Chimeka Garricks Tugs at Our Heartstrings with ‘A Broken People’s Playlist’

“The boy would die, not understanding his death was a grim godsend to this police anti-robbery team – another chance to stat-pad the number of robberies they claimed to have solved.”

In The City

If you’ve heard any of the songs that inspired the short stories in this collection, you’ll appreciate the depth of their stories even more. However, you don’t need the music to realise the power in the stories.

As a die-hard Nina Simone fan, the sixth story I Put a Spell on You stood out for me from the list and that was the one I read first. It wasn’t just the story itself I found hilarious and captivating, but the language itself, characters throwing in pidgin English, had me falling about.

If you start with the funniest one like I did, you’ll see how some of the stories become more of tearing up than knee-slapping. In a beautiful way, though. When Garrick writes about loss, he knows how to include the reader in that moment of grief. When he writes about corruption, he creates a vivid image of those illicit exchanges.

A best friend lost in the chaos of confras, a true love lost on his way to officially be with the love of his life. When the black sheep of the family doesn’t have long to live and throws a living funeral, his brother and ex-wife take us with them through their turbulent emotions.

The stories bring the everyday stories of Nigeria to life, raw, tender, and blatant. It’s short, with only twelve stories and like me, you will gobble it down in a single day (night) like I did. You’ll have the stories stuck in your head like your favourite songs.

Review: Jazz by Toni Morrison

“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

The early 20th century marked the growth of jazz music in America. In the 1920’s the music spread into parts such as New Orleans, and Harlem, the ‘City’ where we find the characters in Jazz. The music began way before it was labelled jazz, from the days of slavery when people would sing to pass time, to bleed away the sadness with their voices and to keep the African voice alive.

Louis Armstrong

What sets jazz music apart is the element of improvisation, which gives artists the ability to express themselves in any way they want, and still keep a soulful and enjoyable rhythm. This element is what I first noticed about the way this story mirrors the genre itself.

Middle-aged Joe Trace meets eighteen-year-old Dorcas when he’s selling cosmetics at her aunt’s place. Thereafter begins their affair and months later when Dorcas grows tired of him, he shoots her after following her to a party. Joe’s wife Violet arrives at the funeral and slashes the dead girl’s face with a knife. Some weeks after the funeral Violet starts visiting Dorcas’s aunt and the visits become regular. Meanwhile, Joe is lost in deep grief for this dead lover.     

Jazz music has travelled with black African-Americans, their experiences, struggles, pains, and joys, through song and dance. The narrator, whose identity we don’t know, tells the story and relates the scenes in the same change of notes, short and long, as in jazz music. We encounter the love triangle in many parts of the book, repeated in a way that reveals something new or reminds us of something we know.

Toni Morrison splits open the characters and feeds us the right pieces throughout the story, creating a sort of web that takes from their pasts and connects back to the present, to the love triangle and its tragedy. We discover pieces from these characters’ fractured identities and come to understand how they are connected without them knowing they are, and why they behave the way they do.

I read Sula before Jazz and whereas with the former I loved the story and the characters more, with the latter I absolutely loved the storytelling. It felt like I was reading a long beautiful poem. I do have to mention, however, that I had tried to read it about three times and couldn’t get past the first chapter and once I finally got into it I figured it was because you have to stay with the narrator and not get lost. For me, it required my full attention, unlike other books that I’ve read with less focus and could still follow.

Jazz is an unforgettable piece of art. It’s powerful literature that achieves the goal of leaving the reader moved and having learned something deep and valuable about the human condition, as good literature often does. The characters come to you in flesh and bone, and throughout the story, you taste their realness and hear their voices. Their individual stories, which the narrator reveals by travelling back and forth through time, become so palpable and make it possible for the reader to keep diving in for more and more.

Brilliant. Exquisite. Important.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Mourning Bird by Mubanga Kalimamukwento

“‘NEVER LET AN OWL STAY, mwanake,’ my father warned. ‘Why, Tate?’ I asked him. ‘Because,’ he replied, throwing a stone at the mango tree, ‘they are a bad omen. They mourn at night so that we mourn in the morning.'”

– The Mourning Bird, Mubanga Kalimamukwento

The 1990s in Zambia were a devastating period of a crumbling economy, election riots and an attempted coup. It is in this same period that we meet eleven-year-old Chimuka and her family, and the tragedies that befall them.

Chimuka’s father dies from the concealed hands of AIDS, leaving her behind with her two younger brothers, the toddler being born sick, her mother and the belligerence of his bitter family. Their lives undergo a devastating change, reducing them to savage circumstances.

When loss strikes the family again, Chimuka and her brother Ali are all they have and end up on the streets, where drugs, hunger, rape, prostitution and theft become their reality.

There are books that bombard the reader with one tragedy after the other, and end up creating a boring and predictable text. However, in The Mourning Bird, Mubanga Kamlimamukwento handles these events with such impressive literary decorum, resulting in a beautiful yet heart-wrenching story. It reminded me a bit of Boy, Interrupted by Saah Millimono (war, poverty and child soldiers) but with triple the trauma, the anguish and tear-jerking.

I have to say, this story is certainly not for the lily-livered. At some point I wanted to stop reading it, afraid of the rawness of the reality it mirrors. Kamlimamukwento perceptively penetrates hard issues such as infidelity, HIV/AIDS and the secrecy that accompanies it, suicide, family betrayal and neglect, rape and prostitution.

It is undeniably impressive how, instead of creating a theme that is lightly sprinkled onto a story, she merges the story and these issues into one raw flesh, which terrifies and at the same time never fails to astonish you.

I loved everything about the book, from the plot, the characters, to the language and evident talent in writing rich prose. The one small spot that I would criticise would be the ending of the story. Throughout the book, the pace has been steady while the end comes in with a quick resolution, which could have been stretched out a little more than it was done.

The Mourning Bird is definitely for the brave but I wouldn’t advise anyone against reading it. It will open your eye to the weight that a country’s failings, blemishes and turmoil has on people. It is sad but powerful and unforgettable.

Mubanga Kalimamukwento is a Zambian award-winning novelist, a mother of two and a criminal lawyer. She’s a fellow of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and the Young African Leaders Initiative. The Mourning Bird won the 2019 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award. She also won the Kalemba Short Story Prize, and was shortlisted for the SyncityNG Anthology and the Bristol Short Story Prize in the same year.