Saturday, May 27, 2006

Giracha Kachiloch (Grey Bells) Amharic novel By Adam Reta Shama Books, June 2005 467 pages, Price 25 birr Adam Reta is no stranger to the Ethiopian literary scene. He has produced a number of well-crafted short stories including Mahlet and Izabel that had received wide acclaim by the literary circle. He is probably of limited interest to anyone who hasn’t yet felt the subtle, precise charm of his short stories but it is considerable appeal for anyone who has. Giracha Kachiloch (Grey Bells), his first novel, also seems to be a rousing departure from the conventional narrative novels dominating the Ethiopian literary landscape. It is set in pre- and post - revolution Ethiopia of the 1974. The protagonist and narrator of the novel, who is introspective, explores various happenings, personages and sites in his tiny village named Nefasmewcha. It is this village that forms the backdrop to the story. The entire novel is about the life, his isolation, his young unrequited love, and his exploration of the various nooks and crannies of his village, how he copes with the tragedies and his awakening. We feel that he is a perceptive mind, but his reactions to experience are still elementary as befits his undeveloped state. He spends a great deal of his time wandering in the town’s streets or sitting under a telephone pole in a certain hillside, doing little more than thinking, reminiscing and walking about on the road. The narrator’s name is Mezgebu Dubale, a name that he never liked, and it meant ‘his record’. He claimed that he is God’s record. He said, ‘it was me who was hurting a lot and keeping record of everything.’ (p.11) But it was his father’s name that amused him most and he even said, ‘if I had a name like that, I would flee away to Khartoum, or to the nearest place.’ (p.9) According to Mezgebu, it will be him who will be called as a witness when God sits with the people of Nefasmewcha on judgment day. He says, for example, that there wasn’t a soul in the village except him who knows the ‘sinful things’ Hailegnaw, the schoolteacher and Ribka, his neighbor girl, did. But one could sense that there might be an exaggeration here. Mezgebu lost his mother while he was three and this must be one of the most traumatic events in his life. His father, who was a barber, (probably the only barber in the village) was a remote and uncaring figure. He would call him only when he wants to send him on errands to buy Tela (a traditional malt). Mezgebu’s stepmother happened to be an odious woman who made his life hell. She used to tell the child that he was cursed at his birth and used to accuse him of ‘causing troubles’ for the family. He says: “When she goes to hell, God will bring a charge against her on what she did to me, standing on the fire, she will surely say... it is that ‘evil, trouble causer’ who led me here. She likes putting the blame on others.” (p.9) In much of the novel, Adam Reta makes use of the stream of consciousness technique rather than conventional narration. There is no description of a character of action outside of the way the character sees himself and the events in which he is involved. There is no selection of incident for the core of climax it might have contained. Whatever happens derives its value from the mere fact of the central character’s awareness and interest. Mezgebu begins his day proper rising from his bed early in the morning (even before the grey bells of Medhaniyalem Church, the Church of the Saviour of the World, begins to ring) and making his way to his usual seat in the hillside, a place that he has always considered his own territory. He sits there for hours on a moist stone, watching and observing around him. He has little desire to take part in everything that is going on around him, he simply absorbs both good and bad. Mezgebu’s account of his sickness of walking in his sleep is aching, though it was told calmly. There were nights when he gets up from his bed while he was asleep and wander in their compound. It took quite a while for his father, stepmother and stepsister to know this. One night his stepsister, who was afraid of going to the outhouse, was urinating in the garden, being sure that none was around. She was filled with indignation when she found out Mezgebu was sitting there cutting flowers. She informed angrily this to her mother; but, according to Mezgebu, what made her angry was not what happened to the flowers but her embarrassment at being seen while urinating in the garden. His stepmother unsurprisingly made a big fuss about it and has been accusing him for destroying the whole garden, even long after this happened. Mezgebu’s respite from the solitude and the constant turmoil around him was when he was in the company of his favorite fiction book Chereka Sitiweta (When The Moon Comes Out) written by Berhanu Zerihun. He hasn’t read many books but this one that he borrowed from his schoolmate had become the staple of his bedtime reading. He often wondered how one could write such a wonderful book and he even called the author a magician. One hot noontime, when he was noticing with pleasure naked young women washing their bodies in the river, Mezgebu remembers the characters in the book and starts wondering if Berhanu wrote the book after watching these kinds of women. He makes a point of asking people, especially those who look educated, if they had read the book and he was stunned and disappointed to hear none of them did. Taking his lover to Entoto Mountain in a clear night when the moon was out became his constant fixation during the latter part of the novel. Here also one could question how much reliable is what he tells us about the book. Is it really that good or a delusive impression of a person who has just read one book? To be sure, Mezgebu’s portrait of Wosenyelesh, his childhood fascination and dream girl, carries the greatest emotional impact. He says he was attracted to her after he saw her surrounded by heavenly light in Meskel celebration, the alleged finding of Christ’s cross by queen Ellena. He says on that day that Nefasmewcha was ablaze with the little yellow daisy and score of people who come with torchlight to light the big Meskel bonfire. After the service was over, and the flaming torch turned into ashes, children start gathering around the ashes. It was then that he saw Wosenyelesh, who was wearing a splendid Kuta, (an open weave cotton wrap worn as a shawl) and he says when she sat next to the fire, her eyes were gleaming like a fire. He says he liked the sight of her face that was quite and tranquil. Thereafter, she has become on obsession with him, though it was unrequited love. But what he did one day seemed downright silly. One morning he came across Wosenyelesh on his way to his errands and stopped her and asked her to dance with him right away. She was bewildered and frightened and told him she would cry for help if he doesn’t get out of the way. Towards the end of the novel, Mezgebu tells us about the ebb and flow of his passion with Genet. His new found love and support from her seemed to have a redemptive power. There he gains confidence and self-respect. Genet nurses his dying spirit and transforms it to celebrate the joy that has always been his to claim. Despite all he has gone through, there is still colour in the world, which makes his story remarkable. Perhaps Adam Reta’s greatest strength is his lyrical eye for detail; his descriptions of emotions and physical features and simply brilliant. This book deserves a read and re-reads. A thorough understanding of the book makes us think, try to find Mezgebu’s characteristics in our selves and avoid the mistakes that he commits.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read it . and simply it is a wonderful book

6/20/2006 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Shara said...

Great Work!!!
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

the most original work of fiction i came across. funny. lyrical

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