The Audience Must Say Amen – Peter Kagayi.

On Tuesday, June 6, 2017 Peter Kagayi and his friends staged a performance they titled The Audience Must Say Amen. This is Raymond Lule’s impression of the experience.

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I have been present at all of Peter Kagayi’s poetry production The Audience Must Say Amen, from the very first time, at the launch of his debut poetry collection at the National theatre, to the most recent one, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala. If there’s any I missed, then, I just wasn’t invited. I won’t claim to have been taking keen observation of the changes, if any, in the production since then, but I can identify some of them.

The first time The Audience Must Say Amen was staged at the National theatre, it could easily be called a one-man show. And, that’s exactly what it was. Before this memorable event in the history of poetry in this country, other poets had dared themselves to recite or perform their poems for a period of utmost two hours, and avail a published collection of their work, for those who managed. This happened at the National theatre still, under a poetry platform called The Poetry Shrine. The platform, which got its name “Shrine” because of the hut in which the shows were held, was being managed by Peter Kagayi himself, and a small circle of like-minded friends.

When Kagayi stepped on stage that day of his book launch, he was taking a shot at something he had helped other fellow poets accomplish. This was supposed to be tough, because he had made a name for himself in our small, but growing poetry community as a remarkable performer. But, that was “Kagayi and friends”. He had to do more, to reach for the sun and still stay alive, to go for the peak of poetry performance – the one-man show.

For most of the previous performances, Kagayi did the reciting and the performing, the dramatization of his work. The people who helped him were selected for simple “supporting” roles like dancing behind a projector-screen as the performance for the poem Nightmares, or reading news for the poem The Headline That Morning.

For his most recent show, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala, however, it felt, sounded, and looked like a completely new piece of work. Despite what has always happened at his – Peter Kagayi’s – previous shows, like the “mandatory” utterance of the word Amen by the audience, what was happening on stage was a reproduction of what most of us had experienced before.
The people Kagayi was performing with mere not mere props but well-built characters with individual powerful stories to tell, and with the ability to have just as much effect on the audience as the main act himself.
The production took a form of a play. Most of the scenes were conversational enough to keep all the characters alive throughout the entire show, and to not bore the audience with the usual uninterrupted recital of poetry.
I believe what set this particular show apart is that us, the audience, could tell that all the performers were enjoying themselves, and not just maintaining a certain posture or movement so they don’t forget the next line they are supposed to say.

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I remember the conversation I had with Alexander Twinokwesiga as we took the same taxi from Kamwokya to the old taxi park. It was about maturity: of the artist, mostly, and then, of course, of the performance of his work. We also shared a couple of bitter words for people not recording videos of such shows for the purposes of better documentation, and archiving for future reference.

In fact, on telling anyone who did not attend, about how the show was, we both agreed that pictorial evidence would not be enough to tell the story as it was. Here we were, two poetry lovers, going back to our homes with all the courage to say, even if nobody asks, that the poetry in our own country has grown. We were proud. We were satisfied. We said Amen with all our hearts.

Dear Philomena – Mugabi Byenkya.

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Dear Philomena is a story of pain, suffering, torment, brokenness, stepping into a dark pit of the unknown, and, just as you are about to disappear, someone pulls you back. This someone doesn’t just appear out of the blue, they were there with you all the time. Through the pain and suffering, they held your hand, and their presence detected your final steps into that dark pit of unknowns and they were on hand to pull you back.

Imagine going through something that you are almost unable to explain, or, imagine you seeing dead people (literally). You try to explain to those around you, but either; (a) they think you have finally lost your marbles, (b) they pretend for a while that they see them too, just to humour you perhaps till they get wary of the ghost stories, (c) they hang around long enough to prove to you that you need help (except they won’t be the ones to offer you the help, but know a doctor friend of a cousin married to a sister of a guy you met 5years ago on an international flight, whose card you might or might not have but will check), (d) there at the brave ones who tell you straight away there are no such things as ghosts. But, there is that one person, she hangs around long enough to almost take on your pain, they see the dead people with you, or, for the sake of your mentality, they accept that indeed there are dead people right there in front of you and they see them too.

Dear Philomena is a testament of friendship through the good and really ugly, the sort of ugly some wish on their worst enemies. The good is there, but overshadowed by the plain ugly. You may be led to believe it is the story of a boy and a girl (we love these kinds of stories), except, it is not about that kind of boy or that kind of girl.

One could choose to read Dear Philomena from the point of the relationship between Mugabi and Philo as I fondly came to name her while reading the book. It is a long-distance relationship, the kind that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have over the phone, in Sleepless In Seattle, but without the mushy stuff. If you were to take away Mugabi’s pain, the endless visits to doctors, the frustrations, the anger, pain, behind it you witness a beautiful long-distance friendship. Though at one point you may choose to see it as a relationship, because you want to believe these two will end up together or were together at some point and one had to move away.

Through the excruciating pain, Philomena is at Mugabi’s side, though not physically, but she is there in spirit. He cannot explain his condition and neither can the doctors, but it stems from a childhood stroke he had, coupled, perhaps, with the trauma of losing his father. The strokes keep coming, he goes on a pillage (pilgrimage of all sorts of medications, traditional and conventional), through all sorts of therapy, trial experiments, sleepless nights. He, at one point, is rendered disable which surprise doctors cannot explain. He has the kind of friends who think he is making it up (including doctors), they diagnose it as being “in his head”, and recommend therapy, the list of friends dwindles down, he is not “fun” to have out with because of his phantom illness, they too grow wary.

He has those who stick around, the ones who say I am with you, I sympathise with you, I am here if you need anything. And then there is Philomena. She almost wears his pain, across the distance, she takes on a second skin, Mugabi’s skin, so she can be there with him to almost carry this cross with him, though it’s not possible.

Reading Dear Philomena, I am reminded of the value of family, and relationships that go with it, relationships with our siblings. Mugabi is living away from his native Uganda, his father is gone, his mother is back “home” and he is living in a different country with his siblings. Some people going through this might choose to return “home”, get treated by family or even taken to a pastor to pray healing into you!

Mugabi stays in the US, his siblings rally around him, especially his sister. She almost takes on the mother role, she attends the doctors’ appointments, monitors his medication, that one point she is able to advise of a medication that had previously had negative effects on her brother. While we don’t read much about Mugabi’s sister, we are left to imagine this bond held between the siblings, they lean on each other.

Reading Dear Philomena in a way makes one feel like they are doing “lugambo”, which in Luganda translates into gossip. We are in essence listening in or rather reading in on these conversations between Mugabi and Philomena, we are eavesdropping in on their communications and during the moments that we are not, the phone calls that we are only told the duration of, even these phone calls, we try to string together and let our imagination run wild. What did they talk about, are their calls interrupted, and who in this day and age has hour long conversations – think of the phone bill (regardless of the popularity of the paaka paaka or tokota business), and, seriously, didn’t we stop having these long calls back in high school?

Nevertheless, these conversations give us a further glimpse into the relationship of Philo and Mugabi, how intertwined their lives are. We are invited into their past, their history and their present, of Philomena’s journey through nursing school to qualifying. At a point, they appear to be having brother and sister conversations, this shifts to what could be perceived as “lovers in conversation”, and then friends. They fill each other in on their days, their lives, milestones, and even love lives, at least Philomena’s love life. She shares with us (with Mugabi) the dates she goes on, and her crushes. We almost want that she goes on these dates with Mugabi and not other guys because clearly they are both just meant to be. But, he never asks her, although he remains supportive. He remains a true friend ready to hear about her dating life and offer advice. We never quite know if Mugabi eventually gets the help he needs, if he gets better or is eventually put on a treatment regime that will see him get better.

The book just ends abruptly, though if it were to continue, I am not sure how the story would unfold. Would Mugabi return to Uganda to seek “alternative” treatment, would he move to the same state as Philomena, return to school, or would the doctors find out what’s “wrong” with him? A very interesting read, highly recommended.

Dear Philomena is written by Mugabi Byenkya, and published, in 2017, by Discovery Diversity Publishing. This review of it is written for Turn The Page by Laureene Ndagire. The title is available for ordering and delivery on our online bookshop and in all our points of sale in Kampala (Orangepine Reading Space and Bookpoint Uganda) for pick up.

Season Of Crimson Blossoms – Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Associations. When I put the book down, a little of Oedipus Rex came to mind, a little of Romeo and Juliet, a little of A Thousand Splendid Suns. However despite all the remembrances, the book was a new shocking but captivating story that explored the associations of ethnicity, religion, politics and sexuality.

The story’s movement is always in the background of Northern Nigeria even though it is mainly centred in central Nigeria where you are brought into the intersection of the lives of Binta Zubairu and Hassan aka ‘Reza’, an uncanny association seeing as the latter is a street thug thirty years the junior of the former, a widow of fifteen years.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s introduction, even while itself speaking of a puddle, introduces you into the puddle of politics, religion and love in Northern Nigeria. It’s an unfortunate history, that of the endless variance between Nigeria’s two foremost religions Christianity and Islam and this book shows you the likeness of its effects on the people who live in its hot zones – Maiduguri but most importantly, Jos.

The violence and loss that Binta and her family experience in Jos is what leads her to the fringes of Abuja- Mararaba, to be exact. There, for a while of about 15 years, she settles with her niece Fai’za and granddaughter Ummi with occasional visits from her remaining children who include, Hureira, the hot tempered and Munkaila the well to-do.

The best thing about this book to me is the synchronous growth of the characters with the history of the country and how each individual character tries to deal with all these forces placed on them.

Binta and Reza’s story are the limelight. Their relationship riding on the fact that each of them had troublesome relationships with their corresponding relations – Binta and her strained relationship with Yaro, her first son whose name tradition could not let her speak, Reza, whose mother was a prostitute working in Jeddah.

Somehow fate works to bring them together to fill the roles of the people they needed most. At the beginning when I spoke of Oedipus, it kept ringing at the back of my mind. What if the Binta just wanted her first son back? What if Reza simply wanted his mother? The circumstances that bring them together create an unusual relationship which is consummated.

Yet those are not the only things affecting these two characters. There is that Mallam Haruna fellow who because of some unusual attraction to the widow uncannily calls curtains on the whole affair. The manner that Abubakar presents Haruna makes you loathe him. You wonder what his mission in life is.

Yet he’s not the only one that affects the relationship between Binta and Reza. There is the issue of the politicians, pulling the strings, using and disposing of people as they please. Like the Senator boss. When you read this story and look at this man, you somewhat feel helpless as a normal citizen. If the works are being controlled by a few older, well connected, well sourced people, what hope is there for the younger and the poorer not connected to them?

Fai’za’s story speaks to a lot of things. The one particular thing that spoke to me was the pervasion of homegrown art and literature in Nigeria. Her crush on Nigerian star actor Ali Nuhu, her consumption of Soyayya novels which are steadily delivered by her friends showcase this and in a small way show us why Nigeria’s art is big on the continent.

The sadder part of Fai’za’s story is her “sepia dreams”. The ethnic politics of the country led to her loss of a beloved brother Munkaila, whose face, as time goes on, she forgets and is drawn into near madness. A budding artist who uses art to vent, forgetting Munkaila’s face becomes problematic.

There are noble characters in the book, such as Ustaz Nura whose approach to religion is that of a continual cleansing such that there is little room for condemnation or judgement. There is a deeply engaging part of this book as regards religion/spirituality.

At the beginning of the tale, Az Zahabi’s “The Major Sins” is a highlight on Binta’s table but her indiscretions somehow lead to a time when it’s at the bottom of a pile of books. Binta is religious but struggles deeply with this attraction to Reza. It’s unwitting that all the while even in her sin, her consciousness of sin but her helplessness to prevent it is present.

The book is quite a journey. The characters are deeply human and are deeply present with you. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in the gang controlled San Siro, or the Senator’s plush residence drinking tea just for the fun of it. You realise humanity is both wicked and desperately trying to be righteous. Questions posed are whether we become who we are because of our circumstances and this book pretty much agrees to this, for very few of the characters are driven by a pure need to be good.

There’s so much to chew on this volume. So much to say yet inexhaustible but for sure, it does give me a clearer picture of Nigeria and makes me sad about the intricacies of life and makes me wonder, that stranger you passed by today, do you even have a clue how complex their life could be, beyond that smile or that hijab or that key swinging?

It was a compelling read.

This paperback version of Season Of Crimsom Blossoms is published, in April 2017, by Cassava Republic. The image is a Google one. The title is not yet avaibale on our online bookshop, but copies of it can be ordered for by contacting us by way of e-mail (turnthepageafrica@gmail.com), or through our social media channels (@TTPAfrica).

Ndyamuhaki – Dr. Edward Kanyesigye.

Dr. Edward Kanyesigye, the author of Ndyamuhaki.

As avid readers, we know clearly how to a judge a book. Sometimes we flirt with the idea of looking at the cover or the precise memories punctuated richly therein. Many a time, we simply look out for tales through mountains and valleys that serve as a potential impetus to their storytelling.

Dr. Edward Kanyesigye (also known as Ned) is affirmative in the act of sharing such tales in Ndyamuhaki. It is closely interwoven by relations with his friends and family in his motherland, Uganda. The book is also laced with memoirs of his childhood up until this year 2017 when he recently turned a tender age of 65 years.

In his book, Ned majorly shares his life experiences in education, Uganda’s health sector and political atmosphere that feature Amin, Obote, and president-elect Museveni.
With the trained eye of a reader, is a clear sight of how Ned rides through the streets of unbridled passion. He asserts his thesis as “the rural poor had only one salvation: to read and work hard and succeed in life.” This becomes his gospel truth after gloomy mishappenings which deprive the family of their father’s presence. This was followed by an extension of life under a single parent. He gives a deep insight of his primary school-days especially highlighting Primary Four Class.

He joins the school among schools for his secondary as he describes the times there as grueling years, especially during the national exam period. He gains favour with his teachers and because impressions trump experience, he is accorded roles at school even with microscopic experience. He forms close ties at Makerere University as the reality of medical school-days dawn on him. He is also promoted through the ranks as he displays his multi-faceted skills until one fateful day when these skills serve as a double-edged sword that cost him his accounting job.

On a lighter note, he shares how true it is for unlike poles to attract. This is a tale of his lovebird Roselyn, with a sanguine temperament as compared to his industrious character. They later wed in their hometown, Mbarara district before a coup d’état motivates their move to Kabale.

Ned explores diverse opportunities in the health sector in as much as the explorations were not smooth sailing as he traverses corners of the world such as America and Australia with His family among other places. He also rubs shoulders with influential heads of state and he eventually holds the office of President in various chapters of his life after university. After 26 years of public service, Ned retires and joins AMREF before unavoidable circumstances force him to quit. Even after His cheese is moved, he is rewarded by living out a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Ned executed justice in Chapter 12 as he tells how “nothing beats friends” and invites us on a journey of this truth by evaluating close ties he established in spite of the fact that some of them have fallen and now rest in eternal peace.

This captivating memoir is summed up as Ned tells how his cup has overflowed and He cannot thank the Lord enough for His greatness hence the title of his book Ndyamuhaki inspired by a popular Rukiga hymn.

This review was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Mugabi Patsy.

Kizi Kiza – Samson “Xenson” Ssenkaba.

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The cover image of Samson “Xenson” Ssenkaba’s collection of both Luganda and English written poems; KiziKiza.

Kizikiza: Darkness. Kizikiza: Doom. Kizikiza: Dystopia. Kizikiza: Barbarism.

 

The Ganda people of Uganda normally approach kizikiza (darkness/night) with fear and caution. Obudde nga buvuddeko ensonyi is when burglars, murderers, wizards, apparitions, and many others roam about all corners of the quiet world looking for victims or making their presence known.

 

Night, is also a time when a man’s innermost pains are closest to the heart. It’s a time of thoughtful reflection or fiery merriment. In religious context, darkness breeds sin since it creates a delusion of not being watched by a god, a time of freedom that ought to be relished. Now, think of unending darkness.

 

Here is what the foreword has to say about the shift from daytime to night-time, and how it’s related to the poems in this collection:

 

Obudde buzibye

enjuba egenze

Enzikiza ekutte

Mubanga lyensi

 

English translation:

 

Night is here

The sun has fled

the world

Darkness rules now

 

The first poem in the collection, Laddu (thunder), uses the striking nature of thunder itself to tell how darkness “stalks” a being until it seizes them at the last strike. There are two situations when thunder strikes: before the rain falls, and/or after. If we think of it striking after a rainfall, then the rain is like a warning before the actual warning (the initial strike of thunder), like the look an elder gives you when they know you are aware of the danger you are putting yourself into but are choosing to be obstinate.

 

What Samson Ssenkaba does in his poetry collection, Kizikiza, is to stand under a spotlight and talk to people he does not see. He hopes to refract the light to the audience, except that there’s no instant connection between them, like a street preacher and aloof passengers. But, that is not his concern.

 

He feels, in poems, such as Mpandule (should I spit? – a verse or a rhyme) and Obalabye (Have you seen them?), like he’s having a conversation with them, and he’s enjoying it. Obalabye (which is rhetorical) as a word is disapproving. It’s often used during condemnation of a shameless act. When used, it (sarcastically) pokes fun at the listener’s “blindness”. And the person who says it is not in a safe place either. Here, the poet, the speaker of Obalabye, is at the centre of the oblivion that question comes with.

 

In the poem, Kintu, for example, the sudden resurrection of Kintu (the first Ganda man) is seen as a moment of self-examination, a restoration of light to the world. Kintu plays his role as a character capable of triggering emotion, as a man of reverence, a saviour, and as a point for reference for morality and good conduct. Good conduct, yes. I like to think that the poet hopes Kintu would not be enraged by the scene he finds (of bamukwata mmundu / ne baton mu taano / city bagyetolodde / babunye buli kanyomero). He hopes he would not throw himself into a frenzy because his safety is not guaranteed. The guns aren’t protecting the people. Rather creating fear.

 

Half of the first stanza of Kintu goes like:

 

Fumitiriza omuntu

eyatusooka Kintu

singa Kintu

addamu ofuuka omuntu

n’atuuka mu katundu

wakati mu city

nga bamukwata mmundu

ne baton mu taano

city bagyetolodde

babunye buli kanyomero.

 

English translation:

 

Let’s assume Kintu

the first man came

to life once more and

suddenly appeared

in the heart of the

city and he found

policemen at all

corners holding

guns and batons

 

In Bulo (blow), which was released as a rap song in the early 2000s, the common man cannot be satisfied with justice unless he’s the one who gives it. He should, as the writer implies, “take the law in his own hands.” And there’s joy in doing so. The rhythmic “Muwe Bulo, dish dish / Mwongele Bulo, dish dish / Omuwe Bulo, dish dish” is both inciting and invigorating, like a slogan chanted by a posse comitatus during an uprising or any other march against oppression.

 

Kizikiza, the last poem in the collection, and the one that shares a name with the collection, is also the longest, covering five pages. Its character, Zzirya, “touches” multiple subjects like one who’s fumbling (in kizikiza). Although he starts by praising himself for being the voice of the timid, he

quickly moves on to exploring darkness as being a hotbed for poverty, disease, corruption, murder, and others. However, the lament isn’t just lashing out at society. It also gives advice on proper living. At one point, he’s telling the underage to stay away from sexual intercourse, and another he’s reminding married men to stick to their wives.

 

Away from the dark poems are those like Mumbejja and Kafuluness that touch aspects like love (of a Princess and of oneself).

 

One of the failures of Kizikiza as a collection are its inability to trace out (on paper) the trail of the vices it strongly denounces. If the society was to fix the glitches in its present make up, I believe it would have to revisit the past somehow. The other problem is letting the collection infect the public with the malady of poorly written Luganda. It’s an inexcusable crime.

KiziKiza is self-published, by Samson Senkaba a.k.a Xenson. Copies are available for purchase, and delivery worldwide, via Turn The Page’s online bookshop.

This review is written, for Turn The Page, by Raymond Lule.

Flame And Song – Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa.

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The cover image of Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa’s Flame And Song.

Reading Flame And Song is an emotional experience, and I found myself hooting with laughter, before wiping away unbidden tears. The author writes in a way that draws you in, and demands that you feel the way she feels, every step of the way. I had a difficult time putting it down, even when I had so many other things to do. Rather than a mere recount of a life, it is a history book as seen through the eyes of a real person, one who lived between the pages.

The author, having been born soon after Uganda attained her independence, brings to life the experiences of Uganda. First, there is the calm before the storm – soon after independence, the quiet organized life of a civil servant’s young family. This soon escalates into the chaos of the Idi Amin days. You will find that her apprehension fills your gut as you read about the close calls they had with the mercurial and brutal authorities. When the family flees into exile, you will have the privilege of moving with the author to different foreign lands, and, later, experience the sweet euphoria of coming home. The chapter about loss will, sadly, leave you heartbroken, having a hard time saying goodbye to the people that have now become loved characters.

I loved the book for its intricate weaving of sweet poetry with simple flowing prose. In some ways, it is an anthology with long explanatory notes. In others, it is a group of stories that transitions into poems when the emotion gets visceral. I had high expectations when I discovered that the author was born to Henry Barlow, the poet known most for “Building the Nation”. After reading this book, Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa is, indeed, her father’s daughter, despite the surname difference.

Even more profound, is the “child-like” manner in which the story is told. It is evident that the author maintains her memories in pristine form, the years of hardships unable to wipe away the happy times. So, you will find yourself growing with her from the protected and loved child to the woman she later becomes.

In many ways, the book is political: showing the lived experiences of ordinary people living through the changing times. As a memoir, it has the power of truth behind it to pass across important messages like care for the disabled and the debilitating state of healthcare in Uganda.

I would highly recommend this book, and I think it is all the encouragement we need to immortalize our own stories by writing them down.

This review of Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa’s Flame And Song is prepared by Ophelia Kemigisha for Turn The Page. Flame And Song is a 2017 publication, by Sooo Many Stories. It is available on Turn The Page’s online bookshop for distribution and delivery worldwide.

The Love Potion – Poetry Potion.

A love potion is termed as a substance (a brew or one close to alcohol) which when taken causes infatuation or obsession towards the person from whom it was received. In worse cases, a love potion is likened to an aphrodisiac, a substance made with or containing ingredients that intensify or arouse sexual desire.

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The cover image of The Love Potion.

In the first poem in the collection, Hand in Hand, Charl Landsberg to the side of the world where a certain kind of love is abominable. Landsberg is passionate about LGTBQI issues, as stated in his biography. The two people (whose gender isn’t clear) in the poem are involved in a relationship that makes them liable to a haul of slurs, “judging glares”, or even worse, a lynching. The play, drama, movie, dance, or whatever had taken people to the theater, despite not being mentioned by the poet, could be responsible for influencing the views of the majority.

I think that, sometimes, the pleasures art gives aren’t because of its truthfulness or marvelous conveyance of spirit but because of how it justifies the ways of those who find it emotionally satiating. If we try to estimate the time between “we arrived quite early for the show” and “we walked through that crowded theater hall” we can get closer to understanding the fate of the couple in the poem, and the moral stand of the society. The word “quite” is like a halt, an indication of fear, the body’s way of saying no.

Most of the poems that come after Hand In Hand deal with a tormenting inability to move on from being the bearer of feelings.

In Life, Motena Tintswalo writes;

I guess what we have is a love-hate relationship.
Sometimes I wish I could close my eyes and never see you again.

When we think of a love potion, we think of it as “induced blindness” (taken from the phrase love is blind). But here, the act of closing one´s eyes, if it weren´t merely a lingering wish, would mean suicide to one´s own body and hence death to love feelings too. It seems as though love and death go together; that in some instances one has to first die to understand the pains of love. This reminds me of Men Die When They Fall in Love, a poem I wrote a few years ago.

Ravona writes in her poem Love Hurts that:

What knows a bleeding heart
than to love.
All I know is your love made my nose run red and my body dead.

Then there are other poems where love and its pain lead to adaption or the evolution of a new being like in Analgesia by Ashraf Booley:

Pain numbs pain;
razor-blades and minora blades
bandage bleak memories
etched across blood-blotched skin-
where sagacity has gone astray.

Two poems in the collection are concerned with the unannounced “departure” of love and the judgment of its lifespan, as a living thing or “being”.

Menzi Maseko´s On My Own tells of a time when love´s charm outlives the mortality of a people´s beloved. The How Can Love Be Dead? that seems to give birth to the whole poem is directed towards Love itself and the person who asks it. Ameer Shaikh´s poem Can A Poem Ever Die? on the other hand is about a different possibility. Here, “poem” takes the place of “love”. It breathes the air of words and celebrates the scent of ink. But unlike humans, where death is inevitable, the creation of a poem isn´t effective at making this fact of life known from the beginning.

Poems, like love and humans thrive because of different reasons. Some, if not most thrive because of the questions they engender, and not those they answer. One of the questions that come from Ameer´s poem is: What makes a poem special? Special in a way that in wondering about its susceptibility to death the adverb “ever” is used. A poem lives such a beautiful life that one never expects it to die. What is the “death” of a poem anyway? To Ameer, “a poem dies when it loses meaning”. Doesn’t love too?

The poems in the collection fail by being lopsided in their exploration of the effects of love and its charms. I’d expect some merriment in one being crazy over another. Perhaps?

The Love Potion is a print quarterly publication by Poetry Potion.

Love poems, poetry about love. Love for country, lover, friend, family, self, life, nature, freedom, truth…and so much more are things that this edition explores.

Copies of this title and more are available for purchase and delivery worldwide on our online bookshop, and in our points of sale in Kampala, Uganda, and in Kigali, Rwanda.

 

Born A Crime – Trevor Noah.

The Author

Born A Crime is a coming of age story, one by the famous South African comedian Trevor Noah. If you happen follow the world of comedy, then surely, you must know Trevor Noah. The always on the up comedian that rose out of South Africa and is now making audiences world over laugh. Well, aside from comedy he has gone on to take over from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, a satirical weekly news show in the USA, (Who takes over from Jon Stewart? I mean, seriously, who does!), a position where he has managed to carry on consistently, making America laugh at itself, the politics, culture, society never ending melodrama, an unenviable role.

Personally, I am a huge fan of his, and have followed his shows from when he started out, circa 2009. He is my favorite comedian. I have seen all his stand-up specials and even went to see him live once when by luck he was in a city I was in, Pittsburgh early 2016. (And, of course, he didn’t disappoint!).

He, Trevor, is also an embodiment of what you get when you work really hard at what you love. I mean; the time he came to Pittsburgh, he was touring multiple cities doing comedy shows while also doing the Daily Show each week. And now we see that in this same time-frame, he has written a book. I could go on and on about many things why this book is interesting but let’s dive into the book.

Born A Crime - Trevor Noah

The cover image of Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime.

The Book

So, it was with premonition that I got to this book wondering what Trevor Noah had in store. Having watched many of his specials, I was wary that this autobiographical account would be a rehash of the same stories he has told again and again on his standup routine. That is: “His Black mom who wanted a ‘white man’, the Swiss Dad who loved chocolate, plus how he was a bag of weed most of the time” Comedians repeat their material a lot so I was wary. However, this was mostly new material. (save for the reference to him being a bag of weed). On the whole, it is a very interesting light read and you will find yourself chuckling if not loudly laughing through much of the book.

Trevor Noah walks us through his life as a kid growing up in apartheid era South Africa. A very troubling time, we learn, but we see him and his crew of hood kids making the best of this world, struggling through it, surviving, thriving. As you would expect from a comedian, the language used is simple, relatable, funny, and engaging enough that you keep wanting to read what next. Trevor does a fine job of telling his story and bringing out the interesting tidbits all through. We see the mischievous little boy. Personally, I saw a bit of my story in this, naughty kid, not that I ever burned down a house (did I?), but most are relatable.

Another good piece of this is one gets to see race, its effects on life, culture through the eyes of a young man/boy growing up in South Africa. Secondly, the idiocy of apartheid and how it destroyed people lives is also visualized. Trevor has his comedic light hearted way of making you see life as he saw it.

Most of the story revolves around Trevor’s story growing up in apartheid South Africa, how he navigated the racially disparate world. At the time, South Africa was split on so many race levels, White, Colored, Indian, Asian, other shades of white, and multiple shades of black. A huge part of the book also involves his hilarious mother. Seriously, I gotta say his mother was pretty badass (read the book, and you will see). She was my hero through out. The mother-son relationship is a humorous, clear one but still typically African parenting example. It is hard to delve into this one without giving spoilers but there is a part where they actually write letters to each other. I mean which parents do this. Trevor gets spanked a lot, big time, like any African kid. Another bit I found interesting were Trevor’s arguments with his mother on many things, Christianity/Jesus being one of them. The mother was a devout Christian, and Trevor was always arguing with her about why Jesus this, and why Jesus that.

The Not So Good

Much as the book reads like a series of stories, titbits picked out of Trevor Noah’s childhood growing up. One can easily start the book in the middle and easily read on. This is good for easy pick up but it also means there is a lack of a coherent story, or theme that builds up but instead it is a collection of stories. Which is okay but not what you would be expecting.

Secondly, since the stories are disjointed, one finds themselves jumping from age nine to age eighteen and then back.

However, the book makes up for this, partly, by offering a short background at the beginning of each chapter. This is helpful firstly because not all of us are familiar with apartheid South Africa and secondly, the stories are an easier to understand with the background.

Thirdly having followed Trevor Noah’s meteoric rise though the world of comedy, it would have been interesting to hear him talk about his trials, struggles and how he navigated the world of comedy. I mean from a chubby “no college”, DJ-ing kid to doing comedy shows all over the world. How did he get there? The trials, tribulations, little successes, big ones, and how he has dealt with the fame. I mean; he has been a pretty huge deal in SA in the last five years, and now he is doing quite well in the modern day Roman Empire (America). What did it take? How does he navigate that? I guess we will have to wait for another book for that. Bummer! but this one is worth its weight in gold.

In Sum

All in all, Born A Crime is an interesting read one can easily pick up. It is very engaging. Once you start, you will keep wanting to hear the next bit in Trevor’s adventures and/or misadventures. He is part Artful Dodger, part Huckleberry Finn, and so much more. His growing up story is unique and interesting. The book content and language is light, humorous, clear so any one can easily pick it up, from an experienced reader to a novice. I found myself finishing this one in the space of two, 6 hours bus rides, both between Kigali, Rwanda and Mbarara, Uganda. I would definitely recommend it to any reader and would gladly read it again myself. Possibly in the near future.

This review is written by Timothy Kaboya. It first appeared on his blog, before it was modified for publication as review on Turn The Page Africa. Copies of the title are currently available for delivery, upon request.

Born A Crime was published, by Spiegel & Grau, in 2016.

 

The Story Of Maha, And Maha Ever After – Sumayya Lee.

These may be the best books I have read in a long time. If you are wondering why they are being reviewed together, it is because they are, to say, similar, and have the same characters. The second book is simply a continuation of the first, giving closure for all the questions you may have after reading the first. I think they should be mandatory reading for every girl.

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The cover image of The Story Of Maha.

The Story of Maha introduces us to Maha, starting with her dramatic birth, reading like something out of a movie. The rest of the story is anything but idealistic, but rather real and relatable. The story is set in apartheid South Africa, and reads like a combination of well paragraphed diary entries. Maha’s father is a coloured while her mother is an Indian from suburbia Durban. Following the tragic death of her parents, the grandparents take her to the Maal Mahal where she finds a new often delightful, but also much more restrictive home. Reading the story, you get to experience Maha’s joys from good friendships and the thrill of learning, her frustrations when she is prevented from going further in school to find a Suitable Boy and make a good wife. It often feels like you are enjoying her cooking, as uncertain about the future as she is, and experiencing the highs and lows of adolescence.

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The cover image of Maha Ever After.

In Maha Ever After, you will share in Maha’s new life at her husband’s home which is eerily similar to the Maal Mahal, so that her marriage is a different kind of bondage. The books are a love story, but not the usual boy meets girl. Rather, they are a lesson in self-love and self-discovery. Maha loves herself so much that you cannot help but love her, and love yourself too.

Sumayya Lee, the author, of both, uses a delightful combination of English, Gujarati, and Xhosa, making little attempt to translate the words but rather letting you deduce the meaning from context instead of breaking the narrative to loop you in. After the first few chapters, words like roti, siyabonga will start to make perfect sense. The books are also full of colourful cursing, especially by female characters which is a refreshing change from the prim and proper heroines in front of whom such words are not supposed to be used. The author skilfully highlights serious issues of apartheid, racism, and sexism without moving away from what appears to be the privileged life of Maha.

I loved both books for their simple alluring style, and the characters Maha loved, I loved as fiercely. These were books worth every (sometimes new) word and I would recommend them highly.

The Story Of Maha, and Maha Ever After are both written by Sumayya Lee. They were pubished in 2007, and 2009, respectively, by Kwela Books. They reviewed for Turn The Page by Ophelia Kemigisha.

 

Odufa: A Lover’s Tale – Othuke Ominiabohs

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The cover image of Odufa: A Lover’s Tale, a novel by Othuke Ominiabohs.

The writer of the Song of Songs book of the Bible makes a profound statement in the sixth verse of the books eighth chapter. He says, “… love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Love, and jealousy, are the two central themes of Othuke Ominiabohs’ book titled Odufa: A Lover’s Tale.

Tony, the protagonist, is a closet romantic who after having plenty plenty flings with girls in school because of a heartbreak, falls head over heels in love with a girl a couple of years older than him. The girl, Odufa, gives his romantic nature such expression that he willingly endures ridicule and disapproval of her by his friends and family. Although she is undoubtedly beautiful, reasons such as the reputation of women from her tribe and her being older and more worldly wise than him, are given for their disapproval of her.

Tony is undeterred by his people’s disapproval and vows to love and protect Odufa forever. He writes her poems and oft reads them aloud to her on the phone and in person, holding her in his arms. I the early days of their romance, Odufa, receives the poems with the requisite oohs and aahs saying how lucky she is to be loved by him.

However, as their relationship gets deeper and more intimate, Tony discovers a dark and violent side of Odufa borne of jealousy which consequently also ignites violence from him that he did not know he was capable of. In fact, Odufa gets so angry at one time that she sets on fire a book of poems Tony had compiled for her. This particular action serves to drive a serious rift between the lovers as Tony believes this means that Odufa does not truly know, understand and love him as she constantly claims.

Like any average girl, every once in a while I like to read a good love story with a happy ending. I was, thus, somewhat disappointed, as far as that is concerned, by Odufa: A Lover’s Tale. Othuke’s writing of this love story is poignant and much too close to the realities of relationships and therefore belies the novel’s title.

Nonetheless, in this his first published novel, Othuke exhibits his applaudable gifts of imagination and expression as he takes the reader on a bumpy journey, quite like one on any of Africa’s numerous untarred roads, through Tony and Odufa’s love life.

In all, then, this novel gets two stars ? ? on the Edward O’Brien scale from me. Bravo Othuke!

Odufa: A Lover’s Tale is a novel, written by Othuke Ominiabohs and published, in 2015, by Nigeria’s TND Press.

This review, of Odufa: A Lover’s Tale, was written by Lynn Turyatemba.

Copies of this book, and other books are available for purchase through Turn The Page’s online bookshop. Visit us at books.alextwino.com