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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne reviewed by Andie Miller

The Cry of the Hangkaka The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne is another of those quiet books that seems to have slipped past amid the noise. Drawing on her own childhood experiences of growing up in Cape Town, Scotland and Nigeria, the author has crafted a richly poetic novel of a child’s view of the world around her.

After her parents’ early divorce, it is just Karin and her mother. ‘We have been alone together my whole life from the first moment I knew I was me.’ At a tidal pool in False Bay, ‘false as men’s hearts’, they ‘sit on rocks warm as toast’ and ‘I put my hands on either side of her face and kiss her nose’. But then her mother makes another bad marriage, and ‘my heart swoops out in resentful love for her.’
Left with new relatives in Scotland suffering the after-effects of the war, life is grimy and bleak. ‘The McCrackens bend to their plates of food. Their sets of teeth clack like the castanets of the dancers in Madeira when Mom and I leaned over the rail to watch. I take tiny bites of dry bread and grey eggs.’ But she learns to read there.

On board ship again, when her mother finally comes to fetch her, she comes across a magazine with photographs of the concentration camps. ‘Only witches can grind and spit out these hell names with their yellow rotting fangs.’ And then they are in Lagos where the women’s dresses ‘have colours I’ve seen on parrots – orange, red, purple, green’ and the ‘loud voices – shouting, calling, laughing, talking – join to make a babbling noise.’ And the sights and sounds and malaria overtake her.

And always there is her new stepfather, Jack, to be navigated around, spilling over into everything around him.

At a time when the literary machine has many authors pushing out a book a year, this debut novel by an author now in her seventies has the feeling of having percolated for a long time. There is a richness to the language that is often absent from books written in hurry.

And the end of the novel is likely to spark debate in book clubs.

Anne Woodborne

Book review by Andie Miller, author of the book about walking called Slow Motion and editor.

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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An interview with Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne’s debut novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka, tells the story of Karin, a young child who is uprooted from her home in South Africa when her mother, Irene, packs up their things to escape the shame of divorce. Irene is so desperate to start afresh that she marries the drunken, tyrannical Jack and follows him, first to Scotland, then to Nigeria, forcing Karin to live a lonely life where books and her imagination offer the only escape from solitude and the loathsome Jack.

We asked Anne to share her thoughts on writing colonial Nigeria using a child narrator.

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Like Karin, you spent part of your childhood in Scotland and Nigeria; is The Cry of the Hangkaka partly autobiographical? Can you give some examples of what you chose to fictionalise and why?

The Cry of the Hangkaka is partly autobiographical; that is faction – part fact, part fiction. I chose to fictionalise all the characters because memory is often faulty and always subjective. It was also to give me the scope to extend and embellish the characters and to distance myself when writing about the sensitive issues of domestic violence and abuse. It was necessary to invent characters and situations in the narrative to fill the voids where a young child might not have understood the implications of what she was witnessing. For example, I used the fictional character of Adia to explain a real incident where Amos physically attacks Jack later in the book; an altercation Karin finds confusing. The account of Jack’s drunken arrival at the school’s nativity play was invented to show his conflicted character – his addiction to alcohol and his urge to humiliate and shame Karin and Irene. The alcoholic’s illogical and inexplicable behaviour can only be surmised by the reader. Although much of my book is fiction, I think I stuck closely to the emotional truth.

The Cry of the Hangkaka The story is set in colonial Nigeria, although seen from the perspective of the mostly Scottish expats, who stick to their private and social spaces. What were your goals when crafting the world of the novel?

My goal was to recreate the era just after World War 2 and capture the feeling of new beginnings and fresh hope after the horror of war. It’s a new beginning for Irene as well. At a time when displaced people are desperately trying to return home, she is just as desperate to leave home to escape her bad memories and bitterness. She takes herself and Karin to the northern hemisphere to marry a man she hardly knows, to live in a country depleted by war. It’s a risky venture and one wonders why she chooses to travel so far to escape her past. The theme of displaced people continues with the Scottish expats living in isolation on the Jos Plateau amongst the various indigenous tribes. The contrast between the cultures of the Scottish expats and the Hausa/Fulani tribes could not have been greater. I enjoyed the challenge of recreating the mores of the 1940s and 1950s in a tropical setting.

During her time in Nigeria, Karin reads a book about a Viking named Siward, and his lover, Frida. The Cry of the Hangkaka includes many extracts from this book, which comes to play a significant role in Karin’s life. Why did you choose a Viking tale and what is it about this story that makes it so meaningful to Karin?

It’s purely by accident that Karin is drawn to the Viking saga in the second-hand bookshop in Perth. Perhaps it’s the pocket-sized edition and the gold lettering. Once she starts reading the book on the voyage to Lagos, she is drawn in by the bold character of Siward and the magical, fantastical world of ancient adventure he represents – a world that becomes an escape from her often unpleasant reality. Later at school, she learns more about ancient civilisations in the book From Ur toRome by Kathleen Gadd and Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Like all solitary children, Karin needs an imaginary friend but she uses the book character of Siward to be her imaginary protector. She hopes to assimilate his bravery and fearlessness into her own oppressed, fearful self. One can perhaps go so far as to say that on a subconscious level, he becomes a quasi-father-figure. Rather than tell the reader what Karin reads in the Saga, I chose to show what it was like for her to enter that fantasy world and thus wrote the extracts to insert into the narrative. I enjoyed the opportunity to write in another voice.

What are the challenges and pleasures of writing a child narrator for an adults’ story?

After a few false starts, I realised the book had to be written from a child’s perspective. I wanted to give the child who had been silenced and neglected a voice so she could be heard. The challenge was to put myself in the body of a five-year old child, see the world through her eyes, and tell the story with her limited vocabulary. For instance, when she visits her Ouma to say goodbye and the old lady draws in her breath for an angry outburst, I used ‘nose holes’ instead of nostrils. As Karin grows, so does her vocabulary. Her speech becomes more sophisticated as she becomes more observant. I had to be careful not to drift off into an adult’s voice. I used a lot of adult conversation (overheard by Karin) to keep the narrative flowing. Viewing the world through a child’s eyes recalls a kind of freshness when life offers new sights and sounds (e.g. Karin’s first hearing of the Luton Girls’ Choir and her encounter with death, whom she turns into an image) and her childish naiveté gives rise to an innocent humour.

Karin has an aversion to lies and secrets but the adults in her life force them upon her. Paradoxically she uses a ‘badgirl’ persona to express honesty, if only to herself. Would you say this kind of contradiction exemplifies the relationship between children and adults? How does Karin cope with the difficulties of living as child among adults?

The need for lies and secrecy evolves out of Irene’s obsessive desire for respectability; she fears being the object of gossip and moral condemnation. Karin finds this especially burdensome after Pammy’s mother impresses upon her the importance of being truthful (one of the book’s facts). Karin has to be circumspect about what she tells her friends about her family; she’s aware that her family has shameful secrets. This make her feel like an outsider. Karin’s badgirl voice is her way of keeping true to herself and also the first sign of rebellion. She can never speak her truth in her home because there would be unpleasant repercussions. Irene needs her to be tidy, respectful and compliant.

Faced with such restrictions, Karin has no choice but to go underground. Most children keep secrets about themselves from their parents; it’s a way of growing up and achieving independence. A section in J.M. Coetzee’s autobiography Boyhood springs to mind, where he says he had to hide everything he ever loved from his mother, burrowed deep in a hole like a trapdoor spider. In Karin’s case it’s her imagination that enables her to escape into fantasy from Jack’s tyranny and her mother’s strictures; in J.M.Coetzee’s case it was his love of everything Russian.

By using her imagination to escape interior worlds. Karin finds a coping mechanism to deal with difficult caretakers.

Jack is a vicious, opaque character. Why does he loathe children?

Jack is aloof, arrogant and deeply uncomfortable around children as well as society in general. He finds it difficult to interact with people. This may have stemmed from his own troubled relationship with his father.

Jack may fear his own vulnerability, which he sees reflected in Karin. He is also possessive of Irene, and does not want the child to intrude on their privacy. He resents having the child of another man under his roof. His prolonged abuse of alcohol brings about personality changes and entrenches his negativity. Long-term alcohol abuse causes frontal lobe syndrome, and the frontal lobes are the seat for judgement, empathy and caring.

Jack is a composite character; I drew on a few sources to create him, the main one being the real-life Jack himself.

Are you working on any new writing projects?

I am working on the third draft of my second novel. Its progress has been patchy because life keeps getting in the way and I have just had another downsizing move.

The protagonist in my second novel, whose working title is ‘Torn’, is coasting along in a fairly stable relationship and has a number of children when her life suddenly does a 180-degree turn; nothing is as it was and it is frightening and terrible. How she survives and how her children are affected is the theme of the book. It could also be seen as the portrait of a toxic narcissistic character.

I am still trying to get the right voice, an authentic one.

Thank you for your time Anne!

Interview by Lauren Smith

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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Launch of Anne Woodborne’s “The Cry of the Hangkaka” at Kalk Bay Books

The Cry of the Hangkaka Modjaji Books and Kalk Bay Books are delighted to invite you to the long awaited launch of Anne Woodborne’s novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka.

Anne will be in conversation with Máire Fisher, (author of Birdseye and well known editor).

Join us for a glass of wine and snacks and to celebrate the launch of this long awaited novel.

The Cry of the Hangkaka is the story of young Karin and her mother Irene. Shamed by a divorce, Irene seeks to flee with her daughter from post World WarII South Africa. Jack, a Scotsman who works at the tin mines in Nigeria, seems to be the answer to Irene’s prayers. In the torrid heat of the Nigerian plateau, Karin is exposed to the lives of the colonisers, colonised, and most of all to the dictatorship of Jack.

This is what Máire had to say about The Cry of the Hangkaka:
I read, late into the night, cast adrift with Karin, a young girl struggling to make sense of a nightmarish adult world, her only anchors a beautiful, capricious mother and a sadistic step-father, her only salvation school and the joy of reading whatever she can get her hands on.

With jewel-like clarity, with writing that is as fluid as it is creative, Anne Woodborne brings a colonial mining town in Nigeria to life. She steps into Karin’s life, inside her very skin, into a steaming, claustrophobic world, as harsh and hard as the call of the Hangkaka; as surreal and exotic as a waking dream. I read compulsively, hoping Karin would find a way to escape, hoping she wouldn’t … because then this beautifully nuanced story would come to an end.

Anne WoodborneAnne Woodborne was born in Cape Town, where she still lives. She spent a large part of her childhood in Scotland and Nigeria. She has been widely published in women’s magazines, and in various anthologies and collections. She is working on her second novel, and has written and illustrated two children’s books for her grandchildren.

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The Cry of the Hangkaka


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Yewande Omotoso talks about shortlisting of Bom Boy for the Etisalat prize

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Bom Boy

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Yewande Omotoso’s fabulous Bom Boy on Etisalat prize shortlist

Bom Boy by Yewande OmotosoYewande Omotoso does it again, Bom Boy has been shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize. My inbox has been pinging with queries from agents, requests for review copies from places as far afield as the UK and Ghana, and the Nigerian press is full of the short-list story. The other two authors and books that are on the list are No Violet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Karen Jennings’ Finding Soutbek. The short-list thrills me because all of them are women. And they are all wonderful women. Karen Jennings worked for Modjaji as an intern a couple of years ago, and she is still a firm friend of mine and of Modjaji Books. I would be thrilled if any of the authors won.

I really commend Etisalat and the prize organisers for the way they have thought through the prize, they are taking the three short-listed writers on a three city book tour. The books they are buying are creating distribution pathways within Africa, so that links are built up and the way is paved for future book sales into the sites that are identified.

This is a big deal for Modjaji Books, especially as the prize organisers have decided to, as part of the prize, buy 1000 copies of the three short-listed titles for book clubs, libraries and other institutions all over Africa. Usually only the authors get a prize, and in South Africa, being short-listed or even winning a prize doesn’t necessarily mean that sales shoot up. Sure – you might sell an additional 50 or 100 copies of a ‘literary’ novel, but never 1000 copies.

The Nigerian press has taken up the prize with great gusto, here is a link and here is another. Because of Yewande’s Nigerian origins – she seems to be their favourite.

The Blogosphere has lit up with news of the shortlist too. 9jaFlave has carried the story, and so has Kinnareads. James Murua’s blog features the story too.

Now we wait till the 23rd February, Lagos, to hear who is the winner. But so far, all three authors and their publishers are winners.

Bom Boy

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Spread the love and the word – Small Publishers Catalogue Africa 2013

We’ve set up a campaign to raise funds to publish an updated and much more comprehensive edition of the Small Publishers’ Catalogue Africa 2013 Funds have started coming in from those who support the campaign. Please check it out, especially if you have ever been published by a small publisher, a literary magazine, an online zine, or been given advice, suggestions, input, feedback or anything else similar.

The Catalogue is a showcase for small and indie publishers, and having them all in a catalogue is an incredibly useful way for librarians, bookstores, bibiophiles, researchers, students of Africana, you name it to have the information in one place.

While working at the Centre for the Book, I was involved in the first Small Publishers’ Catalogue which only featured South African publishers. University librarians from the British Library, Harvard, Yale and Stanford were at the Cape Town Book Fair, and they all eagerly snapped the Catalogue up, as did stores like Clarke’s and local university librarians. We printed 500 copies and now sadly it is out of print.

We’ve started to get people taking listings and adverts. The inside front cover has been booked already. Please spread the word about the Catalogue and the crowd-sourcing funding campaign, thanks in advance!


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Jozi in August

Ten days in Joburg from the 1st – 10th August was a delightful treat. I lived there a long time. It smells and tastes like home, the climate is still and reassuring. It would take too long to write a proper account of all the joys and wonders, but for the Book SA record, these were the highlights:

Meeting Billy Kahora from Kwani? in Nairobi, Martin Njanga from Storymoja Hay Literature Festival and Bibi Bakare-Yusuf from Cassava Republic Press in Abuja, Nigeria. Getting Bibi’s catalogue. I loved their warmth and their “can do” attitudes.

Lunch at Gramadoelas with Louis Greenberg, Kate White, Jassy McKenzie, Dion de Jong, ar, Fiona & Frank Snyckers, Billy Kahora, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and Zukiswa Wanner. Wild laughing conversations and confessions amongst virtual friends. Acquiring a signed copy of The Beggar’s Signwriter which I started reading on the flight home. And am savouring.

Seeing poet/publisher friends: Alan Finlay, Robert Berold, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Gary Cummiskey, Vonani Bila, and Allan Kolski Horwitz at the Pan African Indie Publishers meeting hosted by Khanya College at Museum Africa. Buying new editions of Botsotso and Kotaz.

Having Whiplash ordered by David Krut bookstores and then filling the order at the Jozi Book Fair.

Sharing a stand with the beautiful people of Wordsetc.

Meeting Philip Miller, Justice Malala and Fred Khumalo at the Sunday Times Awards. Being at the Awards as the proud publisher of Whiplash. What naches for a first novel published by a new publisher on the block!

Watching the Martin Scorcese doccie on Bob Dylan at my friend, Belinda’s house in Norwood.

Seeing Cape Town friends and colleagues in unfamiliar places, Ben-Editor, Liepollo from Chimurenga, Jane Henshall (British Council) and Robin Malan. Seeing Joburg bookish people in Joburg, instead of at the CTICC or FLF – Arja Salafranca, Tymon Smith, for example.

Remembering the short cut to the airport from Norwood via Orange Grove and Sylvia’s Pass without consulting a map.

Having coffee on the Newtown Square opposite Museum Africa – such a glorious public space. Driving back and forth over the iconic Mandela Bridge, past Wits. Dear old Wits.

The dry, warm, bright days.


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