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Bitterness
Novel by Malama Katulwende

Julius Chongo Award 2006 for Best Creative Writing

Reviews: see below

Tribal and social affiliations and the student riots at the University of Zambia, in a captivating and intelligent story about love, political involvement and individual responsibilities.

This is one of the most realistic and passionate contemporary novels about the life of young people in today's Africa, written by Malama Katulwende, a Zambian poet and intellectual. It describes the seeming incompatibility of old African traditions and modern life, depicts the political struggle of Zambia's students, and the hope and despair of the book's main character, his family, lover, and friends. Based on real events, this novel provides an insight into African history, daily life, and culture, at the example of an oppressive society. Imagine Europe's revolts of 1968 in Austral Africa...


See also his new book: "The Fire at the Core: Discourses on African Aesthetics, Music, Jurisprudence, Ethno-Politics & Good Governance"


Malama Katulwende (* 1967) - has published poems in the anthology "Under the African Skies - Poetry from Zambia" and is currently writing another novel: "No Other Land". Malama Katulwende was born in 1967 in the Luapula province of Zambia. He is the first-born child in a family of eight. He was educated in Catholic schools in order to become a Diocesan priest, but later decided to attend the University of Zambia. Malama Katulwende has taught science and mathematics at different schools.

ISBN: 159569031X / 9781595690319

Language: English

Price at Mondial: US$ 18.25

or

Subjects: Fiction (Africa, Zambia, University, College students, love, revolte, patriotism)

Pages: 288

Book Type: 5.5 x 8.5 in, Perfect Bound - Paperback)

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"Themes about Negritude or the Black experience... echo real experiences of people who have been tied by a common doom - slavery, racism, colonialism and underdevelopment... So when we define Africanness as a historical fact or phenomenon, we're talking about the African personality as a collective person pitted against his past, his present and his future. We're saying: What are we about in relation to what we have gone through? This is a question that exacts answers."
Malama Katulwende (in: "Bitterness")

"Malama Katulwende's literary works display his vivid connection with our ancestral past, inspire and evoke feelings of patriotism and the much needed enthusiasm for the future on a continent that is facing so many challenges."
Mbuyu Nalumango
Editor of "Under the African Skies - Poetry from Zambia"

 

Reviews

A TASTE OF BITTERSWEET BILE

 

By Edem Djokotoe

Among the titles on the Anthropology reading list of Emory University students, Atlanta, Georgia is a 2005 novel entitled Bitterness. It was written by a 39-year-old Zambia. His name is Malama Katulwende.

Published by Modial in New York, the 281-page novel resonates with the anger of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, the pessimism of Ayi Kwei Amah and the lyricism of Chinua Achebe, but in his own voice, Katulwende explains why the centre can no longer hold in a land where a beggar who stretches out his hand for a cob of maize is beaten to death by an angry, blood thirsty mob, and where youth is powerless against the inscrutability of a future which runs like a river with no end.

In his view, things are falling apart because the shrine is no more. The gods of his forefathers are dead and his people have befriended those who have always stood against them, imitating their ways and worshipping their gods. At this point, Katulwende's anger slowly crystallizes into an Africanist ideology.

The plot revolves around the life and times of Besa, the son of Musunga Fyonse, priest and keeper of the village shrine deep in Ngu'mbo country, a young school leaver who becomes the first member of his family to go to university.

Therein lies the dilemma that Besa faces. A university education would undoubtedly transform his social circumstances and help him realize his potential away from the rural environment where Times seems to stand still. But in gaining a tertiary education, he would also have to lose a bit of his soul, this young descent of 'Chipango, the tellers of oracles, Mwila, the prophetess who remained unblemished from the desires of men, Nchike, the maker of rain, fire and sender of pestilences when provoked, Kolwe, famed for killing monkeys with knives of lightning and Kaoma, Yaluma, Kabende and other healers and seers of the lands whose names and wonders were worthy of praise and emulation…'

Who knows? Perhaps it is the eloquence with which Katulwende grapples with his age-old dilemma in his novel that motivated scholars at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia to recommend Bitterness as a suitable text for Anthropology students.

Perhaps it is the tale of love and self-discovery set in a land where curses are real, where witches fly at night and where it is not uncommon to find a witch finder sailing on a lake on a mat, which piqued their imagination.

Either way, Katulwende, 39, is writing about a place and about issues close to his heart, though he swears his book is not autobiographical. However, he admits some of the events he recounts in Bitterness happened to him and to people he knows.

"The book is based on personal experiences, but most importantly, it is based on real life in Zambia," he said.

But he won't say at which point fact transforms into Fiction, opting instead to allow the reader to find meaning and relevance in the trials and tribulations of Besa Musunga.

Besa's predicament is not altogether a peculiar one. One night after a few beers, the young school leaver suddenly realizes how heavy the responsibility on his shoulders is. I am seed that must germinate and yield good fruit or else there will be no harvest. I am a feast waiting to be eaten, a banquet to be devoured by the hungry, he grudgingly admitted. Everybody expects me to land a good job, earn pots of money and rescue the family from the jaws of poverty. One of his aunts put the family's expectation more succinctly before he left for school.

"When you complete your studies, we expect to visit and live in your home."

His uncle, Bwaale, in the typical fashion of village sage, did not say too much.

But he gives Besa a present that is symbolic and pregnant with meaning. It is an Omega wrist watch given to the old man by one, Mr. Halton from South Africa; he'd worked with at Mufulira mines. "I am giving you this watch to help you keep time," Bwaale told his nephew.

However, it is not until Besa finishes his studies that the full extent of the pervasiveness of family dawns on him. By this time, this villager from Samfya is in love with a colored woman who is half-Italian and half Bemba, a woman his family is unwilling to accept as a daughter -in-law. Their reason: "She is of different blood and she could bring harm if she were admitted into our family."

Meanwhile, Besa's family, insistent that he marry from within the village, had gone ahead and paid dowry for a virgin maiden.

The resolution of this particular predicament is a mixture of tragedy and melodrama, but is one that many Zambians will undoubtedly identify with and relate to.

Interestingly, Malama Katulwende, born in Lubwe, Samfya in 1967, didn't set out be an author. If fate had its way, this first born in a family of eight should have become s Diocesan priest, baptizing babies, blessing marriages, burying the dead and hearing the confession of sinners for a living.

But he took a different career path, choosing the test tube and the Bunsen burner over the cassock. He became a Math and science teacher after he completed university education, teaching at Mwense high School, St Charles Lwanga Bahati Seminary for six years. Today, he is on the verge of starting a publishing company in Lusaka with two friends, with the backing of his New York publisher, Mondial.

Publishing in Zambia, for some reason, has had a chequered past, though literature - whether written or oral - is a river from which many tributaries of artistic expression can flow. For instance, the number of novels that have made it to the silver screen are too numerous to mention. They range from classics like Andre Brink's A Dry White Season to J.R.R. Tolkin's fantastic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings which went on to win the film maker Peter Jackson an Oscar for the Best Director 49 years after the books were written.

In short, a vibrant publishing industry can stimulate other art forms, scholars say.

But for this to happen, people have to write; people have to read. Sadly, in most parts of Africa, the river is running dry. James Hall, a South African journalist, explains why.

"Book publishing in Africa essentially means textbooks. Few Africans have the disposable income to purchase books. Either they are not brought up as children in a home-reading culture, or poverty keeps them from acquiring the home libraries they could like."

The figures seem to vindicate him. Eighty per cent of the school textbook market in Africa is dominated by multi-national companies neither of which is African: Macmillan, Heinemann and Oxford University Press. In Francophone Africa, 95per cent of school text books are produced by French publishers. In effect, one out of every five books sold in Africa is produced by a publishing house based on the continent.

The ideological implications of this scenario prompted many post-colonial states to nationalize book publishing and distribution shortly after independence. A case in point: the establishment of Kenneth Kaunda Foundation (KKF) in 1996. The board of directors consisted almost entirely of government ministers, with the Republican president as the chairman and patron.

The national Educational Company of Zambia, a subsidiary of KKF, reincarnated to become the Zambia Education Publishing House (ZEPH), but its statutory mandate did not change, and that was to publish, print, market and distribute all educational materials developed by Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) of the Ministry of Education.

Somewhere down the line, two other parastatal companies. Namely Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak got in on the act.

But the law favored ZEPH. As parastatal companies, Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak operate under the Companies Act. ZEPH, on the other hand, is a statutory body, established by an Act of Parliament, which meant it was exempt from paying corporate tax and customs duty on imported inputs.

Book publishing has been liberalized since 1991, but the focus on educational materials has not changed. Today, the landscape has expanded to accommodate private publishers like Maiden Publishing House, Insaka Press Limited and Bookworld Publishers, but some of the smaller companies withered and died, unable to cope with the capital-intensive demands of book publishing.

Multi-national publishing houses like Longman and Oxford University Press, which had closed their Zambian offices in the 1970s, have since returned.

The preference for educational publishing isn't sitting well with writers and would-be writers engaged in the production of creative work, mainly fiction. They say they are contributing to the cultural and intellectual fabric of the nation and as such they need moral and material support for their efforts.

And indeed they do. Writing may be a very lonely occupation, at times even a painful purging of the soul, an exorcism of restless spirits. Yet the products of the writer's imagination can easily become parts of the mosaic of a nation's culture, but only if we allow them to be. We begin by making books an issue in Zambia. The benefits are enormous. For instance, local stories told by local writers are the best way to jumpstart a local film industry.

It works for Bollywood. This is a colloquial name of the centre of the Hindi film industry in Mumbai, the old name of the city of Bombay in India. Bollywood is derived by blending Bombay and Hollywood. In India, cinema is more than entertainment. It's a national passion. The exact number of movie-goers in India is not known, but it is estimated that every day,m9llions of people flock to the 13000-odd cinema halls scattered across the country to watch productions that blend grand spectacle, sing-along songs and intricately choreographed dance routines.

From the early 1900s when film production started in India, over 27000 films have been made so far, records show, making it the largest film-producing country in the world. About 800 films are produced annually, with successful sound tracks selling up to 10 million cassettes every year. According to Anupama Chopra, film critic for India Today, the $ 500 million local film industry employs over 100, 000 people and contributes about US $15 million to the state treasury per annum.


A Truly African Zambian Story

By Shupe Sililo

A STORY of a poor, young village boy with the dream of becoming an elite after his graduation from the University of Zambia (UNZA).

Besa, who from childhood becomes the light of the village because of his intelligence and the love for books, is celebrated by the entire clan as he prepares to head to Lusaka for his higher education studies.

With a negative attitude towards women, Besa believes that women were burdened with their frivolous attentions and were generally boring.

He says he has nothing in common with women and could never endure the monotony of their gossip, habits and lack of a clear purpose in life.

However, not long before his departure, the young man meets a pretty girl whom he unexpectedly becomes extremely attracted to.

He meets Musonda, the girl of his dreams and falls in love with her, despite his possession of a somewhat childish approach towards love.

Apart from his love life, Besa's family is a cheerful one despite the unusual silence of his father, Musunga, who is training to become a traditional priest and spends much of his time at the shrine where he finds his peace.

After an interesting turn of events, bad things begin to happen to Besa who eventually loses his girlfriend, Musonda, by a death that he cannot comprehend.

His dream of becoming the 'breadwinner' of the family is lost as he, a teacher at a school in Lusaka West in Lusaka, has not been paid his salary for many months.

While he is living in a one roomed shack in Chawama compound, Besa hears the news of his mother's death and begins to develop suicidal thoughts because of the turn that his life has taken.

The author writes that the book is concerened with themes about Negritude or the 'Black experience' and echoes real experiences of a people who have been tied by a common doom of slavery, colonialism and underdevelopment.

"When we define Africanness as a historical fact or phenomenon, we're talking about the African personality as a collective person pitted against his past, his present and his future", writes Mr Katulwende.

The book is elaborate and well written and reveals the true Africanness of Zambia and what has been experienced in many villages.

It also reveals how deep traditions were respected mainly by the elders of the past and also the rituals that took place in many villages.

The author was born in 1967 in the Luapula province of Zambia. He is the first in a family of eight and was educated in Catholic schools in order to become a Diocesan priest, but later decided to attend the University of Zambia.

Malama Katulwende has taught science and mathematics at different schools. He has published poems in an anthology titled, Under the African Skies: Poems from Zambia, and is currently writing another novel, No Other Land.