Review by Radiyah Manjoo
Peace be with you reader,
“Are you religious, Mama?” he asked lightly.
Mma- Millipede looked at him with an alert glance. “If you mean, am I good, I can right away say no, no,no,” she said.
“Goodness is impossible to achieve. I am searching for a faith, without which I cannot live.”
Makhaya kept quiet because he did not immediately grasp the meaning of this.
“What is faith, Mama?” he asked curiously.
“It is an understanding of life,” she said gently.
- When Rain Clouds Gather, Bessie Head
Whilst reading this book, these words resonated with me so much. As it may seem sometimes, it felt as if the words were intended for me. We’re sometimes met by words that were journeying towards us. They are received with the sense that they have found us when we needed them, when they needed to be heard. When Rain Clouds Gather was so interesting for me, it brought forward a different perspective which was needed and pulled from within, an understanding that needed to be spoken to become real.
I was met by a thought too, recently – one that seems I was searching for. I was in an area in Johannesburg that is often referred to as “Mogadishu”, owing to its large Somali presence. Walking around feels almost as if you’re no longer in South Africa, the language you’re surrounded by is different, the signage is no longer in English letters, and stores and offerings are unfamiliar. It is almost as if you are momentarily transported to a foreign land. And I marveled at the human condition, the ability to carry ourselves with us. So often we may move but leave parts of ourselves behind, but to be able to retain a piece of ourselves is a feat. We may be forced to leave a place and leave behind almost everything we know, but how special is it to gather and collect the pieces of what is left and create a new space from what is left.
I come from a people who fled a war. They left and came to a new land. Nothing of them remains but an entertaining thought that they made it here, out of all places in the world. Sometimes you may flee and never look back, leave everything behind in its place. And that is okay too, there are many paths of escape.
I have always understood that people have to, at times of ‘unrest’ and difficulty, leave their country. Many people may relocate to another country to escape poverty, to save what’s left of their family, to remove themself from violence, or to seek refuge. And I’ve watched documentaries and I’ve read articles but in all of it, I still could not fully grasp how much is lost in a war and how much is ever really left.
I’ve been reading stories of war lately – not intentionally but rather by chance. Some of the books are fiction, some not – but none of the horrors in any are imagined. I always look at the world and am amazed how everyone can write a story. It could be the most mundane person you know or the most interesting, but without a doubt, there is at least one story in each of us. Those who have written about war have written for various reasons and every war has many many stories to tell. There are countless tragedies and innumerable losses. I can’t imagine the strength it takes to put words to it. I just wanted to reflect on those who have given us something, through their trauma and their loss, they have created and that in itself is amazing. Not all books are pure entertainment, some are to share. I’ve spoken before on why we read, but another thought to dwell on is, why do we write?
Sometimes, what is written is for us, the reader, and sometimes it’s for the writer themselves. Either to honour those lost, to tell the stories of those forgotten, to give a voice to the pain, to try to make sense of it all by recounting it, to find reason or some form. Or maybe it’s to outline the lack of reason and the absence of anything to grasp. Perhaps for those who lived out loud but were never heard because their lives were silenced by the sound of bombs and guns. Only those who’ve written know.
I’ve listed some books about war – they don’t particularly all speak of the wars themselves, but they all give an idea of its experience:
- The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Christy Lefteri
- Goodbye Sarajevo: A True Story of Courage, Love and Survival – Atka Reid and Hana Schofield
- Links – Nuruddin Farah
- The Lost Boy – Aher Arop Bol
- Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
These are just a small number of them. I honour every story written by those who have experienced and been affected by wars, and I hope for a time of peace for all. I’ve read a few books on wars in countries, usually reading helps you to learn and piece together the situations and reasonings. You develop an understanding. But every book that speaks of a war leaves me more confused. I can learn as much as I can about the situation, but I can never feel that all the words in the world put forward to explain a situation is ever reason enough. I am thankful to all those who have written, whatever their reason might be. I leave you with words I once saw spray painted on a wall:
“There never was a good war, or a bad peace”
*** A disclaimer: I am most definitely not and do not consider myself an authority on African Literature – not in the least bit. I am simply a girl who loves reading books and telling you what I feel about them. Forgive me for my errors – in advance. I just happened to be the person who talks about books a lot. I am very much open to any suggestions and would love to know your trees, buds and flowers. If you have books from the continent that you feel need to feature, do let me know. Make a girl happy, talk to me about books!