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"His story has a strange amoral power, an immediacy and raw energy that capture the mood of the times."?Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
?This big, transcendently ambitious book offers an unparalleled picture of a culture in crisis?. Brimming with vividly rendered scenes.??The Boston Globe
Serenity could not get over the way the Fiddler walked with legs wide apart. It would have been very impolite to ask the man why he walked that way, and Serenity feared that if he asked his children, they would tell their father, who in turn would report him to his father for punishment. Consequently, he turned to his aunt with the question "Why does the Fiddler have breasts between his legs?"
"Who said the Fiddler had breasts between his legs?"
"Have you never noticed the way he walks?"
"How does he walk?"
"With legs spread wide apart as if he were carrying two jackfruits under his tunic." He then gave a demonstration, very exaggerated, of the way the man walked.
"It is very funny, but I have never noticed it," Grandma said, humoring him the way adults did to get out of a sticky situation.
"How could you not have noticed? He has large breasts between his legs."
"The Fiddler has no breasts between his legs. He is ill. He has got mpanama."
Serenity's sisters somehow got wind of the duckwalk and could not resist telling their village peers and schoolmates about the Fiddler, his breasts, and the little clown who portrayed him in silly mimicries. As a result, Serenity got the nickname Mpanama, a ghastly sounding word used out of adult hearing that dropped from gleeful lips with the wet slap of dung hitting hard ground from the rear of a half-constipated cow. Once again he was cured of an obsession, though he continued with his visits to the poor man's home, faintly hoping to catch him pissing or, better still, squatting on the latrine, for he really wanted to see if the Fiddler's breasts were as large and smooth as those of the women in his father's homestead.
Apart from his secret fantasy, Serenity also wanted to learn how to play the fiddle. He could not get over the one-stringed moans, groans, sighs, screams, grunts and other peculiar sounds the Fiddler conjured, squeezed and rubbed out of the little instrument. The Fiddler's visits formed the high point of his week, and the music was the only thing he listened to with pleasure uncoerced or influenced by adults or peers. He wanted to learn how to hold the instrument proudly against his shoulder and tune the string with a knot of wax. His aim was to charm strange women into his magic circle and keep them rooted there for as long as he wanted. In school he was known for his beautiful pencil drawings of fiddles. His wish never came true.
Grandpa, a Catholic, was unseated and replaced by a Protestant rival in a contest marred by religious sectarianism. As the fifties ended, his power gone and the heart taken out of his life, Grandpa's homestead shrivelled as relatives, friends and hangers-on left one by one or in little groups. The women dropped out of his life, and the Fiddler took his talent elsewhere. By the time I was the age Serenity was when he ran up to strange tall women, Grandpa was living alone, sharing his house with the occasional visitor, relative or woman, a few rats, spiders and the odd snake that sloughed behind his heaps of coffee sacks.
Grandma, his only surviving sister, was also living alone, three football fields away. Serenity's bachelor house, a trim little thing standing on land donated by both Grandpa and Grandma, separated the two homesteads. It was a sleepy little house, now and then kicked from the slumber of disintegration, swept and cleaned to accommodate a visitor, or just to limit the damage wreaked by termites and other destroyers. It only came alive when Serenity's sisters or Uncle Kawayida visited and hurricane lamps washed it with golden beams. The voices and laughter made the rafters quiver, and the smoke from the open fire wound long spectacular threads round the roof and touched off distant memories.
The exodus of wives, relatives, friends and hangers-on had left a big howling lacuna which wrapped the homestead in webs of glorious nostalgia. The fifties and sixties were spanned by that nostalgia and provided us with stories pickled, polished and garnished by memory. Every migrant soul was now a compact little ghost captured in words, invoked from the lacuna by the oracle of Grandpa and Grandma and made to inject doses of old life into our present truncated existence. The hegemony of lacuna'd ghosts in their stories was broken only when the characters, like resurrected souls, braved the dangerous slopes of Mpande Hill and the treacherous papyrus swamps to come and state their case in person. The Fiddler never returned, but was most prevalent because he was immortalized by the poor rendition of his songs Grandpa showered on his homestead as he shaved, as he toured his coffee plantation--the shamba--to supervise work, as he reminisced in the shade and as he wondered how to get a young girl with an old soul to see him through his last days.
From the Hardcover edition.
|List of Main Characters||vii|
|List of African Words||ix|
|Book 1||... 1971: Village Days||3|
|Book 2||The City||83|
|Book 3||Amin, the Godfather||113|
|Book 4||Seminary Years||185|
|Book 5||Nineteen Seventy-Nine||265|
|Book 6||Triangular Revelations||341|
Posted March 31, 2012
No text was provided for this review.