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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Caine Prize 2011 "Hitting Budapest" the 2011 Winner

"Hitting Budapest" by NoViolent Bolawayo (2006, 11 pages)

This Story is the 2011 Caine Prize Winner
The 2011 Short Listed Stories

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.   

"Hitting Budapest" by NoViolet Bolawayo (OK admit it, you love her first name!) is from Zimbabwe and that is where her story is set.    As the story opens a group of children from the poorer sections of town are getting ready to go on an expedition to steal some Guavas.    I admit as the story opened I thought to myself, "Guavas cannot possibly grow in Budapest".    Upon reading further Budapest is a region in a city in Zimbabwe.    We never learn what city we are in but it seems to me that it is most likely the second city of Bulawaya, based on a bit of research I did on place and street names in the story.    The city is distinctly divided into rich and poor areas with the rich areas being almost like European style enclaves.

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.

Mel  u


Em said...

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. i look forward to reading your other posts on the topic.
Em (@C'est la vie!

Laurie said...

Thank you so much for posting this: I will read every single story and keep abreast of future Caine Prize winners as well.
And please allow me to add: Your blog is a blessing to world readers.
My gratitude to you, and my hopes that you will keep doing what you do for our global reading community, for many years to come.

Mel u said...

Em-I hope you enjoy these stories and would love to see your reaction to them

Laurie-thanks very much for your kind words-I am glad you have found my blog and hope you like it

@parridhlantern said...

Another great post & confusion for me as you are one of my go to sites for J-lit & will have to expand my notions & check out a lot more.

Mel u said...

parrish lantern-The Caine Prize is a second your event for me-last year I found about it kind of by accident-they kept records of my posts and send me material to expedite me posting on all five of the stories this year-if you are near London you might consider going to the awards dinner!-July 11 I think-Caine Prize is really high prestige award -

karen! said...

I hadn't heard of this prize before. Thanks for exposing me to it. I'm looking forward to your posts on the other shortlisted stories.

Kinga said...

Hey Mel,

I have just bought the ticket to Caine Prize readings and I am going to write about each short listed story as well.

Whis is why I can't read this post just yet ;-)

KonWomyn said...

Hey Mel

I think you're the only person so far who really enjoyed this story, it's a good post. I wanted to like it, but I couldn't and I've explored that in my blog.

I don't think Dickens could be accussed of poverty porn because of the way in which he represented the poor. He didn't rely on cliches and stereotypes whereas unfortunately this story does. Zunguzungu has eloquently explored the benefits and drawbacks of doing that.

Mel u said...

KonWomyn-thanks very much for your post-here is kind of my first response

Today I learned a new literary expression “African-poverty-pornography” in reading Zunguzunga’s very insightful post on “Hitting Budapest”-here is how the term is to be understood:

““If you were so inclined, in fact, the thing you could say about it would be that it traffics in the familiar genre of Africa-poverty-pornography, by which I would mean that its “story” is only an obligatory excuse for the parade of affect-inducing spectacles which are the story’s real reason for existing. Rather than building a character through back-story, you could say, the purpose of “Chipo” and her fellows is only to dramatize a particular sociological narrative about poverty, to put into view a picture of what you might call a collapsed mode of social reproduction.”

One of the interesting moment in “Hitting Budapest” occurs when the children are in a rich party of the city and a affluent very Anglozied woman asks to take their picture (to show friends back in London a picture of street children she “actually spoke to”)-clearly the woman is receiving a form of voueristic titilation from this encounter. The question then becomes is writing this story like taking a picture of the kids to show people back in London how close you dared to get to real poverty. Bluntly is the author of “Hitting Budapest” (and most of the other Caine Prize stories) writing a story those with high end literary literary educations (as many Caine Prize writers and probably most all readers) can ring their hands over at the poverty of the people of Africa? This did make me reflect a bit. Are these stories written to appeal to the Oxford based Caine Prize Judges?

This brings up the broad question-how much do author intentions matter. My first, and now second,response is that Dickens knowingly did just that. He wrote (certainly in his opening years) about the extreme poor of London (most of the people really) to sell magazines and books to the more affluent people who want only a literary contact with the poor. Does Dickens make use of Cliches about the poor in say Toto Oliver Twist or The Old Couriosity Shop. I am a life time reader and lover of Dickens but I would have to say yes he does rely on cliches and standard figures like orphans to arouse sympathy. Dickens himself came from poverty and wrote his way out of it.

To give another example, Robindranth Tagore, the first Asian writer to win the Nobel Prize, came from a family of incredible riches, the kind you can hardly even find anymore. He wrote many stories deeply sympathetic to the poor of India, especially women in which there is no hint of “poverty-porn”. He had no economic need to sell stories by pandering to his readers.

Related to this issue is the Dalit Literature of India which is written by and about the lives of what was once called the Out Cast people of India (apx 120 Million People). Many of these stories focus on the lives of toilet cleaners, street sweepers, and others in the lowest kind of jobs. Most of the authors have advanced degrees, some with Phds from Oxford. Their stories depict institutionalized poverty based on cultural norms going back 1000s of years. Dalit literature is treated as distinct sub-genre of literature. Some of it does feel a bit like “poverty porn”.

I recently read Edward Said landmark book, Orientalism. I think the bad feeling some of the Caine Prize stories arouses come from a Colonial sense that the authors are what are called “native experts” teaching the Europeans how to manage their subjects and being well paid for doing so. They know an over simplied view will sell better than an indepth analysis in which the full humanity of the people in the stories are disclosed. The authors are then, pushing this as devil’s advocate, paid informants and sell outs.

I do not agree with this but I respect it and I am trying to understand the harsh reaction these stories are producing in some readers.

theoncominghope said...

Welcome to the blogathon!

I just wanted to chime in on the concept of "poverty porn." The way you've described it is quite different from the way I visualize it. Yes, on the one hand, it's a way for rich westernites to feel better about their own lives. But I think "poverty porn" is something far more insidious. It's placing stories about "others" into familiar frames, as if we cannot cope with having our stereotypes challenged. As if it's outside our belief for some of these children to have desires beyond basic needs, to have aspirations, to have ideas of their own apart from what we in the west imagine that they want.

This, to me, is exactly why the Indian fiction that sells in India is completely different from what sells in the US. You get garbage like Slumdog Millionaire and Aravind Adiga setting the western world on fire because THAT IS HOW THEY WANT TO SEE INDIANS. They don't want to recognize the economists, the scientists, the inventors. These are the characters and stories more commonly read in India. Science fiction and fantasy as well. Not jasmine draped stories of Rajas or filth-soaked stories of slum-dwellers.

You have really got me on a tear! I will continue this and expand in a new blog post :)

Again, welcome.

Kinga said...

Ok, I am done with mine, I can read your take on it now :D

Ashley said...

I think this is a great short story and I can see why it's nominated. I think it's extremely difficult to write a whole story from the POV of children and make it believable and consister and Bulawayo did just that. And these comments and blog posts are teaching me about "African-poverty-pornography" which I hadn't heard of before. Some very interesting and thought-provoking discussions going on. Lots more reading to do - thanks for posting links for this discussion!