Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Here is the last of the Caine Prize story reviews. It’s been pretty amazing featuring reviews—of the shortlisted story—written by bloggers and writers of note in the African literary community:

 Orem Ochiel’s review of Oduor’s “My Father’s Head” , Richard Ali’s review of Diane Awerbuck’s “Phosphorescence” Aaron Bady’s review of Billy Kahora’s story Kola Tubosun’s review of Tendai Huchu’s “Intervention” 

 I am happy to join in the review efforts by sharing my thoughts on Chela’s delightful story. 

Efemia Chela’s story, “Chicken,” originally appeared in the Feast, Famine and Potluck collection.  

You can read the story HERE

 

efemia-chela-caine-prize-story-review-brittle-paper2

In “Chicken,”  Efemia Chela conjures a powerful image of the strange twenties—that awkward, intermediate phase  in life when one is neither girl nor woman.

The narrator, who is also the principal character in the story, has recently graduated from university. Her large extended family has celebrated the end of that phase of her life. She is sent off into the world to find a profession, to acquire the means to support herself, in short, to become a woman.

But instead of embracing this well-trodden path to self-becoming, the narrator chooses the uncertain path of experimentation, first with self-imposed poverty and eventually with sexual experiences.

Her parents are wealthy. She could have taken their advice and gone on to pursue a law degree and, by doing this, counted on their financial support. She doesn’t.

She’d rather go “where her heart led”—to slumming it in “the bum end of town,” to “laughing, talking, smoking and dancing,” to “polyamorous” boys and girls, to “old men…dribbl[ing] nonsense in [her] ear over synth beats,” to the symmetrical bliss of same-sex encounters—“breast to breast”—but without  the dogmatic allegiance to lesbianism.

The way I see it, the story is asking questions about the invention of the self. We all feel the pressure to come of age, to follow the road most taken to becoming a man or a woman—getting a university degree, achieving financial independence, and then making a family. Chela, it seems to me, is asking whether there is room for experimentation in this work of self-invention.

The character is faced with a very familiar choice: pursue a cookie-cutter life as a lawyer or continue down the road of maddening uncertainty.

Many of you will find what she ends up choosing puzzling, and even criticize her for it. But one thing remains clear: Chela’s narrator refuses to come of age on any body’s terms but her own.

Chela’s story is interesting not just at the level of ideas but also with respect to writing. Her description dazzles. I was particularly struck by the food scenes.

It’s universally known that African novels are not the places to find the best sex scenes. What of food? Have you come across memorable depictions of food in your readings of African novels? My guess is that there aren’t that many, which is why I find a moment like this one worth holding on to:

From my father’s side came slow-cooked beef shin in a giant dented tin pot. Simply done, relying only on the innate flavor of the marbled red cubes of flesh and thinly sliced onion getting to know each other for hours. It was smoked by open charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with nothing but the flecks of salty sweat from nervy Auntie Nchimunya constantly leaning over the steaming pot. Mushrooms were cooked as simply as Sister Chanda’s existence. Fungi was hoped for in the night and foraged for at dawn. My favorites were curly-edged, red on top with a yellow underskirt and fried in butter.

The last time I saw a description of food this vivid was Ben Okri describing pepper soup in The Famished Road.

Under the strain of Chela’s writing, description is a form of conjuration.

 

***

 About Efemia Chela

Efemia Chela is a 21-year-old writer with her body in Cape Town and her heart in Japan. She had a bumpy childhood in Zambia, England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa. She is married to a film camera. They go everywhere together and have many square children. She gets her thrills from remotely attending international fashion weeks, artistic intertextuality, old movies and tasting new cuisines. The short story “Chicken” is her first published work.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

A Kenyan Tank Engine Joins The Hit Children’s TV Show Thomas & Friends

nintchdbpict000360191926

Thomas the Tank Engine is the fictional character in Reverent Wilbert Awdry’s The Railway Series about steam locomotives. Thomas who […]

The Fall of the Gods | Chapter 6: Ise | by Anthony Azekwoh | #TFOG

anthony-Azekwoh-fall-of-the-gods-1-e1502690904876

Ebe onye dara ka chi ya kwaturu ya. Where one falls is where his god pushed him down. *** Emeka […]

Our Favorite Sci-Fi Filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu Publishes a Children’s Book

wanuri kahiu wooden camel 2

For those of you who are desperately and constantly in search of African children’s books, Wanuri Kahiu’s recent collaboration with […]

Akwaeke Emezi and Uzodinma Had a Moment

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 5.14.25 PM

Akwaeke Emezi is, in more ways than one, the writer we all want to be. Her debut novel is still […]

An Ode to Depression | Victor Enite Abu

14395331431_1727aab52d_o

Some mornings, getting out of bed feels like carrying ten bags of cement. Other mornings, you float through space, watching […]

The Brittle Paper Award for Essays/Think Pieces: Meet the Nominees

billy kahora

To mark our seventh anniversary on August 1, 2017, we announced the inaugural Brittle Paper Literary Awards, to recognize the finest, original pieces of […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.