This Story is the 2011 Caine Prize Winner
The 2011 Short Listed Stories
Story One of Five
Last year I read and posted on the 2010 Caine Prize Winning Short story, "Stick Fighting Days" by Olufemi Terry from Sierre Leone. I also did a combined post on the four stories that were short listed for the prize. This year's award will be announced on July 7th at the annual award dinner in Oxford (details will be forthcoming for readers who might wish to attend this event). Below is some background information on the Caine Prize I included with my first post on the award a year ago.
The Caine Prize is considered Africa's Leading Literary award. Entry is open to anyone from an African country and the form of work is the short short. The patrons of the prize include three African winners of the Nobel Prize for literature, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee and Wole Soyinka. Chinua Achebe, winner of the International Man Booker prize, is also a patron. The award comes with 10,000 British Pounds and is given out annually at a celebratory event in Oxford. The short story is seen as a continuation of the tradition of African story telling which is one of the reasons the award focuses on that genre. The award began in 2000.
The story is told in the first person by one of the children in the group. The city is kind of a scary but exciting place to them. The children have names like "Godfellow" and "Bastard". They know if their mothers find out what they are doing they will be in big trouble but they do not much care.
I thought the conversations between the children were well done. The oldest boy is a great runner so he seems to be in the lead. In a shocking revelation passed of as quick matter of fact note in a conversation, we learn that a ten year old girl in the group is pregnant by her grandfather. None of the other kids seems to find this shocking or terrible or outside the scope of their experience. This is one thing most people will recall about the story.
As the children approach the Budapest area everything seems so different to them. There is no smell of out door cooking and no smell of rotting garbage. The houses are big, all have walls around them and most seem unoccupied. At one house a woman smiles at them. They are confused by this as it does not happen often. The woman is thin and is wearing a camera around her neck. The kids fixate on the fact that she is eating something very exciting looking they cannot identify. They are shocked when she throws it in the garbage half eaten, nobody throws away food in their neighborhood. They notice the woman has beautiful pink feet. She says she is from London and is there to visit her father. She asks the kids if she can take a picture of them. They are made uncomfortable by this request they do not understand but they do it. As the get safely away from the house they begin to shout insults at the woman as they were very hurt when she threw the food she was eating out instead of offering it to them. The woman goes back inside but seems to have no clue why he kids are insulting her.
There are no real dramatic developments in the story, it is just some kids out for the afternoon. The power of this story lies in its understatement. A ten year old girl pregnant by her grandfather can be shrugged off as is a woman found hanging in a tree. The kids debate whether or not they should take her shoes but express no emotions or little curiosity about her.
Konwomyn of Sky, Soil, and Everywhere in Between is also posting on the five short listed stories and we have agreed to exchange notes. (There are five other bloggers posting on the stories and there are links to them on Konwomyn's blog.) Konwomyn, who is from Zimbabwe, says there is a kind of irony in this story. The author of the story does a good job of presenting the very Anglo woman with a father from London taking pictures of the poor kids to show her friends back in London. The suggestion then is NoViolet Bolawayo with an MFA from Cornell is similar to this woman. She has written a story about the poor of Zimbabwe in a literary journal published in Boston aimed at Americans with high end literary educations. Is this just a story for rich liberals to read and pity the poor for their lives?
In a quick answer I would just say the exact same thing could be accurately said of Charles Dickens. I liked this story a good bit. I would happily read more of her work and will look forward to seeing her career develop. We have agreed to post our bets for the winning story.
The narrative flow in the story is well done. I felt I was being shown what life was like for the kids, not told. I enjoyed reading this story.
You can read the story in The Boston Review
There is a link to NoViolet Bolawayo's web page and blog HERE.
I will post on the next four stories soon.
The New International Books, the publisher for the Caine Prize, has kindly provided me a copy of their wonderful book, To See the Mountain and Other Stories which has the five short listed stories as well as twelve stories by participants at this year's Caine workshop. I was also provided an e-book.