It was a good thing the Caine Prize people deemed it right to put out the shortlists on their website. I, like many handicapped literary enthusiasts, would have mastered story titles, perhaps fantasize about their text and waited till the clincher is announced late July. But instead, this year (2009) is better and by God, I have the five stories downloaded into my little laptop, all for my enjoyable consumption.
So I started out with End Of Skill, the Ghanaian story trashed by Toni Kan. Kan did put this story down, below Chikwava’s Dancing to the Jazz Goblin and His rhythms which I was opportuned to read in a ride out the back of Tade Ipadeola’s friend’s car after a writer’s meet at The Palms. But reading through Kabu’s story about a weaver who sold his father’s legacy and passion for western currencies, I concluded that the story was not entirely as weak as Kan purported it to be, although the romance with weaving was in excess and of little import to both the progression of plot and its denouement. In other words, if Kabu’s ramblings on Kente is excised and whatever is left spliced together, we would still have his good story, which is obviously not my Caine Prize winner.
Next on my list is Waiting, E.C Osondu’s second chance to clinch the prize he narrowly missed with Jimmy Carter’s eyes in 2007. I was somewhat disappointed that his AGNI published story didn’t win and I can’t proffer reasons for I didn’t read the other entries. But Waiting, I must say, is not as strong as Jimmy Carter’s Eyes. Never! In his romance with refugee children and their plights, Osondu chronicled in his usual straight albeit short prose his imaginations which I find sympathetic but shallow. Personally, I was not moved. And I doubt if the judges would be.
Next is Parselolo Kantai’s story, You Wreck Her. Parselolo came highly recommended so as I pored over his scripted thoughts I couldn’t but feel refreshed reading through his gospel on an already trite theme. It’s refreshing perhaps because of a unique narrative. There was an elusive manner in which the story began but the story holds through for the reader to be immersed into the writer’s recesses and the empathy generated in the reader’s mind is neither induced by the writer’s choice of words nor the mood portrayed. With so much said, it’s safe to conclude that the story is a personal favourite.
But not so fast, Mukoma wa Ngugi also told a good tale, How Kamau wa Ngugi escaped into Exile. I find that title exasperating and its noteworthy that it was while reading these stories that I found out how perfectly edited these stories were, if not anything, I think it’s a fine reason they made the shortlist. Kamau comes as a fugitive activist fleeing from the enforcement agencies who sought him and in his escape, he goes through a lot, exposing the reader to the depth and the gory details of the inhuman experiences he fought against. I liked the feel of love in the story that was soon threaded behind the serious fabric of its themes.
Last but not the least is Alistair Morgan’s story, Iceberg, which also came highly recommended and which I think would be a popular choice. Personally, I respect this product of his narrative and if history is anything to go by, the most recent winner of the Caine prize was also South African. The story written in first person in the opening lines got me questioning what African sensibilities it appealed to? I thought it was well written but could have passed as western prose touching on themes like gruesomeness of reality. I was, I must admit, a little too quick to pass judgment, for the story built into an African sensibility. However, the genius of Alistair’s craft can be based on his dwelling more on how his characters adapt to his covert theme rather than running commentaries on their actual gruesome consequences. I reiterate that it’s probably the popular choice, but, again, we must wait till July to know the true clincher.