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.

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 ‘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…)

My Thoughts on Fast & Furious 6

By Veronica Nkwocha

I watched Fast and Furious 6 yesterday.

In the midst of all the clanging metal and screeching tires and pounding fists, I thought how odd that the story line looped over itself in such away it appeared secondary to the desire that it be fast paced and loud.

I still believe that as important as it is for the machines to tell their tale, those scenes humanising it lent a side that got everyone in the cinema laughing and sighing together.

Emotions are important; storytelling that lifts the objective of the movie even if it be nuanced can still be used in a way that grinds the lure of Fast and Furious deeper, etching permanent tattoos of commitment into fans, old and new alike.

I give it a 4/5. It was hard, boisterous, efficient and unbelievable taking one away into a world, a cross between fiction and reality. A Saturday afternoon well spent, highly recommended.

My Thoughts on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My Thoughts on Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

By Veronica Nkwocha

Ifemelu drifts into a world where people like her; African, not of the poster with the forlorn child are a bye line. She seeps into a world where the dominant images are of the western world, shiny and set apart and straddles her own world, a colossus even though they do not know it. To the outside she is a mere shadow, her light barely flickering. They enter her world and see through her eyes; the author’s narrative allows a prime spot, a vantage one and they become one with her. The World, a fragmented puzzle is put together and is seen from a different perspective; one gains a greater understanding and for that, we are richer as humans.

And so we move on and see one who would otherwise be a mere statistic. But far from being idealised, if she who was wordless and unseen becomes a face, we must see her for who she is; warts and all. She is a hard worker and battles the odds to become a Fellow at Princeton. She also uses the new invention,’the weblog’ to blog about issues thereby allowing a conversation on race by the protagonists. But she is not perfect; she is charming and can be a straight talker if need be but she comes across sometimes as a bit selfish. Maybe not more so than most humans are but it is a god with clay feet situation, the halo wearing saviour who inserts herself as a legitimate person in Today’s narrative. She has friends with whom she laughs but one doesn’t sense much of an affection from her. They do things for her but others, save her parents are rarely at the receiving end of her charity even when she becomes able. The walls she built to keep Obinze out were swift and impenetrable, although one can understand that the trauma of her experience with the coach blighted the innocence of their once perfect relationship.

She appears utterly consumed throughout the text by her own introspection. It would appear she went through the motions of living, hiding her real self and stoically holding on to an invisible camera with which she viewed life and ultimately ‘the other’ without immersing herself in their own feelings and emotions. Even with her American boyfriends she looked to be perching on the edge ready for flight. The only redemption is her unfailing love for Dike where she is laid bare and vulnerable; not even for Obinze which the reader had been teased and lured seductively with the promise of a great love story.

By the time one thundered through the captivating read, expectant, there was a mild concern that the few pages left for the reunion with Obinze would not be enough to do justice to their story. Kosi’s demonization as is wont in romance novels, typically presented in order for the reader to accept a triumphant reunion of the estranged couple is tepid and a tad unbelievable; she did not read! Sitting at the periphery of the pontificating literature enthusiasts, one almost pities her. She also did not stir with indignation at her husband’s sexual ‘acrobatics’ with his ex, even though at the start of the book she seemed obsessed with him. One would have expected a hint of jealousy, some tears; it was a shock to see her practical, coldly proffering that the marriage should not end despite the infidelity.

Ifemelu’s entire lack of empathy for his family even in passing, especially towards his daughter presented her as cold and calculating in a way that seemed removed from the character we got to know from the start. Was it a defence mechanism? There was no hand wringing considering how she looked down her nose at those who dated married men. To her, his family barely existed or were akin to weed in her perfectly groomed garden of love starring Obinze. Even that did not appear quite distinguished from her relationships with her exes save for their shared tender flowering as teenagers; she still appeared in her renewed relationship with Obinze, perched at the outside, looking in, prepared for flight.