Tag Archives: reviews

Review: The African child by Camara Laye

10 Aug

Perhaps this is the second best written African book that I have read recently, after Alan Paton’s Cry the beloved country. Set in Guinea, Laye takes us on a fun-filled, nostalgic journey into his boyhood life in one of the villages in his country. The result is something special; portraying the African community in the pre-colonial era.

 He presents the customs and beliefs of his people in the context of the day-to-day life as seen through his eyes. His approach endears the reader to the boy’s parents and his friends and his life in general. He alternates his home as a child between his home in Kouroussa and his grandmother’s home in Tindican. He goes to school, watches the fields with his friends, participates in the harvest, etc.

At fifteen, he undergoes the rite of circumcision, the sign of entrance into manhood. After this, he acquires his own hut.

Thereafter, he goes to Conakry for technical studies, befriends Marie, who becomes his girlfriend. He goes back home for his holidays. He wins a scholarship to study in France, extremely sad to leave all that he loves behind.

Published in 1954 as L’Enfant Noir and appearing in English the following year, The African child is a great read. It is considered one of the best novels to come out French-speaking Africa.



Review: Cry, the beloved country by Alan Paton

29 May

I must admit that I was on the verge of crying several times while I was reading this book. Take me seriously; I rarely shed tears over a book, but this one almost made me cry.

The book tells the sad and simple story of Kumalo, a black Anglican priest from the countryside, gone to look for his son in the city:Johannesburg. His search leads him to a labyrinth of murder, prostitution, illicit brews, slum living etc. When he realizes the depth of things affecting his own family,(his son and sister) he almost loses hope. He meets Msimangu, a fellow priest, whose friendship sustains him in the seemingly futile search. The book ends full of hope, although justice is done (I don’t want to spoil the book for those who have not read!)

This book is interesting in many ways. First, it is set in the 1940’s-1950, a very strategic time inSouth Africaas far as racial awareness is concerned. In fact, it was Paton’s book that raised awareness about the apartheid inSouth Africa. When Kumalo travels from Ndotsheni toJohannesburg, he goes in the black compartment; there are two exits from the courtroom, as per the custom, which is rarely breached, if at all.

At the same time, Paton presents circumstances in the book in which these same customs are breached. When the people refuse to use the public transport (used mainly by blacks) enmasse to protest against increased fares, many white people offer lifts in their cars. The friendship that develops between Kumalo and Mr. Jarvis is incredible. It is interesting that Mr. Jarvis lived on his farm in the countryside, employing many black people, but he shook hands for the first time with a black person at his son’s funeral.

Secondly, it gives a valuable insight of the origin of such problems as slums and crime, a reality in many African cities. Definitely, each country is unique, but it is the same phenomenon all the same. When the youth leave their homes and head for the city, the leave behind their tribal customs that were their moral foundation, and according to the author, this is why so many of them end up in crime. The initiative that Kumalo comes up with to educate the people about proper farming methods, irrigation etc will at least make the farms productive once more and maybe not too many of the youth will flock to the city, looking for something to do with themselves.

Although it really sounds like an updated issue (black rights), the book is written in a poetic manner, such that it is impossible not to be moved (maybe this is the reason why I was on the verge of tears). The conversations are beautiful; they feel, at least to me, as though the characters were speaking in Zulu expressed in English!

Lastly, I could not resist the urge to add a paragraph (that gives the book its name) that I really like: Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

It is for these reasons that I think Cry, the beloved country deserves to be among the 20th century classics.

Riders, Dragons, the fair folk and an evil King: Eldest by Christopher Paolini

23 Apr


I am now reading Eldest by Christopher Paolini, which makes me almost unable to do anything else. The pages flip as if enchanted, and my heart beats faster as the saga unfolds. The typical epic of the good and the bad, and the struggle between the two. Eldest is the second book in the Inheritance saga.

After Eragon arrives at Farthen Dun, with the injured elf-maid Arya that he had helped rescue from the Urgals, he is faced with another challenge: war. The Varden, who have helped cure Arya, expect his untiring help, while the dwarves are not so pleased to see him. He is lucky, he manages to kill Durza, the empire’s feared loyal servant. As a result, the empire’s army disintegrates and the Varden win the battle, with the help of Eragon, the new Rider, and his dragon, Saphira. To fulfill his promise to Brom, his instructor, he must head on to Ellesmera, the elves’ place, and receive further training necessary if they are to stand against Galbatorix and the empire.


Back in his village, his cousin Roran is in danger of capture, as the empire plans to capture him as bait for his cousin, Eragon. The only way to survive is to find their way to Surda, and seek protection form the Varden, the only people brave enough to openly oppose Galbatorix, the evil king. Roran and the group from Carvahall must brace the cold winter in the woods, feed themselves, and evade the Raz’ac ( the empire’s servants), a queer race of creatures with beaks, foul smell and ear-splitting shrieks.

Will Eragon manage to absorb Oromis’ decades experience and training in just a few months? Will he withstand the sword-play that he must do everyday with the arrogant elf Vanir, suffering seizures as a result of his wound from Durza, the Shade? Then there is his infatuation with Arya, Queen Islanzadi’s daughter, which threatens his concentration in the much-needed training. Will he be able to face Galbatorix’s increasing power?

Review: Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce

21 Apr

I first heard Joseph Pearce speak in an international university students’ conference in Rome last year. After that, I knew that I had to look for his books and read every one of them. Wisdom and innocence is my first, and since then, I have added to the list The Quest for Shakespeare and a few others.

Pearce, a convert to Catholicism like Chesterton, has carried out a detailed research on the life and works of the latter, and presents them in his book in an objective and attractive way. I must say that I was gripped from the beginning, itching to know everything about the literary giant that is Chesterton.  He makes use of short chapter headings with which, he chronologically presents the life of G.K. Chesterton: his personal life, writings, critics, friends, family, conversion, etc.

The book begins with a chapter entitled Father of the Man, in which we see the relationship of Chesterton with his father, as well as the artistic influence of the father on the son. The book then advances to the student days of Chesterton and the Junior Debating Society. It also presents his readings and their effect on his thought; it talks of  Frances, who he married, and her influence on him; his friends and their paradoxical friendship cum intellectual antagonism; his relationship with children, etc.

Throughout the book, the author makes extensive use of quotations from the books of Chesterton, his unpublished works, articles written about Chesterton, newspaper reports at the time, as well as biographies of Chesterton.

We not only get to know the life of Chesterton but also what people thought of him, whether good or bad. Pearce dedicates considerable time and space to the relationship of Chesterton with his friends, bringing to light their common interests as well as the differences between them in personality and thought. For example, he writes entire chapters on Hilaire Belloc, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Fr. John O’Connor, Dorothy Collins, Fr. Ronald Knox, etc. It is amazing to see how they maintained their friendship throughout their lives.

Pearce presents Chesterton as an amiable and simple person, who got on easily with the people he met. For example in a journey to America, where he was giving numerous lectures, he got time to make a drawing for the child of someone he met there. Thus, in the book, we appreciate the personal side of a great man: his sense of humour, his attraction and relationship with children, his interest in toy theatres, his serene attitude in the midst of heated conversation, etc.

The rise of Chesterton to a household name is presented in the book in a chronological way. We get to see the evolution of his literary career. He began with articles in the Speaker and Daily News. Many of those articles were later compiled in book format. He became the editor of the New Witness after his brother’s death. He was invited to give lectures both in Europe and America, where he left the audience reeling with laughter, and pondering. He gave broadcasts on the BBC. In short, Chesterton was a genius: he was a deep thinker who grasped reality profoundly and sought for truth. That search eventually led him to the Catholic Church and he in turn led many others there. C. S. Lewis (?) and Sir Alec Guinness are an example.

If you are interested in the life of Chesterton and an overview of his literary career, then this is your book. It is interesting to note that the two: life and writings are of one person, his books arise out of the conversations that he has with his friends. Pearce does a marvelous work of presenting the two aspects together. For example, Chesterton wrote the Father Brown series of books after meeting Fr. John O’Connor, who is obviously the inspiration for the series. He also wrote The Everlasting Man at the time of the storms between him and Wells and Belloc. Pearce has done a thorough research and presented a complete and attractive volume on the life and person of Chesterton: essayist, poet, playwright, Christian apologist; one of the greatest men of the 20th century.