How Does it End?

What makes a happy ending? Is it that the boy and girl end up together and we assume it was “happily ever after”? Maybe as children we accept that, but as Roland Rugero says in Baho!, “adults know the end is not always so nice” (pg 68). Most stories, we will never know the true end at all. Because of this, we need to focus on not on endings or fairytales but on living our own lives.  

In Baho!, Rugero utilizes a tale to show how “the proverb molds what exists” (pg 59). There’s a girl, the most beautiful girl in the land, but her father will not marry her off because he’s holding out for a man he thinks is good enough. She gets sick, nearly meets her death,  but then the man comes back and they get married and all is well. Or so it seems. These kind of stories stand on somewhat of a shaky premise already. The man gets the most beautiful woman in all the land while the woman gets…to not die. What a prize, right?

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This kind of tale helps shape the attitudes towards women in Baho! The men expect them to just be grateful that they are married at all, and that should be their “happy ending”. They don’t consider that in reality, this kind of fairytale ending is rather misleading. We don’t know where the fairytale couples’ lives go from there. Sure, they could be happy, but what if he makes her miserable? Or what if it’s the other way around? 

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This is similar to the framework for Baho!. We get to hear this one little snippet from Nyamuragi’s life, fear forhis life when he’s tortured and nearly put to death due to false rape accusations, but then that’s it. The people’s court doesn’t kill him, but we have no idea how the rest of his life plays out. He could’ve died two days later for some unrelated reason. There is a true ending that we will never know, maybe the author doesn’t even know.

For many, this can be frustrating. Humans often want to know everything there is to know, past, present, and future. Rugero does well in reminding us that we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in these notions. While it is important to wonder and keep an open mind, “the essential thing is to live” (pg 69). Also, while tales are important parts of culture and do effect our expectations, we shouldn’t let them restrict our own thinking so much that we believe life has to happen a specific way. We have to put the majority of our focus on our own life and our own stories, making the best of everything we can.

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J’ai Faim

Two key ideas in Roland Rugero’s Baho! are belly politics and time, particularly the desire to be in the present. Both of these ideas are fed by the characters’ love of food and drink.tenor1

In this world, where really there is little to do but wait for rain, eating is considered savoring the present, while “the past rekindles memories and creates a pit in the stomach incapable of being filled” (pg 29). In the same paragraph, it is said “in order to forget his tormented past and the horrors that mark his dreams, he eats” (pg 30). The characters may not be able to change their past, or predict their futures, but they can manipulate their present and one of the easiest ways to do this is by eating. They know that when they eat, it will feel good, and thus they begin to rely on it.

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Throughout the novel there are personifications and in depth descriptions of food, creating a hungry, passionate tone. Eating is even seen as an act of valiance. This attitude is applied to all food, including the meat

He dismantles chicken and other meats with force, gleefully cleaving beef and pork apart with no discrimination whatsoever (pg 11)

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This is interesting, because Nyamuragi considers his animals a part of his family. It seems these characters either have found so much pleasure in the process of eating or are so adapted to eating whatever they can in the drought that they give little thought to what they are actually eating, whether it be some corn or a family pet.

They same attitude is also applied to drinking, at least for the men.  “One rarely said that a man was “drunk.” No, he was “beer-sated.” Drinking was a meal that furnished endless afternoon arguments and evening deliberations” (pg 11). In this we can already begin to see the double standards of this world, because if a woman were to drink like that it is likely the men would frown upon it.

What truly inspires this hunger though, is not just love of food but also the dark and unchangeable past. The people are hungry to move forward and keep living in the present, satisfying both belly and soul. It is in this way that they can feel productive and accomplished, like they are purifying their society of the wrongs and misfortunes of the past while still remaining in the present.980x

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Beers and Baby Chicks and Dog Kebabs and All That Jazz

At a first glance, Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 and the world it is situated in is wild and full of excitement. There’s a club packed full of people, with drinking and music and sex, there are fights, there are secret missions in the middle of the night. While all that certainly is going on, that’s also a disguise for how routine everything has become in this world.

Right at the beginning, it is said that “every evening, the same opera” (pg. 4) occurs in the chaos of the train station. Every night, the people of the city-state know just who will be at the station and what they will be doing. They know that the miners and students will fight and they know

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As for the Tram, it has actually become a place of comfort. People go there “in search of good times on the cheap” (pg 8) and they know they’ll find them. It is said that they are driven by “the urge to be done with the pleasures of the underbelly”(pg 177). This creates the feeling that this pleasure seeking is sort of a reflex, and they just want to get it over with each night because it’s one of the few things they know they can count on. Also a constant, the phrase “do you have the time” is repeated so often it becomes engrained in the reader’s mind, a type of background noise, and that’s exactly how it sounds in the Tram. There will always be a baby chick to ask if you have the time. And while the performance of the Diva is depicted as gorgeous and rapturous, the Diva is a frequent performer at the Tram and the patrons already know what she will sound like.

“Where will they go to drown their  misfortunes when there’s nowhere left to get hammered?” (pg 14)

Though these routines are persistent, “salsa and jazz are not eternal” (pg 14). As Lucien often asks, what will happen when they no longer have their routines? While we don’t get to see a full breakdown to answer this question, we do see some cracks. It seems that sometimes when the routine gets disrupted, those who follow it want to right it. When Lucien tries to do a reading, something not often seen in the Tram, he was booed off the stage. Other times, however, they are willing to adapt. This can be seen on a small scale in that “not all nights had the same chronology”(pg. 176) – they know what will happen where with who, but not necessarily in what order. This can also be seen on a larger scale, like how when the mines are closed the baby chicks become more demanding. So while the people of the city-state don’t usually want to deviate from routine, they are willing to in the face of excitement or necessity.

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Of Sunrise and Inner Tubes

In Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, the young protagonist, Makina, is on a journey across the border to deliver a message to her brother. Throughout her journey it becomes clear that outside forces and their effects are a very important not just to her but also to the story.  

The very first image of the novel is that of the Earth opening up and swallowing a man, so evidently the earth is very powerful. Adding to that power, aspects of nature are sometimes personified. For example, “the sky was barely a reddish exhalation that hadn’t quite made up its mind to spread over the earth” (pg 74).

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 Inanimate objects are personified too, like when the inner tube was “swirling away in the current as if it had urgent business to attend to”(pg 39). These personifications help solidify the idea that there are many forces at play in the world other than just humans, and these forces help move our stories along. The world around us and the things in it all affect us and our lives just like other people do. Some, like nature, are even more powerful than we are.

Makina seems to understand this, as we can see through her attitude. She sometimes takes a back seat in her own life, allowing outside forces to propel her. When tipped into the river, she thought “it made no difference which way she headed or how fast she went, in the end she’d wind up where she needed to be”(pg 39). This attitude does help get her to her destination, as she claims she only found her brother when she stopped trying. It also gives the story a very unique tone. It’s sort of calming and it helps ease the reader’s worries, it’s not just dramatic and suspenseful like other journey stories.

Makina also shows, however, that it is important to not lose control of your life completely. She makes sure she doesn’t “get lost or captivated“ (pg 25) and “not even in make believe did she get her hopes up too high”(pg 33). While others cram their rucksacks full, she takes little on her journey, taking only what she feels she needs. She has a spark inside of her that helps her continue on even when she’s sad, and she’s practical and prepared. While she is willing to let a river carry her, she’s not afraid to bend back a guy’s finger to get him to back away from her.tumblr_okxk4uqvb31qc4uvwo1_500

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So What’s the Truth?

There is no denying that Alaa, one of the narrators of Ahmed Towfik’s Utopia, a spoiled rich kid from a protected community thrown into the poverty wracked world of those outside Utopia,  is engaging and intriguing. However, I find a lot of joy in questioning nearly everything he says. From my point of view, he is hardly a reliable narrator.

Alaa rarely ever focuses on what anyone else actually says or does. He claims he knows how they feel from just the look in their eyes, instead of actually talking to them. For example, he claims Germinal, his current lady friend, “loves it” when he orders her around, but Germinal is not the one telling us this, so we don’t know for certain if this is true.

This narrator clearly thinks very highly of himself, claiming he can get any girl he wants and that he’s cultured and respected. We haven’t gotten to see him from anyone’s point of view other than Gaber’s and his own, so whether or not people actually react to him the way he thinks they do is a bit of a mystery.

His perception of others is also something to call into question. It seems, for someone who claims to be so knowledgeable, he rarely does deep thinking about other people and is willing to take them at face value. He thinks he can get any girl he wants because of his looks and his attitudes but he’s never considered that maybe girls sleep with him because they feel obligated to, they think they could get something out of it, or they fear what he could do if they don’t.

This is an obvious opposition to Gaber, one of the Others and our other narrator, who actually listens to others and pays attention to what they do. Alaa, however, first thinks Gaber is “a savage” and refers to “his sadism” and “his insane fury”, though we know from reading the section Gaber narrated himself that he is not like that at all. However, when Alaa did bother to look more closely at Gaber, saying “he’s a cultured type in an environment that isn’t his own”, he also said he still did not “feel one iota of sympathy for him”, proving that he’s about as good of a person as he is a reliable narrator. As for Germinal, he claims “it took sleeping on the ground to reveal her true self” to him, but I have the suspicion that he’d just never bothered to look before.

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I can’t even say that I think Alaa himself believes everything he says. For the most part I think he does, he’s had nothing in his life to ever sway his confidence in himself. Sometimes, though, I think that confidence slips just a bit. Like when he says about his father “anyway, I won’t be like him” it feels defensive, and it seems he tries to convince himself that his father’s behavior has nothing to do with him though it does, in fact, bother him a bit. I think this can also be seen when he and Germinal are staying with Gaber and his sister Safiya and he keeps repeating how he won’t ask Safiya about what she’s making. It made it seem an awful lot like he wanted to ask her. Not that he would ever tell us that if he did.