Nick Wood – February/March 2010

I've just finished a Cape to Cairo narrative written with a difference - it's entitled Dark Continent My Black Arse by Sihle Khumalo (2007); Umuzi Press; Roggebaai (Cape Town). The book does what it says 'on the tin', i.e. provides a contemporary account of Khumalo's epic journey, made via 'bus, boksie, matola' and what sounds like a harrowing Sudanese desert rail crossing. The 'difference' within the narrative being that it is written by one born and rooted on the African continent, namely an amaZulu man with an eye to demythologising Western 'Afro-pessimistic' images - as Thabo Mbeki used to refer to this.

But Sihle Khumalo is both an engaging and an honest companion - there is direct acknowledgement too of 'internal' problems (e.g. corruption) that contribute towards a number of 'African' problems - although this is certainly a world-wide problem too, as indicated by the expenses claim scandal in what some may consider as the so-called 'heart' of Western democracy, i.e. the UK. Khumalo further observes that African problems are also compounded by post-colonial influences from the 'outside' too, i.e. countries seeking cheap resources to power their own development, largely at the continent's expense.

What further engages is the personal intimacy provided for by the narrator in what sounds like a beautiful but at times difficult journey - no 4X4 vehicle or camera crew for him, or anything like the entourage that followed Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor in their BBC sponsored Long Way Down trip across Africa!

Further stories recently read include two Zimbabwean short-story collections - The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera and Why Don't You Carve Other Animals by Yvonne Vera. The Marechera is a particularly powerful collection by a writer who died tragically early (35 years of age). The Vera is perhaps more understated and subtle, but is beautifully strong and implicitly political too - another early tragic loss, as she died at only forty years of age.

Further of note, it's just past the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species; the ground-breaking book that established the roots of evolutionary theory. A Southern African narrative analysis of authors and stories laced with our animal connections is provided by Wendy Woodward in her The Animal Gaze: Animal Subjectivities in Southern African Narratives. That is, stories in which animals are described with interior lives as suggested by their behaviour and implied in their evolutionary familial links with us - a link reinforced by many 'traditional' mythologies. Authors cited are J.M. Coetzee, Mia Couto, Yvonne Vera and Zakes Mda amongst many others.

Lastly, just to mention that my story Bridges has been awarded Second Prize in the Aeon International Award 2009 - a prize which includes pending publication in the Irish SF Magazine Albedo One. Thanks to the organisers of the prize for this and Grand Judge Ian Watson, who judged all final short-listed entries as completely anonymised! This year's 2010 Aeon Award will be judged by a panel comprising of Ian Watson, Anne McCaffrey, Mike Resnick and Sam Millar. So get in your entries now -

Nick Wood - Feb/March 2010.