Saturday, March 17, 2007

Book Review: The Woman Who Ate Python and Other Short Stories

This is a collection of short stories written by a Cameroonian Sammy Oke Akombi. Bill lent me the book who was given it by the author who Bill worked with. I will give you a history of the author before starting on the book. Akombi grew up in Buea and schooled here, he then went to University of Lagos, Nigeria and the University of Warwick, England. He is now a teacher his literary career began in 1985 when we won the first prize at the Black Young Writers Awards of the London-based Afro-Caribbean Educational Resource Project. Five years later he won the 1990 literary prize of the national Association of Cameroonian poets and writers, four of the stories that won that prize are in this book. He is also an honorary Fellow in Writing of the University of Iowa, USA and resource officer in charge of evaluation at the Yaounde pilot linguistic centre.

The book contains six short stories I will give you a synopsis of each. I am afraid the book is not available at amazon or all good bookshops so if you want to read it - you can't, sorry.

The Woman who Ate Python - This books open describing 'the immense form of the Cameroon mountain' as the village the book is set in is at the foot of the mountain. An only child, quite a tomboyish feisty girl grows up and marries. Her husband finds a huge python and following tradition presented it to the chief for eating. Women are not allowed to eat snake as it will result in her children crawling on their bellies. This woman is chosen to prepare the meat for the chief and his elders - including her husband. When serving the meat they notice the best piece is missing - the chest of the python. Eventually the woman is brought in for questioning and she faced up to the men 'how long will you treat women like they are your property', how can I cook for you and not have the pleasure in tasting the food'. she now waits for the repercussions, while her husband cannot cope with the shame.

Death of a Dead Man - A very clever boy too late to register for secondary school gives up on life. The boys father does not agree with poor people having a secondary education and has no money to support him but this boy is the cleverest in the area and has a scholarship and support from his villagers. However he arrives to late and all the places at the school are gone. From here he lost all conviction and did not care what happened to him. He followed his father in becoming a drunk. He felt he was dead inside so why bother. We worked as a grave digger and was known around the village as 'dead man'. He develops diabetes but will not stop drinking so eventually he dies, the man known as dead man is dead.

Up From a Slum - A child's mother dies in childbirth and his father dies a year later. The child gets sent to live with his uncle in another African country. His uncle is a rich business man, they live a good life and the boy attends a good school. his uncle then gets in to trouble at work and is threatened with deportation, seeing no way out of his fate he commits suicide. The boy gets sent back to his own country as none of his uncles wives wanted him. He finds another uncle who lives in the city slum. This is a real contrast for the boy coming from western living standards to the poorest of the poor. He has no choice but to live there. His uncle cannot afford his school fees so he repeats the last year at primary as it is free. He is top of the class and gets a scholarship to grammar school. Here he studies hard and finished top of the school. He goes to university and graduates a medical doctor - anything to escape the slum.

No Armour Against Fate - A man who lives in a broken down bus on the side of the road, spends his days trying to clear the rubbish dump next to his house. He is recognised by an old school friend who invites him for a drink. They discuss what happened to home how he ended up to poor. The man once a well known journalist who then became a politician then got jailed for speaking his own mind. After his time in jail he gave up trying to get anywhere, his family abandoned him so he found a bus and decided to live there.

Acquired Drinking Efficiency Syndrome - A man comes home drunk to his house and his sister is staying, she discusses his problem with him, he answers he has Acquired Drinking Efficiency Syndrome, she does not hear so he repeats ADES. The next day the sister is worried about her brothers life so visits the chief telling him her brother has AIDS. They go together to the house to talk to the brother who denies saying anything about AIDS. He then realised they were talking about his ADES. The chief encourages him to stop drinking and tells him his organisation will have to stop using creates of beer as fines.

Tears are not Forever - A woman is unhappy with her husbands lack of money - he is a civil servant and should earn more money according to her. They have an argument about this she believes death will be a release from her life and looks forward to it. The next day the civil offices collapse and she fears for her husbands life, when she arrives at the scene she see's he survived as he did not panic and calmly left the buildings. She goes home to find her son fell in the well and is dead.

Well it is quite a collection, a couple are quite good, I enjoyed the ADES one and up from the slum, the others were a bit naff especially the last one and no armour against fate. However what made it more enjoyable is all the parts of life I recognised from living here. Also a couple had pidgin in which was enjoyable to read and good for improving my skills. It was pretty easy reading though - finished it in 24 hours!

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