Friday, May 31, 2013

Blogging the Caine Prize - Tope Folarin's "Miracle"

I am blogging The Caine Prize Shortlist with a coterie of bloggers. Check out the blog round-up for reactions to the stories on the shortlist over at ZunguZungu's. The first story we're reviewing is Tope Folarin's "Miracles" (pdf), which was first published in Transition Magazine.

Its probably not possible to a church service scene and not recall James Baldwin’s “Go Tell it on the Mountain”. One thing about that book is how palpable the belief was, the very performance of belief, and how the certainty of that performance belied the roiling humanity just beneath the surface. Tope Folarin’s “Miracle” was full of the certitude of belief, but I got much less of the humanity of its main character and his family.

I did, however, get a good sense of who the Nigerians in the church were as a collective, and the helplessness that seems to embody their narrative. It was a nice contrast to focus on the church scene in the United States, and Texas seems a great setting in which to do this. It was subtle, but I like how this helplessness hung over them like a rain-cloud even in faraway America, where they – it does not say, but I’m sure – ran to for greener pastures. I would have liked to know why his family left America, why his mother left them. We got a good sense of what the Nigerians in the church wanted deliverance from, but not so much of what this main family wanted and needed. Yes, they are working hard to make ends meet in America, but I would have liked some more about how their poverty in America has affected them socially and emotionally.

Writing-wise, I think the piece well encapsulated the air that permeated the church and its many followers, and I could almost feel the anticipation in the church for a miracle. It was all so droll, watching these people hoodwinked by a pastor, the certainty with which the pastor performed these “miracles”, as though it were all some elaborate joke in which everyone were a part of. Droll, yes, but as a Nigerian living in Nigeria that feels like she is part of an elaborate joke every damn day, it was mostly very accurate and sad to read.

I’d have liked some imagery. I’d have loved to know what the church looked like, what the altar looked like, and some hints as to what the class of people in the church was. Were they just like the lead character in the family? Were people from different backgrounds, worked different kinds of jobs? Did they know the lead character well?

It has become quite the fashion to write stories about dissatisfaction with a life in the West, but I always would like some explanation. Not because I think this is impossible, but because the root of the dissatisfaction is almost always different and enriches the story. All in all, though, great story from Folarin, and I would definitely check out more of his work.

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