Unexpected. But welcome.
The people rebelled, and I was taken aback, I swear! Comments like “The writer was leading,” to “What was wrong with that guy?” peppered all over the place almost like pitchforks protesting the character!
The above was a reaction to a story we read from Gambit: Newer African Writing, in fact that was in response to Dami Ajayi’s story “Talk to Me”. It was a captivating discussion because the story was not far from reality: A doctor bemoaning his decision to give his campus girlfriend a Blackberry, a decision that eventually leads to the end of their relationship.
Even though usually readers take the side of the narrator in a tale, in this case, the narrator was quickly chided for his character. Questions like “Why was the writer painting the girl in a bad light?” showed an interesting response to written work. There was a crucifixion of the “doctor” for his “foolish” decisions. “Why buy her a phone and not buy yourself one?” “Do you think subtle actions solve issues?”
It would have definitely been a great thing to have Dami Ajayi around for this discussion to see where his mind was in this story because despite its riveting nature, many were up in arms against the character. I’ve never seen a book club rebel like this to a character. As someone who understood the doctor, I had to shut up because it was getting quite embarrassing defending him 🙂 The issues raised had a very interesting social aspect – addictions and their effects, as well as ways to overcome them. Subtle but loud, was the man vs woman topic, the introvert vs extrovert topic, the doer vs talker narrative, that went as far as some suggesting manipulation. Oh, would have been interesting having Dami, or Iduma or Randol to communicate to these issues.
However perhaps that is the beauty of writing, not knowing what your readers will feel?
The discussion of the book did not start that way though. Some of the people who had read it had called it very intellectual and the answers rehearsed – mostly regarding the interviews. A portion of Richard Ali’s interview which we looked at elicited the above response because some felt that this was a man saying so much, so well which was not humanly possible except via email.
To be honest though, for every goose of an opinion in this discussion, there was a gander because while one would argue against the complexity of one writer’s responses, another would argue for its brilliance and thought provoking qualities. While one would applaud the simplicity of, let’s say, Ayobami Adebayo’s responses, another would say they were bland and not as evocative as Richard’s! (Because of time, we explored three writers – Ayobami Adebayo and Richard Ali’s interviews plus Dami Ajayi’s short story.)
In response to the stories, the readers definitely enjoyed the stories, some suggesting that they were the better part of the book. (Another goose vs gander).
Gambit did kick off many topics, and the “what is African writing” discussion although having been overly looked at in the book club was not put aside. What makes something African? The discussion usually has varying sets of eyes, writers look at it differently, readers, publishers, book sellers and book reviewers. However, Conrad noted that calling something “African” was to celebrate it. It was a symbol that should not be discarded. Even if kitengi cloth is manufactured in China, it represents Africa.
I always take this home from Gambit – there’s more to African literature than the final book. There is the process, the craft, the writer habits, their influences, their nuances
Shortly before the meeting, there was a small discussion on the Nobel Prize for Literature being awarded to lyricist and singer Bob Dylan. Another heated argument, some were for and others against the premise. The definition of Literature was briefly explored, the medium of literature also brought up but there was no conclusive agreement on whether Dylan deserved it or not. It’s a little funny (for me personally) that up to now, no word from Dylan on the award!
Gambit is available for sale at Turn The Page Africa. Buy it here.
Photo : Esther Mirembe.