There is a sense of adventure in the anthology The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories, put together from last year’s entries to the Caine Prize for African Writing.
From the fantasy genre, Zambian Bwanga Kapumpa writes in The Wandering Festival, “Her hair was alive; a constant stream of liquid dreadlocks emanated from the top of her head and covered her bare breasts… I tried to look at Mlenga, her face even more beautiful in the creeping light. I looked into her big eyes and drowned in the pools of their spellbinding essence. She slowly faded and disappeared with the rising sun, along with the rest of the non-human festival attendees.”
Writer Lesley Nneka Arimah from Nigeria dips her feet into a genre in fiction that is thin on authors — African sci-fi. Her story in this anthology, What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, is so believable, it’s no wonder it was shortlisted.
She uses elaborate ominous descriptions, but you don’t get the sense she’s working too hard to convince you of this fantasy world.
Lidudumalingani Mqombothi from South Africa wrote in his winning story, The Memories we Lost, “I looked at my sister and found her face, as it had become in earlier months, emotionless. In the past few days she had given me hope that she had returned. Now tears rolled down our cheeks. I knew then that she still felt something, that the last few days of holding hands, laughing and jumping in the rain were not a dream.”
Lidudumalingani focuses on the weight of the affliction suffered by his protagonist’s sister. The story is endearing for its authenticity, poured out from the emotions of the main characters.
Complex humour can be enjoyed in the story The Lifebloom Gift, by Abdul Adan from Somalia/Kenya.
His piece collects sad circumstances and dresses them in bravery.
He writes: “Ted was quick to take the old man’s alarm bell away from him lest he called anyone. I grabbed his little wrinkly hands and told him to stay mute or face the lifebloom wrath. We pulled his pyjamas and set the pegs in the right order. The old fool kept squirming and convulsing so much that I had to hold him back by his back as Ted tended to his every mole.”
At Your Requiem is another gem in this collection, written by Bongani Kona from Zimbabwe, one of the five shortlisted writers.
His piece has a strong start, where we meet a man recounting the death of his cousin. He reveals mixed feelings for his cousin through a clever flashback that eventually ties to the death.
Serious social issues are tackled in the anthology: Bongani looks at addiction and suicide, as well as the sexual abuse of boys. Tope Folarin (Nigeria) in Genesis highlights mental illness, and subtle but vicious racism.
In The Goat, Tope writes about fundamentalist religious beliefs in modern African settings.
There are lush African backdrops, like in Kenyan Okwiri Oduor’s The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things.
I was sad for the mother, then charmed by the truancy of her son Dudu, all while savouring the author’s descriptions of the background.
“He ran across the street, past the marabou storks and the parked tuktuks and the vandalised lampposts. He ran past the cobbler’s hovel and the milliner’s shack and the mechanic’s oil-stained lot. He ran past the man who hawked a cure for syphilis and a salve for knock-knees. He wished that another cargo train would crawl out of its lair, wished that he could jump onto the roof of one of its coaches and ride all the way home,” Okwiri writes.
The 292-page book is published by Kwani Publishers in Kenya and Femrite books in Uganda. In Tanzania, it’s available at TPH bookstores.
You can also order the book online on the Caine Prize website.