Monday, April 09, 2007

BBC Radio 3:World Music Awards and "Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe" by Doreen Baingana

BBC Radio 3 announced the winners of their World Music Awards recently and to my great joy, K'Naan, orginally from Somalia but living in Canada now, was chosen at the "Best New Comer".

Debashish Bhattacharya from India won the Asia/Pacific album of the year..Debashish, the inventor of the 22 string Indian slide guitar is so deserving of this award...take a listen to one of his tunes, you will be mesmerized with his playing.

Camille, the young French singer, walked away with the award for Europe and I couldn't be happier! She's got a lovely,quirky singing voice and loves singing acapella at her live've got to take a quick listen to the song she won the award for, "Ta Douleur"

Camille - Ta Douleur
Uploaded by reumtalaveusho

And here's another Camille favorite of mine, "Au Port"... click on the title of the song for the video.

As you can tell, I love listening to "World Music" so if you have any recommendations, do send them my way, please!

And, now on to the Book of the Week:

Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana

Written by: Doreen Baingana

Category: Fiction

Publisher: Harlem Moon

Format: Trade Paperback, 208 pages

Pub Date: September 2006

Tropical Fish details the coming of age of three sisters in Entebbe, Uganda after the fall of dictator Idi Amin. As we read about the sisters Christine, Patti and Rosa, we the readers, are commanded by Doreen Baingana's wonderful prose to consider how politics, faith, culture and the new AIDS epidemic impacted the lives of these three young ladies as they journeyed into adulthood.

Although all 8 stories are gems, there are three that stood out for me:

In "A Thank-You Note" Baigana uses a letter written by Rosa (the eldest of the three sisters) to her lover to tell us of the AIDS crisis in Africa. By having Rosa (who is now dying from AIDS) write the letter, Baingana does a terrific job of humanizing and personalizing this tragedy. The reader comes away from the story feeling angry that AIDS is such a big price to pay for a little adolescent promiscuity. The descriptions of dying from this dastardly disease are vivid and will stay in the reader's mind for a while to come.

(** I was reading a British volunteer's Ugandan Diary and she states that despite the raging AIDS epidemic in Uganda, it is very difficult to provide sex education in schools because workers or teachers are not allowed to discuss homosexuality or masturbation. Masturbation could possibly prevent a lot of teenagers from running out and having sex, but because a discussion of it is not encouraged, sexual promiscuity is rampant. You can read more of Lizs Diary here)

"Green Stones" is a beautiful story about a child (Christina), who believes with child-like innocence and optimism that because her father buys her mother jewels, he must love her mother very much...unfortunately her notions dispelled with the revelation of infedility and alcoholism. Passages where Christina dresses up in her mother's jewels and pretends to be her are very moving and will probably take you back to the time when you played dress-up. The author has done a great job of capturing the voice of a 7-year old in this story.

"Tropical Fish" deals with interracial Christine gets a much older American boyfriend, Peter, who is an exporter of tropical fish. It is plain Christine doesn't love this man, but she goes along with the "romance" trying, in her own way, to figure out her place in society as a woman, and a black woman at that. With Peter, she has glimpses of a lifestyle her middle class African upbringing would never have been able to afford see further glimpses of Christine trying to eke out her place in the world when she immigrates to the US and has to come to terms with being an African woman in a sea of Americans. In the final story, Christine returns to Uganda after 15 long years and tries once again to see where she fits in as an American-returned, African lady.

What is striking about all of these stories is that with the exception of the one story on AIDS, they do not focus on tragedy, poverty, war, famine, corruption and all the other things we have come to assoicate with Africa. Doreen Baingana wants us to see that there is another Africa that exists, one that the media won't allow us to see and in writing these stories she hopes to give alternatives to the media's negative narrative on the continent.


Sai said...

Woo Hoo I am the first one to comment!

Sai said...

Now for the real the review of the book. I must say that I have to catch up with my reading and I feel it rather strong after reading ur posts!:-(

diyadear said...

wow lotus u really seem to read a lot.. im gonna take book review writing classes from u.. Seriously, i think i wud love to write reviews..But somehow im hesitant..

Beenzzz said...

Lovely review, Lotus. I am happy to see that there are stories of Africa that do not carry with them all the plagues in which they suffer. It is good to have a different perspective for a change. Something lighter and pretty much, unexpected.
The last story intrigues me. I don't think many people know just how hard it can be to split your nationality. Nowhere feels like home, yet everywhere feels like home. This is a growing worldwide phenomenon that deserves much attention and I'm happy that more and more stories are research is being written about it.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sai ~ Your observations on books you read are pretty darned good, Sai! I enjoyed the last one you wrote...wasn't it the Rohinton Mistry one?

@Diya ~ Awww, I'm sure you'll do a fantastic job, Diya. I write reviews only so I don't forget the salient features of books I have read.

Lotus Reads said...

@beenzzz ~

I do believe you've made a very important observation. In this time of globalization a lot more people can be expected to travel and live in other countries and it won't always be possible to become part of the melting pot. Have you seen the comment I borrowed from Jawaharlal Nehru as my blog header?

It reads:

"I have become a strange mixture of the East and the West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. —Jawaharlal Nehru"

And that's truly how I feel.

Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus,
I'm blushing here, but I hadn't seen the quote by Nehru on your blog before. I'll blame it on age and graying hair. :) It does speak the truth though. There are so many people out there who feel misplaced in their new home and when they return to their old home, they are misplaced because of the time spent in their old home. I wonder why serious psychological studies haven't been done on immigrants. Torn's a quite an adventure and an ordeal.

Beenzzz said...

I meant "new home" not "old home."

Lotus Reads said...

lol, beenzzz, that's ok, I just had to bring it to your attention because like you so rightly pointed out, that is precisely how an immigrant or refugee feels. Wasn't it Thomas Wolfe who said "You can't go home again" or something like that? The place we leave behind when we adopt another country is never the same place when we try to's quite sad actually.

Psychological studies is a good idea...I'm sure they'll find stuff that really surprises them!

Niranjana said...

hi Lotus: Wonderful book review. I especially liked your conclusion, about avoiding cliches when writing about Africa.

There was a fantastic piece on this topic in Granta a while ago, called "How to write about Africa", by Binyavanga Wainaina. As the subtitle says "Some tips: sunsets and starvation are good."

You might have read it already, but here's the link anyway:

tanabata said...

I love listening to World Music too. My favourite French singer at the moment is Emilie Simon. Have you heard of her?

hellomelissa said...

everyone should follow baingana's example and "give alternatives to the media's negative narrative on" EVERYTHING!

Sanjay said...

@Lotus.. I like the nice little video link you have on the right. Sorry about being off topic.

I did check out Camille's music and although I don't understand French, she does have a funky, eclectic style that I loved.

Btw I loved "soobax". I love certain kinds of hip hop and rap and it really helps keep my old joints moving when I run. So I may actually get the rest of his music.

Loved Debashish too. This guy with tin ears for music thanks ya. :)

I loved your book review and like always it makes me think.

As a regular listener of NPR I have been following the audio diary of Thembi Ngubane who has HIV and it always breaks my heart and when I listen to her I am always pulling for her . Here is a link if you want to take a listen.

Green Stones.. I think it is very hard to capture the voice of children, especially in a short story format and to do it so convincingly.

Tropical Fish.. Sounds like a great read too. I heard stories of African Americans who have moved back to Africa and some of them seem to feel more at home there, but not quite. Which is what a lot of immigrants feel too. Personally I never feel at home anywhere completely, but I am a bit strange that way.

Lastly I agree that there is more to Africa than tragedy,poverty and the other things the media focuses on. I believe the National Geographic had an Africa issue last year that dealt with Africa in a different manner too.

Apologies for the long comment and thank you for helping us broaden our horizons via your excellent book reviews.

Asha said...

Hi Lotus,good to see back!:))

I am so proud of Indians achieving so much these days and coming out of their shells to show it off too!:))

The picture of Tropical fish is striking!!

Lotus Reads said...

@niranjana ~

Thank you so much for pointing me to the article in the "Granta", it was absolutely spot on and made me very,very sad. It does seem like we're not interested in Africa unless it conforms to all the preconceived images we have of it. We don't want to read about middle class,educated Africans because that would "spoil" our image of Africa as a dark, exotic continent of tribal people.

I think in some way, India also suffered from that image until very recently. Even today publishers capitalise on India's "exoticism" to sell books. Take for example Edward Luce's book "In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Moden India". Luce wanted the subtitle to be the only title, but Doubleday believed it would sell more copies if the "gods" were mentioned!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nat ~

Thank you so,so much for the Émilie Simon recommendation!!! I hadn't heard of her, but I maanged to find her music on "Last FM" and also her "My Space" page and now I am ENJOYING her music as I type this, thank you!!! She sounds a lot like Carla Bruni, don't you think?

I am planning on making a couple of CD's with French music, so it so helpful to get such a lovely recommendation...thanks again!

BTW, I am listening to her song titled "Dame de Lotus Emili", so apt, no? :)

Radha said...

Hi lotus,
Seems like a very interesting book; will surely take it up.
You're observation is true that most writers/ movie makers focus on the poverty, tragedy & exploitation in Africa; very rarely do you hear abt a story coming out of Africa that speaks of its human face.

ML said...

Lotus, great review! And I am glad these stories are not dwelling on the dark side (except for the AIDS part as you mentioned). And yes, people do tend to get "lost" when they immigrate to other countries. It's basically the same as a child being sent away to live with relatives for a while and then having to go back home to their parents and siblings. There is a feeling of not belonging anywhere.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~

lol, glad you discovered the music in the side bar! That is a new feature on the Beta blog and I couldn't resist using it. I wish I knew how to delete the excess clips, do you?

Glad you like K'naan's music...I don't usually like politcal stuff, especially in the hip hop genre, but I have to say I fell hard for this young man's music.

Thank you very much for alerting me to Thembi Ngubane and her soon as I am done typing this comment, I am going to listen to the NPR link you included.

Thanks Sanjay, its always nice hearing from you!

Lotus Reads said...

@Melissa ~

Never was a truer word spoken! Any wonder so many young people are turning to comics for the news?

@Asha ~

Thanks so much! Love that you take the trouble to visit me and read my reviews.

@Radha ~

Yes and in searching for the exotic, can you imagine how many wonderful and inspirational stories we are actually missing out on? It makes me angry and I feel cheated by the media!

@ml ~

Hello and thanks for the nice words! So true...I forgot how many communities "lend" children to family members for a few years...yeah that must be very confusing too,not to mention all the kids that are shuttled between foster homes and group homes. Makes you think about home in an entirely light, right?

ML said...

Lotus, yes, I think it would make you think about home in a different light. Actually, both home and family.

amna said...

hey babe :) love the review. can't wait to read all these books (2 more weeks to go!) i do plan on doing book reviews or including excerpts from books that i really like, on my blog. pretty soon!

try listening to Fela Kuti, he was a Nigerian...i love the jazz in his music. its very eclectic. i once did a research paper on his life and how political his music was quite interesting. one of the 'fun' papers i had to write :)
and i really liked Camille's music..very catchy!

Ally Bean said...

I'm enjoying Camille's music as I type this-- cool beans, lots of beat. I think that Tropical Fish sounds like a good read for me as I'd love to read about some positive things regarding Africa.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Amna sweetie!

I feel pretty certain I have heard of Fela Kuti...could I have read about him in Chimamanda Adiche's book "Purple Hibiscus"? I feel sure I did and then I must have researched him some more...didn't he have a gazillion wives and die of AIDS...I know his music was spectacular tho'!

Hi, Ally Bean

Yeay, glad you like Camille...I have grown to love her music!

nessie said...

Welcome back lotus!

amna said...

yup! thats him. he had a pretty wild lifestyle. quite interesting actually..i haven't read The Purple Hibiscus list is growing. need to go book shopping in May

Lisa Francisco said...


you can tell i'm not in the greatest of moods right now...won't explain...i just updated my can see why...

anyhow, thank you, thank you, so much for telling me about the music. I never heard of Camille. She's awesome! What she does is not difficult or creative to a certain degree. but the guts she has to do this is immense...i could never do that...i would be so consumed on how people would think and my facial expressions....she is one to look out for...

i listened to debashish and replayed it...beautiful...thank you so much...i'll definitely check out more of this stuff...)


Sugarlips said...

I like the music Ta-Douler by Camille but could hardly understand anything :( but I like her soft voice :)

Tropical Fish...Love the colors and picture of this book...Seems like a very interesting book and I do not remember reading anything else besides poverty and aids when it comes to Africa...Your reviews are always very nice :)

Stay Beautiful...!

Yianna said...

"Tropical Fish" sounds like a moving and experiential book. I'm going to order it! One of my friends, a journalist, just finished a nonfiction book on AIDS in Africa and I'm going to pass Ms. Baingana's book to her too. When Nicole's book comes out, I'll let you know. (It's slated to come out later this year).

Meanwhile, here's my suggestion for World Music, since I see we are both fans of it! I love Savina Yannatou, a Greek singer who interprets a range of traditional songs from the Mediterranean and beyond. My favorite of her interpretations are of the Ladino songs of the Sephardim in Thessaloniki, northern Greece. She has many albums. Maybe I can make you a mix and send it to you? Email me your address and I will. :)

Glad you are back and shining your light on the blogosphere!

Susan in Italy said...

Hiya Lotus, You know, it ain't just in developing countries where we have problems communicating sexual safety. Your reading of "A Thank-You Note" reminded me of Donna Shalala, Clinton's Health Secretary who was practically tarred and feathered for suggesting that encouraging masturbation (the M word!!) could be one tactic toward sexual safety.

gautami tripathy said...

I got this book as one of my birthday gifts. Infact I receieved more books than anything else. Though I am reading but no time to write reviews.

Your review is good. I will read it in my vacations which start on May 1.

Good to see you back.

Optimistic Guard said...

Africa is a great place with lots to write about it would be refreshing to read some positive stories coming out of there, another great review, I'll have to speed up my reading if i have to catch up with your book reviews.

A Reader from India said...

Hi Lotus, Great review as usual. As usual after visiting your blog, I have one more book on my 'To be read' list. It is refreshing to know that 'Tropical Fish' shows a positive side of Africa. I have felt that some well-known Indian novels likewise focus on everything that is negative in India, which was rather disturbing.

Lotus Reads said...

@Nessie ~ Thank you, thank you!

@Amna ~ I would highly recommend "Purple Hibiscus" truly, I would!

@Lisa ~ Apologies for not checking out your blog earlier..I will do so right away. I am having a problem with blogger in that, it won't tell me, via e-mail, anytime a comment is posted, arrgggh! I'll be over right away and so glad you enjoyed Camille, I somehow thought you would!

Lotus Reads said...

@Sugarlips ~

Thank you! Thank you also for mentioning me on your blog are a darling!

@Yianna ~

I was so hoping you would stop by with some music suggestions, I am SO GLAD you did, will check out Savina Yannatou immediately and let you know. Thank you for spreading the word about Doreen Baingana's let me know what your friend thinks, ok? Oh and yes, I will be e-mailing you my address soon...would love a mix..thank you, you generous soul!

@Susan ~

Good grief, really? That is so crazy, makes me wonder sometimes. I would love to read more about the cultural history of masturbation and why it is considered such an "evil" activity in some religions, societies etc.

Lotus Reads said...

@Gautami ~

You must introduce me to your friends...they are always giving you books as gifts! :)

@Optimistic Guard ~

Don't worry about catching up on your reading....the nice thing about books is that we can discuss the subject matter without everyone having to read it. I so appreciate you coming here and leaving a comment or two, don't stop!

@ A Reader ~

I couldn't agree more, India suffers from a similar plight at times! Let's make a deal...anytime you or I come across a nice, positive Indian novel, we're to tell each other immediately! So wonderful to see you here.

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tanabata said...

Very apt! :P
I forgot to come back and see if you'd replied til now, sorry. I only heard about Carla Bruni recently and was wondering about getting her latest. Emilie I found last year purely while randomly listening to CDs at the big big Tower Records store here. Love that they have loads of listening stations all over the store. Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying her music- she's become a favourite.

dianeinjapan said...

Great blog, Lotus! I've just linked to you. I look forward to reading more...

My daughter and I really like Camille, but we hadn't listened to her in a while, so thanks for the reminder! I also like Paris Combo, Pink Martini, and the Ethiopiques albums.

Anonymous said...

Personally, the book bored the shit out of me.