From the Wall Street Journal: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will announce next week that it has commissioned translations of all 39 of the Bard’s plays into modern English, with the idea of having them ready to perform in three years. Yes, translations — because Shakespeare’s English is so far removed from the English of 2015 that it often interferes with our own comprehension.
Born in Harlem in New York City to Jewish parents, Miller lived through two world wars, the McCarthy era, and three marriages. The playwright was famously quoted as saying:
Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
Miller received numerous awards throughout his life, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949. His 1952 play, The Crucible, was a parable of McCarthyism in which he compared the president’s fear of communism to the Salem witch trials of the 1600s.
The Crucible has had a marked influence on contemporary drama and literature and continues to be adapted and reinterpreted for stage and on-screen. Miller once explained why he loved the theatre so much:
The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.
This year, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Miller’s birth, The Crucible returns to the stage at the Bristol Old Vic.
Watch the video in which the cast share their thoughts of what The Crucible is about:
The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Miller spoke about “The Art of Theatre”, his early influences, the plays he enjoyed as a young man and the uncertainty of writing his first play in the spring of 1935.
On his preferred mode of writing, Miller said: “I think I reserve for plays those things that take a kind of excruciating effort. What comes easier goes into a short story.”
Read the article:
What were those two plays you had seen before you began to write?
When I was about twelve, I think it was, my mother took me to a theater one afternoon. We lived in Harlem and in Harlem there were two or three theaters that ran all the time, and many women would drop in for all or part of the afternoon performances. All I remember was that there were people in the hold of a ship, the stage was rocking—they actually rocked the stage—and some cannibal on the ship had a time bomb. And they were all looking for the cannibal: It was thrilling. The other one was a morality play about taking dope. Evidently there was much excitement in New York then about the Chinese and dope. The Chinese were kidnapping beautiful blond, blue-eyed girls who, people thought, had lost their bearings morally; they were flappers who drank gin and ran around with boys. And they inevitably ended up in some basement in Chinatown, where they were irretrievably lost by virtue of eating opium or smoking some pot. Those were the two masterpieces I had seen. I’d read some others, of course, by the time I started writing. I’d read Shakespeare and Ibsen, a little, not much. I never connected playwriting with our theater, even from the beginning.
To read a selection of excerpts from Miller’s work, visit the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) website.
Read the extract from Death of a Salesman:
WILLY, desperately: Just let me tell you a story, Howard—
HOWARD: ’Cause you gotta admit, business is business.
WILLY, angrily: Business is definitely business, but just listen for a minute. You don’t understand this. When I was a boy—eighteen, nineteen— I was already on the road. And there was a question in my mind as to whether selling had a future for me. Because in those days I had a yearning to go to Alaska. See, there were three gold strikes in one month in Alaska, and I felt like going out. Just for the ride, you might say.
I love her too, but our neuroses just don’t match.
Miller was married to Monroe from 1956 to 1961. In an interview in 1987, Miller spoke about their relationship: “The very inappropriateness of our being together, was to me a sign that it was appropriate. That we were two parts, however remote, of this society, of this life. One was sensuous and life-loving, it seemed, while at the centre of it there was a darkness and a tragedy that I didn’t know the dimensions of at that time.
“The same thing was true of me. So, it wasn’t that crazy.”
It’s Fiction Friday! This week we have a mind-bending excerpt from Duncan John Reyneke’s speculative fiction novel, Nails in the Sky.
Set in Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, Nails in the Sky tells the story of Alex van der Haar, a young man who one day begins to realise that people are disappearing into thin air. The catch? He’s the only one who seems to remember them at all.
What happens when the whole world changes, and nobody knows? Who can you trust when everybody seems to be keeping secrets? And how far would you go to uncover the truth?
Reyneke is a South African author from the city of Port Elizabeth. He currently lives in Incheon, South Korea, where he writes stories and teaches English. Nails in the Sky is his debut.
Read the excerpt:
From her spot by the kitchen table, the tip of Dorine’s cigarette swirled heat and a thin plume of smoke, as she sat, lost in thought. She lowered her smile into her cup, as she took another sip of the cheap, strong instant coffee, and closed her eyes.
She had lost her virginity to Dan that semester, though the details largely escaped her. It had been clandestine and awkward and clumsy. Some torrid encounter on a futon, trying not to wake a roommate or knock over a cheap potted plant. Nothing new. Even the details of the biggest moments in a person’s life went hazy after so many years and, honestly, the actual physical lovemaking of it never left that much of an impression in the first place.
Still, she’d been thrilled at the time. Beaming like an idiot, bouncing all the way back to her res room afterwards, then immediately calling her sister in the Transkei. They hadn’t dated after that, Dan and Dorine. Which had been fine with her because, well, why should they have? Real life didn’t always work out the way it did in the movies. Before the year was out, Dorine had met a shy sociology student in line to see Vertigo at the Roxbury theatre. Two years after that, they’d be married.
Dorine got up from the table, the last lukewarm gulp of coffee more a hassle than anything else, stretched her legs and wandered over to the sink with her cup.
“Goddamn veins,” she muttered as she splashed the mug through the dishwater she’d left there earlier. She was aware of her eyes, reflected by the glow of the kitchen lamp, staring back in at her as she peered out into the yawning blackness of her garden.
Her heart skidded, tripped over its own shoes, and just stopped itself from falling over. Something had moved. Out there in the blackness, a shadow had shifted. Black on black, a movement she felt more than saw. She blinked her eyes clear and craned her neck, squinting terrified into the glare of the window pane…Nothing. Not a peep. She clenched her jaw and waited a full five minutes, but nothing came.
Stupid old woman. She knew her eyes had played some sort of trick on her – these new specs! What could she have seen out there? In their garden of all places. Nobody ever bothered them. Why would they? They had nothing for anyone but each other. That’s how they’d kept it, all these years.
Jackie Collins, known as the “queen of the bonkbuster” and “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust”, has passed away at the age of 77 after a six-year battle with breast cancer.
The top-selling novelist’s family released the following statement:
It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the death of our beautiful, dynamic and one of a kind mother, Jackie Collins, who died of breast cancer today. She lived a wonderfully full life and was adored by her family, friends and the millions of readers who she has been entertaining for over four decades. She was a true inspiration, a trail blazer for women in fiction and a creative force. She will live on through her characters but we already miss her beyond words.
Tributes have been streaming in from all over as the world mourns the author who had 31 consecutive New York Times bestsellers:
In her novels, Collins shared an insider’s view to lives of celebrities, writing about the glitz and glam of Hollywood’s elite. Whether or not you have read anything by her, you are sure to know at least one woman who has. In a frank interview with Marie Claire Collins explained why so many women relate to her books: “They know that I’m writing the real truth. I do live in Hollywood. I’m disguising the people’s identities, but [readers] love to play the guessing game. They also love the strong women that I write about. And I write incredibly sexy, strong men, too; usually a bad boy who’s waiting to be reformed by the right woman.”
Jackie F: You’ve been asked many times about Fifty Shades of Grey and your response is always, “My women kick arse; they don’t get their arses kicked.” But do you think women sometimes want a man to take control?
Jackie C: There’s a taking control and taking control. A lot of men like women to take control in the bedroom sometimes. To have a virgin submissive heroine is not my kind of heroine. It’s great [EL James] has got people reading, but hate the phrase “mummy porn”. It’s kind of disgusting, ridiculous. And what kind of woman want to depend on handcuffs and spanking to get her rocks off?
A vicious hit. A vengeful enemy. A drug addled Colombian club owner. A sex crazed Italian family. And the ever powerful Lucky Santangelo has to deal with them all, while Max—her teenage daughter is becoming The “It” girl in Europe’s modeling world. And her Kennedyesque son, Bobby, is being set up for a murder he didn’t commit. But Lucky can deal. Always strong and unpredictable with her husband, Lennie, by her side she lives up to the family motto—Never fuck with a Santangelo.
Lucky rules. The Santangelos always come out on top. An epic family saga filled with love, lust, revenge and passion.
Read the first chapter of The Santangelos, made available for download on the author’s website:
Alain Mabanckou – novelist, journalist, poet and academic hailing from Brazzaville in the Congo – recently attended the 2015 Open Book Festival where he participated in numerous panel discussions and exciting debates around world literature.
In one of these sessions, entitled James Baldwin, Mabanckou spoke about his book Letter to Jimmy – a tribute to the late great American writer and Mabanckou’s literary hero.
In another session Mabanckou spoke about the concept of “home”, what it means to be a writer living in different countries, and about feeling like a foreigner when he returned to the Congo.
Serpent’s Tail has shared an extract from The Lights of Pointe-Noire:
The taxi drops me outside Chez Gaspard. I almost turn back: it’s a rough-and-ready restaurant in the Grand Marché district, and it’s full and very noisy. A few customers have been waiting patiently for a while at the door. I’m surprised to see a guy sitting alone, thin as a rake, nod his head at me to come on over. Seeing me standing there, unmoving, undecided, he yells in a powerful voice:
‘Come on! Be my guest!’
I go over to the stranger and sit down opposite him.
‘I know you’re thinking we don’t know each other. But I know you! You’re a writer, I’ve seen you sometimes on the TV! All these people sitting eating here are ignoramuses, they don’t know who you are! But you’re looking at someone who actually follows the news!’
‘Maybe you were expecting someone who…’
‘I belong here, I invite who I like. Two days ago I had lunch with a white journalist, yesterday with a colonel in the army, and this evening I’m with a writer! A word of advice: don’t have the boar today, I’ve been told it’s not fresh…’
He waves a hand in the direction of the waitress. She brings us two Primus beers and takes the tops off, her face expressionless, as though put out by the presence of this stranger. She goes back to the counter while my host eyes up her rear:
‘I’ve got the file on that girl, and it’s closed. She can sulk at me if she likes, I’ve already slept with her… Did you see the arse on her?’
I look round and nod.
‘This country’s changed, my writer friend…’
The stranger notices me looking at the scar that cuts his face in two, and touches it with his hand.
‘Yes, I know, it comes from the war, the oil, I mean…’
He looks over at the customers sitting behind us, then at those sitting opposite us, to make sure they’re not listening, then goes on:
‘God gave us oil, even though we’re only a little country with less than three million people. Why did he put all the oil in the south, instead of giving a bit to the north, so everyone would at least have a slice of the cake and we could stop fighting each other? But you know, I’m not complaining; when I think of some countries and the mess they’re in and they don’t have a single drop of oil, in the ground or out at sea!’
He raises his glass, empties it in one, and fills it again:
‘Oil equals power! Where there’s a war, there’s oil. Otherwise, tell me this, why don’t countries fight over water? Imagine a country without water, would its people survive? Oil has screwed everything up between the north and the south. And like the fuckwits we are, we’ve had a civil war over it!’
This week’s Sunday Read is an excerpt from Make Me by Lee Child.
But first some background on the latest addition to Child’s Jack Reacher novels, in the form of a review by Katherine Dunn, published in The Oregonian, and an interview with the author conducted by Natasha Harding and Caroline Iggulden for The Sun.
In her review of Make Me, Dunn says what makes a fiction series like Child’s successful is the appeal of the central character. She says Reacher continues to draw readers in because he takes them on an “experimental voyage” in the “unanchored realm” he inhabits.
Read the review:
With any one of Lee Child’s 20 novels in hand, even the daintiest or most dissolute of couch potatoes can spend hours of life as a brilliant 6-foot-5 ex-military investigator possessed of 250 dangerously skilled pounds of bone and muscle. The reader taps into Jack Reacher’s raw power and shrewd competence with every turn of the page.
But Reacher is also the avatar of a peculiar and challenging freedom. After a lifetime of regimented discipline, Reacher leaves the Army and goes roaming. He has, and wants, no baggage. No job, no phone, no house, no car, no wife, no kids. When the clothes he’s wearing get dirty, he buys new ones and leaves the old behind. He carries nothing but a passport, an ATM card, and a toothbrush. He goes where he pleases and leaves when he chooses.
In his interview with Harding and Iggulden, Child explains the inspiration for his enigmatic and larger-than-life protagonist.
Read the interview:
While Lee still spends time in Britain, he is happiest in his adopted home of New York. He said: “The people here have a can-do attitude. It is an anonymous city and it stops you getting big-headed. There are people doing so much better and so much worse and it keeps you grounded.”
One person you could never describe as average is Lee’s all-American hero Jack Reacher thanks to his huge stature and strength.
Jack Reacher’s famous physical qualities are based on Lee’s playground memories as a child.
Lee, who is 6ft 4in, said: “I was huge as a kid and Reacher’s stature is me translated as a kid.
“I enjoyed being bigger and fighting shamelessly. I’ve done a fair amount of headbutting. It’s an awesome manoeuvre. The violent streak ebbed away as I grew up but recurs once in a while.”
The “violent streak” in Child is skilfully deployed in his writing to draw you in to the story.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter of Make Me, shared on Child’s website:
Moving a guy as big as Keever wasn’t easy. It was like trying to wrestle a king-size mattress off a waterbed. So they buried him close to the house. Which made sense anyway. The harvest was still a month away, and a disturbance in a field would show up from the air. And they would use the air, for a guy like Keever. They would use search planes, and helicopters, and maybe even drones.
They started at midnight, which they thought was safe enough. They were in the middle of ten thousand acres of nothingness, and the only man-made structure their side of any horizon was the railroad track to the east, but midnight was five hours after the evening train and seven hours before the morning train. Therefore, no prying eyes. Their backhoe had four spotlights on a bar above the cab, the same way kids pimped their pick-up trucks, and together the four beams made a wide pool of halogen brightness. Therefore, visibility was not a problem either. They started the hole in the hog pen, which was a permanent disturbance all by itself. Each hog weighed two hundred pounds, and each hog had four feet. The dirt was always chewed up. Nothing to see from the air, not even with a thermal camera. The picture would white out instantly, from the steaming animals themselves, and their steaming piles and pools of waste.
It’s Fiction Friday! Dip into an excerpt from Foreign Gods, Inc., the latest novel by Okey Ndibe, who will be in Cape Town for the Open Book Festival next week.
The novel tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver, who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.
Ndibe earned some heavyweight praise for the book, with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o saying it “reads like the narrative of a taxi-driving Faust in modern Nigeria and America … it teems with characters and situations that make you laugh in order not to cry”.
Wole Soyinka said it was “quite a while since I sensed creative promise on this level”.
Ndibe was born in Nigeria, in 1960, and moved to the United States in 1988 when Chinua Achebe invited him to become the founding editor of African Commentary. He has MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and lives in Connecticut.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter of Foreign Gods, Inc.:
Ikechukwu Uzondu, “Ike for short,” parked his Lincoln Continental cab at a garage that charged twelve dollars per hour. Before shutting off the engine, he looked at the car’s electronic clock. Nine forty-seven a.m.; it meant the gallery would have been open for a little less than an hour. Perfect, Ike thought, for he wished to be done transacting his business before the place started buzzing.
He walked a block and a half to 19 Vance Street. Had a small animal been wedged in his throat, his heart could not have pounded more violently.
The eave over the door bore a sign etched in black over a bluish background: foreign gods, incorporated. It was written in tiny, stylized lettering, as if intended to create a tactful anonymity. Few would stumble upon a store like this; it would be found, it seemed, only by habitués and devotees.
Across the street was a bar. Ike contemplated a quick drink or two to calm his nerves. How odd to flack for a war god while jittery. Yet, to go in smelling of alcohol might also be a costly mistake.
The gallery door clicked, and a tanned woman walked out. A squat carved statue was clutched close to her breast, held in a suckling posture. At the curb, a gleaming black BMW pulled up. She opened the rear door and leaned in, arched backside revealing the outline of her underwear. Her black high-heeled shoes were riveted with nodes of diamond. She strapped the deity in place with the seat belt and then straightened. The car’s front door was opened from inside. She lowered herself in, and the car sped off.
Ike pulled at the gallery door—surprisingly light. A wide, sprawling space unfurled itself: gray marble floors, turquoise walls, and glass-paneled showcases. A multitude of soft, recessed lights accentuated the gallery’s dim, spectral atmosphere. In the middle of the room, slightly to the left of the door, a spiral staircase with two grille-work banisters rose to an upper floor. Ike knew from the New York magazine piece that people went upstairs only by invitation. And that those invitations went only to a small circle of long-term collectors or their designated dealers.
There was an otherworldly chill in the air. There was also a smell about the place, unsettling and hard to name. Ike froze at the edge of the run of stairs that led down to the floor of the gallery. From the elevation, he commanded a view. The space was busy but not cluttered. Clusters of short, squat showcases were interspersed with long and deep ones. Here and there, some customers peered into the glass cases or pored over catalogs.
In a matter of two, three weeks, his people’s ancient deity, Ngene, would be here, too. And it would enjoy pride of place, not on this floor, with the all-comers and nondescripts, but upstairs, in the section called Heaven. Ngene was a majestic god with a rich legend and history. How many other gods could boast of dooming Walter Stanton, that famed English missionary whose name, in the syllable-stretching mouths of the people of Utonki, became Su-tan-tee-ny?
The thought gave him a gutsy boost. He trotted down the steps to the floor of the gallery. Walking unhurriedly, he cast deliberate glances about him, so that an observer might mistake him for a veteran player in the rare sport where gods and sacred curios were bought and sold. He paused near the spiral staircase. A sign warned please do not ascend unless escorted. He walked on to a chest-high showcase. A hefty wooden head stared at him from atop a rectangular stump. The face was pitched forward, like a tortoise’s head poking out of a shell. On closer inspection, Ike saw that the carved head was deformed by a chipped, flattened nose and large, bulgy eyes. Inside the case, four fluorescent puck lights washed the statue with crisscross patterns of luminescence and shadows. A fork-tongued serpent coiled itself round the statue’s neck.
There was an electronic key code for the showcase’s twin-winged door, and several perforations in the glass, small and circular, as if designed to let in and let out just enough air to keep the glum, rigid statue from suffocating. A strip tag glued to the glass cage identified the deity as C1760. Ike picked up a glossy catalog and thumbed to the C section. Each page was columned, with sections marked “inventory code,” “name,” “brief history,” and “price.” He ran his finger down the line until he saw the tag number. Then he drew his finger across to the price column: $29,655.
He flipped the pages to the catalog’s last section, marked “Heavenly Inventory.” The lowest price in the section was $171,455; the highest $1.13 million. He studied the image of one of the deities in that section. Carved from soot-black wood, it had two fused figures, one female, and the other male. The figures backed each other. The female was big breasted and boasted a swollen belly. The male figure held a hoe in one hand, a gun in the other, its grotesque phallus extending all the way to its feet. They shared the same androgynous head, turned neither left nor right but forward. A pair of deep-set eyes seemed to return Ike’s stare. It was listed for $325,630. Ike read the short italicized description: A god of the crossroads, originally from Papua New Guinea.
“Wait until they see Ngene,” he said under his breath, a flush of excitement washing over him. Surely, a legendary god of war would command a higher price than a two-faced crossroads idler.
From the BBC: On Thursday JRR Tolkien’s early story The Story of Kullervo will be published for the first time. The dark tale reveals that Tolkien’s Middle Earth was inspired not only by England and Wales … but also by Finland.
From The New Republic: Who, then, is Patrick Modiano? His memoir Pedigree, originally published in France in 2005, is brief and sharp, a pointillist interpretation of personal history, a chronicle that resembles a mere list of names and places and dates that emphasises, yet again, the question of pre-history. As its title suggests, the book is in part an homage to Georges Simenon’s Pedigree, the Belgian writer’s 1948 autobiographical novel “in which everything is true but nothing is accurate,” a natural inspiration for Modiano’s project. “I’m a dog who pretends to have a pedigree,” Modiano writes.
From the Paris Review: Haruki Murakami is not only arguably the most experimental Japanese novelist to have been translated into English, he is also the most popular, with sales in the millions worldwide.
From the Paris Review: Now seventy-seven years old, Talese occupies the strange position of being both legendary and misunderstood. His innovation was to apply techniques from the craft of fiction to his newspaper and magazine stories, giving them the shape and life of short stories—a style, later referred to as New Journalism, which he originated in his days as a New York Times reporter in the fifties.
The Economist reports that Lagercrantz was “terrified” of taking over from the Swedish writer and journalist who died in 2004 and whose bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published posthumously in 2005.
Read the article:
Mr Lagercrantz admitted to feeling the strain: “I’ve been terrified,” he told reporters in Stockholm. “I used to say that I was bipolar, manic depressive all the time, and I think it was kind of a good thing to write in this condition … I’m scared to death that I won’t live up to Stieg.” But for those who do not speak Swedish, the translated versions of the novels—which were also heavily edited in their English editions—have already accustomed the reader to an intermediary.
Lagercrantz also told The New York Times that he is “anxious” about how millions of readers will receive the novel.
However, not everyone is as happy about the publication of the new book. Steven Erlanger writes that Larsson’s long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson has expressed her concern over the ethics of the publication, even likening it to the mystery shrouding Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.
Read the article, in which Lagercrantz says, “I’m scared to death that I won’t live up to Stieg”:
“At night my head burns,” he said, explaining that he had tried to get Mr. Larsson’s characters “into my blood system” when writing. Asked about the biggest liberty he took, he laughed a little and said, “Doing it.”
A tall, handsome, slightly twitchy man in a T-shirt and plaid trousers, he acknowledged that “I’m scared to death that I won’t live up to Stieg.” But “I couldn’t resist,” he said. “I would have regretted it my whole life.”
Mr. Larsson’s legacy is certainly formidable, even intimidating. After he died in 2004 of a sudden heart attack at 50, his three books, beginning with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” went on to sell some 80 million copies in more than 50 languages.
In the extract from Chapter 9 of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Salander wakes up with a terrible headache and ghost images of a dream about her father, a lanky man with dark sunglasses breaks into Balder’s house and Blomkvist is about to get a scoop that might save his job at Millennium.
Read the excerpt:
Salander woke up lying straight across the king-size bed and realized that she had been dreaming about her father. A feeling of menace swept over her like a cloak. But then she remembered the start of the evening and concluded that it could as easily be a chemical reaction in her body. She had a terrible hangover. She got up on wobbly legs and went into the large bathroom—with the jacuzzi and the marble and all the idiotic luxuries—to be sick. But nothing happened, she just sank to the floor, breathing heavily.
Then she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, which was not particularly encouraging either. Her eyes were red. On the other hand it was not long after midnight. She must have slept for only a few hours. She took a glass from the bathroom cupboard and filled it with water. But at the same moment the details of her dream came flooding back and she crushed the glass in her hand. Blood dripped to the floor, and she swore and realized that she was unlikely to be going back to sleep.
Should she try to crack the encrypted NSA file she had downloaded? No, that would be pointless, at least for now. Instead she wound a towel around her hand and took from her bookshelves a new study by Princeton physicist Julie Tammet, which described how a big star collapses into a black hole. She lay down on the sofa by the windows overlooking Slussen and Riddarfjärden.
In a two-part interview with EW, Lagercrantz talks about Salander’s strong moral compass, her anger and her urge to avenge all the cruelty she experienced in her childhood. “She’s tougher than all of us,” he says.
What do the critics think of The Girl in the Spider’s Web? Writing for The Guardian, Mark Lawson calls it a “respectful and affectionate homage”:
Salander, one of the most original inventions in popular fiction, remains a vengeful, homicidal, self-destructive love rat, and yet surprisingly admirable because of Larsson’s careful attribution of her psychological wiring to survival instincts developed during a terrifying early life. Blomkvist is still a shabby amoralist whose professional standing, as the new story starts, has been diminished by two ancient threats to print journalism – drink and sloth – and a modern one: online competition.
A skilled novelist in his own right – his books include Fall of Man in Wilmslow, about the tragic British computer pioneer, Alan Turing – Lagercrantz has constructed an elegant plot around different concepts of intelligence.
Michiko Kakutani writes in The New York Times that Lagercrantz has channelled Larsson’s narrative style rather well:
In “Spider’s Web,” Mr. Lagercrantz demonstrates an instinctive feel for the world Larsson created and for his two unconventional gumshoes: Blomkvist, the dedicated, mensch-y reporter (and unlikely middle-aged girl-magnet); and Salander, the fierce, damaged girl who looks like an angry, punked-out version of Audrey Hepburn (if you can imagine Holly Golightly rocking tattoos and piercings, instead of a tiara) and who fights with the kick-ass video game skills of Lara Croft.
This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Tsitsi Dangarembga’s forthcoming novel, Chronicle of an Indomitable Daughter, the third in the “Tambudzai Trilogy” that began with Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not.
Dangarembga was born in Zimbabwe in 1959. She studied medicine at Cambridge University in the UK, but returned to Zimbabwe the year it was recognised as an independent nation, in 1980. She was 25 when Nervous Conditions – the first English-language novel by a black Zimbabwean woman – was published.
Last year, Dangarembga shared an excerpt from the book on TriQuarterly:
You know you have made the wrong decision when you move in and the room smells worse.
Your landlady hovers around. She says to your wrinkled nose, “Yes, Ms. Sigauke, your God is good to you. You are home now, and see what I have done for you!”
A leak in the roof has dripped onto the mattress, causing fungus to grow on the cloth and over the ceiling.
“It is nice and fresh now,” observes the widow expansively, stepping enthusiastically past the clothes rail. She puts out a finger and pulls down the remains of the spider webs.
“There was just a little hole, one like that up there in the roof. Just tiles that had moved like that because of the wind, but as soon as I decided and I knew someone was coming to sleep in this room, you can see I fixed it.
“You know, Miss Sigauke,” she goes on, “I am still looking for a decent girl to help me. There were some things I didn’t do, over there in my cottage, that I wanted to, because I have been saying tomorrow and tomorrow for so long! But that’s my cottage! Here I aired this room and opened the windows every day myself since you stood in this doorway with me. And I came in to close them myself at night, because you know when you have something that is good, all the time people are thinking of robbing!”
Your landlady details removing the satin curtains and washing them herself.
“I did that for you, to make sure you feel at home!” she smiles under her headdress of pink and yellow, and flinging a hand out toward the window.
“You can see, can’t you, everything is much better, is beautiful and ready for you, Miss Sigauke!
“You can take them to the dry cleaners or do them by hand if you want them cleaned henceforth, but if you spoil them, the value will be added to your debit,” she concludes.
Your lack of choices confronts you angrily. But once more you tell yourself on oath you will not succumb to more bad energy than you already have.
You spend most of the time in your new room. You venture out for air in the garden or to sit under the jacaranda by the gate infrequently. You are still against bad energy when you do, so you nod to passers-by, volunteering, “Hello, how has your day been! How is everything, is it all right where you are from!”
This is how you go on. When your housemates go off to catch combis to work after distant cocks from rougher yards have stopped crowing, you cannot sleep anymore. Their preparations wake you up. Your brain is foamy and slippery like sisal thrashed on rocks. You torture it to a gel-like consistency by making lists and plans.
Once a week you go shopping. You walk to the little shopping center down the road. You force yourself to walk jauntily, while you are out. Returning, you look, discouraged, at the bag swinging by your thigh. Mealie meal. Salt. Cooking oil. Candles and matches in case of a blackout.
From this bag, which you keep in a corner of the cupboard below the counter, away from the other residents, you prepare your breakfast, a slush of mealie meal cooked on the stove that neither simmers nor boils dishes properly because of the area’s low but sometimes surging voltages.
Your second meal is the same mealie meal stirred thicker. You need what has gradually come to be called relish. You begin, a few leaves at a time, picking what is necessary from the widow’s neglected garden.
The rest of the time you sit by your window, staring through the drooping and yellowing pink net over your landlady’s brown lawn, and over the slab she and VaManyanga put down to assist the students. You do not think of death, because on the Sunday after your arrival a squat, battered blue Toyota crunches up the drive. With a puff of exhaust, it stops in front of the empty carport in precisely the spot to prevent any other vehicle from entering.
You look up from the magazine you brought with you from the advertising agency. You are reading it for the hundredth time. You see a long, muscular arm snake out of the back passenger window and open the door.
Half a dozen children leap out of the vehicle, hollering, “Mbuya! Mbuya!”
They dance over the earth. They do their utmost to avoid trampling the widow’s vegetable garden. Ridges crumble. Vines snap. Ripe tomatoes explode. You observe the children with a smile that is almost gentle.
“Watch it! Hey, just watch out! Wait until somebody sees that!” the driver puts his head out of the window and yells.
He goes on, “You’ll get the thrashing of your life! If your grandmother doesn’t want to, be sure I will be the one to do it!”
This makes the children giggle and shriek as they charge off to hammer on the widow’s cottage door.
A weight as heavy as lead, as unassailable as poison, pulls you down. You wonder again whether you should be ashamed of anything. You decide you should not, for one man threatening to abuse a carload of children is not your story. Your only disgrace has been to end up in your predicament. But the new lodging is a gift from somewhere. You are moving forward. And now there is also a new gift of gentlemen.