EC Osondu, winner of the 2009 Caine Prize, reads from his debut collection of short stories, Voice of America. Set in Nigeria and America, the subjects of these stories range from the poverty of a refugee camp to the disorienting experience of immigrant life in a new world. Focusing on village communities and the bustling metropolis, Osondu’s writing is shot through with humour, pathos and wisdom.
The event is chaired by Bernardine Evaristo, author of Soul Tourists and Blonde Routes.
‘Osondu looks at the human condition in all its poignant absurdity; with observant wonder and subtle humour.’ – (Mary Gaitskill) In association with African Writers’ Series.
Nigerian writing community in the UK, including Nnorom Azuonye, Publisher of Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Chuma Nwokolo, Publisher of African Writing, and poets Afam Akeh, Ike Anya, and Lookman Sanusi among others will be out there to support and hear Osondu read his work.
It is at the Southbank Centre in London at 7:45pm. Get your tickets now.
Buy tickets here: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/literature-spoken-word/tickets/ec-osondu-55955
E.C. Osondu’s “Waiting”
a review by Nnorom Azuonye
Another quick read of E.C. Osondu’s Waiting flags it up as a brilliantly-written tale. It easy to see why this story won The Caine Prize for African Writing 2009.
Waiting could easily have been titled The Tragedy of Acapulco; the boy caught in a seemingly endless wait for an American family to adopt him and take him away from the drudgery of life in a refugee camp. But it is also the tragedy of Orlando – Acapulco’s campmate – a fictive, aspiring author whom Osondu would have us deem the author of the story in Waiting. The story appears to be a faster-moving mirror of the absurd lives of Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot– mentioned in the story, which sort of throws us off the scent a little, but as Orlando and Acapulco play out the stasis of their sorry lives in that refugee camp with measured but highly effective pathos, Acapulco is in reality more like Pepel and Orlando like Luka is Gorki’s The Lower Depths. WithAcapulco asking endless questions and Orlando – the wise one having all the answers without really answering any questions factually.
One thing that is very disturbing in Waiting is that the residents of the camp are nameless, adopting names inscribed on T-shirts, and their back stories are not explored, perhaps deliberately, giving the lives of people like Acapulco and Orlando a wholesome rootlessness.
Life in the refugee camp is quite harrowing; waiting and fighting for food and water which might not materialise, as all resources are subject to the humour of the ‘enemy’ and if they would allow the Red Cross to bring supplies to the camp. Like the victims of the plane crash in the film, Alive, who cooked their friends in snow and ate them for sustenance, it was horrible to read how the residents of the camp killed and ate the black dogs that had been their allies and protectors, and how this betrayal of the animals turned them into a wild pack of man-eaters who eventually dismembered a toddler with savage teeth.
Although Orlando’s way is quite different from Acapulco’s, the former reads books, gains knowledge and seems to have some control of his life and is in the good books of Sister Nora, while the latter lives inside his head where there is cacophony, with a diseased ear and a stench that keeps people away, it is difficult to shake the feeling that neither Orlando nor Acapulco would get out of the refugee camp on the wings of his heart’s desire. Hence in true tradition of the absurd, there is really neither a conflict raised nor a resolution achieved. Like those who wait for God to come and he never comes, or he comes and walks by and they don’t see him, and they continue to wait, and wait.
Acapulco has something going for him though. He reasons that he may never get adopted and considers joining the Youth Brigade, but is dissuaded by the stories that members are given drugs and made to drink blood. It does appear the Youth Brigade might indeed be his only way out, like taking his own affairs in his own hands like Nwokedi in the Esiaba Irobi play who argues that “When we wait for God to act and God does not act, we take up the role of God and act. That’s why he made us in his own image.” For Orlando, finishing his book and becoming a bestselling author might be his own way out.
As it is, Waiting appears to be an excerpt from a longer narrative, and I suspect E.C. Osondu may be persuaded to stretch it into full length novel. It will be exciting to see the directions the lives of Orlando and Acapulco go. Perhaps, Acapulco would indeed join the Youth Brigade and rise to become general in the Enemy’s army, perhaps a rebel leader of the land, whilst Orlando gets to be the writer with a conscience and a thorn in his side.
An outstanding achievement, Waiting is written in vernacular. I hear the Igbo in the English Language construction and some direct onomatopoeic insinuations are cheerful, such as Dakota, which literally means to fall together in Igbo. For a piece of prose the economy of words in Waiting is almost like what one would expect of poetry. In this story, Osondu displays a matured storytelling skill, a keen sense of setting and an astute ear for dialogue. Beautiful.
This review of ‘Waiting’ was first published in Sentinel Literary Quarterly in July 2009 at http://www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/slq2.4/essays/nnorom.azuonye.html