Those who fueled the revolution

 

Book review by Alem Hailu

Book Firebrands

Genre Novel

Shama Books 2013

Author Sahle Sellassie Berhane Mariam

‘Firebrands’ is an Ethiopian English Novel that was first published by Long Man Group LTD,1979 and reprinted by Shama Books in 2013. It is authored by the acclaimed Ethiopian author and translator Sahle Sellassie Berhane Mariam who produced several books in two local languages– Amharic & Guragigna– and English.

On top of his original works so far he has translated eight literary works, some of which are masterpieces. Playing an ambassadorial role in the literary scene, like Danachew Worku he had managed to get Ethiopian English Novels secure a place in the African writers series.

The era that witnessed the shaking of the emperor Haile Sellasie’s throne is the time setting of Firebrands. It was a period the wail of tenants sweltering under the yoke of feudalism reverberated across the nation and their conspicuous ill treatment became unbearable. It was also an era moral decadence such as corruption, lack of justice, backdoor dealings in government offices and ethnic based preferential treatments turned a stench in the nostrils of citizens in general and the revolutionary in particular. It is this theme as a mirror Firebrands reflects. Transporting readers back in a time train, Firebrands affords them the then socioeconomic and political picture as well as the challenge the myth of Solomonic-Dynasty and the lion of Judah faced.

Taking the liberty monument at the heart of Addis Ababa and the adjoining university as its axis, Firebrands’ setting starting from a shack surrounded high foundation villa around the palace , located at the heart of the city, extends to several service rooms and a big building housing vast compound at Entoto, a hilltop village at the northern part of the city.

The former was the house of a corrupt government official Ato Kebret who at the unfolding of the story was appointed to yet a higher government post as a gratitude to his unswerving loyalty to the regime. He was appointed a managing director with a rank of a minister. As opposed to the majority in the surrounding he was leading an affluent life. The vast compound at Entoto belonged to a famous known heroic patriot Dejazmach Azbete who was a reactionary bloodsucker feudal.

The liberty monument conjures in mind hero patriots who tooth and nail fought fascists to ensure the sovereignty of the country. Though made provincial officers for their heroic deed, most of the patriots like Dejazmach Azbete,60, governor general, were subjects of blame for unbridled passion of annexing lands by foul means, flogging and uprooting poor farmers. The provincial officials were acting as though the provinces under their jurisdiction were their personal abundances and its inhabitants subjects of serfdom.

Their lands expropriated by feudal lords like Dejazmach Azbete and alienated from their means of survival,peasants across the country were wallowing in abject poverty. Owing to this and other reasons the country was languishing under famine. To add an insult to injury, their exploitation notwithstanding, peasants were subject to brutal treatment. Nepotism,bribery, all the ugly faces of corruption as well as ethnic discrimination were pouring from every of which of the regime’s pore.

The university hosting students reminds one the then radicals, who revolted by the exploitation of peasants,improprieties in government offices and inequitable wealth distribution as well as inspired by the sweet aroma of change wafting through the country, were chanting revolutionary songs sat on the fence of the compound. “Awake,Awake,You had enough of oppressive rule.

Resonating the need for change was shared by the majority subject to exploitation and injustice, gathering on the other side of the road in front of the university, their parents and city residents displeased by the regime that got one leg in the grave often echoed the students’ chants.

The police were keeping themselves busy hushing the students down and at times chasing those who proved unruly. The police seemed sat on the horns of a dilemma not yet sure to which side the tide of change would turn.

The shrewd and ambitious Kebret, by way of obeisance and ingratiating himself frequently used to pay visit to the palace to prudishly bow to the emperor when the emperor arrived for a Chilot, court procession. His ambition was going high up the administrative ladder of a government office. He owed a gratitude to his relative Dejazemach Azbete that often pulled strings to ensure Kebret’s appointment to a high post in emperor Haileselassie’s regime. .

Whenever Azbete, whose appetite for land proved unquenchable, sweet talked Kebret into buying lands,he acquired by foul means, Kebret would shy away guessing from the political atmosphere that soon through reform lands could be given to the tiller—the catch phrase of students and one of the slogans in their placards. As his wealth was based on land, whenever a land reform issue was raised Azebete acted as though pricked with a pin in the back.

The point of view the author adopted is a third person omniscient as the he by the facility of his pen vividly lets readers see and hear incidents and situations. The author skillfully lets readers give attention to the social malice and social injustice prevalent then.

At the expository stage bringing together the major characters at a congratulatory social gathering that unfolded at Ato Kebret’s Villa following his appointment, the author introduces them and their ambitions showing how they cross roads and at times get locked in a clash. Then using cause and effects and incidents he extends the plot in a chronological order. The friction between expropriators and the expropriated, the clash between the new and the old as well as the quest for justice and the perpetuation of injustice form the binary opposition that propels the story forward.

As per the Ethiopian culture of sharing good times together at such social gatherings and which custom dictates necessary to observe, forming different circles here and there at Kibret’s Villa, the aforementioned characters somewhat acquaint with each other.

The gathering brought together those who wish the longevity of the political system in place Dejazmach Azbete, Kibret and their family members; those who aspire for change Worku; those despite their noble linage who see things objectively Dr. Mandeferot; those who partake in corruption Kebret, the foreigner businessman Mr. Richardson, the police officer and W/ro Kassach (in words), the honest Bizuneh and the merchant Aba Bushra as well as the opportunists ready to make samursalt in taking sides the police and the security man. The characters the author created by careful sampling had well represented people of the period.

In the gathering seeing each other from afar and asking circle members about the background of attendees that proved strange to them all soon made out the identity people in the salon and veranda of the villa.

At the gathering it was with revulsion the reactionary Azbete was looking at Worku who with unkempt hair putting on a jacket was indifferently smoking cigarette— taken as a sign of being progressive. Later the two meet in a riot while Worku running away from a rod blandishing police and the Dejazmach trying to evade revolutionary students pelting his vehicles with stones.

Flipping back to the social gathering, Aba Bushera who came to the event empty handed soon noticed his rival Richardson had brought cartoons of champagne to worm his way into the heart’s of Kebret. Richardson was eyeing at having a bid in which Bushera was a competitor canceled.

When Work drew the attention of his circle members to an eavesdropping security man among the gathering the shock Dr Madefrot experienced hints on the lack of freedom of speech then. Also via the dressing-down Worku later in the story openly dealt a spy in the university compound, the author once more amplifies the measure the regime took to keep citizens tight lipped on political issues .

As a cultural setting the story kicks off with the argument of Bizuneh and Worku on downplaying or observing an outdated custom of congratulating an official who got promoted with a present like Whiskey.

The setting also includes the tearoom where the protagonist Bizuneh often after working hours met with his younger brother Worku and Worku’s friend Takori who were university students aspiring for the toppling of the regime.

It was in a modest house not far from the University Bizuneh and Worku were living with their parents. The brothers share a room . Takori sometimes used to visit them there. This house is also part of the setting.

Takori hailst from the minority ethnic group. He was studying law to fight the injustice his parents were suffering under the hands of Dejazmzch Azbete. He was a youngster who spoke his mind upfront and who believed non Amharas and citizens outside the domain of the orthodox religion to less preferential treatment during the emperor Hailesselasie Regime.

The author used Takori as a mouthpiece to the tribalism,ethnic discrimination and the expropriation of the land Takori’s ethnic group were suffering.

Often Bizuneh quietly attended their argument. Worku is a youngster who believed things must be changed overnight. As such he often got stunned when people fail to second him.

To the chagrin of Worku in the middle of their discussion Takori liked persistently bringing into light the ethnic discrimination suffered by non Amharas. They never came to terms pertaining to this issue. Regarding the issue Worku rather preferred to see things from the point of view of social justice focused on the economic and political system than harping on parochial sentiments.

When Takori said Amharas call non Amharas names Bizneh challenged him with the question “What do the non Amharas call the Amharas?”

The well built Bzuneh, whom his brother reverently call Gashe, was a soft spoken,genuine and humble person with the belief that things must be done right but if unfairly pushed to the extreme who would turn a bombshell.

As a strict internal auditor Bizuneh didn’t bat an eye in exposing embezzlers and corrupt employees in the corporation he joined as a new staff member soon after graduation. For baring the door for bribery he ended up quarreling with his boss Ato Kibret, who for the sake of getting his palms greased by foreigner business man Mr. Richardson canceled the bid not heeding Bizuneh’s concern the reputation of the corporation could be tarnished.

The wrangling between the protagonist Bizuneh and the antagonist Kibret that arose from this problem drives the plot to its climax. At this point Bizuneh taking the law into his own hands knocked down Ato kibret who firesdhim at the end of his probation period under the lame pretext of displeasing employees and creating industrial unrest. The emperors photo hanged on the wall with a frame crashed down by accident foreshadowing the the impending danger awaiting the lion of Judah.

As a falling action in the plot, brought to court Bizuneh litigates himself and lays bare the injustice that pushed him to take the law into his hands .Aba Bushra with white flown rob testified in favor of him. However to the displeasure of Kebret’ relatives for few years Bizneh was sent to prison.

Kibret who sufferd a banged head and a blurred vision got hospitalized. There it was his wont to mentally revenge Bizuneh that turned his earthly paradise into a hellhole. Sometimes when he thought of it was he the cause of Bizuneh’s punishment he regretted it .Occasionally he wished he had better paternally advised Bizuneh to mend his ways. Here the author like the contemporaries of Dostoevsky shows his talent of mentally probing into a human mind. When told about the punishment Bzuhneh meted out Kebret always felt an excruciating pain as though his wound was rubbed with salt. This shows kebret is a dynamic character.

The resolution is a happy ending for the protagonist Bizuneh detained for taking the law into his own hands was set free to mix with his family members following the popular revolution that was taking shape. Worku and Takori also evading possible attack by the police emerged safe out of the uprising to recount past happenings and developments.

However the expropriator Dejachezemache Azbete, was of the opinion that to claim land must be fairly distributed among citizens, “one has to share his salary( property) to others. “ He was killed waging a fight against revolutionaries on the move to fairly distribute land. His stance not to flinch an inch shows he is a flat character.

W/ro Kassech up on hearing the proclamation the promulgates the confiscation of land died right away from a heart attack. Kebret who took to the bush tagging Azbete also got killed . Following the death of her husband his wife cleared off the country along their daughter and puppy.

Though with a noble linage Dr. Mandeferot had little to do with the old generation of the gentry. Objectively seeing the historic event that removed the emperor from power he came up with his own observation. As a trend he noted new forces of oppression boycott revolutions that throw away the old system of oppression. The new elements of oppression, donning a new garment, introduce a new form of censorship that stifles the quest of the new liberation elements and a similar question of remnants of the old system for justice. Hence this way revolution remains yet to come. He wrapped up his observation with the conclusion unless the liberating element in a man dominates the oppressing one social justice will not prevail. Here the political analysis the author carries across via Dr. Mandeferot also deserves appreciation.

It is in honor of those who fueled the revolution or genuinely sacrificed their life to give life to others the book Firebrands derived its name. In firebrands one notices the tell and show as well as the dialogue and the narration are mixed in a reasonable proportion. This coupled with the savory figurative speech makes Firebrands a page turner.

Literature is undoubtedly the best way of teaching language. Firebrands is fluent and a clean sheet. Students could benefit a lot from the opportunity the book avails to them. The indigenous adages like “He who doesn’t enrich himself while in office regrets it when removed from office.,“ the author adorned the book with renders it palatable lending it a sense of local touch. It significance as a literary text is out of question.

This book that shows the inequitable and unfair national wealth distribution and social malice that permeated the political system stands tall in the eyes of Marxist critics too. Exposing improprieties is also the objective of Marxist critical approach. The book has effectively done this.

To see examples, the wife of the police officer who once let go Kibret scot free ignoring his transgression had become Kibret’s secretary. As a favor Kebret had hired the officer’s wife in his organization. Dejachmache Azbetes wife W/ro Kassech also asks Kebret to hire her America learnt daughter Chucu at his corporation. It was taking bribe from Worku and Takori the prison guard allowed Worku visit Bizuneh,while he was in prison before appearing before court. Via this technique the author portrays nepotism and corruption that were rife during the reign of the emperor.

The gentry’s scorn for labor was also discernible from W/ro Kassech’s speech. Kassech at the social gathering was advising Kebret’s wife to encourage her husband to involve in corruption. Dr Mandeferot was also heard complaining Kebret’s secretary being bureaucrat by way of portraying the bureaucratic red-tape prevalent then .

Also Kebret and Worku’s father never advised his wife in financial matters. This showed the invisible oppression women were subject to. The verbal abuse Kassach servant suffered from her mistress also throws light on the double fold discrimination women from the lower class were subjected to. From the Feminist Critical approach such exposure of the lot of women wins credit to the author.

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Ribbon of the Heart–(ecriture feminine)

 

By Alem Hailu

As I promised to shift focus from the New Criticism to Feminist Criticism, here I have come up with one work. But first to get on the same page let us see the theoretical aspect from ‘Literary Criticism Today’ By Lois Tyson

Literature Review

In the broadest sense feminist criticism examines the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) underpin or undermine the economic, political, social and psychological subjugation of women. Some feminists call their field feminism in order to underline the multiplicity of points of view of its advocates and offer ways of thinking that oppose the traditional tendency to believe there is a single best point of view.

Yet many of us who are new to the study of feminist theory, both male and female, have decide ahead of time that we are not feminist because we don’t share whatever feminist point of view we have found the most objectionable. In other words even before to the theory classroom…. on that basis, we have rejected it. This attitude reveals, I think, the oversimplified, negative view of feminism that still persists …for it is from the culture at large—the home the workplace, the media, and so on—that we have gathered the anti-feminist bias we bring into the classroom.”(Tyson:1999)

To see how this negative oversimplification works to blind us to the seriousness of the issue feminism raise, let us see one of the most criticized feminist claims “We shouldn’t use the masculine pronoun ‘he’ to represent both men and women. We can use s/he,she/he or the plural pronoun ‘they’ .Many people see this claim as trivial or even infantile, nature of feminist demands. For many feminists, however, the use of the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to members of both sexes reflects and perpetuates a ‘habit of seeing’ as way of looking life,that uses male experience as the standard by which the experience of both sex is evaluated. In other words, although the “inclusive he” claims to represent both men and women, in reality it is part of a deeply-rooted cultural attitude that ignores women’s experiences and blinds us to women’s point of view. The damaging effect of all this attitude could be seen in a number of areas.

For example, before the centuries- old struggle for women’s equality finally emerged in literary studies in the late’s 1960s,the literary works of(White) male authors describing experience from a (white) male point of view was considered the standard of universality—that is, representatives of all the experiences of all readers—and universality was considered a major criterion of greatness .Because the works of(white) female authors(and all authors of color) don’t describe experience from a(white) male point of view, they were not considered universal and didn’t become part of the literary canon. Opposing this trend is referred firing the canon.

It is interesting to note that popularity was not necessarily considered evidence of universality, for many women writers who enjoyed widespread fame during their lives were not canonized in literary histories, which focused primarily on male writers. Of course those holding up this standard of greatness didn’t believe they were being unfairly discriminatory, they simply believed that they were rejecting literary texts that were not universal, that were not great.

Even today there is a tendency to under represent the contribution of women writers.

Similarly in most Hollywood films, even today, the camera eye (the point of view from which the film is shot) is male the female character not the male, are the objects gazed upon by the camera and often eroticized as if a male eye were viewing them, as if the point of view of the ‘universal’ movie- goer were male .

Perhaps the most chilling example of the damaging effect of this ‘habit of seeing’ is found in modern medicine where drugs prescribed for both often have been tested on male subjects only. Surely, the cultural habit of seeing male experience as universal played a role. Traditional gender roles cast men as rational, strong, protective, and decisive, they cast women as emotional (irrational),weak,nurturing,and submissive.’’ (Tyson:1999)

Tyson further notes if a woman accepts her traditional gender role and obeys the patriarchal rule she is a ‘good girl!’ if she doesn’t, she is a ‘bad girl’ these two roles view women only in terms of how they relate to the patriarchal order. Patriarchal ideology works to keep women and men in traditional gender roles and thereby maintain male dominance. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other, she is marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values, which means defined by what she (allegedly) lacks that men(allegedly)have.

While biology determines our sex (male or female) culture determines our gender (masculine or feminine).In fact, all the traits we associate with masculine and feminine behavior are learned, not inborn. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by promoting gender equality.

Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of the issue or not. Of course, the assumption listed above are related overlapping ideas, and, together, they imply that patriarchal ideology has a pervasive ,deeply rooted influence on the way we think ,speak, see ourselves and view the world in which we live.

Let us see some questions Feminist Critics ask about Literary texts

Tyson Summarizes the questions as follows what does the work reveal about the operation (economically, politically, socially or psychologically)of patriarchy? How are women portrayed? How do these portrayals relate to the gender issue of the period in which the literary piece was written or set? In other words does the work reinforce or undermine patriarchal ideology. In the first case we might say the text has a patriarchal agenda. In the second case we might say that the text has a feminist agenda. Texts that seem to both reinforce and undermine patriarchal ideology might be said to be ideologically conflicted.

What does the work imply about sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy? What does the work suggest about the ways in which race, class and/or other cultural factors intersect in gender in reproducing women’s experience. What does the work suggest about women’s creativity? In order to answer this question, biographical data about the author and historical data about the culture in which she lived is required.

What might an examination of the author’s style contribute to the ongoing effort to delineate a specifically feminine form of writing (ecriture feminine)?

What does the history of the work’s reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy? Has the literary work been ignored or neglected in the past? Why? Or, if recognized in the past, is the work ignored or neglected now. What role does the work play in terms of women literary history and literary tradition.

In the patriarchal mode of thinking women are expected to strictly observe duties and responsibilities while men enjoy an ample latitude of freedom. And as such in literary works authors often punish women that goes astray leaving the man that erred scout free. For instance in Tolstoy’s masterpiece ‘Anna Karenina’ take the protagonist Anna and her brother. Though both proved guilty of extra marital affair it was only Anna that suffered the punitive measure of the author.

Works done by men author were considered as the standard ones having a universal significance and as such women’s works despite their popularity and merit were not given due attention.

Analysis

Now much said about the fundamentals of feminist criticism, let us see ‘The Ribbon of the Heart’, a book bearing 27 English poems. It is co-authored by Lulit Kebede and Wessen Mulatu in 2004 G.C. As the book,among others, lends itself well to Feminist literary criticism let us see it via this lens.

In the poem ‘He’ (P8) Wessen draws attention to the irresponsible act of narcissist men that drown themselves in liquor at the cost of harm to their wives and family members. Aside from the financial loss the family incurs the wives,forced to sit idle past midnight and open door for their topper husbands, suffer psychological crisis. Sadly such men are condoned by the society. From this poem one could learn the economical and psychological oppression women suffer. Imagine what will happen had the husband and wife exchanged position–if she takes the night out at bars while he waits for her home. Ridiculing such bent of irresponsible men Wessen undermines the patriarchal ideology. See the extract below

//He has been drinking all night

With the so- called friends

Who wouldn’t turn their back

Till he runs out of buck

An addict

To alcohol and cigarette

Fan

To every women

In the famous bar

What would you like to drink Sir?”

Asked the bartender

Poured him a glass of whiskey

And turned on the melody

……………………….

Not sure of his horrifying life

Not sure of his demanding wife //

In her poem ‘I’ (P18) Lulit strengthens the issue Wessen raised above exposing the culture imposed slavish obedience expected from wives. Laying bare such tendency emasculates women’s self expression, she attacks the patriarchal order. Let us see some extracts.

//Am I my shadow

Am I your shadow

Am I your disciple

Taking your word as a bible

Doubting myself,nor reliable

………………..

I know my inside cries out loud

Waiting to be heard

Eager to reveal the unrevealed

…………..

But how do I know

While I’m busy ploughing your meadow //

It is a foregone conclusion that looking after off-springs is the responsibility of parents . Children also seek to grow up under the wings of their parents. Lulit’s poem ‘My Guardians’ (P28) drives this fact home. Let us see extracts

//I cry a smile of grace

When I feel your breath

….

I call you my angles

…….

Shield me to unseen the darkness//

But when unwanted pregnancies surface or financial crisis hit most of the time it turns the responsibility of women to look after children. In her poem ‘Humble Spirit’ (P12 ) Lulit paints a woman from the lower class on whose lot such a tragedy has fallen. Let have a look at excerpts from the poem.

//The woman

Begging

To win her daily bread

Shaking from the unbearable cold

Crying out loud

Silemariam” “Silemariam”

(In the name of Holy Virgin)

The child

Being abandoned

Hopless,born cursed

Emama erabegn”

(I am hungry MaMa)

Eraten tayilign”

(My dinner please)//

In this poem true to the feminist agenda of sisterhood the persona in the poem smote by pity and lamenting her inability to be of much help shoves a coin into the destitute mother begging for alms saddled with the responsibility of feeding two mouths.

I

….

Shoving a penny reluctantly

Lulit had crafted another poem ‘Mother to a Child ‘ (P22) on the tenderness of women! In this poem she shows how caring the fair-sex are to children. It throws light how it feels like being a mother.

//The sight of your little face

Covered in blanket,avoiding the haze

Rhythm from your smooth breath

Swallowed in the pillow of faith

The beat of your heart

Drumming with mine but apart

………………

Kept me alive

…………….

Makes me dive

In the bed of life

Protecting you from the cold which cuts like knife

……………….

The smile,the laughter,the funny noise we share

Leaves me with bliss knowing that I care //

Financial hurdles and the responsibility of looking after their subjects –children– are the factors that push women to do things against their interest. And as such they get exposed to works hazardous to their health or well-being such as commercial sex work. In her poem ‘Proud Ethiopian’ (P36) Wossen spotlights this sad episode. Here is the extract

//But my women are spread on the streets

Selling beauty in dollars//

If economically empowered or assisted by their male counterpart such women are willing to extricate themselves from such twists of fate. Wessen’s poem ‘Tonight’ (P52) throws light on this fact. See the extract.

//Hope you’ll hold her tight

And tell her it’s alright

Hope you will kiss her cheeks

And solve her puzzles

………….

Hope you’ll stand by her side

And protect her from the cold

…….

Hope you will not abuse her beauty

And leave her for the hungry

Hope you’ll dry her tears fast

And make her forget the past.//

In the past,specially here in Ethiopia, it was not usual for women to express the romantic feelings they entertain towards the menfolk and as such readers used to enjoy romance packed poems crafted only from men’s point of view. Dramas were also staged as though women were the only objects of love or as if women were incapable of entertaining a feeling of love towards a member of the opposite sex. In her poem ‘In the Library'(P20) Lulit draws readers attention to such type of feelings– a girl who became subject to a sight love in the library. Though no women poet or author dared to bring it out to the glare of print, specially among university students, such a thing does no longer seems an uncommon phenomena.

//Sneaking eyes

Casting towards

Firm and strong hands

Tightly holding the books

……………

Ren-dez-vous with the eyes

…………….

Breaking the rules completely

Captured to the forsaken beauty

In front of me…//

In the same wavelength, Wessen, in her poem ‘The Game’ (P50), depicts a record moment of happiness and the joyful occasion of life.

//A blast

You wouldn’t want to last

A struggle

You have no control over

……….

Driving your mind with emotion

Driving your body with stimulation

……….

To the point of no return

Lulit’s poem ‘Tears of Happiness’ (P46) seems to carry across the same message. She hints on the eyeopener experience.

Breathless is the heart

………………

Letting her dance

While making an entrance

Soft is the touch

…….

Cold tears

……

Smile, a silent

From with in

From the heart

Making us see things from a woman’s point of view Lulit and Wessen have adopted a unique style of crafting poems –ecriture feminine.

Aside from upholding feminist agenda ‘Ribbon of the Heart’ exposes and attacks the patriarchal line of thinking. However Wessen’s poem ‘Woman’ (P60) that paints the fair-sex as exquisite creatures,though a superb literary piece, it seems a bit ideologically conflicted as it, at the closing lines, true to the patriarchal mode of thinking put women emotional(irrational) beings. Both authors,who were youngsters when the book was published in 2004G.C,are recovering patriarchal women as they, like many of us here, grew up taking the traditional gender role for-granted. Here it must be known unless feeling is suppressed by cultural programming men too could be emotional.

Similarly in her poem ‘Ms. Perfect’ (P24) Wessen paints a decent girl most sought after by men, looking for a spouse. Such a girl is a girl referred ‘the good girl’ in the patriarchal thinking.

//Hoping to get Ms. Perfect

He has gone through a lot

………

In big novels and movies

Do you question like him her very existence?

…….

To find the passionate

Gentle and who truly cares

Faithful now and always.//

Here the question worth raising is ‘Is it Mr. Wrong looking For Ms. Perfect?’

Likewise in her poem ‘New Generation'(P32) about a nationalist sentiment and the need for internal beauty Lulit on her part paints ‘the bad girl’

//Every heart melts

When she smiles

Snow white is her teeth

Lips like a red rose

With an alluring fragrance

From early spring fields

Silk is her hair

Galloping like a wild horse

Blowing over her dancing eyes

…..

With a mind so empty

………

Imitating alien personality

Forgetting her nationality

Abused they say

With no performed duty

Just a cover only pretty//

What about ‘bad boys’ that shedding off their national identity that imbibe the foreign ones. Such boys,like the girls that solely worry about their beauty, need be ridiculed too. To avoid ideological conflict Lulit and Wessen need have ridiculed moral decadence on the part of both sexs.

In her poem ‘New Generation’, promoting the feminist agenda, Lulit underscores women’s role in changing the universe through creativity. See the extract below.

//Where is she to share her difference

To change the universe

To make it a better place?//

In her poem the ‘Truth’ (P54) Wessen amplifies the need for women’s (hers) creativity. Here the point she drives home is God has endowed the woman folk with brain and tapping it they have to come up with something worth while– a literary product like ‘Ribbon of the Heart’.

//’What is your share to the world?’

…….

I jumped

I cried

I looked everywhere

And found the treasure

Hidden in my mind

Ready to explode

A truth

A talent

A script

Marked with a special ink.//

Its is from this sentiment the book derived its title.See the poem ‘Ribbon of the Heart’

//Ribbon of the heart

Unwrapped

Pouring out

thought

Full of wisdom

in freedom//

The book is a literary work that challenges patriarch, deeply entrenched in the mentality of citizens and that still perpetuates the wrong sentiment intentionally or otherwise.

True to their claim at the back of the book, Lulit and Wessen have proved ‘Birds out of cage!

Appreciation is due to these birds. Is it out of patriarchal mode of thinking the book has not enjoyed the attention it deserves or is it because it is written in English? We expect the poets poem or article contribution to the art and culture column of the Ethiopian Herald

Once I remember seeing poems by women poets across the globe compiled in a book, sponsored by proponents of feminist. I felt terrible for no Ethiopian poet was represented. Lulit and Wessen as well as some other women poets who have a good command of the English language and whom I will introduce in the future will hopefully be our ambassadors. Translating the poem of women poets(with no less attention to the male ones) must be made a point too.

This much said about the feminist aspect I would like to throw light on the theme of some of the poems in ribbon of the heart: Love that transcends skin color,people with double face,people who nag others till they meet their ends, complacent reliving the glorious past and being a nationalist bombast despite the demanding situation in Ethiopia today as well as the beauty of the life of citizens that lead an original life style in far of beyond among others. After treating additional books or poems in feminist or new criticism way I will shift focus toMarxist critical approach in my next works.

Suffering purifies the soul

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Book Review :By Alem Hailu

Book :Reflections

Gener:Poetry

1Edition Jan 2014

Author Roman Tewelde-Berhan

 

 

A chaste heart of a lass may get broken by a fickle lad, who to lure doves into traps, projects one of the charming faces he puts in store for ready use.

Unable to make a love partner well-willed or well-fulfilled jumping from this to other he will keep on stabbing and bleeding as many hearts as possible . Such a narcissist lad seems immune to the pangs of conscious and inure to the mess he creates here and there.

As the saying goes suffering purifies the soul, though a gruesome experience the breaking of a chaste heart renders the victim spiritually strong.

Obviously the-object- of- anguish turned narcissist grows dull by the day and keeps on breaking as many hearts as possible.

The world we live in is not short of troubles. That is why stories(dramas) having tragic endings enjoy wider acceptance for they allow many to project themselves and partake in the literary piece. For instance take Shakespeare’s drama Othello.

Literary pieces penned in whatever genres by authors who tasted the bitterness of ill treatment to the full could enjoy wider readership for they know tragedy first hand.

Harrowing experiences make wronged persons acquire emotional maturity. They as well make the unfortunate person delve into the mysteries of nature,to champion justice, denounce conceit and ardently seek God the Almighty for salivation.

The aforementioned facts are what I figured out when I read a book entitled ‘Reflection’ launched two weeks back at Ethiopia Hotel. This debut collection of 45 poems was authored by Roman Tewolde-Berhan. The interior of the pages are adorned with magnificent photos by Thomas Lemma. In the book Roman’s thoughts and feelings are portrayed by her poems while Thoma’s vision by his photos.

The poems are the objects of focus in this book review of mine,for that is my domain.

The book also bears poems written by a female in the first person singular ‘i’.

Some schools in literary criticism say it is possible to figure out the authors intention from his writings while other schools argue otherwise. Focusing my attention solely on the ‘Reflection’ which seems to have a recurrent theme, an immaculate yet a broken heart and piecing together excerpts I have come up with the following picture about the persona,though not necessarily about the author.

The poem ‘If i could’ (page 18) shows the intensity of the love the persona entertains towards a lad. An excerpt from this poem reads as follows

/ If i could

i’d be the cloud

above your head

If i could

i’d be the earth you tread

– – – –

When these,i can’t

i remain content

i’ve got you in my heart /

Special moments spent with a cherished love partner remains sealed in memory. Every single thing the road ,a special tree,a sunset or the moon retrieve or occasion remembrances. See the poem ‘The Walk’ (page 11)

/When the day’s almost out

when it’s neither dark

nor day light

– – –

but when none can recognize

the two of us,from a distance

– – –

When we meet

neither of us speak

we hold hands,tight

to take a gentle walk

along our neighborhood street/

The poem that give an animate quality to an inanimate being ‘Howling wind'(page 6) has lines and stanzas that corroborates feelings of being expectant of a news about a sought after person.

/howling wind of the night.

– – –

Do you carry the scent

of my sweet love?

If so,please be fragrant

and let me smell

– – –

Or else,make your passage

Like you,invisible,/

Just like most of us who grew up imbibing fairy tales, the persona was painting love with bright hues. Till wronged she was of the opinion “Love is hundred per cent enduring” See the extract below from ‘Marriage’ (page 46)

/ In my adolescence

the age of innocence

i had a fantasy

i was going to marry

my shining armour

and we’d live happily

forever after

He’d be my prince charming

just like in the fairy tale/

Let us add extracts in the same wave length from the poem ‘Just the Kind’

( page 25)

/My big book says

love is patient,love is kind

I’ve come to know

just the kind

The kind wherein

his thoughts and mine

—intertwine/

But at times things could prove otherwise. The persona seemed to realize such turn of events when her object of love cheated on her. She mentally challenges him to come clean or confess the engagement of his attention elsewhere.

Referring the poem ‘Wanting More’ (page 31) readers could sense the persona’s rude awakening.

/ You chose to disappear

without saying a word

leaving her to linger

When you could have said

you’ve met another

or with a sweet cover

it’s come to an end

still better…the naked truth

you don’t love her enough./

As a shock treatment, experiencing the unexpected the persona seems to realize love could be not enduring.

/ Nothing lasts forever

she’s not that naive

dear,my dear

she was only in love/

Then she poses a question to the fickle lover whether the love he tries to get from the new partner is a genuine one like she and he used to exchange. Excerpts from the poem ‘What you find’ (page 38) throws light on this fact.

/Please, tell me this

by just looking into your eyes

without you saying a word

does she really understand

What you want express

Does she really know you

like i used to?/

In the poem ‘Yet to be said’ (page 52) the persona shows she has not yet relinquished her love for the lad that stole her heart and ran away. She shows her desire to relive shared and enjoyed moments.

/How i wish to articulate

to re-create

what i dreamt

of how i felt

In your embrace

gentle and tight

of your kiss

divinely sweet

of how you held my soul

in your spirit./

See the poem in stanza 5 of the poem ‘Fate’ (page 28) is in the same wave length.

Evidently on the poem ‘The thought of you’ (page 41) after deserted by her lover the persona’s longings for him gathers momentum. Evidently the breaching of promise by a love partner is bitter,for it is tantamount to stabbing on the back. Psychologists that do research on surviving infidelity note such betrayals could create on the cheated person feelings deadly than death. To evade this gruesome pain the persona wishes to be insulated from it or to be above it. Let us see excerpts from ‘Super being'(page 4)

The feeling of . . .

And that of distress

despair and sadness

that seems to breaking

untouched innocence

– – –

Sometimes i wish

to be sub-human,to not feelings

– – – or even . . . better still

to be a super being

without any feeling

Another poem ‘Recollection’ (page24,specially 5,6&7 stanza) is charged with the same sentiment.

Though many agree a resort to venting one’s feelings through jotting poems placates irksome feelings , the following excerpts hints confiding her desire to her pen or writing a poem couldn’t prove that much help to the persona.

/No matter what i write

futile is my attempt

as feelings indescribable

feelings infinite

remain buried

yet to be said/

The poem ‘Unease’ (page 8) shows the persona’s quest for the repose of her soul. She seems pining for death so as to be in the bosom of God the almighty. Almost in many of the poems we trace the words death,corpse,rotten flesh,war and the like. These words show the persona’s feelings of rancor.

/ Often like a gush of a water fall

or like a stream in constant trickle

something stirs in my core

– – –

Oh,let it spill,let it stir

it won’t be forever

it will vanish

and come to an end

with my rotten flesh

when i am dead

or as is my wish

my soul,now unsettled

will peacefully reside

with my loving God/

The expressions ending my body’s toil(page 59) and if i were meant to die in a car accident(page 28) are samples in the same wave length.

A large number of the photos in the book shows sunset—a setting sun being enveloped by darkness. “Are these photos, like the resentment charged poems, unconsciously depicting the overlapping of a love not relinquished and a betrayal by a lover? Or some grief?” is the question that crosses the mind of a person that peruses the book ‘Reflection’

Also the persona in some of her poems relate the grief that smote her upon losing a child. Adding her burden such tragedy could make her see life with the lens of pesmissm. See the poem ‘My dream by Yeats’ (page 19)

/ i’d been waiting,wanting

i’d been desperately looking

for you… … .. for so long

when i wasn’t ready

yet,i wanted you to be

you came to me,my baby

But…chose not to stay

you slipped away

like grains of sand

out of my hand

leaving me empty/

The poem ‘Leona'(page 56) seems in the same wavelength.

In crafting ‘My dream by Yeats’ the poet has brought into play allusion one of the poetic devices famous poets are adept in applying. Her first poem ‘The word ‘ shows the author’s pen that started dripping a drop has now made a river of poems. This poem alludes to the biblical verse “at the beginning there was a word!”

When it comes to style Roman’s poems are melodic as they frequently rhyme. This quality renders her poems the flavor of Ethiopian poems.

Oxymoron — like ‘deafening silence’ (page 56) and ‘Deafeningly faint’ (page 17)– is another poetic device via which she lends color to her poems. Irony like finding solace in solitude (page 23) and paradox like finding relief in grief (page 22) are the poetic devices Roman displayed her talents with.

The dialogue she used to conjure in our mind about the day of judgment and retribution in her poem ‘Stranger in the Night’ (page 12) is superb. It tells about The author’s creative gift. Also in the poem ‘The fight’ last line page 30 ,the semantic oddity she used “so that me and I don’t fight”shows her verve in defamilarization, a literary device for aesthetic effect.

About Marriage (page 46) the persona is not fully pessimist she rather proves she is a realist optimist see the extract

– – –

/Then again,it’s not all gloomy

there are those in matrimony

who are forever happy

with the passion of love

still blazing alive/

– – –

From her poem ‘Self importance’, understandably, it is revolted by the colossal pomposity of some, the persona opted to use the first person pronoun I in its smaller form ‘i’ for humbling oneself. Her poems are not left aligned and don’t start with capital letters,a style in post modernism.

The binary opposition evident in most of her poems are life/death, faithfulness/deceit, an everlasting love(marriage)/A short-lived love (marriage)

In a prowess of a creative talent,in her future work we expect Roman to use additional poetic devices like inversions.,enumeration and the like.

The poet has brought into good effect parallelism and repetition on the poems ‘If i could’ (page 18) on ‘What if’ (page 49).

Her poem ‘if i were a cat'(page 21) is amusing. Her poem ‘Worlds apart’ the ingratitude of the haves and the gratefulness of the have not is paradoxical. The poem ‘Power of thought'(page 21) that shows man’s power of thinking sets him apart from animal at the same time makes him brutal is also paradoxical as many.

The poem ‘Precious'(page 14) that shows a majestic and fledgling bird observing her environment to learn the survival of the fittest shows the poet’s power of observation. The poet has also touched the delicate subject of HIV and stigmatization. Though a mulatto and torn between Ethiopia and United Kingdom the poet tells us she has a great love to Ethiopia where she grew up.See ‘My Ethiopia’ page 32.

Read forgiveness and other poems for yourself.

My hat is flown for the poet. For mood up liftment and style I personally recommend her to read poems by Helen Stiner Rice, called an ambassador of sunshine.

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