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‘Call it a difficult night’: Book Review

Abigail George

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] M [/yt_dropcap]ishka Hoosen is young. She is also intelligent. She is brave and she is brilliant. She is also very clever, funny and wise beyond her years. Her style is flesh. Let me explain what I mean by that. The beautiful, haunting lines of ‘Call it a difficult night’ will leave you breathless. Her pain and internal struggle will leave you numb.

Her protagonist’s suffering, is a human stain and her words a playful meditation. She’s an artist and she knows her medium. Is ‘Call it a difficult night’, a cross between a love letter and a love poem to herself or to a lover? Has she been here before, I asked myself. I kept coming back to the stimulus, origin, and process not only of the protagonist but also of Mishka Hoosen. I thought of her, the birth of this book, what she channelled her way through, meaning, here, the time frame of the book, and the psychological framework of the writer.

I was ‘rooting for both of them’ as the Americans say. Is Mishka Hoosen fragile, I asked myself? Is she delicate, vulnerable, or just tough, determined, and brave? The protagonist was in that wretched place that so many people who suffer from clinical depression, problems with rehab and addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and any form of mood disorder find themselves in. I kept searching for a muse. Told myself that of course, there had to be one here. That I would eventually find one. I kept on searching for a masculine and a feminine energy and found them there staring back at me on the page. ‘Salt’ becomes lyrical, something magical in the hands of Mishka Hoosen. ‘Fists clenching and unclenching.’ What happens when you recognise yourself in the writer’s world of bipolar madness is this. You don’t feel lonely anymore and you don’t feel tragic and you certainly don’t feel lost, hopeless or alone.

hoosenbookMishka Hoosen, perhaps in your short life you were not oblivious to pain. I felt sorry for the protagonist that she had to ‘feel’ (that acute physical pain of the body through cutting herself and the pain of of the mind, being hospitalised) to write about it, (the protagonist’s pain became my own), her suffering became my own, and I often felt giddy, ambivalent, bereft, cast away with the celebration of life. Yes, the energy of life was often there. In humour mostly. The flux of hospital life. The nurses, the doctors. The other patients in the ward. You, Mishka Hoosen reminded me of my own youth mostly spent in books or inside the school library. The protagonist’s demons and battle reminded me of William Styron’s depression in ‘Darkness Visible’, her loves reminded me of the shared intimacy in the relationships in John Updike’s ‘Couples’ (I could only draw on the experience of heterosexual relationships), and of course, there were the two Lolita’s of my life. The unforgettable Stanley Kubrick’s celluloid vision, and Vladimir Nabokov’s classic ‘Lolita’. I read Styron, Updike, and Nabokov while I was studying for my O’ levels in Mbabane, Swaziland just because I wanted to and because there was nobody to tell me that I was being (can’t get to the word I am looking for, thinking that it is precocious) or forward, or rather way too forward thinking for my age.

I said I wouldn’t do it. That I couldn’t review this book. I said the book was too difficult. Like J.M. Coetzee’s ‘The Childhood of Jesus’, Richard Rive’s ‘Emergency Continued’, and Nadine Gordimer’s ‘Oral History’ there was something about this talent.

I was sent on a journey into a hellish territory. I picked up the book, put it down again, and picked it up. For two whole weeks. There was no jacket photograph of the novelist to stare me down daily. I had nothing to go on about who she was really. I played this game for two whole weeks. The book was placed on the shelf alongside my library but it was not forgotten. I spoke about it for two weeks to my father, my sister in Johannesburg, my mother, and my brother. These are the most important people in my life. I wanted to do, and still want to do Mishka Hoosen’s book justice. I hope that I do. I praise her honesty about writing about a very difficult subject matter. I praise her hope, depth, sincerity. Most of all I thank her because bipolar is the eternal never ending struggle for those who live with the mood disorder or any mental or chronic illness.

Hoosen has a satellite kind of language about her. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a few sentences. By that I mean that there is an inheritance of space between the words. The writer’s experimental prose gives you time to reflect, study, gather, harvest your own thoughts. I found myself in the dreamy force of her language. Reading the book was like watching ‘Montage of Heck’ on a small black and white television. ‘Montage of Heck’ is a documentary on Kurt Cobain, the musician who took his own life. His life flashed before my eyes as I read ‘Call it a difficult night’. His music like certain passages in the book brought an anthem to a doomed youth. A lost generation. Interviews with the people who were closest to him. Cobain, the persona. Cobain who would always personify the youth. Like his music was his gift to the world, this book is Mishka Hoosen’s gift to the world.

Is this what language of colour is? Is this what is meant by black writing? Writing for the African Renaissance? Literary endeavours that has a feminine mystique? After reading the book I sat back, asked myself has she done enough or too much as a writer. The protagonist has a maternal instinct in the ward. You pray and hope that she comes out of this experience, through all of this all of the way. She’s scornful, loving, attentive, giving, and generous. We’re let into her love life. She says the word ‘fuck’ a lot. She’s rebellious and has a lot to say about authority figures (and I wondered not for the first time what her second book will be like). I wondered many times if this is this an anthem for a doomed youth. Not just for a post-apartheid South African youth but for a youth on another continent, in another world because we live in one where we’re so eager to pop a pharmaceutical to tell the reality we live in to go away. Reading this book, just like reading NoViolet Bulawayo’s book We Need New Names made me realise that Hoosen has a powerful presence too. She can move people.

Are all female writers from this continent like that? It left me with many questions. ‘Call it a difficult night’ when I started to read it properly, from beginning to end, with no breaks in between, and not cheating my way through it through reading random passages to test myself, test my confidence as a reviewer, trying to find something negative to say about the writer, about the book, about bipolar madness or mental illness, or life in a mental hospital. Trying to find the words which would be appropriate instead of inappropriate but not walking on eggshells though. ‘Call it a difficult night’ would not let go of me. The book is difficult. ‘Madness’ itself, the very idea of it, trying to wave it away, make it go away, make a joke about it because it is so embarrassing being confronted by ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, is difficult to talk about.

The book like I said before is difficult but it wouldn’t leave my hands, and I returned to it repeatedly. The prose has a poetic energy to it, so forceful, sharp, and sexy. The language is clean, and pure. Mishka Hoosen’s ‘Call it a difficult night’ shows more than a lot of promise. It is also a thing of beauty. I hope that the birth of this book, and her appearance on the literary scene that she will forge a path for many who come after her. Many young women of colour and young men too.

Whenever I think about Mishka Hoosen now I will remember her when I reread Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, when I reread Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, when I reread Jean Rhys’s ‘After Leaving Mr Mackenzie’, reread Noviolet Bulawayo’s ‘We Need New Names’ and reread Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’.

She is just that kind of writer.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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New Social Compact

Modernizing Higher Education for Economic Growth

MD Staff

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Malawi has fewer affordable universities than it has students who want to go to them, leaving college out of reach for many. Enrollment in tertiary education is low, but more and more Malawians hunger for it. With IDA financing from the World Bank, Malawian citizens now have more options.

The five-year, $51 million Skills Development Project is helping public universities to strengthen and increase public access to programs that cater to sectors critical to Malawi’s economic growth. These include engineering, natural resources extraction, agriculture, construction, health services, tourism, and hospitality.

Beyond the establishment of the National Council for Higher Education, project funding supports a range of activities at institutions, including improving course offerings and staff skills, renovating infrastructure, and setting up satellite facilities.

Market-relevant course offerings

To expand the range of scientific skills and mid-level technicians needed to fuel Malawi’s economy, 39 new programs have been developed by universities, with the participation of the private sector ensuring their relevance to the economy. By 2017, these programs contributed 44 percent of the new student intake to public universities.

Diploma programs at universities have also been bolstered to increase the training of mid-level career personnel needed by various trades. For example, the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic now offers 10 technician-level engineering diploma programs in subjects like mining, telecommunications, and health. By 2019, these programs are expected to have enrolled 750 diploma students.

Modernized facilities

One of the major constraints to increasing student enrollment at public universities has been space. At Chancellor College, where most of Malawi’s secondary school science teachers are trained, more and better infrastructure is expected to make it possible to boost student intake by 65 percent. This includes modernized laboratories and four new lecture halls seating 350 students each.

This will go a long way toward meeting an increase in the demand for science teachers, following the introduction of physics and chemistry as separate subjects in the secondary school curriculum.

Mzuzu University is heading to be the country’s center of excellence in tourism training. It is constructing a purpose-built tourism and hospitality facility that will produce graduates who are industry-ready.

Online and distance learning

The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Mzuzu have introduced online and distance learning (ODL), resulting in increased enrollment at both. At LUANAR, online students make up 10 percent of the total student population. Between 2014 and 2016, Mzuzu increased its intake of online students tenfold. With more affordable fees and flexible options, the ODL system has helped to open access to higher education for many people nationwide.

“I enrolled through ODL because of its flexibility. I continue with my everyday life and yet I am studying at the same time. This is wonderful,” says 45-year-old Joe Mwenye, a father of five and a teacher in Ngabu in Chikwawa district. He is studying at LUANAR for a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Extension.

LUANAR has three ODL centers: one in the town of Mzuzu, another in Lilongwe, and another in Blantyre. Mzuzu University is opening satellite centers in Balaka, Karonga, Mulanje, and Lilongwe.

World Bank

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New Social Compact

The Depth of Taboo: Social Issues in South Asia

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Rarely does a geopolitical handbook also make such large and important contributions to uncomfortably critical social issues. This handbook is that rare example. The author Aryal takes our MD readers deep into some disturbing discussions – caste systems, systematic violence against women, rape, honor killings, gender stigmatizing, and societal sexism – not to just anecdotally expose people to some of the continued living horrors afflicting important regions of the world but to systematically analyze such atrocities so that their long-term political, economic, social, and diplomatic consequences are revealed.

What many around the world do not realize is how crippling these gross abuses of human decency can be for a nation and region writ large: these are not just individual crimes to be noted and then forgotten. The failure of societies, the failure of GLOBAL society, to make more effective progress and take a more rigid stand against injustice is a black mark on all countries, on all of us. This handbook in its own small way strives to be a light within that darkness and as such it is both informative and courageous. While the readers of MD will not find the content of this particular handbook for the faint of heart, the importance of acquiring this knowledge, of becoming more aware of the world that we live in as it truly is in so many places, should be considered a duty of all those fortunate enough to not be born into states where such systemic violence still exists and largely goes unchallenged.

The title of this work is no accident and no shameless marketing attempt to attract more readers. Rather, it is exposing in a single word the reason why overcoming systemic violence based on gender is so difficult. Social taboos run deep in every region, state, city, town, village. We will likely not succeed in eliminating them from the social conscience of people. But the attempt to ameliorate the power of taboo, its power to push rationality out and pull insanity in, is a noble one that all of us at the editorial staff at MD recognize as silently essential for the cause of future peace on so many different levels. The battle against taboo is the secret front end of the war against gender violence and oppression. Ultimately, the criminal justice systems of societies must improve to remedy those actions not prevented from occurring. But the real long-term comprehensive solution will be the effort to eliminate the fear of social taboos, to eliminate the stigma that drives many to commit ignorant violence in the first place.

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Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face

MD Staff

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On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.

“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.

Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.

The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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