Six degrees of Separation – The Wild Card – leads me to book four of my 10 books of summer.

Ah, card games. Kate, at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, might have had me in mind when she titled this months six degrees as a Wild Card. I love cards so much I’ve uninstalled the virtual games from my phone and laptop.

As a teenager, my favourite game was cheat. I don’t remember much about the rules. It was fun, and required devious strategies.

The six degrees wild-card starts a chain from the title we finished with last month. Since I chose to follow short stories then, I’m continuing that format, beginning with Slog’s Dad, by David Almond.

Davie, the worldly-wise friend of Slog, describes what happens one spring day, six months after Slog’s dad died.

We were crossing the square to Myers pork shop. Slog stopped dead in his tracks.

“What’s up?” I said.

He nodded across the square.

“Look,” he said.

“Look at what?”

“It’s me dad,” he whispered.

“Your dad?”

“Aye.”

I just looked at him.

“That bloke there,” he said.

“What bloke where?”

“Him on the bench. Him with the cap on. Him with the stick.”

Davie’s not falling for that. The ‘bloke‘ is scruffy, ‘like he was poor, or like he’s been on a very long journey.’

“He looks a bit different,” said Slog. “But that’s just cos he’s been…”

“Transfigured,” said the bloke.

“Aye,” said Slog. “Transfigured.

It’s a 2,550 word story. It doesn’t take long to read, but my goodness it lingers.

Ghosts, is a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that also deals with attitudes and ideas about death, love and beliefs. Adichie’s collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, is the fourth of my 10 books of summer challenge.

Ghosts, is set in Nigeria, where a retired mathematics professor meets a man he believed had been killed in the Biafran war of 1967.

Perhaps I should have bent down, grabbed a handful of sand, and thrown it at him, in the way my people do to make sure a person is not a ghost.

From the first page, I was reminded of, No One Writes to The Colonel, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not just because both stories feature professional men who have spent years waiting for their pensions, these are both so much more than that. They’re immersive experiences. There are unpredictable revelations, shifts in emotions, life-details, cultural references and examinations of loss and love.

For my fourth link, I’m thinking about letters. I return to Adichie’s collection, The Thing Around Your Neck. The title story is a second-person narration, in which ‘you‘ are unable to write home about your experiences in America, because it falls so far below the expectations of ‘your’ family.

You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun like those Americans.

I may not be American, but I imagine a similar story written from the perspective of someone coming to live in Britain and feel goosebumps. It’s challenging, even frightening, to see how a stranger views our every-day lives.

An American pushes friendship on ‘you‘, the Nigerian waitress at a small cafe.

He came in the third day and began talking before he ordered, about how he had visited Bombay and now wanted to visit Lagos, to see how real people lived, like in the shantytowns, because he never did any of the silly tourist stuff when he was abroad.

Issues of connection and belonging and exploitation are explored in most of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stories. In, Jumping Monkey Hill, Ujunwa is at an African Writers Workshop, outside Cape Town.

…the resort had the complacence of the well-fed about it, the kind of place where she imagined affluent foreign tourists would dart around taking pictures of lizards and then return home still mostly unaware that there were more black people than red-capped lizards in South Africa.

The account of her week includes fragments of the story Ujunwa writes, and summaries of some of the stories the other writers produce. The actions and comments of the workshop leader, and his wife, draw attention to ideas not only about what truth is, but who has the right to demand it, or decide what it is.

The next day at breakfast, Isabel…said that surely, with that exquisite bone structure, Ujunwa had come from Nigerian royal stock. The first thing that came to Ujunwa’s mind was to ask if Isabel ever needed royal blood to explain the good looks of friends back in London. She did not ask that but instead said – because she could not resist – that she was indeed a princess…

I loved the way the role of story and story-teller was examined.

My last link is another story about telling stories from the same collection. The Headstrong Historian, highlights the way political and economic decisions impact on the individual.

… Ayaju told a story of two people who took a land case to the white men’s court; the first man was lying but could speak the white men’s language, while the second man, the rightful owner of the land, could not, and so he lost his case, was beaten and locked up and ordered to give up his land.

It’s another story that kept me guessing. Is the Headstrong Historian of the title Nwamgba, who chooses her own husband, then schemes to ensure that her only son will survive and thrive? Maybe it is her granddaughter, Afamefuna.

Nwamgba… was thrilled by the child’s solemn interest in her poetry and her stories…

Alternately, does the title refer to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. After all, she’s led me to question not just what I know of the history of Nigeria and Nigerians, but also of the shape and history of western democracy. That’s something it’s all too easy to view complacently, from the comfortable inside.

The aim of the card game, Cheat, was to shed as many cards as possible, without anyone noticing you were giving more than you claimed. My chain of short stories only uses three authors, but includes the fourth of my 10 books of summer reviews. Maybe that breaks the six-degrees rules. I hope not. I’m thinking of this as multi-tasking…

Card Sharp, by 1636-1638 by Georges de La Tour,
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