Category Archives: Text

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
It was a smogged-out, prosperity-driven obstacle course up there in the over-city, from which wads of possibility had tumbled down to the slums. (p. xii)

Fifteen-year-old Meena, whose hut was around the corner, craved a taste of the freedom and adventure she’d seen on TV serials, instead of an arranged marriage and domestic submission. Sunil, an undersized twelve-year-old scavenger, wanted to eat enough to start growing. Asha, a fighter-cock of a woman who lived by the public toilet, was differently ambitious. She longed to be Annawadi’s first female slumlord, then ride the city’s inexorable corruption into the middle class. Her teenaged daughter, Manju, considered her own aim more noble: to become Annawadi’s first female college graduate. (p. xvii)

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Brian Chikwava, Harare North (2009)

Harare North

In the sky one big mama cloud is gathering all its children around sheself. I look at she and she look at me with she big face. My feeties, they take off again. Out of the park. The air hold still, something shift but I am still among the living and I breeze through them Brixton streets like the winds as darkness fall down like dust on Harare North. I can walk. I can’t smile. I get hungry. My feeties is vex, my stomach is crying and I am walking into them mental backstreets; I want Marks & Spencer’s food.

To the left of Marks & Spencer’s bins, some distressed cry for help rip through unlit air. I turn my head to look: there is brain-jangling argument exploding between two people. Continue reading

Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (1946)

Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy.

Malay Camp. A row of streets crossing another row of streets. Mostly narrow streets. Mostly dirty streets. Mostly dark streets. A row of houses crossing another row of houses. And so it went on. Streets crossing streets. Houses crossing houses.

Leaning, dark houses that hid life and death and love and hate and would not show anything to the passing stranger. Puddles of dirty muddy water on the sandy pavements. Little children playing in these puddles. Groups of men gambling on street corners. Groups of children walking down the streets carefully studying the gutters and vying with each other to pounce on dirty edibles, and fighting each other for them. Prostitutes on street corners and pimps calling after them.

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Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (1946)

Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy.

He neared the heart of Johannesburg and the people grew fewer. There were more white people now and they were different. They did not walk or look like his people and it was as if they were not really there. He stepped aside for them to pass and he heard their voices, but they were strangers. He did not look at them or watch them carefully to see what they said and how their eyes looked and whether there was love in the eyes of the woman who hung on the arm of the man. They were not his people so he did not care.

He passed the window of a restaurant. Inside, white people sat eating and talking and smoking and laughing at each other. It looked warm and comfortable and inviting. He looked away quickly.

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Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to our Hillbrow (2001)

Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Refilwe was to observe, in Oxford, that people there talked about Africans and South Africans. These Oxfordians who talked so distinctly about Africa and South Africa were themselves a hybrid of native Oxfordians and those who had acquired citizenship by other means. All those we called by the term Oxfordian, without distinguishing whether they were, indeed, born Oxfordians, or English, or something else. It was no different to the way we generalised about Hillbrowans without venturing to clarify what we meant. […] She learnt that to come from South Africa and to come from Africa were not the same thing at all in the estimation of numerous Oxfordians. She also learnt that when people talked about South Africa, they meant Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Continue reading

Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to our Hillbrow (2001)

Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow

And when you finally come to this part of your journey that ends in the blank wall of suicide… with the spinning of cars the prostitution drug use and misuse the grime and crime the numerous bottles diving from flat balconies giving off sparks o red and yellow from mid-air reflections of street and flat neon lights only to crush on unfortunate souls’ skulls the neon welcoming lights the peace of mind you could see in many Hillbrowans the liveliness of the place and places collapsing while others got renovated new concrete and brick structures standing up where you thought there was no longer any space for anything Quirinalle Hotel changing names and you hoped activities to Badiri House Chelsea Hotel closing down Continue reading

Selma Dabbagh, Out of it (2011)

SelmaDabbaghOutOfIt

London was quiet to Imam. The traffic, planes and people worked along allocated channels. They moved along the grooves cut out for them. It was not a world shaken down and cut through night after night. The noise was conformist and the talk and expressions appeared to operate on one level only. People behaved in ways that seemed unconnected to others. Their actions had repercussions only for themselves. There was an enviable ability to relinquish involvement in the bigger picture, to believe that it was all under control, that somebody with your interests in mind was looking out for you.

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