jalada-00_2-01Book: Sketch of a bald woman in the semi-nude and other stories

Writers: Tuelo Gabonewe, Jacque Ndinda, Orem Ochiel, Nyana Kakoma, Alexander Ikawah, Anne Moraa, Kiprop Kimutai, Novuyo Rose Tshuma, Moses Kilolo, Clifton Gachagua, Wambui Wairua and Idza Luhumyo.

Editor: Anne Moraa

Publisher: Jalada

Publishing year: 2014

Available: Jalada.org

The Jalada Collective is a group of writers from the African continent who came together to do their thing. Their first attempt at doing their own thing sans publishers is the imaginatively named Sketch of a bald woman in the semi-nude and other stories which are eleven short stories edited by Anne Moraa.

There are some brilliant stories that show some of the best writing coming out of the continent right now. One of my favourite’s is “Visiting Angel Gabriel” by Moses Kilolo a Kenyan writer which talks about this young man Maundu who has a big sister Kanini who has some sort of mental illness they don’t mention. The two come from a well off family in Kitisuru (that’s well off non-Nairobi folks) when Kanini meets up with “Angel Gabriel” who turns out to have been a man who worked in a garage in Kibera the world famous slum informal settlement. Kilolo weaves a beautiful tale and I would love to see more of his stuff when available.

Also impressing me was “Just Because You Didn’t Win” by Nyana Kakoma. This is a story set in Uganda where a young man Kato who tried to hang himself but is found in his hut before he does the evil deed. We follow the case of the guy trying to take the “very dear gift of life that Our Almighty God granted us this Kato tried to take.” This writer is brilliant and will be going places as well.

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma has already written a book called Shadows which was published by Kwela in 2013. Her contribution to this anthology is “Big Pieces Little Pieces” a sad story about a young child whose father is a man that abuses his family with his wife getting the worst of his domestic violence. The man is so horrible that he eventually kills his wife (who incidentally had tried to escape him but family had insisted that she stay). It is well told and a must read.

The other stories are also quite good with Kwani Manuscript Prize winner Kiprop Kimutai’s “The Gentle Man from Iten” talking about a man from the town who is a popular pharmacist with a dark secret. “The God with Twelve Hands” by Alexander Ikawah is about an Indian fellow who opens the first of its kind shop in Migori in Nyanza and leaves his wife and her mentally challenged child alongside a Kenyan worker. The child is shackled and fed daily by his mum a horrible sounding task.

“Please Don’t Kill the Baby” by Orem Ochiel is a story about a man taking care of a sick baby while his partner goes to work every day. Compelling and disturbing. “Death at the End of Bougainvillea” by Jacque Ndinda is about a young woman who lost a mother when she was younger and is trying to understand death by visiting funerals. It is a story discussing a not very popular issue of death and how people deal with it in different ways. It is a good trial.

“Overpopulation Dynamics” by Tuelo Gabonewe is about Fufu, a young woman who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa in her older sister’s bachelor flat and her interaction with caretaker Sydwell who seems to have an obsession with an a painting on the wall in the apartment she lives in. This story weirdly enough reminded me of the caretaker in my own building and is a decent effort.

“Rabies” by Idza Luhumyo is a story about Mariam a girl in Mombasa who finds herself the unwitting participant in a big of hanky panky – of the touching body parts – with Grace a good friend and the repercussions. This is a really really good story. “Hagia Sophia” by Wambui Wairua is a story about a female artist who is seeking to do her own Hagia Sophia, perfect piece of art, at the expense of everything else in her life.

My least favourite of the tales here is the title story “Sketch of a bald woman in the semi-nude” by Clifton Gachagua. I read this story for a whole week and it left me very frustrated; if you were ask me what it is I will not be able to give a straight answer. This was not the title story as far as I was concerned as the writer took this reader round and round in circles and ultimately frustrated.

One downside with this great project that is not publisher driven is the whole distribution thing. I would love to be able to buy the stories either physically or at least on Amazon so that the people who put in all that work would hopefully get some reward for all the work they put in. This is where GOOD publishers would beat them as anyone who writes this well will want to get some reward for the effort put.

Overall the anthology is very well done and I look forward to seeing more from this ambitious group of African writers. We need more of them.