This is an interesting anthology that I would like to bring some attention to. I've decided that interviewing the short story writers about the particulars of their stories would be a provocative angle. I and some others will conduct these interviews. To see YouTube interviews with the editor and a few of the writers, go to Debra Di Blasi.
1. You have some marvelous sentences in this story: "You cannot cross a new bridge without death swaggering drunk in your heart"; "But the ricochet silence that followed gunfire, the descending starlight of snare — drum silence in his ear that followed gunfire, bade the hungry locust enter. Ngabo felt each sword-bristle of leg, each tickle-snap of antennae, each buzz-flutter of wing in the silence, in the light, in the inexhaustible wellspring of blood under his boots sucking at the mud." What is so gripping about both of these sentences is that you bring together such seemingly disparate entities — a bridge and drunkenness, the sword bristle of a locust leg — in a vivid and coherent manner, not to mention your sudden return to the empirical reality of a soldier: boots and mud.
Thank you for your kind comments. I’m not sure how to respond to this, except to say that I have, over the years, attempted to write as intuitively as I draw my visual art. One learns to trust the words and images that rise from the subconscious, that they will be precisely the right words, the most appropriately evocative images. Of course, one has to do one’s homework first, else the language simply is not available. That said, many of these new pieces draw from places in culture that, if one is paying attention, produce what Westerners might consider strange juxtapositions but are, to Africans, part of their culture.
2. I am a little confused about the relationship of the sidebar to the horrific content in most of the main text. I see the juxtaposition of the pain and drama of people living at the edge of survival compared to the frivolity of celebrity culture. This appears again in section 6 where the voice of a prisoner who had his hands cut off is slowly drowned out by pop culture inanities written in a different font.
Confusion is a good thing.
Virtually all of my writing since my introduction to the World Wide Web explores the role of lacunae in our lives, certainly physical gaps in text and image, but also lacunae as existential metaphor for the gaps that occur in one’s body of knowledge – knowledge of other’s lives, of science, of history, of culture, of one’s self. What’s missing makes us who we are as much as what’s present; thus, we have people who think Sara Palin is smart. Until you begin at least asking yourself what’s missing, you cannot intelligently evolve as a human being.
I expect my readers to be active participants, not passive, and therefore learn from whatever challenge I’m offering. When you study art history, for example, you’re required to analyze an artwork’s composition, medium(s), narrative, and historical/cultural references as they relate to you, the viewer so that you better understand the world around you. I want the reader to ask him/herself what is in fact the meaning of the gap between Paris Hilton and the mother feeding her daughter dust, between George W. Bush’s evident pride in his C-student status and an African captain biting off the breast of a girl-child after he rapes her.
The structure of most of my stories since 1998 consists of mixed media fictions (texts + images) that subtlely or blatantly reference the architecture of the technological web and the interconnections in the web of living. I’m disgusted with most American (and world) literature that still clings to the 19th Century, that does not challenge our perceptions of “truth” or language or the media by which we’re inundated today, at this peculiar point in time. (I suspect such clinging is political, in the same way that the American educational system is political.) My intent is to manipulate the reader into an experience that says as much about the way we live today as do the events occurring within the story.
3. In this story, what could be called the main character, Ngabo, 'allows' himself to be 'conscripted' as a boy soldier in exchange for his just-raped sister's life. Later, we see him raping an infant. To what extent is he a victim?
The character of Ngabo is based on the child soldiers of Darfur and elsewhere in Africa who are stolen or forced to become killing machines. The idea of “choice” would not enter into the mind of a seven-year-old like Ngabo, who loves his sister and who is tremendously family-oriented, contrary to stereotypes you speak of in question 5, below. Ngabo is absolutely a victim, as are his young comrades who, we must assume, commit similar crimes out of an exponential madness resulting from traumas you or I cannot possibly imagine. As I write these African stories I know the situations are always worse – horrifyingly worse – than I can pen. I cannot, for example, make a reader experience every endless minute of every day of every five years a child soldier must endure, forced to kill and take the beatings and torture from the hands of his (or her) “leaders.”
4. To what extent can the military horror in the portion of Africa that you are describing be blamed on the sadistic, perhaps unbalanced captain?Oh, that’s too simplistic. The guerilla captain is essentially no different from the U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib who took obvious pleasure in torturing prisoners. No different from Enron executives remorselessly stealing life savings from thousands of their employees. No different from high school bullies, greedy mortgage lenders, abusive parents, intolerant religious leaders, corrupt politicians...perhaps no different from you or me. It’s the same fucking pot of offal. The circumstances create the results. Put a guy like Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney into a volatile environment wherein water and food are scarce and law has collapsed and see what happens. If tomorrow U.S. computers were hacked and our economy came to a dead halt, as it surely would, pandemonium would result as food and water ran out. History, ancient to contemporary, is full of sane men and women gone mad.
Not even Britney Spears is a lost cause (but ask me again tomorrow).