Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Currently Reading: The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories

As January loomed its ugly head, I felt pressure to conform to the cliché ‘New Year, New Me’ set of unrealistic resolutions I knew I would never really stick to. Instead, I wrote a short list of achievable goals, straying away from guilt-inducing diet and exercise regimes in favour of creativity and well being. This blog is one of them, a space to ramble, unclutter my head and hopefully write something interesting. I also intend to read a new book every two weeks, as since finishing Uni I’ve barely been able to finish one, and to read more works by BAME writers.

It was a good coincidence, then, that I was given The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories as a gift for Christmas. The book is a collection of short stories born from The Caine Prize for African Writing 2017, featuring talented writers from Africa and the African diaspora. The collection is rich with African culture, transporting the reader to a land humming with the mythical and beautiful. Superstitions thread through everyday life like modern fairy tales, forbidden love leaves your heart hurting and God is loved, cursed and celebrated.

The collection opens with Who Will Greet You At Home, a mysterious tale by Lesley Nneka Arimah exploring motherhood. Ogechi, an expectant mother, creates a baby out of the scraps of hair strewn about the salon that she works in. As part of tradition, expectant mothers make babies out of the strongest and most durable materials they can find, to be blessed by an elder and therefore guarantee a successful birth. Ogechi’s hair baby is glossy and impenetrable, striking warm maternal feelings inside her. But the baby’s strength comes with a never-ending appetite to consume, and Ogechi struggles to keep its hunger satisfied.

The story takes me back to watching Rosemary’s Baby for the first time. Both invert the typical idea of a blissful, loving motherhood and create something a lot more sinister. The idea of the unborn baby having dominance over its mother, out-growing and consuming her is disturbing, which is what makes the story such an interesting read.

Throughout the anthology, taboos are tested, African language is delicately threaded with English and a variety of genres are covered, from the postmodern to the mythical. For example, God’s Children are Little Broken Things (Arinze Ifeakandu) explores the love between two boys at university, An Unperson Stands on the Cracked Pavement Contemplating Being and Nothingness (Tendai Huchu) paints a picture of a monotonous postmodern world through existentialism and Shells modernises myth and confronts the horrors of a deteriorating memory.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from the anthology.

The answers we seek / lie not in the sleep-deprived faces passing. – From An Unperson Stands on the Cracked Pavement Contemplating Being and Nothingness.

When asked by a journalist once about Che after his death, Fidel responded “I dream of him often.” A love letter in five words: I dream of him often. – From Fidel

(He) Patted his mouth clean with a small white square he hand-washed nights, even out in the bush. The desert dyed it that pus-rust colour which bled through sunsets: sunsets that seemingly choked the sky they were so overwhelming. Like swallowing dust. – From The Virus

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