Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “africa”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #76: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Perhaps one of Achebe’s most famous and award-winning novels, Things Fall Apart is a challenging book to read in many ways. Written in exquisitely simple style, it deals with a multitude of complex issues, ranging from race and generational conflict to religious and cultural clash. At its core, it is about the imposition of colonial rule in Nigeria in the 1890s, but it is also a brutally honest examination of the cultures on both sides of the African/Western divide.

Written in 1959, Things Fall Apart is touted as one of the first novels written about Africa which does not fall into the supremely racist depiction of African tribal life as either “childlike” and requiring the mature guidance of colonial rule, or as violent, bloody, savage and requiring firm subjugation by colonial rule. Instead, we are introduced to a complex society of villages and clans, with their own religion, their own monetary and economic structure, their own history and traditions, their own moral code and their own system of justice.  Yes, they kill twins and mutilate stillborn infants as evil spirits, but they also dish out remarkably appropriate punishments for those who violate their laws. For example, when the lead protagonist Okonkwo accidentally kills a young man from his tribe, he is exiled from his village—along with his wives and children—for seven years, shattering his long-held plan to become a tribal leader.

Along with tragedy and despair, there is also humor and irony.  When the white missionary chastises the tribesmen for worshipping icons made of wood, they patiently explain that God made the tree from which they were fashioned, so that He could be approached by his people through these wooden icons. I couldn’t help but think of the wooden crucifix in every Christian church and abode I know.  When a vast swarm of 7-year-locusts descends on the village, instead of eliciting dismay at the potential damage or superstitious dread of divine punishment, instead there is instant joy at having a new supply of protein—albeit in crispy insect form—come their way.

Through his writing, Achebe forces us to watch as tribal life in his native Africa literally “falls apart” with the encroachment of colonial intervention. Human dignity is destroyed along with primitive tribal structure, and respected elders replaced as lawgivers by a distant white Queen. Youth were encouraged to abandon their parents for the Christian Church, driving a devastating wedge into the heart of tight-knit family structure. Justice was redefined according to British requirements, and African self-sufficiency was denied the right under imperialist rule to evolve into a successful native economy—something which haunts much of Africa to this day


xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #19: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe is back, in the new paperback edition in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by author Alexander McCall Smith, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.

Mma Ramotswe has a new and difficult client who she must try to help, but the real focus of the book, as with others in the series, is the gentle reminder to enjoy the beauty in life; and that many of life’s problems, big and small, can eventually be solved with a little gentle tact and caring.

A nervous and not very likable farmer, Mr. Botsalo Moeti, has come to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency for help in determining just who is behind some attacks on his cattle. As Mma Ramotswe tries to sort out the problem, and just how much she owes a client who may, in his own way, be in the wrong, there are also other complications closer to home.

She has been very much missing her beloved little white van and is unnerved by its possible, ghostly, reappearance.

One of the apprentices at Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s garage, Charlie, also has a very big (and very little) problem that involves his imprudent girlfriend Prudence.

Plans for the wedding of assistant detective Mma Makutsi and her fiance Phuti Radiphuti are in full swing, but Mma Makutsi has some doubts that Phuti is taking care of his side of the planning. She is also having a difficult “conversation” with brand new pair of beautiful white wedding shoes. An added distraction — her ultimate nemesis and former classmate from the Botswana Secretarial College, Violet Sephotho, is running for a seat in Botswana’s parliament, a fact that appalls Mma Makutsi.

The only disappointment in this entry to the series might be that Mma Ramotswe’s and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s two adopted children, Motholeli and Puso, are so relegated to the background of the story that they have almost completely disappeared. It would be nice if Mr. McCall Smith would follow up on his earlier hints that the wheelchair-bound Motholeli, who showed an interest and talent for mechanics, might want to join her father at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and take on a more prominent role.

Mma Ramotswe uses her charm and smarts to resolve most of the novel’s issues in her usual gentle and pleasant way, but The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party also has some undercurrents of unrest. As much as Botswana is praised as a wonderful place that still honors the “old values,” there are glimpses into the difficult life that people outside of a city like Gaborone face, with the characters of a mother and child who live on a farm and are in thrall to the new owner. McCall Smith wants to look at the bright side of life in most of his writing, but he also wants to remind his readers that there is still much poverty and suffering in Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series continues to delight, and Precious Ramotswe and all of her friends and extended family are still people we want to spend some time with, attending The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, under the broad blue skies of Botswana, sipping red bush tea.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Article first published as Book Review: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith on Blogcritics.

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Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #24: Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Unsworth’s novel is historical fiction at its finest, a sprawling story of corruption and vengeance that begins in 1752 in the ship-building city of Liverpool, England, crosses the sea to the shores of Africa and back, and ends 13 years later in Florida, England’s newest colony in the Americas. Sacred Hunger is also a philosophical treatise on morality, wherein the reader is repeatedly challenged on the fundamental question of what constitutes a good and worthy life. The story centers around the African slave trade. But, in fact, it is about enslavement—whether by chains, superstition, or greed—and as such, it succeeds in powerfully transcending the historical period it encompasses.

The story begins with wealthy Liverpool merchant Kemp, who is building a slave ship upon which he has pinned his hopes for reversing his recent financial losses on the sugar market. His son Erasmus is a soulless figure, oblivious to his father’s dire straits and concerned only with winning Sarah Wolpert as his bride. Enter Matthew Paris, a physician and Kemp’s nephew who has lost his wife and unborn child while imprisoned for challenging church doctrine. Erasmus despises his cousin, an irrational hatred which is to become the defining thread of his—and Paris’—life. Kemp pays Paris’ way out of jail and hires him as surgeon for his ship’s maiden voyage to Africa, under the captainship of the tyrannical Saul Thurso. And thus the stage is set. Many colorful characters are added to the plot, from the “scum of the earth” who are gangpressed into service aboard the ship, to the African slave dealers who buy and sell their brethren like cattle, to the politicians at home and colonial governors abroad to whom the “sacred hunger” of wealth and power, is everything, to the slaves themselves—all of whom we come to know intimately by the novel’s end.

For fear of spoiling the plot, I won’t give any more details on the story itself. However, I have to say that I found the author’s writing to be brilliant. He is able to vividly capture the smells of the shipyard, the stink and corruption of Liverpool’s dockside pubs, the brutal tensions aboard the slave ship, the humanity–and the despair–of the slaves. Most of all, the reader cannot fail to come away from reading this novel with a profound disgust for the venality of the British Empire itself, which I would say is ultimately the real villain of this book.

LurkeyTurkey, CBR4 Review #13, Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

“We are funny creatures. We don’t see the stars as they are, so why do we love them? They are not small gold objects but endless fire.”

 This is my first introduction to Saul Bellow, but having read this, it will certainly not be my last.  I would say this book is really more of a 5-star work with insight into the human psyche, and a 3-star adventure book rolled into one.  A strange combination, but fairly often the bumbling, earnest, likable narrator says something so intensely insightful, you have to read it again.  That my friends, is a novel worth reading. 

Gene Henderson is a gluttonous, loud-mouthed, passionate, listless boor of a man.  He’s the sole surviving child of a wealthy man, and has had the ability, and occasionally curse, of having no real need for ambition in his life.   One day, while cursing at the banalities of married life, he decides to go to Africa, and off he goes.  In true Henderson fashion, he invites himself along on the honeymoon of his best friend, while also managing to snub the bride.  He falls in with an African guide, Romilayu, who introduces him to the Arnewi tribe where he blunders (though with the best of intentions) and leaves in disgrace.  They are captured by the Wariri tribe, and through a series of unusual events, Henderson becomes their rain king.  Political machinations and hijinx ensue.   

Henderson is both a comedic and a tragic character, searching for meaning in his clownish way, while simultaneously providing keen insight into the hearts of men.  In this way, Bellow created a comically inept buffoon to express a true and deeply poignant love of  life- right when you are about to write Henderson off as a complete moron, Bellow gets you with the one-two punch.  These passages sing, and some of the lines, particularly coming from such a walking disaster of a man, are that much more beautiful and compelling. 

“Shall I run back into the desert … and stay there until the devil has passed out of me and I am fit to meet human kind again without driving it to despair at the first look? I haven’t had enough desert yet.”

“Maybe time was invented so that misery might have an end.”

All in all, perhaps the adventure side of the book was necessary to really move the plot forward, while allowing this deeply personal love letter to life itself.  Either way, I will be heading back to the library to read more Bellow.  And I am seriously looking into a way in which I could have a lion as a pet.

Katie’s #13 #CBR4 Review: The Eye of the Elephant by Mark and Delia Owens

This morning, I finished reading The Eye of the Elephant, one of the extra books I picked up in the 639′s.  Although I occasionally think about the fact that I could be doing this until I die if I pick up multiple books for every number, I don’t think that would be so bad, especially if my digressions always lead to such great books!  As the subtitle says, this was truly “An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness.”  This story of Mark and Delia Owens’ efforts to save the elephants and other wildlife in a Zambian natural park was without a dull moment.  In the first few chapters, Mark had gotten lost in the dessert and both authors had encountered a cobra and a pride of lions.  The book continues with awe-inspiring encounters with wildlife and more frightening encounters with poachers.

Read more here…


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