Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Four Short Listed Runner Up Short Stories of the 2010 Caine Prize-African Short Stories

The Short List Runner Ups for the 2010 Caine Prize For Best African Short Story

"Worm" by Ken Barris, 2009 (South Africa)
"How Shall We Kill the Bishop" by Lily Mambura, 2008 (Kenya)
"Manzunga"  by Namwali Serpell, 2009 (Zambia)
"Soul Mates" by Alex Smith, 2009 (South Africa)

Yesterday I posted on a really great short story, "Stick Fighting Days" by Olufremi Terry (Siera Leone) which won the 2010 Caine Prize for best short story by a writer from an African country.    (There is a link to the award page on my post on "Stick Fighting Days" and also an explanation of the great import of the Caine Prize).    The short story was chosen as the literary form of choice for its continuation of the tradition of the story teller in African culture.   The Caine Prize is considered the most prestigious African literary award.   It was named for Sir Michael Caine who was chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for twenty five years.    All three of the African Nobel Prize winners for literature are patrons of the award (J. M. Coetzee and Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer) which comes with 10,000 British Pounds.      Three out of the four stories dwell on very violent themes.    Two of the writers are now American academics.

"Worm" by Ken Barris  

Ken Barris is a professor at Cape Peninsula University in Cape Town South Africa and also a professional writer.   "Worm" is a very interesting story about a man living in Cape Town South Africa with his seemingly near psychotic dog, Worm.    The man (the story is narrated in the first person) is very concerned about crime and his personal security.   His house has a  security system, his doors and windows are heavily bolted at all times and his best source of protection is his dog Worm who is completely vicious to any intruder.   Here is a very interesting detail that will give a sense of the prose style of Barris and sort of gets to what I see as the heart of the story:

If I can only detach Worm, make him open his jaws
somehow, we will walk on, leaving the spaniel behind us. There will be no consequences. I am
filled with a grim satisfaction, which I do not really understand. It is a relief, however, a kind of
pleasure. I stand holding Worm’s leash, hoping he will soon let go.
Worm has just killed a cocker spaniel on the street.   The narrator did nothing to prevent it and he sees the event as perfectly normal.    I think we are meant to be drawn to reflect on a society so violent where life is held so cheaply that one can walk a killer dog down the street and no one thinks anything of it.   Imagine walking your dog down the streets  of Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore or Paris only to have him kill a cocker spaniel and you, the owner of the dog, will just walk on as if nothing has happened with no attention to the dead dog.   In many places one can be arrested or fined for not cleaning up after your dog and in the world we enter in "Worm" nobody cares or thinks anything of it.   This is a very good story that takes us a long way into the mental state that living in a very violent place can induce.

"How Shall We Kill the Bishop" by Lily Mabura

Lily Mabura is from Kenya and is working on her PhD at the University of Missouri.   "How We Shall Kill the Bishop" centers around a group of priests.    Unlike "Stick Fighting Days" or "Worm" this story relies on expository telling rather that showing.    It centers on the lives of a group of priests who are unhappy with their bishop.   One of them proposes that they kill him and the story revolves around the consideration of this idea.    There are some stylistic tics in the story I was also puzzled by such as use of very nonstandard English sentence construction in some of the exposition.   Maybe this was meant to project us into a consciousness that does not see the world in University approved late Victorian prose but it did not seem to work.  (I am quite sensitive to the use of the Victorian novel prose model as a tool of suppression and spoke on this matter in my post on Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys).    "How Shall We Kill The Bishop" is  well written story worth your time to read.

"Mazunga" by  Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell is from Zambia and an Assistant Professor in the English Department of the University of California at Berkeley.   "Manzunga" is about a young girl, Isabella, who is the daughter of affluent Europeans living in a city in Zambia.    Isabella's parents are completely caught up in the social world of other expats

Her parents had settled into life in Zambia the way most expats do. They drank a lot. Every weekend was another house party, that neverending expatriate house party that has been swatting mosquitoes and swimming in gin and quinine for more than a century.   
I found this story to make use of stock characters in his portrayal of the characters in the work.

The Colonel sat in his permanent chair just beyond the shade of the veranda, dampening with gin thatch protruding from his nostrils, occasionally snorting at some private or overheard joke. 
The story does make interesting use of a lot of details of things that could be seen from a child's point of view, kind of naturalistic observations.

"Soul Mates" by Alex Smith

Alex Smith is from South Africa and is a professional writer, having published several novels.    "Soul Mates" is the only historical work, set  some time in the period of Dutch Colonial rule in parts of South Africa.    The story centers on a mail order bride of a Dutch Boer settler who is married to a completely brutal man.   All of her intimate contacts with her husband feel like rape to her and she comes to have  a deep hatred for her husband who is depicted in the story as a complete brute.    There are phrases in Dutch in the story.   Using the power of Google, I found all of these phrases in Dutch were prayers of the woman for relief from her horrible domestic situation.   If I did not have the resources of Google I would not have understood this portion of the story and I actually did not see how this use of Dutch benefited the narration or artistic qualities of this story and might have been annoyed without Google to help me here.    A very dramatic turn of events takes place and I will not give away more of  the plot.

All four of these stories are decent well written  and worth your time to read works.     For sure the judges made the right decision (I heard it was unanimous) in selecting "Stick Fighting Days" as the winner.    The Caine Prize has been awarded for the last ten years.   Every year there are from 10 to 4 other stories that are shortlisted for the prize and all of them can be found on the official web page.   This comes to around 75 stories or so.   I did a little bit of research and only a  few of these stories can be read online (one cannot blame the authors or publishers for preferring to keep the stories off line).  

I am very glad I found these stories (I owe it  to a Tweet of one of the great people I follow on Twitter).    I will be reading more Caine Prize winners and short listed stories in the future, I hope.  
The official web page also tells how to submit a story for the 2011 award along with the rules of eligibility.

All of the stories can be linked through the official web page.

Mel u


1 comment:

a r said...

unfortunately,i didnt found related link to the short story :(
could u help me please?