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Jungfrau and Other Short Stories

(The Caine Prize for African Writing 7th Annual Collection.)

Publisher: New Internationalist Publications Ltd/Jacana
Paperback; 213 Pages
ISBN (New Internationalist):978-1-904456-62-9
ISBN (Jacana Media):978-1-77009-367-6:
First Published: 2007


 Publishing Winners

Jungfrau and Other Short Stories is collection of seventeen tales inspired by the 7th Caine Prize season. It contains the shortlist of five stories from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Morocco. All in all, nine African countries are represented in this collection, which is unique in compiling not only the winning stories but also the products of the Crater Lake writing workshop in Kenya. The writing workshops themselves have acquired a certain cachet following the 2007 shortlisting of a Muthoni Garland story, which was written at an earlier workshop.

Mary Watson's piece, the overall winner, gives this collection its title. It is a portentous, restrained story of a young girl at the cusp of grown-up disillusionment. Evelyn battles the demons raging inside her to win her mother from her 43 other children — and to keep her father's love, which seemed conditioned on her remaining 'daddy's little girl' ('my love for him bound me to my little girl's world'). Unfortunately, the real world is amply furnished with demons of its own.

Mary Watson is an assured writer and worthy winner. She finds herself in good company in this collection. She is one of two South Africans in this season's shortlist, the other being Darrel Bristow-Bovey, who contributes A Joburg Story to the shortlist. He writes a glancing tale in the noir tradition: the three sorry protagonists are beer companions. The bar was closing down, it was a weeknight, and they really should have gone home, but they 'were still drinking more in that tired, sorry way when you think that maybe if you stall a little longer, get a little more durnk, something will happen.' Something does happen, in this clever, if lightweight, comedy on frailty and fear.

Sefi Attah choose a staple of the international travel gossip for her short. The Last Trip is the story of a drug mule who swallows an unpalatable meal which she has to keep down in in the course of a dangerous journey made more onerous by her unpredictable, disabled child and travel companion. It is a fraught journey, and the writer ensures that we are not indifferent to her ultimate fate. Still her choice of subject matter will not do much for steretypes. In the next story, (A Joburg Story) one of the characters is asked if he is a drug dealer and he throws up his hands in the air: '"I am not from Nigeria," he said'.

You know you are in for a treat from the first line of Muthoni Garland's Tracking the Scent of my Mother: 'My father wooed my mother in a 1200 Datsun pickup that was sold so soon afterwards that it must have felt to her like a false promise.' The story is set in rural Karatina country. In The Fanatic, a story that will resound well beyond Morocco, Noura treads the line between parental approval and a surging fundamentalism.

For sheer breath and tone, for its style and subject, this book is a exciting introduction to contemporary African fiction. It is a useful dart in the quiver of a prize which has so quickly achieved establishment status in the literary landscape. This is particularly important because many tales on the Caine shortlist may have first appeared on more ephemeral pages. Beyond the imprimatur of the prize, this book will get writers and stories read. Jacana, the African co-publishers have a job on their hands to distribute continentally. When that is done, though, it will only serve to clog the in-trays of the judges of the 8th season — which can only be a good thing. If this book can be criticised, it is in the timing of its appearance. Happily, the next edition, by dispensing with the need to name a winner, will be timed to appear on the announcement of the prize, thereby catching the annual publicity at its flood. Another good thing, from any perspective.


Jungfrau, Mary Watson (South Africa)
The Last Trip, Sefi Atta (Nigeria)
A Joburg Story, Darrel Bristow-Bovey (South Africa)
Tracking the Scent of my Mother, Muthoni Garland (Kenya)
The Fanatic, Laila Lalami (Morocco)
Christianity Killed the Cat, Doreen Baingana (Uganda)
The First Time I Said Fuck, Darrel Bristow-Bovey (South Africa)
An Elegy for Easterly, Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Root Gold Shalini Gidoomal (Kenya)
The Emperor's New Clothes. Farhad A K Sulliman Khoyratty (Mauritius)
When Memoirs Fail. Charles A Matathia (Kenya)
Postcards Tinashe Mushakavanhu (Zimbabwe)
Once Upon a Time Millicent Muthoni (Kenya)
Then, Now and Tomorrow Glaydah Mamukasa (Uganda)
Rejoice Elizabeth Pienaar (South Africa)
Looking for Biko Veronique Tadjo (Cote d'Ivoire)
Simon Said Mary Watson (South Africa)

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