Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Stunning debut by township novelist!
BOOK: From where I stand
AUTHOR: George Rampai
PUBLISHER: Mbali Press (PTY) LTD
Lay-out by Thabo Ntai
REVIEWER: Pule Lechesa
It is thrilling to see that an authentic ‘township boy’, George Rampai has successfully weaved together an intriguing thriller titled, From where I stand; a work that comes close to being a world class novel.
On his own admission, Rampai over the decades has been heavily influenced by euro-centric thriller writers; most especially James Hadley Chase. In fact the reader will be forgiven to think that he/she was reading one of Chase’s thrillers transplanted onto the townships, whilst reading this book.
Examples of such hackneyed phrases made famous by Chase are found many times in this beautifully written book, to the point of absurdity. Cheap, melodramatic turns of action hit you. Ineluctably, for example, we do not in reality confront black people practically "blushing" as often happens in this book. Even some of the names are not rooted in the ambience of Black township life as you know it, e.g Mr Preston.
The main protagonist (Danny) is an unlovable character. It reminds this critic of Chinua Achebe’s novel “A Man of the people”, where the main character Odili comes across as a hypocritical and disgusting personality. A young man moralizing about moral decay in his society, but contributing prodigiously to the same immorality.
Hence when Danny makes any attempts to "philosophise" or explain many facets of his so called "love" of many women, we can only be filled with contempt and anger! In the beginning, Danny starts fantasizing about Moliehi and we feel sympathy for him. But when he later confesses that he is married to a beautiful, well behaved woman with a daughter, we realize how flawed this shocking character is.
Danny sleeps with Moliehi, but roughly at the same time he is ready to spend a night with a cheap coloured whore at a shebeen. He not only sleeps with another female acquaintance, Tiffany, but is surprisingly ready to move in with the woman he has barely met and knows!
In fact Danny comes across as a prize buffoon; he is a shallow and foolish man. And here we need to commend the author for creating a whole book around such a convincing, idiotic personality. His treatment of his wife after being infatuated with the two young women is despicable.
Perhaps in Danny’s defence we might argue that on his own admission he is an "illiterate". Here however we are confronted with a textual paradox. The fine writing style of the writer/protagonist under-cuts any impression of illiteracy. Some of the sentences are constructed to such a high order by the narrator, Danny in the first person; like in this passage:
“We watched in total annoyance as the weather-beaten, sweating and ageing hawker with a wizened face, shouting snoek-fish, achaar and makwenya, the most popular and cheapest township fast food. He noisily trundled past us, pushing his rickety cart...”
This is an impressive prose that one might expect to find in books written by the likes of Chinua Achebes, Peter Abrahams, Wole Soyinkas and the Ngugis. We are thus confronted with spectacle of an undesirable protagonist, who behaves like his 'friend' of the same name, Wag.
The fact that Danny is impoverished is clear enough the way he gets over-excited about financial banalities. The 'fool' is ready to risk his own life and that of his family for few thousands. Yet this might not come across as a total surprise as we have heard in the beginning that one of his weakness was money.
The community described here (Ladybrand) is brilliantly evoked by the author. Rampai is probably the first salient English novelist to have come from this area. He deserves kudos for this.
The author also tries to inject humour into the text but many a time this becomes over stretched and boring. There is a lot of unconvincing dialogue.
As we have pointed out Danny can in no way be described as a man of integrity, he is very much a man of straw and the fact that the book is written in the first person narrative reinforces this feeling.
Although intermittently there are signs that he might be an intelligent man, the evidence in front of the reader is that on the whole Danny is ruled by disgusting, primordial sex instincts.
Yet the author, George Rampai has produced a remarkable novel, a brilliant tribute to his society. Township life and its trajectory can be felt and grasped in this intelligent, spellbinding work.
Like his role model (Hadley Chase)Rampai posseses the talent of painting a vivid picture of what is happening, especially when an attractive woman is concerned! This becomes evident when he talks about the first time he saw Moliehi:
“She sashayed slowly as if she hadn’t any care in the world; she floated like a butterfly swaying her hips provocatively. We whistled and moaned in appreciation, a bevy of girls that was sitting nearby, gaped enviously at her. She wore a white sleeveless cotton dress that billowed to the effect of slight wind.”
He must be commended for his brilliant finale. The book is an authentic thriller, with a variety of twist and turns. It is only at the end of the book that we realize what is going on; for example the real status of Moliehi, and the unexpected person who killed Tiffany. However we are still left with a whiff of dissatisfaction over the doubtful moral value of the protagonist.
If Tiffany had not been killed, Danny was already absolute bent on leaving his family to start a new life with a woman we learn is a shameless whore. It is disturbing that even at the end of this absorbing novel, Danny not only sleeps with Moliehi again, but the text indicates that she MIGHT be expecting his baby. Yet at the very same time Dineo, Danny’s real wife, also announced that she was pregnant.
One would have expected the protagonist to be worried but readers are told about his great happiness over the double pregnancies. The narrator, Danny even ends the work by praising God for what He has done for him. This again re-inforces the strong feeling that essentially our hero, Danny is morally bankrupt whilst not marring an excellent novel.
Monday, April 16, 2012
All roads seemed to lead to the Bloemfontein City Library on Monday (April 16)where book-length readings of the monumental poetic work, Zong!, took place.
Zong was written by the acclaimed Canadian author, NouberSe Philip, and readings from the work were being done simultaneously in Canada and South Africa.
The South African reading attracted a number of sterling poets and writers. They
included the formidable literary critic and poet, Pule Lechesa; author and poet, Charmaine Kholwane; award winning poet and essayist, Hector Kunene; celebrated journalist and book reviewer, Mpikeleni Duma; the flamboyant poet-performer, Dr Cool; renowned South African female poets: JahRose, and Rita Chihawa, among many others.
Also present was the phalanx of the media, both print and electronic, including the
award winning photo-journalists, Motshwari, and Thabang Lenko. They, together with teeming members of the public, basked at the occasion.
As the proceedings commenced, the significance of the occasion was pointed out, together with an Introduction to the works of the pertinent author, Nouberse Philip.
Thereafter the focus was on Zong itself, its historical and literary connotations and ramifications, with a bevy of readers reading straight from the riveting text.
An exhilarated Pule Lechesa enthused about the occasion: "It has been incredibly moving. Zong is a literary tour de force, haunting, moving, rhythmical, rather
zany, yet coherently comprehensive. The plight and travails of slaves at the time should never be forgotten. An empathetic, majestic work!" - O Bolaji
Friday, April 13, 2012
Excitement is mounting in Bloemfontein, South Africa, as a book-length
reading of celebrated Canadian academic and creative writer, NourbeSe
Phillip's work takes place at the City library.
Of especial interest is the fact that this African reading will
take place simultaneously in Africa whilst a similar reading is taking
place in Toronto, Canada with the protagonist and author present.
NourbeSe Phillip was born in the Carribean Woodlands, Moriah, Trinidad
and Tobago. She was educated at the University of West Indies. She is a world-acclaimed poet, novelist, playwright, essayist and short story writer.
It is her recent work Zong!(2008) which will be at the epicentre of
global interest on Monday 16 April as a cross-section of the literary
fraternity in South Africa converges at the Bloemfontein City Library
to bask in the reading from her exceedingly powerful extended poem (Zong).
The author, NourbeSe Phillip is palpably excited over the reading in
South Africa. She said: "This reading is intended to remember all
those who lost their lives on board the Zong...I will be happy if
people are clad in white to honour Olokun, the Yoruba deity of deep
The celebrated writer also expressed her wish that the section titled
"Ebora" should also be read at the reading.
Charmaine Mrwebi of the Bloemfontein City Library, a young African
female author and essayist too, said: "We are very excited about this
poetic reading of Mme NourbeSe Phllip's work. She deserves plaudits for remembering
her roots despite being based in an Eurocentric environment. I have read
some passages from the internet on Zong and the work is not only
extra-ordinarily powerful and moving; but one cannot but cry over the
plight of slaves at that time, especially the disgusting and insanitary
conditions of our black female slaves in the horrific ship."
The book-length reading session will commence at 2pm South African time
and will roughly take place at the same time as the event in Toronto.