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African Violet and other stories – the Caine Prize for African Writing 2012

-published by New Internationalist, 2012.

IMG_2395A collection of 15 short stories by African writers, including the 5  stories shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2012.  Four of these stories are set in Kenya:

Urban Zoning by Billy Kahora
Elephants Chained to Big Kennels by Mehul Gohil
Table Manners by BM Kunga
Bloody Buda by Waigwa Ndiang’ui

Urban Zoning was shortlisted for the 2012 prize.  It is the story of a charming but drunken, young Nairobi man who outwits his boss.  His drunken imaginings at the beginning of the story are told in a playful manner: “He could almost smell the Limara girl and glory a few steps away when a Friesian cow appeared in the try box.  It chewed cud with its eye firmly on him, unblinking, … (he) patted her, and with his touch noticed that she was not Friesian but a white cow with some black spots, rather than the other way around.  The black spot that came over her back was a map of Kenya.  She was a goddamn Zebu.”

My favourite of the stories is the unsettling and dramatic Table Manners.  Kunga tells the story with beautifully descriptive language: “She runs her fingers slowly over her daughter’s delicious little features.  Her eyelids, fine as a butterfly’s wings, remain closed, long dark eyelashes kissing the tip of a high cheekbone…”  I won’t disclose the ending of the story, but you will want to read this description again once you have finished.  It may only be short, but the characters come to life and the story leaves the reader with the completeness of a full novel.

A selection of entries for the Caine Prize is published every year and I, for one, will be looking out for this year’s compilation.  The winner of the 2012 prize, by the way, was Bombay’s Republic, by Rotimi Babatunde from Nigeria.

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