Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: Intruders by Mohale Mashigo

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Please don't think of me as a shallow reader when I say that I was sold on this short story collection because of its cover. This is a case where you can tell a book by its cover. I was looking at upcoming events at The Book Lounge (Cape Town, South Africa) and stopped when this cover scrolled up. After reading descriptions about the stories I had to have a copy and was able to have it signed by the author.
Mashigo's audience is Africans living in Africa. She writes in the prefacce;
I believe Africans, living in Africa, need something entirely different from Afrofuturism [see below]. I'm not going to coin a phrase but please feel free to do so. Our needs, when it comes to imagining futures, or even reimagining a fantasy present, are different from elsewhere on the globe; we actually live on this continent, as opposed to using it a a costume or a stage to play out our ideas. We need a project that predicts (it is fiction after all) Africa's future 'post-colonialism'; this will be divergent for each country on the continent because colonialism (and apartheid) affected us in unique (but sometimes similar) ways. In South Africa, for instance, there needs to exist a place in our imaginations that is the opposite of our present reality where a small minority owns most of the land and lives better than the rest.
For me, imagining a future where our languages and cultures are working with technology for us in order to, as Miriam Tlali says, 'expose what we feel inside', I had to draw from South African folklore and urban legends.
The author also describes Intruders as “A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter.” These nobodies are "intruders" who, for one reason or another, don't fit in. 

But please don't take this to mean that the stories are not accessible if you are not African. They are all excellent, well written stories and I enjoyed all of them. I believe any reader can take something away from reading these stories. I'm certain that what I get from them as an old white guy in the US will be different than, say, what they will mean to an African woman in Soweto but Mashigo is a writer who knows how to tell a story that everyone can appreciate.

One indication to me that I am involved in a short story is that, when I get to the end, I want to know more, I want to know what happened next. And that's what happened with these twelve speculative stories. After each one I thought,  there is a novel here. Three of the stories are connected so my desire was partially met.

Here are the twelve stories with notes of mine:

Manoka — a young woman discovers that her destiny and that of her child, lies with the sea.

Ghost Strain N — a sort of zombie story but without the rising from the grave part. I found myself reading it as a metaphor. Here a young man wants to save his best friend from being a Ghost. As you can tell from the title, there are different strains of the virus that turns people into Ghosts.

The Parlemo —This is a story that hits on one of my favorite themes: something that exists among us that most people are not aware of, a hidden world. Here it is a shop, one of many scattered around the world, overseen by a vault keeper, where memories are kept and can be relived.

Untitled i — What would you do when you knew the world as you know it was about to end. What sacrifice would you make.

BnB in Bloem — another story that pushed all my buttons and made me want more. Two sisters, born to the role, hunt monsters of legend and lore. One of my favorites in the collection.

On the Run — a woman is accused of killing her husband in an especially horrible manner. Did she do it? Why? This story has ties back to the days of apartheid.

Little Vultures — a genomicist finds a way to make a baby by two females. She later retreats to the country and creates an eden. I think one reviewer said something along the lines of think Jurasic Park without being eaten. One of my favorites

Untitled ii — continues the story started in Untitled i

The High Heel Killer — a woman, who has had a enough, kills a man with one of her high heels. Should make men think twoce about what they think is only joking. And she is transformed.

Once Upon a Town —two young people with uncommon attributes find love with each other. What attributes? I don't want to spoil the story but let's say in case the moon might be involved. 

Untitled iii — final story started in Untitled i and Untitled ii. Definitely calls out for another story.

Nthatisi — a teenage girl discovers that an ancient folktale is all to real and there are people who intend to avenge what happened to their ancestor  before she turns sixteen.

In the quote at the top, the author uses the term Afrofuturism. In the preface, the author describes Afrofuturism by quoteing Mark Dery from his interviews with Black author Samuel R. Delany
[Afrofuturism is ] Speculative Fiction that addresses African–American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth–century technoculture — and, more generally, African–American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future — might, for want of a better term, be called 'Afrofuturisn'.
Mashigo sees the term Afrofuturism as applying more to Africans in the diasopora.

Some additional resources:

'Why can't a girl from Soweto become a mermaid?' Mohale Mashigo chats about her new book, Intruders

“A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter” – Mohale Mashigo discusses Intruders with Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi

Keywords: South Africa, speculative fiction, folklore

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an excellent collection, Mack. And I know what's meant by that difference between people who actually live in Africa and people who have just visited there, or know their African history. It's very different.


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