Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. A Classic from Africa

These three books in order make up An African Trilogy.

Quite coincidentally in the choosing of this book, it became the second book read in this competition, that is set in Africa, this time in Nigeria, somewhere near the lower Niger. It is set in the late 1800s on the cusp of British colonisation, along with missionaries bringing Christianity to replace the age-old gods of the Igbo people.

It is written by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author and poet, and was his debut novel. Published in 1958, the book became regarded as the first African classic written in English, and has since been a set book in many schools all over the world.

In the first of three parts, in each chapter, we meet Okonkwo and his family and fellow villagers of Umuofia (his father’s clan’s village) and Mbanta (his mother’s clan’s village) and the culture of the Igbo tribe of peoples as it was before the arrival of the White Man, in this case British missionaries. The culture was patriarchal, in various ways brutal eg., the killing of twin babies, murder of other tribes-people, the beating of wives; however, the society is very stable and sustaining of countless generations. The protagonist is the strong, proud, but flawed warrior, Okonkwo. We come to know all his family and the culture that defines them all. He is a wealthy yam farmer, wealth being counted as numbers of seed yams possessed. Kola and palm-wine are items of welcome and social offering. He lives in his own hut within his compound with the huts of his three wives and their children in separate huts behind his.

In the second part, we go with Okonkwo and his family, to the neighbouring village of his mother’s family, for the seven years of his banishment for accidentally killing another tribe member. During those years, British missionaries arrived in his home village. They are treated with tolerance and derision at first, and given the worst land for their church; however they embed themselves in the village, and start to change the culture. 

In the third part, Okonkwo and his family return to Umuofia. Okonkwo is angered by the missionaries and the changes, including the conversion of his son. The story continues to a clash between Okonkwo and others with the British authorities. He is released but the story moves to a shocking conclusion with things unbearable, as Things Fall Apart……

I loved reading this book. It is simply presented, (a narrative in the oral style as was the tradition of story-telling in the Igbo culture), and easy to read. I felt immersed in that culture, and loved all the African names of people and villages. For example, neighbours Okoye and Ogbuefi Ezeugo; family members Ekwefi and Ezinma; Agbala the Oracle.

In part 1, Chapter 5, the Festival of the New Yam is described. There is music, dancing, drumming and wresting. Music is provided by the Udu, the Ogene and drum sets.

It is worth adding some quotes from this chapter:

“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart.”

“There were seven drums and they were arranged according to their sizes in a long wooden basket. Three men beat them with sticks, working feverishly from one drum to another. They were possessed by the spirit of the drums.”

“At last the two teams danced into the circle and the crowd roared and clapped. The drums rose to a frenzy.”

“Their bodies shone with sweat, and they took up fans and began to fan themselves.”

“The drums went mad and the crowds also. They surged forward as the two young men danced into the circle. The palm fronds were helpless in keeping them back.”

“The crowd had surrounded and swallowed up the drummers, whose frantic rhythm was no longer a mere disembodied sound but the very heart-beat of the people.”

Perhaps with some deprivation in my education regarding literature, I had never heard of Chinua Achebe. He was a poet and novelist, a chieftain of the Igbo people of Nigeria. Things fall apart has been regarded as a masterpiece. I will read more of him. No infringement of copyright is intended.

The Moonlight State

In May 1987, Four Corners presented Chris Masters’ investigation into Queensland police corruption, which reached all the way up to the Police Commissioner, Terry Lewis. An inquiry was announced the following day, becoming the Fitzgerald Inquiry, resulting in over a hundred covictions, a jail term for the Commissioner, and the end of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Premiership. Dear Andrew Olley, long since departed from a brain tumour, was the presenter.

Recently, Four Corners presented a programme called Breaking the Brotherhood, which, now, thirty years later, brought to us the whistle blower police and investigators who gave their stories to Chris Masters. It also explored the frightening consequences for those se whistle blowers, at the time, as well as the severe impacts on their subsequent lives.

Four Corners remains part of the essential eternal vigilance.

I received 2 tickets to Joh for PM, the musical for my  birthday from M, R, H, and M, and had J accompanying me. We watched from a front row table…..’glorious fun’ as described by one reviewer…..apparently Mike Ahern, in the audience, now 75, was laughing his head off.

James Dobinson was the one man band….at Stage Right, doing the musical direction and orchestration. Sitting so close to the front it was an added embellishment watching the music production so closely.

 

The Song List included:

Accidentally (Member for Nanango, then Premier)

Feed the Chooks

We don’t do that nonsense here!

Don’t you worry about that!

Pumpkin scone diplomacy

Slush

and finishing with the rousing I will stand, complete with all characters in Maroon t-shirts and calls of “Queenslander”! with the audience responding in unison with an identfying standing ovation.

For more serious review and reflection on this era, Matthew Condon’s books are fascinating…….a review of Queensland politics and corruption through most of my early and young adult life. Condon is a Brisbane based author and journalist. Brother J put me on to these.

 

 

 

 

Two “should be” Modern Australian Classics….

Ballina Boy by R KA Allen

A child’s odyssey through the 1950’s

I bought this book to give to a dear friend for Christmas…….but have been so immediately entranced with it myself, that I know now she is not getting it, this being Feb 2. I will lend it with my book plate in the front!

It is available in all formats, hardcover, softcover, and ebook. I have the paperback version, and as usual, the tactile and visual elements of the book are meaningful to me. This one is printed in the USA on smooth, pleasing paper. The spine is firm, so I CAN roll it into covenient shapes sitting or lying in bed without any major damage (this facility also produces an additional tactile memory for the book, a specific “well-read” recall). Inside, line-drawings, and the painted cover picture, all by renowned Brisbane maritime artist Don Braben,  and the photograph on the front cover are each entrancing. No doubt, the cover painting represents this Ballina Boy fishing in the Richmond River from the boat jetty; it is alongside a photo of his blond-headed self at about age seven in the left hand lower corner. A rapid flick through the pages reveals that the book is interspersed with the most charming black and white line-drawings, enticingly and deeply redolent of my own childhood. There are family and school photographs in the middle. It is well annotated also, with numerous fascinomas! I find this all so striking, as even these visuals must be only a degree or two of separation from those of anyone who grew up in this part of the world in this era. “While the story is largely set in Ballina and the Northern Rivers, it encompasses Brisbane and Queensland provincial towns including Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Toowoomba and Pittsworth, as well as some international destinations.”

The Author’s current photo is on the back cover, where he is described:

“The son of a country doctor and classicist, Roger Allen inherited his father’s love of medicine and languages. After graduating from the University of Queensland, Roger specialized in chest diseases and sleep medicine in Melbourne, and became a recognized authority on sarcoidosis. H is currently in private practice at the Wesley Medical Centre, Brisbane and he also teaches medical students. Roger’s interests include family, sailing, military history, medical research and writing.”

Within the book, the young Roger’s early life is described in generous warm and affectionate detail,  sharing his family and family life, his halcyon days in Ballina. All the senses are triggered, with visions of boyish excursions, fishing, family travels, bird life…pelicans, azure kingfishers, Regent Bowerbirds, Powerful Owls. Depths of context are offered with his historical family history, local history, sympathetic acknowledgement of contemporary and past local Aboriginal history, and Roger’s youthful questioning of the religion.

This charming book is replete with so many reminders of my own childhood…..Billy Tea, the Hill’s Hoist, the FJHolden, bodgies and widgies, outhouse “dunnies with red backs, huntsmen and daddy longlegs”……..Christmas beetles, the Breakfast Creek Hotel, Crosby Road, Bartley’s Hill, Ascot State School, the gasometer at Newstead, Eagle Farm aerodrome, Lancaster Road, Oriel Park with the old steam roller, the Ascot tram terminus, lead paint, the gas copper, gob-stoppers, Cracker night with Throw Downs and tupenny bungers, Clag paste, yo-yos, Red Rover, hoola-hoops, Iced Vo-vos, White Australia, “Two to the Valley” (I was specifically explained this so-Brisbane-Australian colloquialism with humour by my own father, at a young age!), Tele! Tele! City Final!, McWhirter’s, T.C. Byrne’s and Finney’s, television in 1959, the Australian loss of innocence with the kidnap and murder of Graham Thorne, Sputnik………this book deserves a very wide readership!

 

Ladies in Black

On Saturday, I went with favourite daughter, Jenny, to see the musical, Ladies in Black at QPAC, my Christmas present from she and Nick. I had taken little notice of what we were to see, as the main event was an outing with HER. But what a treat ……..set in Sydney in 1959 in the frock department of Goodes (à la David Jones), with themes relevant today as then, and, what can one say, the music, composed by Tim Finn, brilliant. So happy and uplifting. Again, so many reminders of one’s own youth…..

The original inspiration was a book by an Australian expatriate, Madeleine St John, who was living in London: The Women in Black. It was the first of her four novels, and the only one set in her homeland. She based the story partly on her own experiences, but also those of a friend. Now on my Goodreads: Want to read list!

 

Carolyn Burns, playwright, along with Simon Phillips, director, and Tim Finn, music and lyrics, developed this new Australian musical for Queensland Theatre. It opened with seasons in Brisbane and Melbourne in 2015, and has just started an Australian National Tour. It won the 2016 Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work.

A lazy lift from Wikipedia re great reviews, follows:

“The musical was very positively received.

The Age called Ladies in Black “a unicorn of the stage: a full-blown, home-grown musical that actually works” and “probably the best Aussie musical since Priscilla went global”. It wrote: “Tim Finn’s songs range from Broadway-inspired big numbers to true-blue ballads, from witty patter songs to shades of blues and jazz standards. They’re beautifully integrated with the dramatic action, and the comic lyrics are priceless.”

The Australian stated that Finn “has approached Ladies in Black with such wholehearted sincerity and creative generosity …creating an immensely engaging score filled with gorgeous melodies that make you care about the characters singing them.”

ArtsHub indicated that “a comedy of mid-20th century manners, Ladies in Black is a paean to an optimistic future – the future of an uncomplicated gender equality and seamless multiculturalism. But Finn’s canny lyricism transports the play from its late 50s context to a subtle but salient comment on social issues of today.”

Well done to all the great creatives involved – there are many, cudos to Brisbane, Queensland Theatre, Australia, and a dab of New Zealnd!

Thanks, Jen!

 

Wistful farewell to Islay, hello brash Glasgow!

Just Lerved! Islay. Let the Islay Pipe Band play us awa’….

(Recalling that there are only 3000+ folk on Islay….how they maintain their culture! How about a even having a pretty full looking, competitively successful Pipe Band!)

Drove to Glasgow on the A83, turning onto the A82 past Loch Lomond.

The oldest version of this song…

 

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, the third largest in Britain, and has a reputation for harbouring more industry, more poverty.

Having seen Edinbugh and numerous other cities, towns and villages in Scotland, Glasgow indeed presents itself as stressed, preoccupied, not thoughtfully caring of itself. The city streets we saw were dirty, littered, graffitied……was sure I was walking past two girls of the night in our first afternoon walk, then a couple who looked the unwell of drug addiction…..not unusual in cities, but the only time seen in Scotland previously. Our hotel was the only lodging in Scotland which asked for payment on arrival rather than departure, the only one to provide a facade only of “free wi-fi”, two days effectively off the internet😬. Indian dinner at the UK 2015 award winner for Indian Restaurant, how lucky!

 

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We had to miss Glencoe……

It was so dangerous to be a Jacobite (Jacobus being Latin for (King) James). It started when Catholic, Stuart, King James V11(England)/11(Scotland) was crowned in 1685. Fearing the country would become Catholic, in 1688, Protestants asked James daughter, Mary and her husband William of  Orange, to do the job. James fled to France. Within 6 months, dissent started in Scotland. Government forces were sent to Scotland, to control the unruly Highlanders.

In all, there were five risings by Jacobites, to try to reinstate the Stuart line. The last was at Culloden in 1745, with terrible slaughter of the Jacobites there, as well as afterwards.

Great further detail here.

Early after it all started, in 1692, the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. It was decreed that all men and boys under the age of seventy were to be massacred in order to make an example of the Clan to other Highland Chiefs. One hundred and twenty Red Coat soldiers under Robert Campbell of Glenlyon were billeted to stay with the MacDonalds claiming the barracks in Fort William were full. They were treated to Highland hospitality by the Clansmen; ceilidhs were held, games of shinty were played and all was friendly. On the morning of the 13 February 1692 the soldiers were ordered to fall upon the rebels killing thirty-eight MacDonalds . Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

The massacre really served to increase the numbers of Jacobites. As well, there was an inquiry which did find against the organizers, but not Queen Mary and King William. There has been a long memory regarding the appallingness of this senseless atrocity. The participation of some Campbells is not forgotten. The following song was written relatively recently in 1963.

John McDermott – The Massacre of Glencoe

 

For the fifty years of Jacobite uprisings and the following fifty years of Government repression, as it was so dangerous to be a known Jacobite that there was a secret code of symbols by which to recognise each other.

  • the rose and the rosebud representing the exiled King James and his heirs Charles and Henry
  • the white cockade, a rose-like white ribbon, sometimes worn on a blue bonnet
  • the butterfly, emerging from the chrysalis, representing the grand return of the Stuart’s from exile
  • Oak leaf and acorn – The oak was an ancient Stuart badge and an emblem of the Stuart Restoration. The oak is a symbol of restoration and regeneration.
  • the sunflower – a symbol of loyalty. The sunflower constantly follows the sun.
  • bees – representing the return of the soul, namely The Pretender
  • the medusa head, translates as protector

 

The 1745 rising was produced by the rashness and personal charm of the Young Pretender in the face of universal opposition of his supporters.

From Mum’s old text “The Complete Scotland”:

France could send no troops for the moment; the Highland chiefs were most reluctant to call out their men; the Lowland Jacobites were most unwilling to rise. The action was dramatic; victory at Prestonpans, occupation of Edinburgh, advance to Derby, retreat, success at Falkirk and ruin at Culloden. The Prince, after desperate adventures in the Highlands and Islands, at length escaped to France, and later to other adventures less reputable (d. at Rome 1788). Scotland remained to pay the penalty. The nobles lost their hereditary jurisdictions; the Highlands were ruthlessly policed; the wearing of the kilt was forbidden (until 1782). The hanging of James of the Glens (see R. L. Stevenson’s Catriona) is a commentary on the justice of the government.

Westering home to Islay…….

 

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From Oban, we westered to the ferry at Kenacraig. For obscure reasons, it was re-routed to Port Arisaig at the northern end of the island, rather than our destination at Port Ellen on the southern end. It was a happy occurrence, anyway, with Port Arisaig (remember Viking word endings?) being a dear little Port with not much township, followed by an orienting drive down to Port Ellen.

We stayed with Joy, owner of a B and B called Askernish. Our room was delightful and large. The house had been the local Doctor’s Sugery in not such distant memory – we had the Surgery Room and our bathroom had been the Dispensary. On the opposite side of the hallway was The Waiting Room! “The Doctor” had successfully treated many an ailment with the medicine in The Black Bottle. Joy says when she moved into the premises, many a local asked “did you ever find that Black Bottle, and work out what the recipe was?”. W was fairly sure the local whiskey would have been a prime ingredient!

We fell in love with Joy…would like to have bottled her and brought her back!, and Port Ellen and all of Islay. Those people of the West WERE canty and couthy and kindly the best. I knew they would be……

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(Sadly the population of Islay is in decline. The most recent census, taken in 2011, recorded 3,228 residents in 1,541 households. This was down 7% from the 2001 census, which recorded 3,457 residents in 1,479 households. This translates into a population density of around 14 people per square mile. For comparison, Eden in Cumbria, the least densely populated district on the mainland, has over 40 people per square mile.

Unaffordable housing and a lack of job opportunities have been the driving forces behind Islay’s depopulation and it is the young that are being forced out. Argyll and Bute council has been trying to address the former problem by building properties for rent in Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Bowmore. After farming, whisky distilling is the island’s second largest employer and there are no fewer than eight active distilleries, with a ninth planned. Bruichladdich itself employs over 70 people now, making us the largest private employer on the island.

Islay’s population peaked at 14,992 in 1831. By 1900 it had halved, partly thanks to the enforced evictions of the so-called Clearances when estate-owners realised that farming sheep would be more profitable than acting as feudal overlords for indigenous farmers, and the decline has been remorseless ever since. Canada and the US were the most popular overseas destination for Islay’s emigrants.)

Back to the Future, our last supper in Paris

W walked the local blocks this afternoon for an extra hour after our day out, checking the menus on the local restaurants, and so selected L’Authre Bistrot, rue des ecoles. As we approached later for dinner, I said that I could hear live jazz. We were treated to fantastic jazz at the restaurant he had chosen, by In the Mood for Jazz en trio, saxophonist/clarinetist, guitarist, and contrebassist. Even better live than Youtube: