The Not So Giving Tree

In the novel Baho! There are several tradition biblical images presented. In the first chapter we are introduced to, “the heavens (which) are naked” and a river that once was crystal clear is now is dried up. The author Roland Rugero’s plays with the idea of the of purity. Water in the biblical sense is seen as something that can clean away the sins, however there is no water to clean the sins of this town.

One obvious sin that plagues the town is the suppose rapist Nyamurgai which the towns individuals, would hang from, “The fig tree at the summit of Kanya would be a living monument to the peoples renewed link with the heavens. Rain would come again”. Many believe that this sin has created an apocalyptic world around them, an if they kill this sin with a virgin rope on a fig tree it will cleans their soul and town. The Fig tree represents an internal sense of good from the branches to the trunk while the leaves represent the truth that may been seen from the heavens.

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Furthermore, a very vocal man during the trail said,

“Men such as this poison the earth. They are the ones who provoke God and keep the rain from Falling! In the Holy Book it is written, if your eye is a source of depravity, then tear it out and remain with a single one, rather than being consumed in the fires of Hell with two!’ … ‘Is there a greater Hell than the agony that we are currently living?” (pg, 75).

Here I believe that we are talking about the sacrifice of the guilt, instead of giving Nyamurgai a fair trailer, the town wants to hang him hoping to bring good wealth. In many religious cultural before the bible there was Paganism which often gave sacrifices to bring good wealth.

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How Much are You Worth?

When Nyamuragi, a young mute, tries to ask a young woman in the province of Burundi for directions to a suitable place to relieve himself, his motions are mistaken as reflections of rape. To the young woman’s population, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of chasing him, mob justice, and Nyamuragi’s attempts at clarification.

The Burundian novelist Roland Rugero’s second novel Baho!, the first Burundian novel to be translated into English.

In the novel Baho! We see tradition biblical images as wells as tradition female and male roles. When the mute Nyamuragi asks the young woman for directions to relieve himself but mistakenly is taken for raping her. Her community and father outcries for her, Kigeme, “Before he (kigeme’s father) leaves, four of his male neighbors visit to express their solidarity in this misfortune affecting his family” page 25. The solidarity and misfortune that Kigeme’s father faces is the loss of a “pure” daughter. In wedding traditions or institutions of marriage males was supposed to give the father of the bride a dowry. A dowry is a transfer of property, gifts or money at the marriage of a daughter.

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While although many should be upset with the almost rape of Kigeme, her father is more worried about the money he will lose since his daughter is not seen a pure anymore. Another example is on page 26,

“the owner of a necklace handles it contemptuously. The owner of a jewel does not realize its true value. It’s when we lose it, or run the risk of losing it, that we realize how rich we were… A man’s word is at stake! Action must be taken!” page 26.

Roland further goes into the money associated with the virginity of Kigeme, while comparing her lady parts as a jewel and the value one will receive once sold. When Kigeme loses it, when she is almost raped, and the action that must be taken is going after the mute boy.

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Tram 83, Where Everything and Everyone is For Sale

“Tram 83 was one of the most popular restaurants and hooker bars, it renown stretching beyond the City-States borders” page 7.

In the novel Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Muijla, a 34-year-old writer, who was born and raised in Lubumbashi a city in southeast Congo, writes about two characters Requiem and Lucien living in this City-States and frequently visiting Tram 83. Fiston uses the two characters to venture into the society’s underbelly to test which of their methodologies to reality will eventually win. Will the unethical Requiem get his moral retribution? Or will the idealistic Lucien surrender to all the heaving reality?

Fiston makes the Congo appear socially and politically hopeless in chapter 26: Lucien and Malingeau: A uselessly Idiotic Pair, Fiston writes,

“The girls are like the mines which are like the railroads which are like the diggers which are like the students with their strike lacking timed longevity which are like their necktie-less pasts, an endangered species. But I admire the gaze with which they perceive life and death” (page 173).

In this quote we can see Lucien’s idealistic ideas melting away into moral retribution, with the patrons of Tram 83 perceiving life and death as if there is no difference. Each prostitute, mine worker, railroad worker, digger, and student living in the Congo are relieved that each day they are able to come to Tram 83 a home to them, because who knows what tomorrow will bring them. Throughout, the novel we see Lucien slowly becoming more like Requiem, slowly stripping away at his false reality to see that the Congo is immobilized by the higher political game.

The only thing hopeful about this text, is the spirit of Finston’s writing, the words and descriptions leaping off the page with energy. Rather than lecturing about the Congo, Fiston transforms cruel reality with a leaping imagination of a bebop-style, translated from the French version to English by Roland Glasser.

Fiston evokes the qualities of the city in all its deliriousness, spectacular riffs on everything from the underbelly-politics, the foreign visitors to the way the poor patrons of Tram 83 like jazz, because its considered classy. Every aspect of this novel is very scattered by the common reputation of the unfinished metal structure to the tips and prostitutes selling themselves, all of this is almost like a chorus of repeatedly saying, “Live for now, Carpe diem, Yolo”.

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Gender Bias and The Border It Creates

In the novel, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Uri Herrera, one major theme discussed is borders. Borders can represent several different things in literature. In the simplest way a border can represent a line that divides two different territories, while in a symbolic way, a border can be crossed between communities and identities or gender. In this novel we follow Makina through her quest to find her brother, who has crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. Makina’s job is to give her brother a note from their Mother, that pleads for him to come back.

Along this quest Makina runs into several problems, we first learn about her tough personality when she is on the bus to the U.S.

“Makina turned to him, stared into his eyes so he’d known that her next move was no accident, pressed a finger to her lips, shhh, eh, and with the other hand yanked the middle finger of the hand he’d touched her with almost all the way back to an inch from the top of his wrist” page 31.

While Makina is trying to cross the border to the states, she is also crossing a symbolic border of gender. Since Makina is a female, she faces a lot more sexual harassment and uncertainty while on this quest. She is very cautious around men and always on her toes around them.

While I assume that when her brother crossed the border, he did not have to worry about sexual harassment. Not only do we see this gender bias in crossing the border, we see it in the different tasks that siblings do. Makina’s brother crossed because he was given land, and he wants to financially support his family, which can be seen as a very masculine role, whereas Makina’s job is to hand deliver a note but we can see from the example above that she is capable of many other jobs.

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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet”-William Shakespeare

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, one theme that can be applied to Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia. The novel Utopia, takes place in an isolated colony the rich created on the North Coast of Egypt to keep poverty out, in the year 2023. In this novel, we follow two men around the different societies of Utopia, one society of Utopians and another of the Others.  Our first narrator, who is unnamed, but because he finds his name very unimportant. He lives in Utopia, and has a very grim reaper style as he would justify. While our other narrator’s name is Gaber, he belongs to the Others, (The Others are individuals who live outside of Utopia, and are extremely deprived). Gaber’s features are very dirty and unkept, since “Others” don’t have running water or proper cleaning facilities.

Although there are great examples of the wealthy vs the poor in this novel, I will be focusing on the narrator’s names, something so simple yet we tend to overlook it. The narrator from Utopia finds his name to be insignificant,

“Who am I? Let’s not talk about names. What’s the value of names when you’re no different from anyone else?” (pg. 6).

Our narrator sees himself as not being different since everyone in Utopia is rich, and has the ability to buy anything their heart desires, which devalues one’s own self. The narrator tries to be unique, in his style, yet every teenager in Utopia dresses in a gothic manner to stand out, which creates this uniformity.

While our other narrator’s name is Gaber, he straightforwardly tells narrator 1 from Utopia. While narrator 1 is being saved by Gaber in the ruins,

“Thanks for rescuing us,’ I told him, ‘My name is Gaber’” (pg.75).

I ponder the idea that Gaber is more immediate about telling us his name because when you have nothing left in the world but a shack and dead dog, your name is the only thing you can cling onto. Another theme in this book is humanity, one thing that keeps the Others from not becoming animalistic on each other is having names.  We name our dogs because we domesticate them, having names tames and humanizes the Others.