RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Sunday, November 13, 2011

To co-exist we must love


Winning the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing should tell you about the overall quality and relevance of Patchwork, but of particular fascination to me is its visual appeal and intensity.

Zambian/British author Ellen Banda Aaku explores the realities and complexities of life in the Lusaka of the late 1970s in which the book is set; realities and complexities that are bound to resonate in your mind as well because they epitomise today’s experience in most of Africa. She writes in the present simple tense, employing a vivid and fast-paced style that might make you think you’re watching a movie.

The 216-page novel is narrated in the First Person by Pumpkin from when she is a child to when she becomes an adult. It opens with her as a nine-year-old living alone with her alcoholic mother whose affair with the bottle comes to an end when her beloved Pumpkin is taken away and dumped at her stepmother’s. She begins life afresh; marries Uncle Oscar and brings Pumpkin to live with them again.

In the second part of the book, Pumpkin is a successful, western-educated architect of 31, so insecurely married to a structural engineer named Tembo that she employs everything including her fists and sharp nails to pound and scratch the young woman she suspects to want to wreck her marriage by snatching the father of her two children.

From early on, the volume crackles with wit and humour that made my reading experience worthwhile. Seeing how little Bee infuriates Pumpkin following an argument over whose Dad is more important: “Anyway, me, what I know is that every ‘uman on this earth is same,” she says. “Every man, he go toilet. And whether man is white, blue, green, rich, poor, he shit. And when he shit, his shit smell!”

How about this: “The car wipers squeak rhythmically as they swipe at the raindrops that trickle down the windscreen like tears. Sometimes I imagine that the tears we cry on earth rain down on a world somewhere below us.”

As it is, Patchwork is more a story of Pumpkin and her father Joseph Sakavungo, a self-made millionaire and shameless braggart and philanderer that very much reminds me of Kosiya Kifefe in Arthur Gakwandi’s novel by that title. Sakavungo endures poverty and early rejection. At one point he slept alone in a dorm meant for six because, “No one wanted to share a room with someone from a tribe that was only fit to empty buckets from pit latrines. I was a shit-carrier. That’s what they called us.”

He gets the last laugh though, and boasts: “Life has a way of coming full circle. The same people that refused to share a room with me come to me today, asking for loans. And you know what? I give them…I give them the money and look them straight in the face.”

Sakavungo shares with Kifefe a matchless weakness for women and both are incapable of making emotional sacrifices or taking responsibility for the pain they inflict on others, thinking money and power is all that matters. They rise from nothing to great wealth and join politics only to die before they fully relish its benefits (Kosiya dies celebrating his ministerial appointment and Sakavungo dies after losing a presidential election).

Overall, Banda-Aaku’s first novel is about a political and morally decadent society bustling with unloved children –a result of broken homes. The gulf between the rich and the poor is irreconcilable, prostitution and drunkardness, violence and betrayal rule, old men prey on young girls causing teenage pregnancies, alienation and death. Talk of street brawls and episodes of bravado as women nearly pluck out each other’s eyes over men, and go as far as settling their scores through witchcraft. And the imperialist is still blamed for all the adversities in the land. As a line on the cover sums it up, “this novel is a patchwork of love, jealousy and human frailty set against a backdrop of war and political ambition.”

It evokes the need to face the good and the ugly, and teaches that to coexist we must love. Patchwork was launched in Kampala on Thursday October 27, by the African Writers Trust.

--Saturday Monitor, November 12, 2011