September 13, 2014

Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe

Hopes and ImpedimentsWhere does one begin with the mesmerizing writings of Achebe?  Perhaps with his magical formula:

Simple English + Intellectual Insight + Close Analysis = Beautiful Writing

I think this sums him up, not only of this essay collection, but of his fiction as well.  The 14 essays that make up Hopes and Impediments are primarily from reviews first published in well-known literary magazines or lectures given at universities.  The style is so accessible that even at 170 pages, the book is a quick read.  It would be an added bonus to be interested in African literature or on any of the authors discussed in the reviews, but this is in no way a prerequisite.

On Racism and Colonialism

In ‘An Image of Africa’ Achebe discusses racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that highly celebrated Western novel which was regarded as a good depiction of Africans – namely savages.  The cliché image imposed by colonialism is ingrained in the white man’s psyche to such an extent by the beginning of the twentieth century that African writers undertook it upon themselves to tell their own stories.  Their voices began to emerge and shine a light on their cultures, with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart published in 1958 starting the impetus for change.  As if four centuries of slavery was not degrading enough, colonialism had to impose the white man’s superiority over the black savage while living on their own land and continuing to exploit their labor and resources.  It is no surprise then that Achebe finds Conrad ‘a bloody racist’ in his depictions of what Africans are.  The essay, only 20 pages long, is enough to draw the reader in and sustain Achebe’s argument’s through close textual analysis on selected passages and, more importantly, commentary from a prominent African writer.

Another two essays ‘Impediments to Dialogue Between North and South’ and ‘Named for Victoria, Queen of England’ also discuss racism in a different, lighter tone.  In the first of these, North and South refers to Western Europe and Africa – an interesting perspective point if your are standing in Nigeria and commenting relative to that point of view – Achebe discusses the factors that impede dialogue, particularly the colonial attitude.  The second essay reads like a charming rebellion.  Achebe was baptized as Albert Chiualumogu but dropped the tribute to Victorian England when he went to university.  One cannot but feel the sense of glee in this small action of his.

The Author’s Responsibility

According to Achebe, an author carries some responsibility in teaching his readers and he achieves this form of teaching about the Igbo culture in many of his novels.  This is not to say that his novels are moral-based social commentaries as in many nineteenth century Victorian novels; his ‘lessons’ are much more subtle and focus on elaborating the effects of different cultures interacting, whether through colonialism (the macroscopic) or with two tribal villages interacting (the microscopic), the reader is privy to understand the culture – often the Igbo – and is placed in the character’s position to see and feel the circumstances, and the necessary action that will result.  Much of the inertia in Achebe’s characters derive from external factors and many of the choices they make are the ‘wrong’ choices for the ‘right’ reasons.

In ‘The Novelist as Teacher’, ‘The Writer and His Community’, ‘Thoughts on the African Novel’, ‘Language and the Destiny of Man’, The Truth of Fiction’ and ‘What has Literature Got to Do with It?’, Achebe reflects, discusses and elaborates on this writing style of his.  These essays show us many facets of his working mind and his curiosities, and factors that bring about motivation to write what he writes.  Also enjoyable here are the kind of commentaries he sometimes reveals about readers who wished certain endings or who thought him brash or abrasive, he offers the readers polite yet stinging dismissals.  Achebe clearly believes in responsibility as a writer and is not ashamed of voicing his opinions on the matter.

On African Criticism

In ‘The Igbo World and Its Art’, Achebe briefly discusses Igbo art and some Igbo mythology on which the art is based.  This short essay renders a taste of what Igbo art and culture is like, and what is profoundly interesting here is the similarities I discovered to Taoism and the principle of Yin and Yang, for in Igbo too ‘No condition is permanent’ even amongst the deities.  Moreover, art is a communal process where the interest is not in the end product, the finished object, but in the process itself.  Achebe could have written a whole book on Igbo art and it would have maintained one’s interest.

The remaining three essays are ‘Work and Play in Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard’, ‘Don’t Let Him Die: A Tribute to Christopher Okigbo’ and ‘Kofi Awoonor as a Novelist’.  In each of these essays, Achebe discusses the writers and the most prominent aspects around them that inspired their output.  Colonialism or racism is never ignored.  Praise is lavishly handed out, and rightfully so, to these pioneers of African literature.  And, with the exception of Tutuola, their works and the impact they have had are discussed briefly.  With Tutuola, the focus is on The Palm Wine Drinkard and the allegory it represents of Yoruba culture and of contemporary Nigerian life.

Samir Rawas Sarayji

August 23, 2014

Flexible Instruments: Writing in Different Genres

About our guest blogger:

Joe L. Murr has lived on every continent except Antarctica.  He now divides his time between the Netherlands and Finland.  His stories have been published in magazines such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine, Noir Nation and here at Cecile’s Writers, and are forthcoming in Helsinki Noir (Akashic Books) and The Summer of Lovecraft (Chaosium).  For more stories and ruminations, visit www.joelmurrauthor.com

Flexible Instruments: Writing in Different Genres

Every act of definition means imposing limitations.

Case in point: consider “genre fiction.”  Take a moment.  Define it.

All done?

Now define “literary fiction.”

Okay.  Keep those definitions in mind.  Let’s roll.

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August 9, 2014

Killing off Suspense

how-not-to-write-a-novel1There are some books that you hear a lot of people talk about, but you never get around to reading them until years later.  One of those books for me was How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. Whenever I got together with a group of writers, this book would always pop up in conversation.  I quietly listened while they said things like: Continue reading

July 26, 2014

Applying Dutch Grammar to English Words

A few months ago, I wrote about my son’s First (Bilingual) Words. Right now, he combines words to make (very short) sentences, and with sentences come verbs. I’ve noticed that he is already applying Dutch grammar to English verbs.

In Dutch, many verbs (in simple form) end in –en, especially the words in my son’s vocabulary: spelen (play), eten (eat), vasthouden (hold), dragen (carry). He now applies the Dutch –en to English verbs; I hear him say things like “I go playen” and “I not liken”.

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July 18, 2014

Weird Grammar: “Word Crimes” video

This song will appeal to anyone who has ever studied, worked or simply loves languages, especially English.

Weird Al Yankovic’s song “Word Crimes”

 

Have a lovely day!

Sofia

July 17, 2014

Cecile’s Writers Magazine Is Back Online

Cecile’s Writers Magazine is back online. And we have a new flash fiction piece by Cecile’s Writer M. Krockmalnik Grabois for you to read. Go check it out…

Cecile, Samir, Sofia and Vanessa
Editors of Cecile’s Writers Magazine

July 17, 2014

We’re Switching Web Hosts

We’re switching web hosts for the Cecile’s Writers Magazine website. Unfortunately, this hasn’t gone very smoothly and the website is temporarily offline. We’ll be back real soon and we’ll have a new story for your reading pleasure.

Cecile, Samir, Sofia and Vanessa
Editors of Cecile’s Writers Magazine

June 15, 2014

James Joyce, A Short Introduction by Michael Seidel

James Joyce, A Short IntroductionThe book is part of the Blackwell Introductions to Literature series, which aim to  introduce novice readers to various literary authors or periods.  Seidel has written a compelling introductory book to one of modern literature’s giants, James Joyce, whose books are anything but simple.  When reading Joyce, I would advise not only knowing sufficiently the context in which his books are placed, but also reading texts like this one parallel to, or just before embarking on the actual books proper.  There is then a richness developed by understanding Joyce’s work more fully – the references, recurring characters, unusual word play, narrative techniques and much more.  Joyce was one of those writers whose every word was calculated to deliver a certain effect and to create multiple layers of meaning.  So while his books are challenging, they are also artistically beautiful and mind-bogglingly creative.  Simply put, they are a joy to read and reread.

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