See, it's like this. Once upon a time, I was a bright-eyed high school student. I was getting ready to take AP English, and the summer before school started, we students were supposed to read four books: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad. It was summer, and I had plenty of other things to do, all of which involved being a 16-year-old on summer vacation, but still, I managed to get through three of the four. Heart of Darkness was the one that didn't make the cut. I tried reading it, really, I did. I tried several times, but I'd make it to the third page, my eyes would glaze over, and I'd call up my friends and see if they wanted to go to the movies. It was a way of life, and I'm not ashamed. Now, ten years later, I have finally finished this high school reading assignment. I feel like I should feel something, because it's been a long time coming, but really, eh. Heart of Darkness. Whatever.
The book centers around a sailor named Marlow, who is telling a story about how this one time, in Africa, he met this guy named Kurtz. In fact, the majority of the book is Marlow's narrative of his trip to Africa and his subsequent sojourn up the Congo river into -- are you ready? -- the heart of darkness. This is all perfectly well and good, but if this is going to be the story, why can't the book just be the story instead of an extended monologue? Am I really supposed to believe that there are people in the world who would sit around and let someone talk at them for 70-odd pages? Impossible. I could believe that Marlow's listeners would stop him and say, "Uh, could you get to the point, mate? This whole business about not being able to get rivets for your steamboat -- not that interesting." Otherwise, well, who did Conrad think he was kidding?
Heart of Darkness is about imperialism and the darkness within people, which are very fine themes as far as themes go. It was made into a movie starring John Malkovich as that crazy scamp Kurtz, and also, more famously updated by Francis Ford Coppola into the film Apocalypse Now. It was short, which made me like it much better than this other classic I tried to read, and it was pretty quick, easy reading overall. With all that in mind, I'm not sure why it inspires absolutely no reaction from me whatsoever, because I feel like it should. And it's really too bad, because this is the last book on my list for my Jamelah Reads the Classics series, so I really wanted to go out with something better than "I was supposed to read this in high school, and Marlow talks too much" but alas, that's all I've got for you today. Maybe I should've listened to Levi after all. Who knew?
The second youngest of five children, Achebe was the son of Isaiah Okafor and Janet Achebe. His father, Isaiah, was a teacher for the Church Missionary Society. Achebe was raised in the shadow of two cultures: that of the British colonialists and his native Igbo people. Early in life Achebe found that he identified with both cultures. He was curious about African culture and age-old religious practices, as well as the Christianity injected into the skin of Nigerian life by British colonists. Rather than feeling oppressed by traditional African practices or erased by European influences, Achebe felt he was enriched by his upbringing "at the crossroads of cultures."
Education began for Achebe at parochial schools where English was introduced as the sole instructional language during the third year. The future author discovered an interest in books as a young student. His father's library consisted primarily of church literature and old school books. The library was limited but served as Achebe's only source of early reading material. Achebe also listened to the history of the Igbo people as his mother passed the oral tradition to his sister. Upon entering a government secondary school in Umuahia, Achebe gained access to the well-stocked library of his dreams. He later commented that this vast reading opportunity was an important experience for his development as a writer.
Achebe graduated secondary school In 1948 and continued his education on a medical scholarship at the University College in the city of Ibidan. It was during this time that Albert Achebe became Chinualumogu Achebe. Through this name change, Achebe rejected his British moniker and opted for his traditional African name meaning, "my spirit come fight for me." After a year at Ibidan, Achebe switched from medical studies to a liberal arts education focusing on English, history and religion. During his time at the University, Achebe began to write and published several articles in University publications. The young author contributed stories to the University's magazine, the University Herald, and became its editor during his junior year.
Achebe graduated from the University with a B.A. in 1953. Following graduation, he pursued a career in broadcasting. He worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation in London where he achieved great success in a short period of time. After the significant promotions to head of Talks Section in 1957, and controller of Eastern Region Stations in 1959, Achebe became head of Voice of Nigeria in 1961. It was in the middle of this career in 1958, that Achebe published his first novel, Things Fall Apart. This work was a direct answer to Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson (1939). Achebe was offended by Cary's novel during his years at the university. Mister Johnson was assigned reading and Achebe was appalled at its depiction of Africans as "violent savages with passionate instincts and simple minds." Achebe resolved to fight this unfair depiction of his people from his congenital access to the insider's point of view. Just a year after publishing this first novel, Achebe was awarded the Margaret Wrong Memorial prize, in 1959. No Longer at Ease, the sequel to Things Fall Apart was published in 1960. Following this second novel, Achebe won the Nigerian National Trophy for Literature.
Nigeria fell prey to political corruption and infighting between Nigerian factions. Acutely aware of his country's political perils, Achebe addressed this political corruption in "A Man of the People" (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Coincidentally, civil war broke out in Igbo speaking Eastern Nigeria in 1967, a year after A Man of the People was published. Eastern Nigeria, led by Igbo officers during a coup d'etat in 1966, seceded from the rest of Nigeria and became the nation of Biafra until it was defeated and re-assimilated in 1970. Achebe traveled to Europe during the war campaigning for the sovereignty of Biafra. He claimed that "no government, black or white has the right to stigmatize and destroy groups of its own citizens without undermining the basis of its own existence." A second coup d'etat led by non-Igbo officers six months after the first, led to the deaths of thousands of Igbo in Eastern Nigeria. Achebe and his family were forced to flee the capital city of Logos as refugees during this time. Following his experiences with civil war, Achebe wrote a set of poems that won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972.
Achebe believes that writers have a responsibility to address social maladies. He offers an observation of the difference between European and African artistic endeavors. He asserts that Europeans "create art for art's sake" whereas African art exists as an inherent component of society. Achebe is the founder and editor of two journals, a novelist, poet, essayist and lecturer. Over the years, he has spoken and lectured extensively throughout the United States.
Achebe's other novels include Girls at War (1972), Arrow of God (1964), and The Trouble with Nigeria (1983).
Jean-Nicholas-Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854 at Charleville in provincial France. His family was abandoned by their father and forced into poverty. Intrigued by the conditions, the young Rimbaud would sneak out and play with the neighborhood children. His mother, horrified that her children might become coarsened, found the means to move her brood from the worst to the best part of town.
Madame Rimbaud showed little affection to her children, instead focusing her ambitions on her two sons. Forbidden to play with other boys, Rimbaud immersed himself in his studies. Stimulated by a yearning for more in life, he became a gifted student.
The farther a man follows the rainbow, the harder it is for him to get back to the life which he left starving like an old dog. Sometimes when a man gets older he has a revelation and wants awfully bad to get back to the place where he left his life, but he can't get back to that place-- not often. It's always better to stay alongside of your life.
--Jane Bowles 'Plain Pleasures'
Jane Auer was born in New York City on February 22, 1917 and raised mostly on Long Island. At twenty-one, she married Manhattanite Paul Bowles. After the civil ceremony, they took off for Panama. According to Paul Bowles' autobiography Without Stopping, Jane Bowles saw enough in Panama in ten days to enable her to use it as a locale for her first novel, 'Two Serious Ladies', which was published in 1943. From 1947, she lived abroad, mostly in Tangier, with her husband.
Paul Bowles was born in New York City on December 30, 1910. He was an only child and exhibited early the existentialist's sense of alienation.
Who was his father? The patriarchal figures in his stories are often brutal. The true stories of Bowles paint the picture of a cold, New York-Edwardian man as his father-- but not exactly cruel or abusive.
Paul Bowles studied with composer Aaron Copland. Bowles went on to produce a number of still-produced mostly-orchestral pieces. Later he wrote music for the work of Tennessee Williams, a friend and supporter of the talents of both Paul and his wife Jane.
When Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were creating the Beat sensation in the mid-to-late fifties, their friend and mentor William S. Burroughs was halfway across the world in Tangier, a seaport city on the North African coast on the Strait of Gibraltar.
Having run into legal troubles in America and Mexico, Burroughs chose to hide in Tangier after reading about it in the works of Paul Bowles. Paul and Jane Bowles became Burroughs' close friends in Tangier, as did his future collaborator Brion Gysin. Burroughs was visited there by Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, who liked Tangier, and Jack Kerouac, who didn't. It was here, though, that Kerouac picked up Burroughs' scattered writings and insisted that he publish them under the title 'Naked Lunch.'