Thursday, August 25, 2016

Blackass: Identity, Prejudice & Discrimination in Contemporary Literature

Furo Wariboko, a 33-year-old, unemployed Nigerian man, wakes up on the morning of his job interview day to find that he has experienced a physical metamorphosis: he is an oyibo, a white man. Shocked and worried what his family will think, he sneaks away from home without their noticing and starts his efforts to efface his former identity. This starts off the journey motif of the narrative which ends up being characterised by satire once the reader discovers that a small matter has been left unresolved: Furo’s ass has remained irresolutely black and it defies all efforts to be whitened!
However, Blackass is more than just a physical transformation of Furo’s physique. It is a story about contemporary Nigeria, the terrain of the city of Lagos and the numerous challenges facing the job seekers in a society increasingly faced by socio-political and economic problems. Furo’s desertion of his family marks an interesting twist of his life as he seeks to reconstruct his identity as a white man. Indeed he discovers that although being a white man has its own share of problems like fellow Lagosians seeking to exploit every opportunity to make money out of him: A white man in Lagos has no voice louder than the dollar sign branded onto his forehead, he also finds it easy to land job opportunities.
It seems that Africans in a 21st century are still plagued by the ghost of racism and its attendant discriminative values. In his first job interview, Furo is immediately given the job just because he is white even though he comes across as inexperienced and unprepared for the job. The upturn of things is that he discovers his voice and determines to carve an identity for himself. Thus begins the process of metamorphosing from Furo Wariboko to Frank Whyte. Although at the beginning of the novel Furo comes across as shy, easily intimidated, withdrawn and unsure of his footing, the change of his skin colour accords him a different perspective towards life.
Furo becomes a more decisive man who can exploit others economically, sexually and personally. His relationship with Syreeta is symbiotic because she seeks to get even with her philandering male friend who has a family and keeps her for his selfish sexual exploits. For his part, Furo benefits from this arrangement because he gets free shelter, food clothing and other benefits which he would never have dreamt about if he were still a black Nigerian. Even though things appear better for him, the reader soon discovers the shallowness of human beings when Furo begins his job, orders the driver around and avoids getting too close with fellow Nigerians.
The language of the novel is humorous even as Barrett pokes fun of Furo’s useless attempts to bleach his ass. It becomes a symbol of his essence, his being, his identity. The stubbornness with which it sticks (no pun intended) with him is a lesson to humankind that we cannot wish away our identity, our history or our origin so to speak. Furo comes to the realisation that to be is easier than to become. In addition, this is a narrative about gender issues as the writer incorporates the aspect of transgender into the twist of the plot. In fact, this is one of the occasions through which the writer teases Furo for his shallowness when he appears surprised by Igoni’s transformation yet he himself has undergone a similar experience. The first time Furo meets Igoni he is a male writer but the next time they meet she comes across as a woman to whom Furo is attracted only to find that she has a penis.  
One can also arguably say that the text concerns itself with questions of masculinity. Furo’s father is cast as a disillusioned man broken by a corrupt system when his efforts to establish a chicken business fails. Having been socialised into a tradition that expects him to “behave like a man”, Furo’s father would rather pretend that all is well even when he knows that he is incapable of providing for his family and that his wife would have to shoulder the burden of doing so. It is no wonder that Furo’s sister is moulded after her mother, strong-willed and determined as opposed to Furo who appears to have been emasculated by the father’s inability to live up to societal expectations of his manliness.
The writer also experiments with social media in this story when he infuses the story line with twitter messages. Tekena, Furo’s sister uses social media to ventilate about her fears concerning her brother’s disappearance. Although it is not the best of my reads this year, I like the text for letting the reader think through unanswered questions like what would happen when Furo eventually confronts his family with an altered skin colour. Some of us might find the text’s confrontation with questions of identity shallow, others might even find the story a bit flat but each one of us will have to read and judge for themselves.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Penny Busetto’s The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself

The winning Book

For a long time I have not laid my hands on a haunting psychological story. However this has since changed as a result of my rendezvous with Busetto’s The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself. It is a dark story characterised by dark secrets and haunting memories that the protagonist is both willing to remember and forget at the same time. A daunting task of course since I returned a verdict of madness for this beautiful story!
Although the story can pass for a “normal” autobiography through which the protagonists recollects events and bits of information about her past, it is much more than just that. It is a traumatising story tracing the dreadful childhood of Anna P. She has become mute in her adulthood. Enveloped in her silence the persona is unable to speak out, to resist, to show emotion or any connectedness to humanity. Anna P has to repair this fragmented life if she wants to remain sane.
Anna P’s narrative helps her to relive the abusive sexual life she had whilst growing up part of which was at the hands of her biological father and her cousin Luke. It appears that these events at a tender age, especially the fact that she plays a hand in the death of her father, pushes her into the deep abyss of self-loathing thereby withdrawing from any meaningful human interactions. Her mother assumes that she needs psychiatric help and subjects her to a series of treatments. Sadly, the doctors return a verdict of unimproved and discharge her since they are unable to get to the bottom of her psychological issues.
In this story, the reader discovers the depths of trauma and how devastating traumatic events can be to the individual and the society at large. Anna comes across as a ticking time bomb. Indeed, the reader does not gather this at the beginning of the autobiography. It is only much later when the pieces of different events begin to fall in place does the reader patch the puzzles together. Anna P has a split personality, she does things that she is not in control of. Although she comes across as devoid of any emotional connection, it is possible to argue that there is a part of her psychic that retains a sense of the conscious. She, albeit remotely, begins to resist the sexual exploitations she is subjected to by killing the men who victimise her.
Her deep wounds cannot best be understood by anyone else other than herself. Not even Ispettore Lupo who appears to take advantage of her vulnerability because of immigration-related issues. In fact, the policeman only makes Anna P more mentally unstable as a character. She begins to read sinister motives in his unbearable summons when he keeps demanding that she should go back to the station to clear her name from certain allegations that he does not reveal. Lupo’s sexual advances, however subtle, do not go unnoticed by Anna. It is no surprise that when he eventually makes his move she murders him in a similar way to what she has done to other men who have inflicted emotional suffering to her delicate self.
Anna connects emotionally with one of her students, Ugo, who seems to be going through a painful emotional childhood stage occasioned by the physical abuse of her Uncle. Indeed, Anna eventually runs away with Ugo after killing Ispettore Lupo. They rediscover refuge and the beauty of humanity with a couple who live in some farmland outside the perimeter of urbanisation. This could easily be interpreted as reaching out on the part of Anna – an effort to relive the healthy life of a mother-to-child relationship which she never had with her mother. In a way, she feels compelled to mother Ugo even when part of her psychic appears to resist the relationship.
Although she never opens up verbally to the Psychiatrist, Anna’s sessions with him allow her to delve into the recesses of her mind and to begin to relive her problems and hopefully to heal. Indeed, the text’s narrative stance is quite intriguing: it opens somehow in the omniscient narration, moves to the second person point of view and then ends in the I-narrative, that is, Anna’s ability to speak and be in touch with her subjectivity through the first person point of view.
Her sense of identity, human dignity and self-worth can only be fully grasped by the self if the memories of her life can be recollected, analysed, sorted and safeguarded against any other possible loss. Unless and until this is done, Anna P remains a hollow character doomed to die a lonely life abandoned in the abyss of her emotional suffering and turmoil. It is a story one needs to connect with in order to come to terms with the skeletons of the past and their immense significance to the present and the future.

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