Miracle by Tope Folarin Wins the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013

Caine Prize

Caine Prize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Miracle by Tope Folarin Wins the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013

By Veronica Nkwocha

Two words, ‘Tope Folarin’ tweeted by @CainePrize at 10:20 PM on 8 July 2013 cut through the tense wait of thousands of lovers of literature. It proclaimed ‘Miracle’ from Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012) as the winning entry for the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013.

A well-crafted story, ‘Miracle’ shows an attention to detail that takes the reader on a panoramic journey into the scene where it all played out. The underlying satire was well nuanced and nudges the reader to hover between viewing it as a legitimate experience or a mocking condescending piece (See No.2 ‘Renounce Your Faith). The latter was tempered with the apparent youth of the main character plus a sensitive portrayal and the former, seared-in with the excellent storytelling.

There were some unforgettable quotes, e.g.

“We need jobs. We need good grades. We need green cards. We need American passports. We need our parents to understand that we are Americans. We need our children to understand they are Nigerians”.

The highlighted words bring life to the unconscious struggle between two generations uprooted from a faraway homeland; a typical experience in the diaspora normally shrouded from view, the coming together constantly at tenterhooks.  Tope Folarin has spoken of his experience as an African born and raised in America, the effects of the community in diaspora recreating their roots in their new homeland and how it influenced his writing. A detailed interview appears on Brittle Paper.

From the Caine Prize Website;

“…the winner of the £10,000 Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice and will be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September.”

Hearty congratulations to Tope Folarin, the fourteenth winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. We wish him all the best and look forward to reading more of his work.

The Nigerian Nostalgia Project – Facebook

File:Ancient Benin city.JPG

Do you love history? Not the long winded drone of a stifling hot afternoon of class with the four walls closing in (okay, for some maybe not just History but all subjects!).

There’s ‘The Nigerian Nostalgia Project’ on Facebook. It provides compact, highly visual and informative history lessons by way of old photographs properly captioned and a conversation as people from diverse backgrounds comment and sometimes have hearty debates on the issues surrounding the subject. They can get lively so be warned, it may start from the benign to the controversial and can feel like one is on a roller coaster but it all serves to drive home important lessons of the old days including context, hindsight and a struggle/conflict in attempting to visualise the past using today’s eyes. Ethnic rivalries rise to the fore and simmer and handshakes form across ‘ancient’ miles as today’s youth (and sometimes participants of history from the recent past!) come together via the comment box, lingering, sizing one another up, gladiators in a timeless conflict and then as brothers as they find their common humanity.

I recommend the Nigerian Nostalgia Project, it is a treasure trove of photos of the past. Their greatest arsenal are the everyday people who post photos of life as it happened for normal day to day people, interwoven with photos of milestones as history turned in pivotal and candescent points. All of them important as the puzzle of the time period is put together for the next generation lovingly and reverently by the ‘children’ of the subjects working together in ways that would surprise the sleeping progenitors, could they see, from the dusk of their time.

*Image of Ancient Benin City from here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ancient_Benin_city.JPG  D. O. Dapper, 1668 Description de l’Afrique . . . Traduite du Flamand (Amsterdam,1686; 1st ed., 1668), between pp. 320-21. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-30841) Public Domain

Best of Luck to the Authors in the Caine Prize Shortlist 2013

Best of Luck to the Authors in the Caine Prize Shortlist 2013

By Veronica Nkwocha

*Update: ‘Miracle’ by Tope Folarin has won the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing! Congratulations and we wish him all the best.

I’ve enjoyed reading the Caine Prize shortlist this past month. My reviews have been from the perspective of a reader more focused on the story, than the flaws on the storytelling (I highlighted a few), although I acknowledge that the quality of the telling does mar or make the story. Most important to me was its integrity and believability, and whether the words formed into themselves, until they became a symbiotic whole, like one thriving and living organism.

When I joined the ‘blog carnival’ per Aaron Bady, I only knew of Elnathan John as I had read his blog in the past and admire his writing; ‘Bayan Layi’ drew me into the tale. I realised later that a short story ‘Runs Girl’ I had recently discovered and enjoyed immensely was written by Chinelo Okparanta; her ‘America’ was confident and intuitive. I’m better for discovering the cheeky wit that came across like an undercurrent from the telling of the character in ‘Miracle’ of Tope Folarin, the gregarious but pugnacious confidence of ‘Logan’ in ‘Foreign Aid’ per Pedi Hollist and the lyrical sweetness of Abubakar Adam Ibrahim‘s ‘The Whispering Trees’. I look forward to reading more of their work in the future and wish them all the best on the 8th of July when the prize is announced. I have my favourites but I believe they are all deserving as each one brought something different that adds to the discourse and the enjoyment of today’s literature.

The criticism of the ‘one-dimensional’ aspect of the ‘Caine Prize Story‘ is a challenge to writers to write a wide variety of stories, a lot of them already do so. It’s an even bigger challenge to publishers, prizes etc. but the solution is not to squash the stories of ‘poverty porn’ as some describe it. An increase in the number of publishers and prizes should allow the ‘African Story‘ rise beyond the pull between two extremes; each valid and each vital, begging to be told.

My Thoughts on ‘America’ by Chinelo Okparanta

This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘America’ by Chinelo Okparanta

By Veronica Nkwocha

For a story so titled, perhaps it is only natural that ‘America’ will be used and viewed effusively. It is a longing for a ‘utopia’ and with every contrasting detail between the dream destination and home, the latter got darker and drearier. It set the tone for the narrative which was a last wistful glance at home whilst hoping for the future, and a berating by Nnenna Etoniru, the lonesome young lady on her way to meet her lover halfway across the world. She would have to get ‘the visa’ first.

We are told about the journey with flash backs punctuating the story. They didn’t intrude on the flow but provided insight and fleshed out the characters and the emotions that consumed her on this all important bus ride and her life in the last three years.

‘America’ came across as heavy. As though the protagonist carried this weight about her which she never put down even whilst seated on a journey. Her eyes were constantly on the lookout for yet another crack in the system, she didn’t have to look very far with her head jarring against the window with every bump caused by potholes, some the size of ‘washbasins’. Like a child telling on an older sibling to parent, it became a list of what wasn’t working. Her job wasn’t what she wanted, her relationship had to be hidden away and the view outside had children coated in the solid black of crude oil and litter everywhere. Even her parents seemed like fading photographs; a  yellowing tinge of trepidation at her possible disappearance like others, absorbed by America.

Nnenna’s near fawning of America was almost clichéd, her starry eyed portrayal better suited to a character less educated and just fresh from the hinterland startled by the newness of it. The only picture she had seemed to be from the photos Gloria sent as if she did not watch any television at all and had no access to the internet.

We became something – an item, Papa says – in February, months after Gloria’s visit to the school”.

It would have been nice to get to know ‘Papa’ better. What was it about him that made him so accepting of their relationship? He was quite different from the norm, a diametric opposite. Was it his upbringing? His total lack of concern for a grandchild unlike his wife seeing as Nnena was their only child runs contrary to their cultural expectation and there was no indication as to why.

One can imagine that Nnenna may not have made the journey in the end. Did the pull towards America come out of the perfection it occupied in her thoughts rather than an overwhelming love for Gloria? Once it was spoiled by “something like black clouds forming in waters that would usually be clear and blue”, she hesitated. It was the perfect time to study for that Masters degree in Environmental Engineering especially with the fresh information sure to be generated from the Gulf Oil spill yet she appeared to be dithering.

“What sympathy can we have for someone who, after wanting something so badly for three long years, realizes, almost as soon as she’s gotten it, that perhaps she’s been wrong in wanting it all that time? My second night at the inn, the night before I am to return to the embassy for my paperwork and passport, I think of Mama, her desire for a grandchild, and I think: Isn’t it only natural that she’d want a grandchild? I think of the small children emerging from the waters of the Delta covered in black crude. Their playground destroyed by the oil war. And I think: Who’s to say that this won’t some day be the case even in America? It all starts small by small. And then it gets out of hand. And here I am running away from one disaster, only to find myself in a place that might soon also begin to fall apart.” (Emphasis mine).

It is interesting that the fairy tale about the golden hen has no conclusion, her mother refuses to say.

Nnenna, rather than leap happily into the ‘utopia‘ of her dreams seems to be at a crossroad when the story ends,

“I force my eyes shut as if shutting them tight will prevent me from changing my mind, as if shutting them tight will keep regret from making its way to me.”

America’s sad and poignant tone mirrored a wilting of the once thriving beauty of the Niger Delta. The stoic thread that ran through, a reminder of the taboo of same sex relationships especially their secrecy in a society with a deep loathing for them.

*’America’ is on the shortlist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Please click on the names below to read reviews of ‘America’ by other bloggers:

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
Kate Maxwell
Chika Oduah
Kola Tubosun

Aishwarya Subramanian

Africa in Words (Lexzy Ochibejivwie)

My Thoughts on ‘After Earth’

My Thoughts on After Earth

By Veronica Nkwocha

‘After Earth’ opened with scenes of a latent conflict between a father and son. We follow General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and Kitai (Jaden Smith) into an adventure as they go on a journey from a new homeland in outer space urged on by Kitai’s mother. They plunge, a turbulent and unexpected journey to Man’s former home; an earth that looked lush and fertile, throbbing with life and hidden dangers.

It was an intensely emotional story. The helplessness a parent can feel was captured vividly; it was time, even if he was not prepared to release his treasured child into the unknown. A father unable to be the shield and provider, but still the power behind the ‘throne’ (using a futuristic communication device) as Kitai stepped out to make his mark and conquer the vast terrain that would be for them, the difference between life and death.

There were many heart stopping moments, was he equipped for the journey? Would he remember the most important lesson of all; to not fear? And the moments when the father has to look away from the images of his son when it seemed all would be lost.

The cinematography was crisp; one could almost touch the plants as the trembled in the silent breeze, the snowflakes drifted carefully as though they knew that rest would be their sure demise. The enemy alien was large, raged with a vengeance and frothed with hate for Man. The fallen eagle was majestic and called out a silent message that a kindred soul can be found in the most unusual of places.

A father and a son; the time together became a time apart and in all of the separation, they found a bond, tied into unbroken cords of love, respect and faith for tomorrow.

‘After Earth’ has had its share of criticism, The Hollywood News describes it;

The clatter and booms from the doomed spacecraft in the first scene propel the film into top gear and will initially have you in awe, but it cannot escape the shifting down of gears as the film progresses from there on in. The special effects, as expected, are second to none and throughout the opening few scenes are faultless. But they become a tad laughable as we journey through to a set piece set around a waterfall two-thirds in.”

The Wall Street Journal notices a Scientology tint;

I’ve never seen a movie that moves so slowly, or takes itself so seriously, which is why it doesn’t seem like a movie at all, but a sermon whose central subject is fear: “Danger is real,” the father tells the son, “but fear is a choice.” So a right question might be why “After Earth” was made. The sermon echoes a central theme of Scientology.”

The expectation from the beginning was that it would be a movie of a battle to survive against a back drop of a separation from home. In that regard, it got its job done although it did carry on to the point of being slightly tedious in parts.

There weren’t many moments of hope or laughter but there was an abundance of a relentless fear for the marooned duo. I wish there were more scenes showing a humorous side like the scene where Kitai kept running even after there were no more baboons in sight. His father said something like ‘son, you’re running away from nothing’ and the cinema erupted in laughter. It would have added more colour to the dark of ‘After Earth’.

My Thoughts on ‘The Whispering Trees’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘The Whispering Trees’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

By Veronica Nkwocha

The story opens with a tragedy; the protagonist is involved in an accident and loses his beloved mother. He is at first protected from this knowledge having lost consciousness for a period until he finds himself in hospital.

The Whispering Trees’ happened in stages; as though they were five stories woven into one. The ‘Accident’, where the faint moments when he merged almost seamlessly with the other world is described in lyrical language. It carried on to the ‘Awareness’ (of his blindness and the knowledge of his permanent separation from Ummi); the ‘Anger’, (during which saint Faulata lifted the heavy load). The ‘Limbo’ (where the malam had to carry out a ritual) and then the ‘Awakening’ into a quasi-heaven much longed for at the start of the story.

The bruising of Salim’s soul from the moments of the accident was instant and it never got better. Apart from the brief period when he tried; studying braille, weaving baskets and waiting for Faulata. His pain was described in detail taking over more than half of the story. It didn’t detract from the essence because one comes away with a deep understanding of how much his loss impacted him. (Some questions linger; in reality would Salim’s schooling end with just one month to graduating from Medical school?)

The second bruising where Faulata left him to marry someone else sheared off the scab of the wound and pierced another knife. This time, he did not lose consciousness as with the accident but appeared to enter into a trance; as though the first unconsciousness was a twin of this new disappearance from life. It was near identical, like looking in a mirror; the first, a precursor and tangential (more…)

My Thoughts on ‘Foreign Aid’ by Pede Hollist

*This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘Foreign Aid’ by Pede Hollist 

By Veronica Nkwocha

The story ‘Foreign Aid’ is about fissures caused by the uprooting of the principal character Balogun from Sierra Leone to America. The chasm widens with his long sojourn in his new home away from his roots where he had lived up until his mid-twenties.

The man we meet in America is one of many people, one of a crowd. We learn about his stay in a few paragraphs; he was generic, unobtrusive and inconsequential. The twenty years passed in a blur of the many things people like him did; coloured phone cards to call home, failed promises to his loved ones at home and furtive marriages for the all-important green card.

He “..submerged himself in inner-city America. He flipped burgers, cleaned office buildings, and worked security for cantankerous residents in a variety of elder-care facilities—pursuing the American dream, unskilled, undocumented, and with an accent…

Even though life got in the way of his dreams, he still found his level like waters after escaping their hold. He didn’t get the Economics degree but he became documented, had a job and was driven in his goal to survive the ever changing urban jungle he had found himself in.

Balogun spoke clipped and fustian; adapting his language to a degree, to that of his inner city surroundings. A (more…)