The story that gives the anthology its title is by Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a sharply observed narrative on the death of a man with a secret from his wife. The protagonist’s ruthless honesty about herself and her relationship with her recently deceased husband provides a wonderful insight into the community of the Ugandan diaspora, as well as a commentary on marriage, fidelity, and widowhood that is universal to all societies.
The other stories feature a humming bird, a smoking grandmother, a devil on a church outing, a mother lost to America, a Haitian cowboy, a woman married to a ghost, a mummified cat, an elusive giant squid, and (my own) a stuffed Kudu. They take us from Singapore in the 1920’s to pre-war Germany and modern day Jamaica. The narratives are satirical, tragic, compassionate and humorous, but all are wonderfully expressed and compelling to read. Taken together, they form a remarkable portrait of the world we live in, with all its pathos, absurdity and delight.
The stories were selected from over ten thousand entries to the Commonwealth Prize over the past three years. In the words of Australian novelist Micelle de Kretser, “The range of these stories – spirited, tender, meditative, illuminating – testifies to the extraordinary talent of emerging writers across the world.” I read them aloud to my publicist, Kennedy, who heartily agrees - he is even to willing to overlook one major flaw of the book: not a single story features a Chihuahua.
The book can be purchased on Amazon in print or on Kindle.
Below is an extract from my story.
by Bridget Pitt
Long before we released Clarence on the Plains of Camdeboo, it was well known in Oupoort that Jonah was soft in the head.
It was also well known that anyone who had a problem with that could sort it out with me. Jonah sometimes made me want to run up the koppie behind the Ouport and scream so loud that all the boulders would roll down the hill and bury the whole damn town. But he was my cousin and I had to keep him safe.
Jonah was always different. Ouma Saartjie said it was because he was born just as the blood-red midsummer Karoo moon was rising on one side of Oupoort, while the angry orange sun dipped below the ragged-toothed mountains on the other side.
Auntie Jenna said we shouldn’t question God’s creations.
If he hadn’t been different, I might have been jealous of him. Not only did he snatch my place as the youngest cousin, but, as our relatives never tired of remarking, he also ‘looked like an angel’. Oh, how those aunties would babble on about his green eyes, his curly hair bronzed with gold, his ‘tawny’ skin... Any kid who ‘looked white’ was admired (and also despised) in our neighbourhood, although Jonah didn’t look white so much as like a whole new breed of human, whereas I was just your standard issue Karoo laaitie.
But when the aunties tried to cuddle him, Jonah would go rigid and silent, as if listening for instructions from a distant planet on how to manage a life-threatening situation. And they would put him down, puzzled and a little afraid. When I saw that, I understood that Jonah needed someone to stand between him and the world. It seemed that he’d rather be squeezed by a python than hugged by an auntie, and I soon learnt to put myself in the path of relatives bearing down on him.
Keeping him safe at school was a trickier business. On Jonah’s first day, Willie Kleinhans knocked him down in the playground and sat on top of him, pummelling him into the red earth like a secretary bird stomping on a snake. Jonah just lay there staring out at some dark star, and when I dived in and persuaded Willie to beat me up instead, he picked himself up and wandered off as if the whole thing had nothing to do with him. Every other day I had to punch someone for calling him spastic chicken brain or fish puke (which some genius coined after a Sunday school lesson about Jonah and the whale). Jonah never seemed to care about the insults, and never thanked me for defending him, but he was family. What else could I do? ...