Or, A Weight Felt
I’ve been thinking about history lately.
Partly because we are living in a moment that most of us recognise as historically significant (remember when unprecedented had a hold on certain folks?) and partly because I’m still thinking about Parul Sehgal’s essay about trauma in literature. Then, during today’s walk (I’m writing this on Monday, with no room to sit on it and go past the Pomodoro), I started listening to A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam (read by Neil Shah) and history has been on my mind all day.
Like a lot of people who went to high school in Kenya, I attended a boarding school. It was the site of some good, even wonderful, moments - but it was also the source of a not-insignificant number of unpleasant memories. I am reminded of this when I see children wearing the school’s uniform and when schools are reopened, as they were last week. In the wake of a term when a lot of students were restive, schools partnered with the state to treat children returning to school like criminals, or criminals in waiting. I recalled the essay on trauma, wondering how we’d write about school days without a dash, a sprinkle if you will, of trauma chronicled.
Arudpragasam’s book is set in the years after the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War and it was quite something to listen to a book that melds the personal and the political (and yes, I know the personal is political) after a weekend in which politicians’ utterances have reminded me what country I live in.
I should be honest - I never forget. One never has a long enough break from the Kenyanness of Kenya to forget.
We are always living in history. The trauma that we have experienced, the issues that remain unaddressed, the reports that are shared as screenshots, as links, as print-outs that do not dissuade people from retreading ground that is marked by graves and blood.
And history is also on my mind because I bailed on a book this weekend - Yaka by Pepetela. My goal this year is to dedicate half of my reading time to physical books and the other half to e-books. Yaka may not have been the best way to start. Set in Angola in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was jarring to have a white man narrate a story set in Africa. A settler is unsettling at the best of times, but the look into his mind really shook me. The way Black people are discussed, the casual references to slavery, the offhand treatment of dispossession turned me off. And so yesterday I gave myself permission to give it up and listen to The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey instead.
I started 2 audiobooks last week - An Island by Karen Jennings (read by Ben Onwukwe) and The Mermaid of Black Conch (read by Vivienne Acheampong & Ben Onwukwe); both on Scribd (as always, use Linda’s link to get 60 days off) - and I’m only just realising that both are set on islands. The former took a turn I did not expect but is another great example of the weight of history (including, but not limited to, the strange feeling I had thinking about a white writer making such characters Black). I’m still listening to the latter and having the same narrator back to back makes for an interesting experience. More next week, for sure.
Lastly, the swimming group convened for the first time this year on Saturday and fun was had by all. It’s a joy to swim and talk about books with such wonderful people and I can’t wait for more such meets.
I hope you have a great week and a lovely time reading. Talk to you soon!