The most broken record you could here today is that 2020 has been a very awful year. It has been an utterly awful year on all counts. However, like Victor Hugo rightly said, “It is from books that wise men derive consolation in the troubles of life.”
Fred Khumalo is a proven storyteller with a couple of award-winning works of fiction. I read one of them earlier this year. However, it took the nostalgic memory of rereading this memoir for me to remember that I first encountered Fred Khumalo the journalist before Fred Khumalo the novelist. My introduction to his career was during his stint at ThisDay newspaper,
Even before 1849 when the elegant William Thompson stopped strangers on the street and asked them if they had enough confidence in him to trust him with their watches till the next day, deceit has been a part of human relationships from little tricks to elaborate scams. Are we all gullible to confidence games? Are some of us immune to cons? Are their traits common to all grifters? These are the questions that The Confidence Game sets out to answer and explore.
While I was halfway through Chimeka Garricks’ debut novel – Tomorrow Died Yesterday, the 25th anniversary of the execution of Kenule Saro-Wiwa (and eight others) by the Nigerian state was marked.
I read this book for the first time in 2011. I found it bland enough not to remember what it was about. Fast forward to 2020; I finished my 2020 TBR list and decided to pick a short set of books I had read in the past and always wanted to reread. This is not an opportunity that comes often so I grabbed it with both hands. I could only pick six books (as I did not want to have an unmet target by the end of the year). A Life Elsewhere was one of the random six reread picks.
A Life Elsewhere is a collection of seventeen eclectic short stories. The fundamental theme that runs across all seventeen of them is dislocation. The dislocation caused by migration as seen in Monday Morning – a story about a family that had moved from a war-torn to a safer country. However, life is dislocated at every turn for every member of the family. From the father who has to settle for way less in the form of a job where his dignity is attacked to his wife who feels sad at the growing emasculation of her husband by the new social order. In People You Don’t Know, a young man is sent abroad from London to stay with a relative after an unspecified scandal. There he gets employed to cleans the estate pool even as he struggles to fit in and hold down a permanent job while being unable to keep himself away from trouble. In Arithmetic and The Husband Of Your Wife’s Best Friend, the dislocations are mostly around mid-life crises and the regrets that that stage of life brings. In Something In The Water, a Nigerian man returns to his home country with his foreign wife who is coming to the country for the first time. He is distraught with how things have not changed but actually deteriorated while he was away. His wife on the other hand is intrigued by the different lifestyle she sees and is actually adventurous to the point of irritating her husband. In Gifted (which was my favourite story in the collection), a Nigerian housewife who is living with her diplomat husband in Japan is dislocated both in body and soul. The first source of her dislocation is the isolation she feels due to loneliness and being far from her siblings who are back in Nigeria. She is increasingly isolated in a land where she does not seem to fit in. Secondly, her dislocation is caused by a physically and verbally abusive husband. There is a rare of sunshine at the end when successfully runs for safety with her two kids one afternoon while her husband is away at work.
A Life Elsewhere is a decent collection set in diverse locations that paint vivid pictures of dislocated and lonely characters. There is a pessimism that pervades the stories but it is underpinned in reality and mundane every day living.
A while back, I saw a viral tweet that was asking people for a verse of the bible that encapsulated the reason why they still believed as Christians, As is often the case, I did not engage with the tweet but scrolled through almost a hundred responses. Despite not responding, I was reminded of what my response would have been. Without a second thought, it would have been – Hebrews 1:1-3.
The odd thing about randomly picking out TBR lists is that you often pick books that you ordinarily would not choose. Why Soldiers of Fortune falls into that category is that while I loathe reading books about Nigeria, one is often curious to understand the working of a system that is utterly this dysfunctional. Any apprehension I felt before reading it was quickly dispelled within the first few pages of the book.
Every now and again, one reads a book and either before you get to the last page or on the last page you tell yourself that you will want to read it again in future. The problem is that if you have a relatively large count of unread books like I do that constitutes a TBR list which gets larger with every passing day, that future might never come. Then came 2020!
My modest random picks for 2020 TBR list were meant to last all year but as the global uncertainty lasted longer and lockdowns became the new normal, I found myself finishing the whole chosen pile by the beginning of October. While feeling triumphant, I contemplated picking out a new list of TBR list to tackle till the end of the year. The immediate concern was that I did not dilute the yearly experience of picking out a TBR list. It is an exhilarating experience, where I feel like a talent scout who is deciding the fate of young talented footballers in an elite football academy. The academy players are carefully recruited but the decision of who gets promoted that year is randomly done. I have enjoyed doing just that to the books on my shelf and I did not want to break that highly anticipated ritual by doing it twice in a year just because COVID-19 had altered life as we know it. Some things are sacrosanct!
I decided to to take the unique opportunity that the current uncertainties have offered me and reread a few books that I had always wanted to read again. As usual, there was an element of randomness as there are way more books in this class that I am able to accommodate. I grabbed the first 6 books in that category that came to my mind at that moment, took a picture of them and I am sticking to them. Minutes later, I remembered a few more deserving rereads but alas it was too late! The beauty of the randomness is that it yields no favourites and minimizes overthinking. Here are the chosen six:
This was a strange choice but the strangeness is what I like. I read this book in 2008, I have no remembrance of what the book is about. It is one of those books I always promised myself I would reread if only for the nostalgia of the period when I first read it. Now I have a chance to reread this collection of short stories.
This is one of the very best books I read in 2018. I usually pick out a Behavioural Economics/Psychology book or two every year and two years back I picked this book and loved it. I often said that it was missing one con man (Emmanuel Nwude) from being the perfect lineup. I am glad I get to read it again. You can never learn enough about why we fall for scams.
Anyone who knows a bit about me knows that I love the works of Chimeka Garricks. I still remember buying a copy of his excellent debut eight years ago from a bookshop in the Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island during an uneventful lunch break. I randomly picked it up six years later to read it for the first time and I never stopped kicking myself for waiting so long to savour such a treat. Now I get to read it again and make notes of my observation on my favourite work of fiction set in my home city of Port Harcourt. I can’t wait!
The major reason why I filed this one in my mind as a “To be reread” while still mid-way through it earlier this year was because of the times we leave in. The politics around the science of the pandemic have made the information contained in this book even more pressing and relevant. I am glad that I get to reread it in this current clime.
This is another one where the nostalgic longing is probably stronger than the content of the book. I first read this autobiography of Fred Khumalo almost eighteen years ago. I have always wanted to reread it (writing this now, I actually think I have reread it once and always wanted to do so a second time). It is very well written and the author uses his childhood and early adulthood as a backdrop to explore the history of the violence in the KZN province of South Africa during the last decade of apartheid. Third time lucky!
Having randomly chosen this book, I intentionally picked it to be read around the Easter season for obvious reasons. Of all Christian themes, resurrection is rightly my most cherished and few people explore its theme as well as N.T. Wright. I kept telling myself that I need to return to this at some point. Now I have a chance to enjoy an encore and I am all for it.
Tour de force is a phrase that I, like many others, have used a few times in describing one work of fiction or the other. A book that comes along and chews more than it seems it can swallow and at the end, its author emerges emphatically
Normal People is a highly praised book that has been marked by critics and fans alike as a future classic and even termed a the benchmark for millennial fiction. Its string of literary awards and shortlists, including The Booker prize Longlist are a