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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

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Set in Ghana in (initially) the 1930s, this is the story of Matilda, a 14 year old girl who has to grow up quickly when she is chosen to become the second wife of successful lawyer Robert Bannerman. With no say over her future and an avaricious family who are keen to capitalise on Matilda’s marriage, her childhood meets an abrupt end. The marriage is also a horrible affront to Robert’s current wife Julie, who forms an instant hatred of Matilda and will go to almost any lengths to make her life a misery.

On the other side of the island is Alan Turton, a genial Englishman who has moved to Ghana and taken up a role working for the Governor. While he embraces his new way of life, his new wife Audrey hates it and takes to drinking all day long and longing for a return to England.

The book focusses slightly more on Matilda’s story – certainly I felt that out of all the characters, Matilda was the one who was depicted most clearly and who was easily the most distinctive voice (although the book is told in the third person).

I enjoyed the insight into Ghanian life in the 1930s, and in particular into the life of a young girl with no control over her future. I also liked the political backdrop with some people – such as Robert – welcoming the colonials and believing that it will eventually be good for Ghana’s independence, while others resent it seeing it as the British Empire trying to assert themselves where they have no right. There are also descriptions of Christianity versus Traditionalism, and the pervading sense of racism features in the book too.

I found that apart from Matilda, who was a wonderful character, I did not really like any of the other characters. Audrey was difficult to warm to, although I could sympathise with her situation. I didn’t like her husband who despite his friendliness and apparent liberalism, was entirely selfish in the way he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see how unhappy his wife was, and even when he did, he was not prepared to do anything whatsoever to try and help her. Robert was charismatic but in many ways a cowardly chauvinist and Julie was despicable, although her shock and humiliation was understandable. Most of all, Matilda’s family were the worst – they cared only about what they would gain from Matilda’s marriage, and expected her to put up with deplorable behaviour for their sakes. This is not a criticism of the story, as I am sure they were intentionally shown that way.

The writing was rich and descriptive, and I did enjoy the book in the main. I am not sure I would be waiting in line to buy a new book by Marilyn Heward Mills, but I think I would certainly be interested in reading more  by her at some point.

 

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This book is a collection of short stories, the first (and best) being The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  In this sad, wistful tale, a man lies at the base of Kilimanjaro, having developed gangrene in his leg, and being unable to get proper treatment for it.  He is accompanied by his wife, but as he lies dying and we witness his conversations with his wife and his own private thoughts, it becomes clear that his life is full of regret, missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams.  This story hooked me in, and gave me hope for the rest of the book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy the rest of stories – to the extent that I actually put the book down and read some others before continuing.  It’s only that I feel unable to leave a book finished once it’s started that I picked it up again.  Many of the stories are about Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical character Nick Adams, who I found myself unable to warm to.

It’s true that some of the descriptive passages are beautiful, and the dialogue is believable, but the over-riding themes of rugged, macho men doing rugged manly things, and the women who often seem little more than an annoyance to said men, did not appeal to me.

However, apart from the story which lends its title to the book, I did enjoy the story about a young man returning home from war and finding himself unable (and unwilling) to forge a connection with anyone, including family, friends and girlfriends.  On the whole however, while I wouldn’t deny Hemingway’s talent to use words wonderfully at times, his stories were just not a good fit for me.

 

 

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This film is based on the life of Karen Blixen (played here by Meryl Street), a Danish woman who, in the early 20th century, entered into a marriage of convenience and moved to Africa to run a coffee plantation with her husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer).  When he abandons her, she starts a romance with free-spirited game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton (Robert Redford).

I first saw this film at the cinema when I was a young teenager, and to be honest, I found it boring; most of the story lines went over my head.  Watching it again now as an adult however, I thought this film was rather beautiful, and very rewarding.  It is so much more than just a romance, although the romantic aspect is beautifully played out.  Without the help of her husband, Karen has to learn to survive on her own wits and intelligence, in a time when it was not easy to be a single woman.  She becomes independent and stronger than she probably ever could have imagined possible.  Redford – who looks as beautiful as ever! – is wonderful as Finch-Hatton (although his character was likely somewhat sanitised for cinema audiences), and the relationship between these two headstrong characters was very believable.

It is a long film – the best part of three hours, and in some parts very slow moving.  It is very much a character driven story, rather than a plot driven story, but it is well worth the investment.  Shot partly  on location in Kenya, the scenery is simply stunning, and made me want to visit the area.

When you have actors like Streep and Redford on board, you know that you are going to get good performances, and they don’t disappoint.  However, I did find Streep’s Danish accent somewhat irritating at first, but got used to it.

It took me a long time to come back to this film, but I am very glad that I did so, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes a moving, thought-provoking film.

Year of release: 1985

Director: Sydney Pollack

Producers: Kim Jorgensen, Sydney Pollack, Anna Cataldi, Judith Thurman, Terence Clegg

Writers: Karen Blixen (book ‘Out of Africa’ and other writings), Judith Thurman (book ‘Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller’), Errol Trzebinski (book ‘Silence Will Speak’), Kurt Luedtke

Main cast: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Mike Bugara

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In 1914, Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn)  is an English missionary in Africa.  When the Germans come and attack and destroy the village where Rose lives, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a gin swilling owner of a decrepit steam boat offers to to let her sail with him to somewhere safe.  Charlie just wants to find somewhere where he can hide out and wait for the war to be over – but Rose decides that they should use the steamboat – The African Queen of the title – to launch an attack on a German ship.  Rose and Charlie are mismatched travellers – she is uptight and repressed, while he is a lazy alcoholic – but as they journey together, they both learn a bit about themselves and each other.

I can’t believe that I haven’t seen this film before now – it’s regarded as a real classic, and I can certainly see why.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  The storyline is dramatic and thrilling, as Charlie and Rosie navigate hostile waters, dangerous rapids, and enemy territory, but it’s also romantic (this is REAL movie romance – no sex or frenzied ripping off of each other’s clothes, but looks and gestures that are no nuanced and say so much), and surprisingly funny.  Many of the one liners made me laugh out loud.

Bogart and Hepburn are both exceptional in their roles.  Bogart makes the audience really care for a man who, on paper, should not be hero material (and maybe that’s part of the point).  Hepburn meanwhile, plays Rose with real class, and it’s interesting to see the character’s shift from unapproving repression to a woman who wants to be adventurous and embrace life.  By far this is the most sympathetic role I’ve ever seen Katharine Hepburn play – I often find her to be quite cold, but here she strikes exactly the right chord.

For the most part, the film consists of just these two fine actors, but the dialogue and interaction between them is such that you don’t feel any other characters are needed. This is Charlie and Rose’s story and a most enjoyable one it is too.

The ending is totally satisfying and ties up all the emotions and events in a perfect way. If you haven’t seen this lovely film yet, go and rent it right now – I’m sure you won’t regret it!

Year of release: 1951

Director: John Huston

Writers: C.S. Forrester (book), James Agee, John Huston, Peter Viertel, John Collier

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

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It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee.  Robert finds himself working with Pinker’s daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other.  However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation.  While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert’s journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey – from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues.  It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book).  There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again!  It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading. 

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book.  At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London.  Despite all of this, it’s hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him.  Emily herself was one of my favourite characters – her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all.  It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages! 

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly.  This was the first book I’ve ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more.  I’d definitely recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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