Books & Blaces For Trouble
HOW do you reward a country that made it possible for you to read wonderful books in magic blaces (places to those who follow the western alphabets! How can Trouble reward Nigeria for the incredible life the country made possible for him? What is the value of reading In the Castle of My Skin on the streets of Bridgetown Barbados? George Lamming’s first novel, first published in London in 1970, depicts the life of the writer growing up in one of the most English of the British colonies of the world. It is so soaked in Englishness that Bajans considered their island nation one of the southern counties of good old England.
What can one give to read one of the detective novels of Donna Leone in one of the water taxis of Venice? What is the monetary value of picking up a book like Shakespeare in Venice – Exploring the City with Shylock and Othello by Shaul Bassi and Alberto Toso Fei in one of the bookshops of Venice? And to wonder with the authors if Shakespeare ever visited Venice or just used the Googles of his days to be in Venice and chronicle the racist behaviour of those high falutin leadership of the city state of Venice?
And to read Al-Liss wa-l-Kilab (The Thief and the Dogs) of Nagib Mahfouz on the streets of Cairo and even attempt to find a publisher for a translation done with a fellow Egyptian student long before the Nobel Prize for Literature exposed the Egyptian shy writer to the world. It was one of those jumble books sales on the streets of Cairo (kullu haga thalatha! – everything three kobo!) that was found the Arabic translation of Cyprian Ekwensi’s People of the City.
Albert Camus’s L’Etranger takes place on the beaches of Algiers where a particular slant of the sun’s rays makes the narrator shoot an Arab without any remorse. For someone whose feelings to his mother were clearly ambivalent, this was not so strange! To read this book in Algiers while serving time with the Arab League temporarily relocated to Tunis from Cairo. And now to look forward to reading the response of an Algerian native writer, writing back to Albert Camus, restoring humanity to that anonymous Arab shot by the narrator and questioning the life that made that possible.
The excitement that came with the announcement that the Tourism ministry of Ondo State was setting up a theme forest at Igbo Olodumare, the setting for the classical Yoruba novel of D.O. Fagunwa Igbo Olodumare, (The Lord’s Forest) was not to be measured. Here after driving through a motor path no different from many motor paths of Nigeria to arrive in these still pristine jungles, fiercely protected from tree hunters and forest thieves, and begin to read “Losangangan ijosi, nigbati . . . (Some long ago afternoon, after my second meal of the day. . . ) is a delight not to be monetised. Here, you will encounter the usual dwellers of the world of D.O. Fagunwa like Ogongo, the King of Birds, Ojola-Ibinu, the human headed snake of ill-repute determined to kill all humans, Esu Kekere Ode, Tembelekun, Ologbojakadi, all those phantom personalities that troubled your youthful nightmares after days of reading Fagunwa!
What about the short stories of Njabulo Ndebele located in the apartheid era townships of South Africa such as Soweto (made up of the first two letters of South Western Township)? The stories that make up the collection Fools and Other Stories describe the lives of Africans as if the apartheid government legalised racism did not exist and thereby wakes the reader into a nightmare of everyday existence.
No other writer from the Third World troubled Trouble more than the Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul. From his hilarious collection of short stories to his heavily biased novels of the seventies and eighties, Naipaul had chosen to blame the victim for his or her troubles. Yet one wondered as you throng the modern city streets of Port of Spain, the car choked capital of Trinidad, how someone like Naipaul, made possible by an island scholarship, could turn so English that he felt that he came with them to colonise the Tropics of the world. Particularly painful is his fascinating narrative of a journey through the Caribbean entitled The Middle Passage – The Caribbean Revisited . It is in this book that Naipaul comes to what can be considered a terrible conclusion thus: The history of the islands can never be satisfactorily told. Brutality is not the only difficulty. History is built around achievements and creation: and nothing was created in the West Indies.” To read this book travelling from one island nation to another researching a book on Caribbean theatre and drama was to suffer the indignity of the proud African in search of creation and achievement around the world.
But we are talking of books and places. What about Leningrad, today renamed by the successor state of Russia to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, St. Petersburg, ok, its original name? The narrative poems of Pushkin read where he had his fatal duel, the novels of Dostoyevsky, dramatically reprieved from a hanging to write such fantastic novels as The Gambler, a short novel that Trouble reads at least once every year!
It is a delight to read that a novel entitled The Fishermen by the Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma has made this year’s long list of the Booker Prize. Of particular interest to Dafida Trouble is that the novel’s actions take place in Akure, capital of Ondo State. One looks forward to read the book. Much of the activity in the novel centres around Omi Ala, the Ala River which, as everybody knows, marks out the town of Akure. After all, the oriki (praise names) of Akure is that it has two rivers and both are called Ala! There is one Ala in town and there is another Ala in the rural areas where both the subsistence and commercial crops farms reside.
How do we ensure that every generation gets such an education that makes this and even more possible?