout the novel and feels at home in Kampala.
“Isaac”, or “Langston”, definitely has the most names in the story by far. He mentions that at birth he was given thirteen names due to tradition, yet gives them all up when he moves to the capital for the name “Langston”. Isaac also decides to give him the names, “Professor” and “Ali” before finally giving him the name, “Isaac Mabiro”, a combination between Isaac’s name and Joseph’s name. The instability of his name correlates with the fact that he feels there is no place for him and is always being directed what to do by Isaac or Helen. “Langston” lives in many different places during the novel but never feels any attachment to them. When he is evicted from his apartment after being beaten, he does not feel sad about it. As Helen points out, during his time in the United States, he does not make himself at home in his own apartment. She describes his apartment as having no life, stating that there were only eggs and butter in the refrigerator. The temporariness of “Langston” or “Issac’s” name represents the lack of stability in his life.
In contrast to “Langston”, Helen and Isaac both keep the same name throughout the novel and live generally stable lives. Helen has lived in the same town since birth and Isaac knows that Kampala is the place he is meant to live. Unlike, “Langston” who is generally unsure of himself in everything he does, Isaac always knows exactly what he is going to say or do and Helen holds a job that she goes to daily, thus she lives a predictable life. Helen and Isaac, in addition to “Langston”, help carry out the significance of the theme of names throughout the novel.
The significance of the title, Nervous Conditions, can be seen throughout the novel, including the very first paragraph. One recurring event that displays this significance is the arguments between Nyasha and her father, Babamukuru. Each and every time Nyasha begins to disobey her father, not only do the characters in the story begin to feel nervous but we, the readers, do as well. Tsitsi Dangarembga is able to achieve this through the way Tambu describes Babamukuru through out the book. Because of Tambu’s detailed descriptions of Babamukuru, the reader knows that anyone who does something against his strong values, or what he says in general, will anger Babamukuru. This knowledge allows the reader to know that the second Nyasha acts in a way that is against what Babamukuru values in a decent girl or woman, his anger will take over.
The main argument between Nyasha and Babamukuru, which sets the tone for all of the following arguments, begins on page 114, when Babamukuru asks Nyasha why she came home so late from the dance. As Nyasha talks back to her father more and more, the anxiety begins to build. When she exclaims, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” (115), Babamukuru becomes furious and the situation becomes nerve racking for everyone involved. After this exclamation, Tambu describes the conditions:
The atmosphere in that room was growing hostile, the communication tangential. Voices were rising and threatening to break. Scrambling out of bed I knew I had to do something, because you could see that they were out for each other’s blood. I woke up Maiguru, did not have to explain much because we could hear them accusing each other and retaliating, condemning bitterly and stubbornly resisting, all the way down the passage. Maiguru climbed out of bed, and put on her dressing-gown and slippers, muttering all the while about her nerves and how the inmates of her house would be the death of her…(115)
This last passage exhibits the nervous conditions of this argument and situation, bringing in the significance of the title. The first sentence directly reveals the anxiety of the moment, but the language that is used, such as scrambling out of bed and muttering all the while about her nerves, gives even further insight into the mood from Tambu and Maiguru, who are not actually apart of the conflict. Dangarembga even has Tambu include that Maiguru was complaining about her nerves.
Though there are many arguments that follow this one, the language that Tambu uses to describe this particular situation, and the dialogue between Babamukuru and Nyasha, reveal the significance of the title, Nervous Conditions.