Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Girls at War: 5 For / 5 Against
Girls at War is a collection of short stories written by Achebe between 1952 and 1972, covering his years at University College, Ibadan up through the years of war for Biafran independence. The last two stories of the collection "Sugar Baby" and "Girls At War" are from 1972 and deal specifically with the deprivations and degradations of that war.
"Girls at War" is the story of Reginald Nwankwo, Ministry of Justice, who through three meetings with a particular girl, describes the change from fervent Revolutionary focus to fervent desire for survival. Nwankwo meets a young girl (all women are called "girls" throughout the story) at a checkpoint who does a thorough search of his vehicle. He can tell that she is a young woman "whose devotion had simply and without self-rightousness convicted him of gross levity. What were her words? We are doing the work you asked us to do." Two years later he meets her again, but this time she is a "kept" woman in expensive high heels, a wig, and a lowcut dress. However, much of the Nwankwo's interactions with "Gladys," as she calls herself, seem rather onesided and projected: her words, he claims, are full of levels of meaning, but he neither asks nor does she offer. Nwankwo projects a whole life onto her and after sleeping with her decides that he would have been better off with a prostitute; however, by the next day he decides to try and save her.
1. After reading a couple of long novels (Amateur Barbarians was 400 pages), short stories were a welcomed respite. And these were mostly very VERY short stories, most were only 4 or 5 pages.
2. I love Achebe's writing. I think he excels at longer novels better, but most of the stories were at least rather good. My favorites were "The Madman" and "Dead Men's Path."
3. Achebe is at his best when he is describing the conflict between two ideals: the past and the present, traditional culture and the colonizing culture, men and women, the city and the country. Many of the stories cover these dichotomies.
4. For sheer entertainment, dive in and swim. Almost all of these, except for "Civil Peace" which seemed almost like a Greek tragedy (check out the chorus of thieves) were really well-told stories.
5. Still, Africa = good.
1. I love short stories: I think Achebe is better at a longer format.
2. Many of the stories, I wish were longer.
3. I felt I was missing some sort of context, and kept referring to my memories of Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God to give each story a greater definition. This may be my issue, but it left me feeling like I was looking through a warped window.
4. I very rarely like Achebe's women. Throughout "Girls at War," the girls in question aren't taken very seriously, and if they are not devoted revolutionaries, they are prostitutes using their bodies to survive. I don't have a problem with the latter, but Nwankwo (if not Achebe) does. Regardless, most of Achebe's women seem cruel, followers or excessively vindictive.
5. The last two stories "Sugar Baby" and "Girls at War" were written, I think, specifically for this collection which was originally published in 1972. As such, I don't think the author had enough time between writing and the events written about to give the stories much flesh. As such, they seem kind of hurried and somewhat ridiculous.
Having said that, I fully acknowledge that Chinua Achebe is a Nobel Peace Price winner for literature, so understand that these are simply my opinions and perceptions. I also realize that I definitely need to readup some more on the Nigerian Civil War about which I know very little.
Mbanta - where Onkonkwo moves after killing Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart