A Sentence by Ondjaki

I’ve just finished reading Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki, translated by my friend Stephen Henighan, and it’s a remarkable little book, the best I’ve read by an African writer not named Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and it has a human quality to it that even Ngugi rarely attains.  Go buy, borrow, or steal a copy wherever you can get one.

The book also has several examples of those long, eddying sentences that I love so much.  I’ll share one to go you a taste of what Ondjaki does.

“and in this way, with naked bodies feeling a soft breeze, looking at the kites that flew over our square in Bishop’s Beach, I, Charlita and Pi, better known as Comrade 3.14, jumped the shells and the holes of crabs that fled in fear of us, we who sought the experience of the salt water on our bodies, hungry for white surf in the dark sea at that moment of partying and laughter, we were there, in search of where our bodies were able to dance gently on the air in our lungs that had been spared by our shouts, and I remembered the elders who I had met and who sometimes weren’t capable of believing in the simple secrets of children, the elders who thought that the cries of the birds were those we heard in the morning or in the late afternoon, when birds are in a hurry to get somewhere and shout for other birds to get out of their way, but those cries, in spite of being shouted, aren’t very true, since birds are like children, they need to be beneath the water to give a true shout, it wasn’t a child who told me that, it was a bird, Charlita and Pi know it, we all heard the birds shouting beneath the water of the sea of Bishop’s Beach, but not that night”

 

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