Category Archives: fiction
My father recommended this book at the end of a conversation during one of my typical weekend visits. He commented that he had read the book during his late teen years and always remembered it for standing out as unforgettable. When I arrived back home, I went online to begin my search and quickly found it on Amazon. The book is fiction, which I rarely read, but my father generally has great recommendations on all types of media. And I am happy to report that once again, he did not let me down. I have already called him twice to discuss this short but powerful book by the late Samuel Eldred Greenlee, Jr. (1930-2014). The title alone is enough to raise eyebrows and at first glance, seems politically incorrect. But behind the cover page is a story that takes the ingredients of Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Civil Rights Movement and Black militancy and combines them into tale that is sure to be remembered for years to come by all who have opened the pages of this book.
The story begins as Senator Gilbert Hennington is examining his chances for reelection. When his staff informs him that his polls numbers are down with the Negroes, there is a call to arms about the upcoming Senate race. His staff scrambles for ideas before he settles on the recommendation of his wife Belinda: accuse the CIA of racial discrimination. At the next committee hearing, the seasoned Senator takes the CIA Director to task on the noticeable lack of Negro special agents, and as a result he cruises to reelection in the fall. The CIA finds itself in a bind and commences a specialized espionage program aimed at hiring Negro agents to ward off any claims of racial discrimination. However, the CIA director is convinced that no Negroes will complete the program and soon enough things can get back to normal. But among the recruits is a standout, Dan Freeman, the unknown who became the spook who sat by the door.
Freeman finishes with marks higher than expected and is given an office position that entails endless meets and greets. He is not given the espionage position that recruits with his marks normally would have attained. But Dan is no ordinary office worker and is determined to change the system. His sharp intellect, acute observation skills and easy-going nature, allow him to enter circles normally off-limits to Blacks. Trips abroad, money, apartments and clandestine connections compose to the form the nexus of Freeman’s life. But there is a void to be filled and he eventually makes the decision to leave the CIA and resume his prior youth outreach activities in Chicago. Once he settles in, he sets his sights on the Cobras street gang but this is not about getting them to leave the life, Freeman has an entirely different mission planned, one that shakes the city to its core.
As the premier recruit in the CIA espionage program, Dan Freeman believed he was opening doors for Black Americans. But his time in the CIA gave him an inside look into the obstacles faced by African-Americans and the hypocrisy that is found all throughout the system. His eyes are opened and he becomes determined to make a statement. The Cobras proved to be just what he was looking for. And it is at this point in the book, that he takes the knowledge given to him by the CIA and formulates an uprising determined to uproot everything form of oppression there is. The second half of the book is bound to leave readers speechless and Greenlee masterfully composed this section, showing the complexity behind the lead character.
Although a work of fiction, there are many truths to be found throughout the novel. Freeman’s ideas and actions have as their base, the training and ideology from the very system which he now wishes to break apart. His training as a spook allows him to go undetected as he finds himself on both sides of the battle, weaving between both like the master agent that he should have been given the chance to be. He is a CIA creation, but one that has the intention of armed resistance and violence as a tool of change. His actions are undoubtedly questionable and to some readers, they will be unjustifiable. But to others like Dan Freeman, who are disillusioned with the system and the hypocrisy that continues to be used to keep the others in their place, he is a hero to the struggle. And this divergence of opinions is a reflection of the dark stain of racial discrimination in America’s past.
Greenlee speaks volumes about race in America and the Civil Rights Movement. Freeman channels all of the frustrations and disappointments that became regular occurrences in the lives of Black men and women. And in his dilemma of finding a way to give other Black Americans hope, he decides on a course of action that could only end up in one way. He is the underdog, hero and antagonist rolled into one in this classic that will never get old.
Many of us believe that it could never happen here and that the United States is too stable and developed for the military to even attempt a coup. The suggestion would be dismissed instantly by those who believe such things happen in Third World nations. But what if it did happen in the United States? And how would the plot develop? Fletcher Knebel (1911-1993) and Charles W. Bailey, II (1929-2012) put their minds together as they pondered these questions and others resulting in this masterpiece, Seven Days in May. According to legend, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) liked the book so much that he allowed director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) to use the White House grounds while creating the film of the same name that was released in 1964 starring Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Kirk Douglas (1916-). Kennedy did not live to see the film and his assassination was more than the writers could have imagined as they created this book.
The story is set in the 1970s and the main character is Marine Colonel Martin J. “Jiggs” Casey who begins to notice strange occurrences within the U.S. military which give the impression of the development of a dark and sinister plot that reaches all the way up the chain of command to the White House. The President, Jordan Lyman, has recently agreed to a nuclear weapons treaty with the Soviet Union. The military brass is beyond infuriated and a majority of the American public views the treaty as a bad idea. And while his approval rating has plummeted, Lyman is unfazed and believes he is doing the right thing. After a joint chiefs meeting in which Casey comes into possession of a scrap of paper left by another office, he decides to go directly to the White House to warn the Lyman of what he believes a plot to remove him from office. And from this point on, the book picks up pace and never slows down.
Unbeknownst to Casey, Lyman had been concerned with several strange events which occurred before their meeting. As the parts begin to fuse together, the full nature of the comes down on the oval office like a sledgehammer. Lyman realizes what is at stake and realizes he must act fast. His first step is to put together his team of Senator Ray Clark, Secret Service Chief Art Corwin, White House Appointment Secretary Paul Girard, lawyer Chris Todd and Col. Casey to construct their counter-attack. The plot to remove Lyman is the work of U.S. US Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, Senator Fred Prentice, Colonel Ben Murdock, Colonel John Broderick and Air Force General Hardesty, The teams have been decided, the stage has been set and before seven days have passed, a showdown will take place but the question is who will win the race against time?
Having read the book it is not hard to see why it was a success and caught the attention of Hollywood. It is a thriller that keeps readers on edge of their seats as they turn the page to see what happens next. The story reads like a film and contains all of the necessary elements. A secret U.S. air base, mysterious death, clandestine meetings and right media combine as a credible threat to the security of the United States. And as I read through the book, I kept asking myself could this happen in America? And are we as a nation so secure in our belief in the constitution that we could never fathom a coup taking place on American soil? As seen in the book, the plot developed at the highest levels of government and even then many high-ranking officials were unaware of the ECOMCON project, secret base and the transport maneuvers which NORAD had no knowledge of. Compartmentalization is evident but the game turns into a chess match and the oval office has some of the best players in the game.
President Lyman comes through as a hero in the book especially when presented with damning evidence of transgressions in General Scott’s personal life. And even when faced with one staggering blow after the next, he never waves in his ability to see things in political terms. And while that can sometimes be a handicap, the president is a shrewd leader whose goal is to preserve the constitution and stop the conspirators in their tracks. He is supported not only by his team but by others who believe in preserving the government from any type of attack and those who support his presidency. And what at first seems like a big jigsaw puzzle scattered across the country, comes together revealing what had been thought of as unimaginable.
As a reader of mainly non-fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this book which provided a change from my normal pursuit of historical information. The pace is just right and as a person who loves history, the references to past presidents and events gives the book even more a feel of authenticity. Each of the characters are interesting on their own but fit into the story precisely. But this is a story that I hope remains a work of fiction and not a premonition of things to come. Much has changed since this book was published but the reality is that every president has enemies and foreign is not always looked up favorably at home. But what is paramount is that the president remains in control of the country at all times and if needed, by all means available. This may be fiction, but we shall find ourselves in dark times if there ever is a real life version of Seven Days in May.
In volume two of this three-part series, Bureau 13 saved mankind for a second time as they battled a crafty villain on the USS Intrepid and New York City’s West Side Highway. At the conclusion of the book, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team prevailed. However, for Bureau 13, there is no such thing as the end and they are back again as a new enemy threatens to obliterate the City of Chicago and turn the United States in a land of werewolves. At first, the mere mention of werewolves sounds implausible. But we must remember that this is Bureau 13 where the impossible becomes possible on a daily basis.
Volume three begins a retired veterinarian named Joanne Abernathy hears an earth shattering sound in the distance outside her home. She lives in a place that could be best described as the outskirts. Curiosity sets in and the aged and seasoned doctor heads out where she discovers a wolf that appears to have been shot. But alas, this is no ordinary shooting and this is no ordinary werewolf. What transpires after the wolf is tended to medically is surreal but sets the stage for the rest of the book. The team is assigned to an unexplained occurrence in a small town called Hadleyville. The issue at hand is large numbers of corpses without hands or heads scattered about. Jessica realizes that something is amiss and the team makes a quick exit. But they are far from danger and following them is a team of werewolves who speak and have one goal; eliminate mankind. This book quickly takes us to Defcon 1 .
Chicago becomes ground zero and every law enforcement agency is briefed on the imminent doom. But this will be no ordinary battled and all hands are on deck as Alvarez and team Tuna Fish take on werewolves, run of the mill creatures and even a floating apartment building. Pollotta pulls out all of the stops and if the first two books did not meet the standard of guilty pleasure, then this part surely will. This is the continuing saga of Bureau 13 and the strange and lethal world in which they operate.
Author Nick Pollotta returns with this second installment in the trilogy of the story of Bureau 13, the secret agency within the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for the tracking and apprehension of all supernatural creatures that pose a treat to the safety of the nation. In book one, we were introduced to Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team of supernatural crime fighters and followed them on their mission to save mankind from complete destruction. The book was filled with all sorts of characters, weapons that we can only dream of and battles nothing short of epic. The team returns in this second part, tasked with another earth shattering mission to save the world as we know it.
The story begins in a research lab whose location and origin are unknown. What we do know is that an experiment has been conducted in which the goal is create a super human that heals instantly and is primed for infantry. The recruits are former soldiers declared dead to society. However, they are far from deceased, retaining scattered memories of their former lives. They are self-aware and a scuffle breaks out after a disagreement following an attempt by a test subject to turn on his human controllers. One subject is left standing, former Lt. Col. Kensington Sanders who we come to know as Alpha. He becomes part of Bureau 13 in ways he could have never imagined.
Life for the agents is pretty normal with plenty of ghosts, demons and other creatures to chase. But during a routine training exercise, an alarm is sounded indicating that a breach has occurred in the main containment facility. However, this is no ordinary breach and a call to arms is broadcast. The battle is surreal and the subsequent investigation reveals that there is far more to the story than meets the eye. Bureau 13 does not just have a jail break on their hands but another crime on a much larger scale. And to solve this crime, they need all of the help they can get, including Alpha and a few other recruits that blend right into Alvarez’s squad. And later in the book, they are even joined by a familiar face.
In book one, the action was non-stop and came from all directions. It was a high-octane ride from start to finish. While book two has plenty of action, there is more of a story line that builds up to the conclusion. The team is composed of seasoned veterans having engaged in endless deadly battles but here they are also investigators. And their methodical approach feels like a scene out of Criminal Minds. And similar to part one, the second part of the book takes place in New York City with the USS Intrepid playing a critical part to the book’s conclusion. The story seems completely far-fetched but in the world of Bureau 13, the impossible is always possible. And Pollotta keeps this ride going as only he knows how. Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team are always on the job but can they save the world?
Nearly all of the reviews I have written have been of books that are classified as non-fiction. This review will be different as I have a taken a short break from the normal material to let my mind have some fun with this book that was recommended to me by a co-worker. It is book one in a trilogy and the review for the second book will follow shortly. The cover of the book gives the reader the indication that it is a novel of horror of the most unspeakable kind. However, I can assure that is not the case but the book is a non-stop ride from beginning to end. If I had to give it a definite classification, I would reply that it is a place where the Men In Black meets The Suicide Squad, Harry Potter with a touch of Fallout added. But what exactly is the book about? And what on earth is Bureau 13?
The story begins from a first person point of view as a battle with supernatural forces takes place. The central character to the story is Special Agent Ed Alvarez who joins Bureau 13, a secret division of the U.S. Department of Justice tasked with tracking down and eliminating all supernatural threats to the United States. He forms a team composed of characters of the most unusual sort and together they become Team Tuna Fish. Alvarez is assisted by Mindy the martial arts expert who is also fluent in Japanese, Jessica the mind reader, George a former solider in the Army, Father Donahue who gives the team a religious supplementation and sorcerers Raul Horta and Richard Anderson. Their commanding officer is Horace Gordon, Division Chief of Bureau 13 who bluntly informs the group that a large cloud has formed off the East Coast of the country in the Atlantic Ocean and threatens to unleash a fury of supernatural creatures upon the only place they have all called home. Beneath the cloud is an island from which the nexus of the dark cloud is formed. The group has a simple mission; get to the island, infiltrate the encapsulate city and destroy everything that poses a threat to the survival of mankind. However, with Team Tuna Fish, nothing is ever that simple.
Science-Fiction fans will absolutely love this book. Pollotta has a brilliant imagination. The creatures are as outrageous as the battles the team is forced to fight but the story never loses its pace and is supplemented with excellent sarcasm and quips about American society. Some of the action takes place in and around New York City which stood out to me as a native New Yorker. We have a joke here that nearly all disaster films and books take place in New York City for reasons only the creators know. Thankfully, my city survives here but the same cannot be said for many other things in the book. But with a legion of demonic creatures determined to erase humanity, clean and safe are not adjectives that comes to mind. This is a war between good and evil with carnage and a near apocalypse.
From start to finish the book just keeps going and just when you think the author might slow down and take a break, another curve ball is hurled toward the reader. If you are looking for a good book that lets the imagination run wild peppered with adult humor, you will find this book to be a gem.
The story begins in Harlem, New York as we are introduced to a musician named Rufus Scott. He has just met a recent transplant to New York City from Georgia named Leona. Sparks fly between the two and Rufus invites her to an after party at the apartment of a friend. It is there that they come intimate and that encounter sets into motion a chain of events that affects nearly every single character in the book. Rufus’ best friend in Vivaldo, a young Italian from Brooklyn. He is involved with an older woman named Jane, who has a drinking problem but somehow manages to function and continue painting. At first, Rufus and Leona are on the path to love but reality quickly sets in. You see, Rufus is a Black American and Leona, a white woman from the South. And this is before laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their trials and tribulations are heartbreaking and Rufus struggles with Leona and himself all the way to the end. Incredibly, the two of them only take up a third of book, the rest is devoted to Rufus’ friends and former flame, who all converge to add unexpected twist and turns to each other’s lives.
Readers beware, this book is not for the faint at heart. The language at times is crass and the speech blunt. But Baldwin did not write this for an afternoon special, this is an unfiltered look into the relationships between friends and lovers of both sexes. Rufus’ younger sister Ida, eventually falls for his friend Vivaldo and in some way, they become a reincarnation of Rufus and Leona with a few notable exceptions. Ida becomes part of the inner circle of Richard and Clarissa “Cass” Silenski, Steve Ellis, and Eric Jones, the wildcard of the group who will remind readers of the character David in Giovanni’s Room. Those familiar with Baldwin’s life will recall that he not only died in France but spent a considerable amount of time in his life there and in Istanbul, Turkey. Paris is a part of the book and the place in which we learn more about Eric Jones, the “prodigal son” who returns to the United States even more uncertain of his understanding of what love truly is. His partner in France, Yves, is scheduled to arrive in the United States a few weeks after he arrives but before he does, Eric impacts the story in a major way which will never be forgotten by any of the characters. Incredibly, despite all that happens in the book, the story still belongs to Rufus who none of us can forget for too long as we make it through the book. And I do believe that at some parts of the book are based off of Baldwin’s life experiences or at the least, the characters composites of people he did know.
Where the book truly shines is in its examination of infidelity and the struggle that plagued interracial couples. Monogamy proves to be difficult for the characters in the book but we are reminded that they are human beings and humans do fail and make mistakes. But if we look past the shocking revelations, we can see the characters making a valiant effort to show us how and why we sometimes do the things that we do. And for those readers who have a spouse of love interest of a different background, the story of Rufus and Leona followed by Ida and Vivaldo will touch you directly as you find yourself able to relate to some of the challenges they face. Times have certainly changed since Baldwin finished this classic in 1961, but what is paramount, is that it takes a large amount of courage, sacrifice and understanding when one is involved in an interracial relationship. But love can and does prevail, and Baldwin does a great job of showing us the complicated ways in which we are able to make it last. I have always understood that it is far easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Loving another person is truly one of the hardest things we ever have to in life. But the reward is both fulfilling and to those who are the recipients of our affection.
Baldwin truly shines here, and the book is one of his greats. This is New York City and the story of a group of friends, bonded by tragedy and nearly separated by love, sex and the demons that come with all parts of life. And when you have finished this incredible story, you will have more of an appreciation for one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.
James Baldwin once remarked that the story of Black America was America’s story and believe that it was impossible to separate the two. Nearly all of this nation’s major events are in some way related to the plight of America’s minorities. The country that is the land of immigrants becomes more of a melting pot with each passing week. The recent documentary “13th” highlighted the system of mass incarceration that has resulted in America having the largest prison population of anywhere in the world and millions of young Black and Hispanic men and women being placed behind bars for extended sentences based on convictions for trivial crimes. At the heart of the African-American experience is the precarious state of the immediate family structure and the constant discord that exist.
Those familiar with Baldwin’s story will recognize that his life serves as some of the basis for the book. In fact, for most authors, personal experiences sometimes provide the best material. In this story, we dive deep inside a blended family with a large closet of secrets and a son trying to figure out his place within this family. As the novel begins, we are introduced to the Grimes family who are making their way to the local storefront church for the day’s service. The parents are Elizabeth and Gabriel who have a family of four consisting of John the protagonist, Roy who takes after Gabriel and Sarah and Ruth, the two sisters who have strictly supporting roles in the story. In fact, Ruth is baby and has no dialogue. It is John’s fourteenth birthday and he finds himself at a crossroads in his life as he tries to understand the path which he will take as he continues to mature. As the story continues, we come to learn that Gabriel harbors an unusual resentment towards John and is frustrated over Roy’s increasingly rebel behavior and inability to accept the faith. Faced with four mouths to feed, Gabriel is absent most of the time working to provide for his family. He drinks heavy and is physically abusive. Elizabeth does not work and takes care of the children all day. Gabriel’s sister Florence stops by and after her arrival the once contained feelings of animosity between brother and sister come rising to the surface. One day, Roy is knifed in a fight on the west side of Manhattan. During the argument that ensues between the adults, Gabriel strikes Elizabeth and his actions set off a chain of events. And at that point, we are told the background stories on each of the major characters. What we learn is that many dark secrets surround the family, centering around Gabriel, the Reverend who is a man of the faith. The revelation about his true connection to John is the crux of the book and critical to understanding Gabriel’s tragic character.
The lives of Gabriel, Florence and Elizabeth are further impacted by several deceased characters. Esther, Frank, Royal, Richard and Deborah fill in the blanks to the story and explain the present day situations that exist. Deborah and Esther in particular linger over the entire story and threaten Gabriel’s very existence. Their appearances in the book and the events that follow underscore the importance of a stable home and the presence of a father in the home. I firmly believe that Baldwin was making a very pointed statement about the issue. Gabriel’s position as a reverend also has a clear intention regarding the topic of religion which is a main theme in the book. As we read we are required to examine our own religions beliefs and how they influence our actions or non-actions. The African-American community remains strongly devout in Christianity and the Bible is viewed as the most important book to have in a household. In fact, in my own home, the Bible was openly displayed and any interference with it was subject to a tongue lashing or sometimes worse. Today in 2016, much is still the same in many homes and shows no signs of slowing down. But a critical question we have to ask is does religion help or sometimes hinder? And just how did it affect the characters in the book either positively or negatively?
The darker moments in the book give rise to a part of the story that could easily be overlooked. The era of Jim Crow and often violent racial discrimination forced millions of Black Americans to relocate throughout the country as they scattered to leave the south. However, even in the north and other parts of the union, poverty and hatred continued to haunt recent emigrants . The fears and uncertainty are displayed in Richard’s character and his fate. Baldwin pulls no punches in showcasing the disparity which plagued countless numbers of homes during that era and resulted in a system of dysfunction that permanently broke the Black family structure. And in the book we witness the characters struggle to keep the family together and in unison. But when it seems that all is lost, the protagonist John becomes the hope of the family and the light at the end of the tunnel. Elizabeth, Elisa and Florence serve as his guardian angels intent on preventing him from becoming another Gabriel and continuing the cycle that doomed prior generations. John realizes his potential, the truth about Gabriel and his demons and comes to terms with the fact that he will have to go tell it on the mountain.
The late James Baldwin (1924-1987), remains one of America’s most gifted authors. He is also remembered as an icon of the civil rights movement who was fiercely outspoken against the injustices committed against African-Americans. Similar to Bayard Rustin, his homosexuality resulted in a life long inner turmoil in a quest to find true love and happiness. When he died in France in December, 1987, he left this world as a bachelor and without children. It could be argued that his children are the writings he left behind that examined society, human nature and emotions. One of these stories is Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s masterpiece about the complexities of the human heart and the burden of living with repressed sexuality.
The story begins with David, an American citizen living in France. In America remain his father who is a widower. He is a native of San Francisco but has made Paris his new home. His girlfriend Hella, is away on vacation in Spain to reevaluate her feelings toward him and contemplate their future together. David is free to spend his nights on the streets of Paris and often is accompanied by his closest friend Jacques. They frequent a local bar owned by a character named Guillaume. It is on one of their visits to the bar that David meets the young man who becomes the focal point of the story, Giovanni, a recent immigrant from Italy who is now employed as a bartender. A brief conversation between the two blossoms and before long the dynamics of their relationship change revealing the alternative lifestyle of all of the male characters at the bar. But what transpires between David, Giovanni and Hella, highlights the dangerous and infinitely complex nature of love.
Baldwin confronts the concept of sexuality examining it under a microscope which forces the reader to look in the mirror as we see the lives of David and Giovanni change profoundly throughout the novel. And Giovanni’s fate at the end of the novel shows the ability of love, hate and rage to possess a person equally at the same time. David’s predicament will seem incredulous to some and his actions deplorable. But as Hella and Giovanni both wonder about him, does he truly love anyone or even himself? And even as the book closes, we still don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that love has the ability to create lives, sustain them and ultimately tear them apart. It has often been said that it is better to have loved than to have never loved at all. Would Giovanni or Hella agree? Or would they say a life without love is more satisfactory? Baldwin leaves it up to the reader to debate.
The novel is set in 1956, a time in which homosexual relationships were not only highly taboo and also criminal in many countries. David struggles with himself and his role in the lives of Hella and Giovanni and his battle within is one that is waged by men and women throughout the world unsure of their own sexuality. His actions and the effects of his omissions upon those closest to him, bring the issue of truth to the surface. The truth often hurts regardless of how it is told. For David, Giovanni and Hella, it is beyond sobering. And as a result of the truth, none of their lives are ever the same again. And herein lies one of the most powerful effects of the feeling of true love.
The book is short, roughly around 168 pages, but contained within it, is a fascinating story revolving around everyday struggles of people from all walks of life. And the novel shows the seemingly never ending ingenious of Baldwin as a writer. And although the story is set in France (Baldwin’s favorite European destination), it could have easily taken place in other major cities across the world. The characters could be of any ethnicity but the feelings on display by the characters in the book are exemplified in all cultures. And once you have finished the book, you will see the importance of Giovanni’s room.
On August 16, 2003, Idi Amin Dada, the third President of Uganda from 1971-1979, died in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. The official cause of death is multiple organ failure. Amin ruled Uganda with an iron fist and is considered to be one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen. His policies and thirst for blood caused the people of the east African nation to live in daily fear of torture, murder and other atrocities. His reign is constantly used as an example of the unrestrained abuse of power that is typical of a malevolent tyrant. Amin’s life was adapted for the silver screen in the 2008 film, ‘The Last King of Scotland’ starring Forest Whitaker.
Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of Nigeria’s greatest writers and has written two books and multiple plays reflecting African culture. In 1984, he composed this masterpiece, a fictional play that looks into the psychology of homidical dictators and the surrealism that encompasses the world in which they live. The play is set at the fictional Bugaran Embassy opposite the United Nations in New York City. Life President Kamini, the main character, is a composite of the late Amin. He is surrounded by Benefacio Gunema (based on Macias Nguema), Emperor Kasco (based on Jean Baptiste-Bokassa) and General Barra Tuboum (based on Mobutu Sese Seko, formerly Joseph Mobutu), who serve as the African heads of state. The are supported by Gudrun, a Scandinavian journalist who soothes the ego of Kamini by re-enforcing his beliefs and statements. The additional supporting cast consists of the Chairman of the Bugara Central Bank, Bugaran Ambassador, Mayor of Hyacombe, Profesor Batey, a sculptor, Russian delegates, American, delegates, guards, task forces and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Kamini is at the United Nations with his delegation for financial assistance and global recognition as a world leader. He has instructed his chairman to approach the World Bank for a loan and even hired a sculptor by way of London to create a life-sized bust of himself to remain in New York. The loan is denied sending Kamini into a rage. The denial is the first in a series of events that leads to the destabilization of Kamini’s mind and regime. The genius in the play is the dialogue between the characters that is interspersed with references to authentic historical figures and the relationships between the Third-World nations and world superpowers. Gunema, Kasco and Tuboum are all tyrants and share the same ideology as Kamini. However, each is known to be evil in his own way and offers Kamini suggestions on how to deal with his problems. But what is tragic is that none are able to see the clearer picture, even as the Russian and American delegates enter after the news breaks of a coup in Bugara. The tyrants remain committed to their rule and Kamini, unable to grasp the severity of the situation as it develops. The play’s ending, while abrupt, showcases their naiveté and lust for blood that is typical of the worst dictators we have seen.
While the play was written in 1984, the characters and the events that take place are relevant even today. New dictators assume power in countries ravaged by imperialism after seizing control in the vacuum of instability created by political and military changes. We are reminded of how they come to power and the seduction of the throne that turns them into the monsters they become. They are never alone in their beliefs and actions and often rely on partnerships with other extremists to enforce their will and domination. Kamini and his associates are fictional characters, but they are based off real life individuals who brought their countries to the brink of ruin. Famine, corruption, poverty and violence became staples of their regimes fracturing society into many pieces. Some nations, have never fully recovered.
This masterpiece is an example to be used in discussions about dictators from any nation. Kamini could have easily been Rafael Trujillo, Josef Stalin or even Papa Doc Duvalier. The names and places are interchangeable. All dictators have common traits that are easily spotted and exploited. And when the time comes for the reign to end, the fallout is often dramatic and rapid resulting in the dictator resorting to extreme measures to retain power as we see through Kamini. Their lust for power serves to blind them from the reality of their environment and it is no wonder why they are often deposed of in the same manner in which they previously dispatched thousand and sometimes millions of people. Soyinka’s work is a timeless classic and after you have finished, you will see why it is a play of giants.
This gem for which I have written a review came as a recommendation by a close intimate in Argentina. And although short in its duration, the book contains powerful messages about our concepts of love, sex, race, class and justice. The story is of Ndi Sibiya, a young man from a town called Mzimba in the continent of Africa, who is condemned to death after being convicted of the rape of an English woman in the “whites only” section at the local beach. At the beginning, Sibiya informs that he is to die but at first we do not know the exact crime he has been charged with. As the pieces of the puzzle come together, we learn that each day for the past several weeks, he has had a wordless encounter with an English woman who sun bathes naked on the beach. She initially caught him watching her but did not report him and according to Sibiya, continues to show him her body. One day the tension proves to be too much and the two engage each other intimately. Sibiya is arrested and charged with violation of the Immorality Act and rape, both of which carry the death penalty.
The details of the encounters with the girl who is known as Veronica Slater, are relayed by Sibiya to his assigned therapist, Dr. Emile Dufre, originally from Switzerland. The doctor probes at Sibiya repeatedly asking questions about his childhood and any experiences that might have led to him being unable to control his sexual urges. The doctor is supported in his endeavor by the commander of the jail, C. Van Rooyen who sees the natives as nothing more than “savages”. Sibiya is represented by max Siegfried Muller, whose efforts in his client’s defense serve as one of the few logical parts of the subsequent trial. In the book, Sibiya remarks that the end often lies in the beginning. He began by telling us that he’s condemned to death and there is no last minute appeal to speak of. His conviction and sentence to death combine with the actions of the court, Rooyne and Dufre to reveal the barbaric nature of the system of Apartheid in South Africa and the irrational fear of “miscegenation” and defilement of white women. The English colonizers and their presence is eerily similar to the Belgium occupation of the Congo which resulted in the tragic death of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. The system of oppression reinforced by a belief of racial superiority, established a society in which the impossibility of reason becomes a domineering factor forming what could be for some, a hell on earth.
The novel makes an even bigger statement regarding the tragic history of the continent of Africa, the land ravaged by colonization. The beliefs, customs and traditions of the native populations were often ridiculed and in some case forbidden breeding a climate of mistrust by the local residents against their Anglo rulers. Suppression of pride, strength and in this case physical attraction, became facets of daily life and hallmarks of a system based on nefarious ideology.
White Veronica Slater is a fictional character, her actions in the novel have been played out over time repeatedly. Her actions and the rage the reader feels are the disastrous effects of a society constructed on racial division. Sibiya points out that there are no winners in the book, he accepts his fate and acknowledges his actions. His background and uncanny stoicism in the faith of death directly refute the perverse notion of unrestrained sexual aggression and violence by black males, myths that have been used to instill fear and suspicion. The judge, spectators and prosecution form a bloodthirsty commission encompassing the widespread rage at the very idea that such indignation could occur. Similar to lynchings of Black Americans in the southeastern United States, the quest for vengeance nearly erupts in the courtroom. The unfounded and perpetuated myths formed a nexus of a mob mentality determined to get their pound of flesh at all costs, even at the expense of a young man who is most likely innocent of his crime. These ideas are still being refuted today, almost thirty years since Nkosi wrote this masterpiece.
The system of apartheid is now gone but the remnants remain and still affect South African society. Africa continues to go through a rejuvenation, transforming itself from the continent populated by third-world nations to a land of economical and technical development. Sadly, the issues we examine in the book are still believed by many today. But if we are to continue to break down the walls that divide us and refute the myths that continue desecrate our values, then it necessary that we embrace stories such as Sibiya’s so that we can truly move forward, living in harmony and embracing each other like mating birds.