IT’S a gift to be able to knit words in an intricate pattern allowing one to savor mundane details as they’re rendered cinematic.
“Nakaa najiuliza, wapi yetokaasili Kama kila la kukwaza, huitwa la uswahili Dhana inaambukiza, isemwapo kwa kejeli Ni nini uswahili?” an excerpt poem in the novel Mmeza Fupa by a Tanzanian author Ali Hilal Ali, 30. This literary work won ‘Best Novel’ in the Mabati- Cornell Kiswahli Literature prize of 2017.
Then Mmeza Fupa was but a manuscript but earlier this year, it got published and was released by Mkuki na Nyota publishers in Tanzania. Stumbling onto the book occurred late last month when Hilal Ali was giving a talk in his promotion of the book at a book bazaar, inside Soma’s book café in Dar es Salaam. Mmeza Fupa is a rich debut novel featuring leading characters Bi Msiri & Miftaha.
Bi Msiri is well past the elderly age, she reckons she’s nearing her grave. Aptly in her bucket list is a wish to impart her life’s lessons onto the youth. It’s this wish that has her bumping into Miftaha. Miftaha has a tumultuous relationship with his father Kitwana, who divorced his mom when he was still a baby, now all grown up. Miftaha works as a teacher for a local secondary school much to his father’s dismay. Kitwana had provided a good education for Miftah, even taking him to a notable university abroad. So when Miftah comes home and fails to follow in his father’s footsteps, by becoming a government official; Kitwana is disappointed and many a times disowns his son. Miftaha had more revolutionary ideas on how to serve the people; ideas that are echoed to bear the theme of this novel.
Which looks at the‘social-political patriotic consciousness’ of our times in the region. “Yanini kuingia na maungoni kisa utashi! Kisa mirengo. Kisa hamwendi upande mmoja?...Sisi tunajikweza kisa huyu katokea eneo fulani na huyu eneo fulani. Huyu anastahiki na huyu hastahiki.
Sivyo hivyo, waungwana. Muungwana hafedheheki. Sisi tunajikweza na kuzivunja heshima wenyewe kasha huona fakhari kuitwa waheshimiwa.” A speech delivered by the central character Bi Msiri in the novel ‘Mmeza Fupa’ by Ali Hilal Ali.
Mmeza Fupa can be deemed an apt anthropological visage of the isles in East Africa, this through the dazzling fauna of words that Hilal utilizes. There’s lush poetry and sporadic spiels into dream worlds, revealing cultural steeped folklores littering this novel. A word of caution to the author in his future works with regard to the balance between plot & delivery. The plot in this novel isn’t as gripping as it can be.
The descriptions times stretch too long, leaving the reader scrambling to connect with the flow of events. Also in painting the past of some 190 years ago, the novel could have done with more accuracy. It fairs in 1839 in East African islands third tier government officials had plenty of cars! Still it was refreshing to read a novel by an African man which placed women at the center of the story with honor.
However more research can be done to depict the nuances of the female psyche. “Chumba hunilemea peke yangu. Matakwa ya mabwana wakubwa, kinyume na ridhaa yangu yakatimia kwa taabu na papatu…Siri na aibu na ukakamavu wa kijasiri.
Siku nyengine nilitamani nife kwa matendo niliyofanyiwa pasi na ridhaa yangu.” In this excerpt from ‘Mmeza Fupa’. Is a rife example of this lack of insight, the incident shares the experience of continuous rape times by more than one man that one of the female characters endures.
Note how the description is short made to make us feel comfortable in its conservative lingo. Yet a woman can ask is there anything conservative about continuous rape? In reading these parts you may be left wanting in that the psychology of rape wasn’t well depicted.
That said this is a mean feat by this author and I recommend you get your copy, for the man’s dance with words. Tells me having his novel is an investment for the future as he’s geared to be one of the great literary minds of our times, that is if he continues on this path. To think he studied finance in his tertiary education! You can get your copy for only 18,000/- at TPH Bookstore in Dar, or place your order here MkukinaNyota Publishers.