Friday, September 23, 2022

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Gurnah

To give people a sense of gurnah's style, here is a passage. The African are being trained as askaris for the Germans, it is on the eve of WWI, and as you can see, the officers just received word, no doubt, that the war broke out. The moment with Hamza stumbling and the German cursing him strikes me as too obvious. Gurnah is very enjoyable to read, but the quiet nuances of moments are less likely to appear than this one that seems less than felicitous to me. In general his dislike for Germans comes across as crude painting.

One afternoon Hamza came into the office with coffee and greeted the commanding officer as he was required to in German, but he was so engaged in what he was reading that he did not reply. The papers he held in his hand had the look of an official document, and Hamza saw the government crest on the top of the page. Eventually the officer noticed Hamza and waved him out of the office, and he did not call him back for their usual half-hour conversation class. When he came in to collect the coffee cup, the officer was leaning back in his chair with a vacant look in his eyes, deep in thought. Hamza waited to see if there were any further instructions. When there were not, he moved forward to collect the coffee tray. He was so absorbed in his scrutiny of the officer that he became careless in his movements. He stumbled against the desk and the crockery on

 the tray rattled noisily. The officer's head spun round, a look of rage in his eyes. 'Fuck off out of here,' he said.
There was a charge in the atmosphere in the mess that evening, which must have been to do with what the officer had been reading earlier in the afternoon. The officer must have received new orders. The talk between the officers was generally excited but at times briefly sombre, and altogether far too fluent and fast-moving for Hamza to follow with assurance. He did not think they were speaking so fast deliberately to baffle him and Julius. For a while they seemed unaware the servants were even there, but at some point they exchanged glances and must have decided that they did not want to

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