The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila (available on Kindle)
A young black woman named Ndani, who has been labeled “cursed” by the people of her village, leaves her home to find a job as a house girl in the capital city. She has been told that her life will be a series of tragedies, and she is determined to prove that prediction wrong. Meanwhile, a local black chieftain has a plan to overthrow the colonial government, and a black missionary teacher plans to marry and settle down with his wife in a new town where no one knows them. The major plot events in the book demonstrate the various characters’ efforts to change their life trajectories as well as their respective failures. Although they fail for different reasons – social stigma, greed, ignorance, racist political systems, poor personal judgment – the book illustrates that failure is not the tragedy referred to in the title, but rather the “ultimate tragedy” is the loss of hope.
I found myself wishing this book had been edited differently. It is divided into three distinct parts: Ndani moving to the city and getting a job; the Regulo plotting against the colonial government; and the Teacher attempting to live a normal life. All three parts are connected to each other, but it’s not clear how until well into the book. I wish the three plots had somehow been intertwined, John Irving-style so that when you realize how they are all linked together, you get that satisfying “aha!” moment. Instead, I was just mostly confused. I became invested in the Ndani story, and after a major plot point in her story, there’s a very abrupt shift to the Regulo without any explanation of who he is or why I should care about him, or how he relates to Ndani. And then again, there’s a significant shift in time from the Regulo to the Teacher section, and it would have been nice to have better signposting or warning that the shift was occurring. Even just a subsection that labeled the parts as “Part I,” “Part II,” and “Part III” would have been helpful.
On a pickier note, there were some issues with the translation that also bothered me, although they were pretty easily overcome. There were several Portuguese words that were left in the Portuguese that really needed some kind of definition or explanation, even if the translator had to do it in a footnote. Usually, these were words to describe a role within the village community or an abstract concept. It makes sense why the translator left those words in Portuguese as there is probably no good English word to use instead. Several Portuguese words, however, were left that had an obvious English translation, and it was unclear to me why the translator did not translate that word.
This book is interesting, although I wish it had been structured differently, or at least edited so that the sections were more clearly delineated. The translation is a bit clunky, but I think the characterization and themes come across very well despite this flaw.
Folklore: Der Schakal im Feigenbaum: Und andere Märchen aus Guinea-Bissau by Dietmar Beetz
So, this book is in German, and I don’t really read German (although I read Old English, and that helps a lot!), so I muddled through a couple of these tales just to get a picture of the kinds of stories they were. They are a lot like the African-American folk tales I read for St. Kitts and Nevis: animal fables, mostly, with the trickster rabbit and also some “why the world is the way it is” explanation tales.
I read several recipes for this dish, and there are a ton of them! I think it’s one of those recipes that is very common, so basically you just put whatever you have around into it. There’s no set way to do it that is “authentic” or “correct.” Here is a link to a decent recipe:
The finished product:
At this time, the only green chalk I had was a super light lime green which does not come across well in the photographs. I got a better green chalk later on.
Verdict: I made my version vegetarian – vegan, really – and it was really tasty. This dish is a good introduction to West African food, since it is basically food that we eat here in the US, just seasoned differently. I bought all of the ingredients at my local grocery store. It was also simple and easy to make, so I would definitely make it again.
In Guinea-Bissau, they drink a strong, sweet green tea called warga, and they are also a huge producer of cashews. So, I thought I’d do an homage to these two ingredients and make a green-tea based cocktail with cashew milk: ½ tsp matcha powder dissolved in 2 oz gin; 1 oz cane syrup; fill with cashew milk to taste.