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Book Nook - 22-08-2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Potter Grows Up
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books changed publishing history by creating a new generation of young readers, who then also became consumers of the movies, games, merchandise-- making the writer one of the wealthiest people in the world.

After seven bestselling books, each of which triggered fresh rounds of Pottermania, Rowling decided to stop. She also started writing non-Potter books, but her wizard hero refused to vanish.

So back he comes, older, sadder and helpless before his spoilt brat, Albus Potter, the only one of his three children (James and Lily remain in the background) who is chronically sullen and has a problem with his father’s fame.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the dramatic script of the recently staged London production, which was written in two parts by playwright Jack Thorne, based on an original story by Rowling, the director John Tiffany and himself. The play picks up where the last novel,  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) left off. It is set nineteen years after Harry Potter got out of Hogwarts and defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort. He is married to Ginny Weasley and works with the Ministry of Magic. His buddy Ron married Hermione and they have a daughter, Rose.

The kids are going to Hogwarts, when the play (book) opens and Albus manages to befriend just one other boy, with as big a chip on his shoulder as he does--Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy. He is a sweet-natured child burdened with the rumour that he is Voldemort’s son, so nobody wants to be near him.

Anyone who has not read Potter books and is unfamiliar with the back story, the characters and the mythology would not be able to follow the story, but Potter fans can plunge right in as if the gap between Book 7 and this one never happened.

The story has a lot of twists, turns, action, emotional turmoil, magic and time-travelling, which from all accounts, made for a magical and riveting stage production, and will undoubtedly make for a successful film. The book leaves a lot for the reader to imagine, because the layers a novel would have brought in are missing.

There is suspense too-- even though Voldemort is dead, Rowling and Thorne find a fiendishly clever way to have him return.  Albus is not an appealing hero, a rude busybody, whose rebelliousness causes his hapless father and others a great deal of grief.

He drags an unwilling Scorpius into time-travelling misadventures, that re-introduce some characters and the past at Hogwarts, as what-if alternative realities are created. Because it is in the form of a play, the book is an easy read; so much to-ing and fro-ing would have made a novel unwieldy and perhaps boring. Here all the conflicts and emotions are there, without excessive verbiage. And the climax has all the fireworks one would expect from a classic confrontation between Good and Evil.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One and Two)
By Jack Thorne, based on an original story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company /Hachette
Pages: 327 pages


A family tragedy
Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen is a dazzling literary addition to the list of books that have been written by African authors. In recent years, writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole have left their mark on the scene, after forerunners like Ben Okri and Chinua Achebe.

Obioma is Nigerian, like Achebe, and writes of the traumatic times in the 1990s under the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. The narrator is nine-year-old Benjamin, one the large brood of a bank official and his wife, who runs a food stall in the local market. Their father wants his children to get a good education and become successful professionals.

When the patriarch is transferred to another town, the boys run riot and play at being fisherman in the town’s sewer-like polluted river the Omi-Ala, while their mother is out at work. Walking home one day, the encounter a mad, soothsayer, Abulu, who prophesies that the oldest Ikenna will be killed by one of his own brothers.

The prophecy wrecks the happy household, as Ikenna seems to self-destruct. The mother has a nervous breakdown, the father is shattered. Around them the country falls apart too.

The novel that was shortlisted for the Booker Award last year, is moving and disturbing. In aninterview Obioma said that the book was “a critique of the British occupation of Nigeria,” suggesting that he madman who destroyed a happy family/country is like the colonialists, who took advantage of a society divided by tribes. But even without this interpretation, the book is a deeply felt chronicle of a family—a striking debut by a young writer.

The Fishermen
By Chigozie Obioma
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Pages: 297

Excerpt of The Fishermen
The ventricles of the heart retain blood, we could ?ood the house if we poked them. So, at times like these, we avoided the television in the eight-columned shelf in our sitting room. We sat in our rooms, studying or feigning to study, anxious but not asking questions. While there, we stuck out our antennae to gather whatever we could of the situation. By nightfall on Sunday, crumbs of information began to fall from Mother’s soliloquy like tots of feathers from a richly-plumed bird:“What kind of job takes a man away from bringing up his growing sons? Even if I were born with seven hands, how would I be able to care for these children alone?”

Although these feverish questions were directed to no one in particular, they were certainly intended for Father’s ears. He was seated alone on a lounge chair in the sitting room, his face veiled with a copy of his favourite newspaper, the  Guardian, half reading and half listening to Mother. And although he heard everything she said, Father always turned deaf ears to words not directly addressed to him, the kind he often referred to as “cowardly words.” He would simply read on, sometimes breaking o? to loudly rebuke or applaud something he’d seen in the newspaper—“If there is any justice in this world, Abacha should soon be mourned by his witchof a wife.” “Wow, Fela is a god! Good gracious!” “Reuben Abati should be sacked!”—anything just to create the impression that Mother’s lamentations were futile; whimpers to which no one was paying attention.

Before we slept that night, Ikenna, who was nearly ?fteen and on whom we relied for the interpretation of most things, had suggested Father was being transferred. Boja, a year his junior, who would have felt unwise if he didn’t appear to have any idea about the situation, had said it must be that Father was travelling abroad to a “Western world” just as we often feared he someday would. Obembe who, at eleven, was two years my senior, did not have an opinion. Me neither. But we did not have to wait much longer. The answer came the following morning when Father suddenly appeared in the room I shared with Obembe. He was dressed in a brown T-shirt. He placed his spectacles on the table, a gesture requesting our attention. “I will start living in Yola from today onwards, and I don’t want you boys to give your mother any troubles.” His face contorted when he said this, the way it didwhenever he wanted to drive the hounds of fear into us. He spoke slowly, his voice deeper and louder, every word tacked nine-inches deep into the beams of our minds. So that, if we went ahead and disobeyed, he would make us conjure the exact moment he gave us the instruction in its complete detail with the simple phrase “I told you.”

“I will call her regularly, and if I hear any bad news”—he struck his fore?nger aloft to fortify his words—“I mean, any funny acts at all, I’ll give you the Guerdon for them.”

He’d said the word “Guerdon”—a word with which he emphasized a warning or highlighted the retribution for a wrong act—with so much vigour that veins bulged at both sides of his face. This word, once pronounced, often completed the message. He brought out two twenty-naira notes from the breast pocket of his coat and dropped them on our study table. “For both of you,” he said, and left the room. Obembe and I were still sitting in our bed trying to make sense of all that when we heard Mother speaking to him outside the house in a voice so loud it seemed he was already far away.
“Eme, remember you have growing boys back here,” she’d said. “I’m telling you, oh.”

She was still speaking when Father started his Peugeot 504. At the sound of it, Obembe and I hurried from our room, but Father was already driving out of the gate. He was gone. Whenever I think of our story, how that morning would mark the last time we’d live together, all of us, as the family we’d always been, I begin—even these two decades later—to wish he hadn’t left, that he had never received that transfer letter. Before that letter came, everything was in place: Father went to work every morning and Mother, who ran a fresh food store in the open market, tended to my five siblings and me who, like the children of most families in Akure, went to school. Everything followed its natural course. We gave little thought to past events. Time meant nothing back then. The days came with clouds hanging in the sky filled with cupfuls of dust in the dry seasons, and the sun lasting into the night. It was as if a hand drew hazy pictures in the sky during the rainy seasons, when rain fell in deluges pulsating with spasms of thunderstorms for six uninterrupted months. Because things followed this known and structured pattern, no day was worthy of remembrance. All that mattered was the present and the foreseeable future. Glimpses of it mostly came like a locomotive train treading tracks of hope, with black coal in its heart and a loud elephantine toot. Sometimes these glimpses came through dreams or flights of fanciful thoughts that whispered in your head—I will be a pilot, or the president of Nigeria, rich man, own helicopters—for the future was what we made of it. It was a blank canvas on which anything could be imagined. But Father’s move to Yola changed the equation of things: time and seasons and the past began to matter, and we started to yearn and crave for it even more than the present and the future.

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