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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

Shutter ManThe Great Crime Thriller will always have a setup crime, with every act relating directly to this crime, and the thrill of crime fiction is the mystery of how it – it, it might be the wit of the investigator, the shrewdness of the perpetrators and the chase – unravel until the perpetrators are caught or the crime is solved.

Richard Montanari sets up the crime scene – the gruesome murder of a family of three and three more subsequent ritual murders with the same MO. Then the author takes a detour; the bombing of a house, the suspicious death of Detective Byne’s childhood friends and the epic look into the Farren crime family, as well as the unsolved murders of eleven-year-old Catriona Daugherty and her “supposed” killer Des Farren. These detours in the end serve no purpose or function to the story as they remain unsolved.

There are very few moments of brilliance in this tale and the story falls face down at the end when answers that were supposed to be an integral part of the story become statements from the characters. What is really a Sotar square? And how does it relate and influence the murders of these witnesses and their face skinning, and their birth certificates? How was the brutality of murdering these witnesses going to elevate a family curse? Because if criminals leave clues, it is always with intent or an unfortunate mishap. Here Montanari sets up the playing field but fails to master it.

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Review: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Fifteen DogsWhat would happen if animals had human like intelligence? That they could feel, be angry and rage, love and laugh, feel inadequate and fight to have – what all humans need – power and respect while struggling to live a perfect lives and die happy.

Author André Alexis drives us into this world by giving human intelligence to a pack of dogs. Fifteen dogs, hence the title, are blessed with human intelligence or rather cursed with it. Blessed, as they can assert their lives and be better dogs. Cursed, as animals are much better suited to living animal lives without human burdens and consequences.

FYI: Human reproduction: we complicate this with the word LOVE and almost all of our female counterparts have found themselves burdened after this magical mystical word has been through their ears. Love brings about human reproduction and we decorate it and call it love but that is no love. It is in a way the creation of poverty.

The allegory that George Orwell presented in Animal Farm: the power relations between the animals taught us about our power relations as people, as nations and as countries. That unforgiving truth that is hard to live with: All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. You love it or you loath it, it speaks universal truth.

The premise is the same for both books but the settings are different: in Fifteen Dogs the dogs are given human intelligence to survive dog life and human relationships to see if they can die happy – I don’t think there is a human soul through all the ages who died happy.

The pack is destroyed by fear and discomfort in their new unknown situation. They are caught between the comfort and traditional habits of mere dogs, who are directly (pets) or indirectly (stray) dependent on humans. They start by defending the comfort they have known and fighting what they have gained. It is by this first step – which is indeed a human phenomenon, fear of change – that Alexis loses the plot and the potential that this novel had.

Fifteen Dogs follows in the footsteps of Animal Farm but loses the track and then fails to rise above it. The dogs start off being ruthless, killing the dogs that claim this change and are willing to live it. The book fails to portray the premise, ‘What would happen if dogs had human intelligence?’, as these fifteen dogs die out and are viewed as ordinary dogs while they can speak and think. Imagine walking opposite a dog and it comforts you, “don’t be scared I will not bite you”. Or maybe it begs for some change, crying hunger. Only once did the book come alive when one of the canines was adopted and the owners discovered that it could talk, there a beautiful moments there that are spoiled by the couple’s reaction.

At the end, the human intelligence serves the dogs no function and purpose because they persist to remain dogs. They survive life like all other dogs and kill each other to maintain a dog’s life. The idea was great, but the writing lacked a soul, feeling and emotions. Imagine entering a house without noticing the warning sign, and suddenly seeing the dog and hearing it welcomes you: “Fear nothing, come in.” This is the story that could have been.

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The Art of Defusing

The Detective's SecretThere are times when an author completely loses the plot and focus of their tale, defusing the genre, and then we have a watered down novel. The fact that the novel is well received by readers, certified by the words: Number One Bestseller, aids the de-purification of the art

Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Secrets is such a novel. There is always a problem with starting a series in the middle as some vital information may have been disseminated or implied in the previous instalments. The author does not find necessary to divulge that information again or repeatedly as the readers who are following the series already know. This is not always a loss, as the book might necessitate one to read previous instalments even before finishing the one that they are reading – then the intention or unintentional act of leaving that information out becomes a success.

With this fact in mind, I ploughed through The Detective’s Secret carefully, but there was nothing that made me think of getting the previous instalments or even future instalments. I found an author with a readymade-to-consume market, hungry to take on whatever comes and mindless of the contents.

In The Detective’s Secrets the said detective is deceased and his daughter Stella is trying by all means to walk in his detective shoes with the help of Jack – her train driver friend – while her day job is Twenty First Century Designer housemaid on call.

The detective’s secret is the surfacing of a son, Dale Heffernan, that the wife of the detective had while they were still young. She had to give the child away. With the arrival of Dale the crime story becomes a family saga. The author flies over this family saga with nothing resolved and no payoffs to the main story.

The crime: a man jumped in front of a speeding train. Suicide. His brother doesn’t think that it was a suicide as he believes that his brother would not have committed suicide. The trained police wrote off the death as suicide. The brother then solicits the detective’s daughter to help prove that his brother was murdered. Stella is reluctant to take over the case. She is reluctant to do anything that is concerned with “walking the detective’s shoes”. She is even reluctant to open a letter addressed to the dead man whose supposed murdershe is investigating.

In the end, a cleaner and train driver solve a related 20-year-old cold case, which didn’t in fact look like a cold-blooded murder; a young boy closed the door of a tower, the victim could not come out, there was a heavy storm, and he died.

Lesley Thomson loses the plot telling us that two deaths that occurred in a particular train station – where this particular train doesn’t stop – were actually cold-blooded murders. Nowhere do Stella and Jack prove beyond reasonable doubt how the killer had the power/ability to push the victims in front of the speeding train while he was metres away from them. Murders that trained police officers and CCTV footage wrote off as suicide.

Then while Jack is in a physical confrontation with the killer – a killer with some ability to make people do as he wants – the author shuts us out of the action. When we come back the killer is dead. End of story, triple murder solved. The reader is left to believe from the narrator’s mouth that the suspected perpetrator – a man of high standing and achievements – was capable of all the acts he was accused of without any proof.

Great stories, I believe, are not told but shown, where the reader gets involved emotionally in the whole process. Whether the writer identifies the perpetrator from the beginning or the evidence trail leads us to him. Crime stories are about unravelling to the reader the intricacy of the story, about investigations and proof, the action and danger. With all this circumstantial evidence Jack, the train driver, could be charged with murder. The Detective’s Secrets fails and falls flat on its face.

Some of the latest crime thrillers show authors slowly and successfully moving this genre into soap opera territory, telling the story rather than proving beyond reasonable doubt. In that, when they fail to prove the complexity of their ideas, they can talk about it and get away with it.

It fails the tale. It fails the genre – the thrill and the suspense of crime novel, that moment when the reader is involved – they want to shout at the detective, “you are missing it”. Those moments when the reader feels that the perpetrator is getting away with it then the surprise and relief when they are caught. “Good work”, the reader wants to tell the detective.

In The Detective’s Secret, the complexity of the characters and the intricacy of the author’s ideas are great but the author falls short in unravelling this intricacy and completely fails the story.

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Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

Taban lo Liyong’s Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

May be there were reasons of undisputable value why has this collection of poetry was not published when it was conceived, somewhere during the seventies. I think it was so as to give us a refreshed view of what had really transpired in the life of the average men by the poet. A poet as a national symbol representing and presenting the nation as an individual, not the individuality of the poet but each and every individual forming the nation therefore the poets are singularly more powerful than any president/king/queen dead or still breathing. Presidents and Queens rise and fall but poets reside forever within their words, hence this screaming words from the seventies.

This collection was penned during Adi Amin’s reign. He died in 2003 but he has lost “his power” in 1979. Mainly because that power was not his, it was imposed on him by the position that he occupied. In some instances that “power” is imposed on individual by the people/votes. A poet’s power is by virtue of the fact that the poet is a poet. Years after the poets have died, their words – the poets’ artillery – their power remains poet-ing and puppet-ing us.

This forty years plus old collection of poetry about Ugandan life, valid then to the Ugandans, and still more so valuable now not to the Ugandans only but to the continent at large, the universe: the ultimate power of the poet weaving us from between the pages.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is presented in three movements, the poems are unnamed but numbered creating an enigma of each, to name a poem is to give it away. Within these individually themed movements, the ‘sweet-sad music’ of living life, the agony of living is scrutinised presenting Taban, presenting human beings.

It is a continuous journey of life, the circle of life. The raw honesty of the penning revealed the nature and early maturity of the poet at an early age validated the fact of publishing this collection thirty years later after Amin’s fall without re-editing and adding changes to validate in to our present but the words are valid today.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is poetry of the personal exposing the life and the men, exploring the primary relations: mother and son, sister and brother, president and the common man to reflect the national and propel it further into the future.

Leading us into the main question here; are you a corpse love or corpse hater? Are you contributing to the betterment of the nation or are you contributing to the benefit of the self? Of course there are weak points as is life but here are the weak points of life: that mix-up to live life, are you a capitalist or socialist, Christian or atheist. The lines are not clear.But ultimately and intimately, we discover the tears of poet Taban lo Liyong as is the tears of every poet, love, a cry for the betterment of society without ulterior motives is deeply portrayed.

Movement one, Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters, is a reminder of past way of life as it is a powerful warning to the present way that we are living, of the divisions within us, economic, race, nationality, corpse lovers and corpse haters.

My heart has a song to sing;a song difficult to construct or decipher
My heart yearns to give vents to thoughts
Thoughts to clothes ideas with words appropriate

Yet my heart fears the utterance, leave alone the initial point of aim
My heart wants to give praise to the deeds of one who deserves a statue of gold
Yet my heart is troubled
Because the gold will have to be purified by my brethren’s blood.
[…]
Woe betide them who needs any heroes

Movement two: I Can’t Write Like Kafka, it is a search for the purpose of a man, the powerful (mis)conceptions that we, human being have as we are searching for a purpose to purpose our lives and the world as we see it, understand and live it.

In our fastination with the West
We shall settle down
Basically the Eastern group
With an honourable mention
In the serpentine west

Movement three: The Curse Of Unfulfilled Talents, is the resignation to life, to ‘fate’ but still a continuing contest of individual perceptions. The ‘sad story’ of dreams that were never realised, of life never lived. The poet ceases/retires/stops/disengages/desist and refuses to write any more.

Sisters and brothers
I now leave the house of Laias to its fate
Adieu, adieu,adieu
My life course is run
My thread has come to an end
My mouth is now sealed
The breath has run out of my lungs
Adieu
That is my last word.


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Shadows

In the Heat of Shadows

Remember, inaugural day
nineteen ninety four
our table piled with the future?

If we were all like poets in behavior, thinking and conduct – a poet is a different kind of a human breed. This is an enigma that trying to explain one will seem to be answering the question of falling or being in love with one. The poet is social activists at best he/she wants justice for all people of the world despite their differences. The poet is that higher being representing and presenting the average people.

in your eye
in my eye
when i see me in you
and you in me in my eyes
history makes and unmakes life and time

There are times when one comes across a poet and there are rare times when one comes across an anthology then bask in wisdom and what wisdom to use in understanding the modern day democratic South Africa than the poets, for one they always tell in in the way it is. Second; the poet never fuck with power though they do respect it but they fuck power and do speak against it all the time. This is the reason why I respect poets and the reason why I think that the world needs poets.

Why?

How
much I’ve tried to pay my debt to you. Only to find that
debts of guilt are endless. And debts of love? There are
no debts of love.

Because poets are not deceivers and fabricators, they don’t write politically correct, they don’t write poetry for development/social responsibility poetry, a phenomenon by the ruling party to have poets praising our struggle, a June 16th poem/a Sharpville day poem but no poets have participated in such indoctrination activity. There was a call for international Mandela poem where poets of all nations had to write a poem about Mandela and from each nation one winning poem will make it into this big international publication book of poems about him. The poets that I know gave it their middle finger – to put it poetically but bluntly, they said “FUCK THEM.”

This is the reason why I respect poets and the reason why I think that the world needs poets.

We are now become your fools.
Our heroes’ fools.

In the Heat of Shadows: South African poetry 1996-2013, Denis Hirson presents the poets of our beautiful country, thirty-three but not all. It is sweet music dripping in wild honey – the one, one had to harvest – it is sad music sopping in wild honey because you got bee stung in the process. You got bee stung by the “dis kak in die land.” But you got the honey. That is the power of poetry it is a rise above, it rises above pain as it becomes more powerful and everlasting than the inspirational/described pain. Poetry surpasses joy as it conveys one woman’s joy into our joy that we will enjoy forever and ever.

Can I say Amen?

Amen.

Yes I went with him to the river. Mother, I went along

but I never meant to cross the river

In this beautiful country of multilingualism it is sad, sad that I have never enjoyed Antjie Krog in her – to borrow from apartheid – native Afrikaans taal and segregate poets, sorry. Denis has offered me that chance here with translations, Bongekile Mbanjwa, Bulelani Zantsi, Isabella Motadinyane and it was a little sad and painful that the original were not included in this collection.

A cry
Of come and see
Our home is a home
Of tears and bitterness
Women crying

In the Heat of Shadows attempts to reflect us a nation as people living as we are living, it is a representation of every aspects of our lives because, yes

I know all kindsa pa’s
pa’s what hates their kids
pa’s what likes their daughters
pa’s what hits their wives
pa’s what gets sick with no wine
pa’s what speak only sometimes
I know all kindsa pa’s
Except the one
I never seen

In the Heat of Shadows is a cream, an inner self, our shadows that cannot pretend but screams brutal honest life that is rarely lived in the public spaces, of vicious truthful life that is locked in memory never to be uttered.

My heart and head are open
And we laugh and eat together
Like well-brought up folks
But
Deep inside me somewhere
I know where I stand

And I know that you know that even in the deepest raging anger a moment of laughter is to break free. I know that even if poets can never solve the troubles of our world but they can make us laugh and to laugh is to emerge victorious, to clap hands is declare victory.

An applause.

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Illuminating Africa

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Killing SaharaIt is hard not to like Killing Sahara and its antagonist, for somebody who hates politicians needless of origin and nationality, and hoping for their substitution or total demise from society. Killing Sahara is Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ’s second born. He claimed while visiting us, here in Cape Town during the Open Book Festival, that he is better than his father, the Great Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. And when I was reading Killing Sahara, this little claim came along for the read.

What Mũkoma did here was an attempt to present the enigma that is Africa in a silver spoon, simple and complete. He tried. He did not fail though, it is just that no one can present Africa as a whole and still make sense. Therefore
Africa can only be presented in bits and pieces. It is still a challenge to anyone who thinks that they can write Africa between two covers.

There are many issues that Mũkoma confronts between these two covers and then, like a dog, he puts his tail between his legs and yelps, running away from them. This is an epic journey, not only of Kenya, not of the two detectives and their families, but of Africa, the continent and its relation with itself and the others.

The author has in a sense failed to present the epic continuous journey of this continent but decided to give us a crime story. Honestly, I saw no murder but high-end white collar crime and corruption, in total control. The issue of Rwanda and the massacres is presented like a half-naked pinup poster of a woman in the bedroom of a teenage boy. While trying to make her a strong woman, she rails off.

Then there is ethnicity, that other African curse that always rears its head like a black mamba ready to bite and inject its deadly venom in us. And it does; it induces us and then we pick up AKs and machetes, amputate a man’s arms and then rape our women, at worse we kill.

At the pinnacle; there is aid, another of Africa’s many curses. Presented on paper it is true gold but what always manifests in practice is not that which was written down but profit for individuals. Aid in Africa is a profitable business and this can be seen in the selling line: Help us, help them, those giving the aid mention themselves first as the ones in need of help.

There is Sahara and the International Democracy and Economic Security Council (IDESC), a well-to-do man who loves and understands Africa and Africans.

Honestly, I fell for his scheme, at times I was hanged and wishing that the story could go his way, maybe we would have a much better Kenya, a better Africa.

At the face of it, there are our politicians/leaders, former freedom fighters who think that the country owes them and their families, with no vision and dream for the country and only greed. These issues/characters are cut and paste, making way for the author to present the crime story.

Why did Mary have to die if the national security was threatened? Yes, she married a man of another ethnicity. This was the first low point of this tale, the author connecting O personally to the crime. This fails.

Killing Sahara is a sad book telling a sad universal story and the real criminals are the one that profit tenfold. To say that this is a crime story does this African tale injustice, this is an epic, filtered from being a human rights story to being a crime story of O and I.

The detectives are the only real people here, operating as private detectives with access to the state police force. They follow the trail of a murdered American man, and it is interesting and trilling the way the detectives peel away the onion skins to get to solve this murder. It is involving and engaging but they fail to solve the crime. They do get their man at a cost of O’s wife and a massacre but in the end they are party to the corruption of living this life as we know it.

The real winner is Jason, the security agent at the American embassy during the day cum intercontinental drug trafficker at night, and his profits are huge and intercontinental. He puppets our two detectives, buying them therefore buying their protection.

“I no longer believe that we are serving justice.” Ishmael declares while sharing a cold beer with Jason as Kenya is being used as a port for Jason’s individual profit. What Amos’ dead body lead O and I to was Jason but they let him live. This is the sad reality of this life: there is no one serving justice.

Is Mũkoma better than Ngũgĩ? Not yet, he still has to prove himself and the odds are against him.

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Image courtesy of mukomawangugi.com


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The Many Betrayals of Mzwandile Matiwana

Betrayal by Mzwandile Matiwana

I Lost a PoemBetrayalWhen I first met Mzwandile, during the Cape Town Book Fair, he was protesting, holding a placard that read “Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair”. Or is it that I saw him in a picture taken during the Cape Town Book Fair in which he was carrying a placard that read “Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair?” My memory is failing me but I fell for the poet and (mis)understood what he was and what he stood for.

For one, there was no reason for him to protest against the Book Fair. Why would he do that? The fair itself was fulfilling a function, a function that all writers and poets love to see functioning – that of encouraging reading and hopefully encouraging people to buy books in the process.

Then I heard his reasons and my mind changed; indeed the Cape Town book Fair was not fair. Why would they demand that the public pay a fee to access the fair? Needless to say, I did not like him but smiled at his courageousness. I looked at him as man defending not only his ground but the greater good of humanity for the profit of humanity.

Ever since then I always hoped that one day I would catch him live on stage. I never did, and now I never will. But I believe that poetry is even better on paper without the voice of the poet, the beat and the rhythm. There is a connection; an open book, peering eyes and nothing else.

Mzwandile had adorned my wall with his banner: Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair. He has since died and been taken off the wall because the dead deserve nothing from the living. That is not the point, everybody is on his way, except for those marked by the Blood of the Lamp.

The issue here is Betrayal. Not betrayal of one’s condition of existence, not that betrayal when you are not sure that your father is your father and if he still owes you love. Not the betrayal that you were born into the family that you were born into and became what you are rather than what you wished to be.
This is not the national betrayal of a Poet – a national treasure – that the nation did not appreciate, never knew. Where is Mzwakhe Mbuli? Even with his shallow grave of salvation/gospel, this nation had forgot he ever existed, betrayed not only Mbuli but the Poet.

No legislation
Can legislate me
Not to love man

He once fuelled us with words more powerful than any atomic energy. He enticed us to proceed forward and gave us the will to fight machine guns with stones. But when we got Here, we betrayed him. The Poet became an imbongi dressed in endangered leopard skins to sing praises to the political fraternity. No, today I am not talking of that kind of betrayal.

It is not betrayal of that girl that you gave your heart to and vowed to love until death do you part. That girl that, even before the marriage, had torn your heart apart and you haven’t recovered because you proclaimed your love on godly terms. Though you are (pretending to be) happily married with two-point-four children. You know that there is love found and a vow made three decades ago that still binds you. You know it too that you don’t love your wife because of the fact that you gave your love away. But this is not that betrayal.

Betrayal is a powerful tool that always damages the interior of individuals. If only it was a crime, that we can charge people for it, but it is as elusive as witchcraft.
This Betrayal is an autopoemography of a man. It is as if he knew that he was dying, and wrote us this suicide poetry. It is befitting to say that it is a powerful book and it is powerful, extremely sad and reflective.

Reflective because he silently questions God, a God that he never had or thought he had. He loves but he is never loved. When loved he defends against that love, closing it out. He is a man whose manhood has been drained out. And that moves him to accept himself, because of the powerlessness to build himself into what he perceived/wanted/wished to accomplish as a human being.

There are wicked scenes that should have never made it to within the pages. The cruelty of life that we should not put a name and face to – only exceptional poets do and he was an exceptional poet. The innocent tears of a grown man, shed because the life that he so much loved had betrayed him and all he had to live with was this punishing betrayal.

Why does life have to be this cruel to the poets? Why? Because the poets contemplate things and issues that should not be thought about, seeking to make life better for the other.

The poet writes:

I am lucky
To have all these tough
Times
I am lucky
That the world is
Against me
I am lucky
To be the loser I am
In this world

Words fashioned in a way to induce unexplainable feelings to the lover and consumer of words. When the violence of living becomes so cruel to the poet that he no longer weaves words to build a better nation, but weaves words to tell of the personal violence of life with a smile like that. What has the world come to? For some time now I have been at war to understand the LUCK in TOUGH TIMES when the WORLD IS AGAINST THE POET that he finds himself a LUCKY LOSER.

Ceasefire: there is no lucky loser, just a poet being a poet/creative, to take two opposing words and fashion them in way that they make perfect sense of the predicament. I smiled then I cried.
The poems carry with them the simplicity of contemporary poetry – in this era of chat-rooms and unlimited entertainment – and are absorbing in their subject matter. Each contains the malice of living, of loving, of being a man and of being a poet. Each poem is high calibre ammunition meant to destroy and terminate the soul that will read, yet in the end the one terminated completely loves life and appreciates his or her life even more.

Betrayal is in the end a suicide poem of fighting to live a defensive life that does not want to be lived, failing and failing hard but still smiling:

I am lucky
To be the loser I am

Mzwandile Matiwana is the author of I Lost a Poem (Deep South Books, 2004) and Betrayal, which is available at 015 291 2088/072 129 6496, and through Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town.

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