Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Lifetime Adventure as Narrated in "Why We Took the Car" by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Teen literature is often rife with adventure and a spirit of romance. Most texts that target teenagers teem with narratives that recount escapades, breathless moments, investigative pursuits and encounters with the unknown world amongst other aspects. This is best captured through the lenses of Mike Klingenberg, a fourteen year old boy, who clutches at a lifetime opportunity to make sure that his life will never be the same again.
Mike and his classmate, Andrej Tschichatschow, are the typical boring classmates whom no one wants to associate with. It is even worse for Mike who thinks that he writes great essays, he can do the high jump better than any other boy in his class and better still he can draw great images. At least, Tschick is the odd one out because he is perpetually drunk and he doesn’t care about anyone; even when the teachers make fun of him he is less interested.
However, the lives of the two young boys inevitably change when they are denied invites to Tatiana’s birthday party. It is a big blow to Mike who has a secret crush on her; he has even drawn a great BeyoncĂ© image for her as a gift. Tschick manages to drag Mike for a road trip on a stolen car after they have dropped the drawing at Tatiana’s party rendezvous.
Theirs is a road trip like no other. Tschick is just learning how to wire cars and has not mastered the driving skill. Although Mike has been instructed by his father and left alone at home because his mother has made the umpteenth visit to the rehab centre, he jumps onto the idea and begins to visualise a world of infinite possibilities.
It is a journey that begins from Mike’s home and ends exactly there. Although the two of them are clueless of where to go, they decide to head towards Wallachia – a destination that is almost fictitious and non-existent. It is a trip that comingles with their encounters with dangerous people, reckless driving, thrilling moments of being free to roam the world and the fear and anxiety of the unknown when the two of them get lost in mountains and forested areas.
Why we Took the Car is an exciting story interspersed with moments of suspense. At one moment we are worried when they run out of gas but a teenage girl, Isa, whom they bump into at a garbage site helps them siphon petrol. Thereafter, their first accident results from a reckless desire to outmanoeuvre a police car. Our breath is held when the car rolls almost a dozen times before it lands on its roof and the wheels are left spinning in the air. However, the story must uphold the spirit of heroism. Mike and Tschick survive with minor bruises.
The late Wolfgang Herrndof (shot himself in Aug. 2013 after being diagnosed with cancer in 2010)
Read more about the author here: http://www.goethe.de/kue/lit/prj/lit/arc/b11/004/enindex.htm
But, their heroism is short-lived because a few pages later Mike crushes the car into a trailer ferrying pigs. Although Tschick is taken to juvenile court and Mike let loose, the boys have learnt their lessons and acquired new statuses and identities. This is best affirmed when their teacher, Wagenbach is proofed wrong about their road trip by the arrival of policemen to the school.

The narrative adopts simple language and uses humour to mock adults. This resonates well with teenagers because they dislike adults for meddling in their life affairs. Memorability is enhanced through descriptions like that of the hippo woman, Isa’s romantic moment with Mike, the countryside etc. It is a novel that teenagers will definitely love to read.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

David Maillu’s "Man from Machakos"

Image courtesy of internet source
David Maillu is famed for titles such as My Dear Bottle, After 4:30, Unfit for Human Consumption, For Mbatha and Rabeka, and Benni Kamba 009 in operation DXT amongst many other titles.
As an author, Maillu has attracted controversy and fame in almost equal measure. Those who have read his texts would bear witness that they have at times been warned to keep off from his titles. This is owed to the fact that some readers consider the content of his books to be immoral. Others have commented that his style of writing is too explicit.
On the contrary, Maillu has penned down texts which should be of great interest to literary enthusiasts. Broken Drum is one of Maillu’s great achievements and it was extensively studied by Evan Mwangi, currently an Associate Professor at Northwestern University USA. Others are Kisalu and His Fruit Garden and Other Stories and also Man from Machakos.
Man from Machakos is a postmodernist text that provides a confluence of cultural, political and economic ideas. It is the story of Kivindyo whose name symbolises a true Mukamba – a native or if you like an indigenous Kamba man. His story is representative of the plight of jobless youth who look up to the government to provide them with jobs. But, Kivindyo’s realisation about the state of affairs concerning jobs and employment is not only daunting but utterly devastating.
His one desire is to join the Kenyan army and to settle down with the love of his life Mbeleete. Unfortunately, his bid to join the army is unsuccessful. Thus, he misses the golden opportunity to impress Mbeleete and it is, ironically, his arch-rival Justus Mwaka who wins the heart of the beautiful woman. It is a story that puts materialism into focus and castigates both men and women who build their relationships around material things. Read more about Maillu: http://www.davidgmaillu.com/
Kivindyo’s broken heart plunges him into self-deprecation and it takes his father’s scathing words to draw him out of self-pity. His father has a way with words, proverbs and he sometimes even indulges in silence as a form of communication. He is characterised as a wise old man whose wealth of experiences and knowledge is unsurpassed in the whole of Kyevaluki. He summons Kivindyo one night and bequeaths him with crucial Akamba people totems: a bow, a quiver of arrows and a traditional stool.  
Thereafter, he demands that the son should man up and stop whining like a bum. Kivindyo’s father – Mweleli son of Nguso – also gifts him with his only billy-goat and proffers a wealth of Akamba people’s wisdom inherited over the years upon his son. Thus, it would appear Maillu exploits the stereotype that Akamba people are honest and hardworking to fashion out the life of Kivindyo – the novel’s protagonist.
Working fastidiously, Kivindyo employs himself and manages to demystify the myth that people should always wait upon the government to help them. He transforms the lives of his fellow villagers, countrymen and even those beyond Kenya. The text suggests that personal initiatives are important but it also underlines the importance of moral and economic support in the quest for self-reliance. One of the key people who helps to nurture Kivindyo’s dreams is Munuka a learned man working in Nairobi.
The moral implications of Kivindyo’s resilience are substantiated in Lusia’s, Mukambi’s and Justus’s character transformation from a life of helplessness to one of enviable economic standing. Thus, Man from Machakos is an allegorical text that posits that we can forge a tribeless Kenyan nation of honest, hardworking people who abhor greed, hate and selfishness.

PS: This article was first published by The People Daily and is available here: http://mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/peopledaily/?p=102015

Monday, September 1, 2014

Why we should Read for Entertainment’s Sake

Reading "Dust" during a Daystar Book Club Meeting 
There have been substantial debates regarding the reading culture in Kenya today. Most of these discussions, if not all, squarely lay the blame on the current system of education and a generation Y that is allergic to reading. Whether such observations are true or not should not bother us so much as we should be by the lack of reading for leisure among the general populace.
When we hosted StoryMoja Festival’s Ideagasm session in Daystar University last week, I was confronted with startling remarks that jolted me back into the reality of what ails our reading culture. Some of the questions that were raised in the discussion included: What are we reading? What do we want to read? What are we writing? Why are we not telling our stories in film and in literature? What is the fear that plagues us?
The questions sparked off a spirited discussion that essentially accused the literary critic of not inspiring a critical mass of readers. Apparently, literary critics, I included, are fond of using complex theoretical phrases and diction that puts off general readers. I am not arguing that Kenyans lack the mental capacity to interpret such scholarly language but rather I am taking note that book reviews should be written in a way that would excite a majority of readers to yearn to read for fun.
A part of those present observed that Kenyan literary critics limit the scope of their audience by targeting each other. These critics hardly make any effort to describe the texts in simple and interesting approaches that would appeal to a wider section of Kenyans. As a result, most book reviews end up being counterproductive because the readers don’t see the texts as a source of entertainment.
Owing to the education system, most of us dislike literary texts because of the high school set books. The system is such that students are drilled to read to pass exams and the same applies to literature. With limited time for play and other leisure activities, the students develop a negative attitude towards reading thereby disliking literature as well. We cannot also discount the fact that books are expensive and that those who teach the subject may not have interesting ways of engaging the young minds to learn to appreciate the arts.
As a result, poor reading habits are extended to our homes. The contemporary society appears keener on making ends meet; thus, there is little or no time at all to nurture a reading culture. We have to create time to read not because we will be examined but simply to indulge in the pleasures of the text. This process will require that we read basically for entertainment: to enjoy the thrills of the story, to connect with the characters, to discover the lessons, to admire the choice of words, to marvel at the descriptions, adventures etc.
Probably, if we chose to read on such basis and not for themes or stylistic devices, then we might begin to fall in love with literature. We should also avoid general categories of texts such as serious and popular which at times discourage some readers from reading. There is an assumption amongst some people that reading a popular novel is inferior; but, reading Achebe should be as exciting as reading Sheldon.

Ultimately, we have interesting stories to tell through novels, paintings, graffiti, dance, music or even film. Thus, if we decide to embrace our diverse interests, both academic and non-academic, when reviewing arts then we will achieve the true spirit of literature. 
The article also featured here: http://mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/peopledaily/95691/reading-books-fun-bad/

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