Tag: La Bastarda

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

Posted August 10, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea ObonoTitle: La Bastarda (Goodreads)
Author: Trifonia Melibea Obono
Translator: Lawrence Schimel
Published: Feminist Press, 2018
Pages: 120
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Going into La Bastarda, I did not know what to expect. I picked it up on a whim; a coming of age story about a teenage girl rebelling against the norms of Fang culture sounds too good to pass up. This is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English and, let’s be honest, I need to read more books from Africa. One of the reasons I read books in translations is to explore cultures I have never experienced. La Bastarda did give me the opportunity to both learn about Equatorial Guinea and experience what it must be like as a queer person.

There is a lot to say about the Fang culture and I will try to include that along the way but I feel that looking at this novel from a western perspective gives us a lot to talk about. Mainly the fact that tribal culture and our own are very similar. La Bastarda follows an orphaned teen named Okomo who is under the care of her grandmother. Okomo dreams of finding her father but it is forbidden by the elders, particularly her grandfather. It is Fang custom to obey your elders. However with the help of her uncle Marcelo and a group known as the indecency girls, we follow Okomo on her journey of self-discovery.

Okomo is a bastarda, the daughter of no man. Her mother was unwed when she got pregnant. Because Okomo’s biological father did not pay the dowry to marry her mother, he holds no right to be known as a father. Okomo was an outcast, she was looked down on because she was a bastarda but she feels different in another way. According to the Fang customs, once a girl has her period she is old enough for marriage. She has constant pressure to find a husband and bring in a dowry so she can get married and start producing an heir.

There is a great exploration into masculinity within La Bastarda, Okomo wonders what makes someone a man. At first she thought a penis makes someone a man but her grandparents constantly tell her that her uncle is not a man. He is often referred to as a ‘man-woman’ and has to live in the forest away from the tribe. Okomo’s grandfather wants her uncle to do his duty and get his brother’s wife pregnant in order to hide the family’s shame. Fertility plays a great role among the Fang and if you are not fulfilling your role to the tribe you are considered subhuman. To the tribe, Marcelo is a ‘man-woman’ because he is neither married nor producing offspring. His sexuality does not matter. The teenage girls Okomo befriends are known as the indecency (later referred to as ‘woman-man’) because they have not found husbands yet.

There is a lot of sexual violence within La Bastarda, which is very important to discuss. I acknowledge that as a straight white man, that my opinion on this topic is less than ideal but I feel this needs to be discussed. It was not until Okomo was raped by the three women, that we even see Okomo considering herself a lesbian. Not to take anything away from the fact that this is rape, it reads like she only discovers her sexuality by force. Which lead to me thinking just how many people are pushed into self-discovery or are completely unware. I know my own experiences make me ignorant of this journey of discovery, so I have to turn to novels like this.

The forest became a place of freedom for Okomo who quickly fell in love. When their secrets are eventually discovered by the tribe, the punishment was that the girls are forced into marriages, as a form of corrective rape. It is sad to think that the importance of reproduction is considered more important that the wellbeing of a person but it does get you to think about western culture and just how much this is still a problem here as well. Within La Bastarda the only place of freedom is in the forest, which is interesting, considering that African mythology and our own fairy tales depict the forest of a place of evil and witchcraft. In these stories the hero journeys into the forest on a quest, in La Bastarda that quest is one of self-discovery.

Since finishing this short novel I have not been able to stop reflecting on it. La Bastarda has a lot to say, and while it will make you unconformable, it is an important message. While I viewed a lot of this novel in relation to gay and lesbian culture here in the Western world, I cannot begin to imagine the struggle for LGBTQI rights in Africa. I struggle to put into words the feelings I have here, because it is not my journey nor is it a culture I understand. I hope I was able to articulate my thoughts without offending. I believe the importance of equality and I think La Bastarda was able to highlight the struggles people face from another part of the world.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted August 2, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 7 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in July 2018

I do not know if it is just a mid-year thing, or just a feeling but I have been feeling highly critical of my blogging lately. For the past month I have been plagued with the thought of deleting everything and starting fresh. Rebranding and focusing on my passion for translated literature. Ironically this is the month I celebrate nine years blogging as Knowledge Lost. There was a time where I had two blogs, the other was a dedicated book blog called Literary Exploration but I merged them into one a few years ago. Now I just want to dump all my writing and start fresh. Knowing full well that if I did take such an extreme action that I would regret it. Part of me loves that I can view my old writing and see how much I have improved, and the other just wants to make it disappear.

If I was to start fresh I would focus a hundred percent on translated literature, and look for ways to promote them. I would probably make it an extension of Lost in Translations. There is also a part of me that would love to see something collaborative dedicated to promoting translations, but past experiences make me wary of collaborations. I know something like this would be awesome but I know how quickly people lost their passion for a project like this.  These feelings are disconcerting because all I want to do is promote literature, particularly books in translation but I feel like no one is listening.

Knowledge Lost has always been a place to store all my writing and even if I feel shame towards most of it, I know I would regret losing it. I have to work past my feelings of angst towards past me but I do not know the best way forward. I do think this is just a feeling that will pass but it is taking far too long. I feel plagued and my mind is going around in circles. If this is the biggest life problem I have, I should be thankful. I am curious to see if I will come up with a satisfactory solution or if the feeling will just fade away.

A slow reading month might be the effects of these feeling but it has not caused me to slow down in writing. In fact I have set aside an hour every week day after work to just focus on blogging. This has helped me increase my output on posts. I participated in the Spanish and Portuguese reading month hosted by Winstonsdad’s Blog and Caravana de Recuerdos, mainly because I had a few books I needed to review from Latin America. I do think that being a part of a community helps push me to be more active and I really appreciate that. I need the motivation and if I end up not blogging, I normally get annoyed with myself.

The first book I finished in July was The Neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa, which was translated by legendary translator Edith Grossman. I enjoyed so much about this novel but the sex scenes really ruined the experience for me. I have already posted a review on this one and I do not think there is anything else to say about The Neighborhood. They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen, (translated by Kristian London) was the biggest let down of my month and might have contributed to a slow reading month. It was marketed as a psychological satire and the back says it is the book for fans of Jonathan Franzen and Dave Eggers. My experience was just a five hundred page generic thriller. While I can see how it might compare to something like Dave Eggers The Circle, I was far from impressed. I love a good satirical novel but I think there are two types, the one that thinks it is clever but is just exploring the same ideas repeatedly because it cares more about the plot or the one that subtly works in some ideas that will leave the reader thinking. Or to put is simply, the ones that tells you what to think and the ones that make you think. They Know Not What They Do very much had its own ideas and you can get that information by reading the synopsis.

Luckily the two other books I read this month were both amazing, one being The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal) and the other was La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, (translated by Lawrence Schimel). I want to talk about both in greater detail, so you might have to wait for the reviews. The True Deceiver is the second Tove Jansson novel I have read (Fair Play was the other) and I really appreciate the character studies she does in her books. Both feature two women and their relationship with each other and both are well worth reading. La Bastarda is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, which in itself is pretty exciting. I have so much I want to say, in regards to Fang culture and how this novel relates to Western culture but you will have to wait for the review. All I can say for now is that it is well worth reading.

I was distracted all month long with my thoughts on blogging but that did not stop me from being distracted by other books. I have currently three books on the go now and am eagerly awaiting August. Not because it is Women in Translations month but also because I will have some much needed vacation time, where I get to travel to Tasmania and then I will be attending the Melbourne Writers Festival. I bought two new books which might be read in August but surprisingly I did not add any new books to my wishlist. I know I have thought about all the other books I want to be reading but they were mostly other books I own. I hope August is a better month for me.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted July 4, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in June 2018

Being able to reflect on my reading month is one of the reasons I do these wrap ups. It is surprising how much my perception on my month is different to the reality. Like last month, I thought I had a slow reading month, but completing eight books is amazing. I have been trying to slow down my reading to focus on the reading I am doing and I am sure I am doing just that. However, the fact that I finished so many books makes me thing otherwise. We have been housesitting for the past few months and this affected my reading drastically but in reality, not so much.

I started of this month with August by Romina Paula. I originally wanted to read this book because I have been into Argentinian literature at the moment but since it was also translated by Jennifer Croft, it had to be read. As you know, Jennifer Croft translated Flights from the Polish which went on to win the Man Booker International Prize. August was a vastly different novel and while I enjoyed it, it was not the experience I expected. This combination of grief and nostalgia made for an interesting narrative. One I hope to explore in a review soon. Longlisted for the BTBA award, I was interested in trying something from this prize that is a relatively new discovery for me. Also, there is something about all the books being published by Feminist Press the appeal to me. It seems to be a lot of women writing dark and gritty literature that deal with femininity and the treatment of women in their own countries.

I seem to be dedicating some time to crime novels lately, this month it included In the Darkness by Karin Fossum and The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette. I found In the Darkness pretty generic and I am still struggling to find some Scandinavian crime that I enjoy. I love noir style novels so I thought Nordic noir would be the perfect choice. I am very particular about crime novels and turns out that Jean-Patrick Manchette fits my taste perfectly. While The Gunman was not amazing, I was able to test out his writing style and discovered it was a perfect fit for me. I read The Gunman because it was the only Manchette in my library, now I plan to pick up some of his better known novels. The Gunman has been adapted into a movie starring Sean Penn, but I do not think I will watch it, it feels very B-grade.

I also managed to do some re-reading this month. Picking up both The Possessed by Elif Batuman and The Shadow of the Wind. I was not a fan of The Possessed originally but I could not remember why. It seemed like a book that would suit me perfectly, as it is a book about Russian literature. While I did enjoy it a little more the second time around, it turns out that I felt this way because I never really understood her literary criticism and she never took any time to explain it. For example, I do not know how Batuman connected Anna Karenina to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it feels like a stretch because it never was explained. I had the opposite reaction to The Shadow of the Wind where I loved it the first time but not so much this re-read. I have grown so much as a reader and have found what I love and hate in literature, so re-reading this novel, I discovered it lacked the depth that I crave. I will re-read the other books in the series and eventually finish off the series but I am in no rush.

I do not want to talk too much about Soviet Milk because I still feel like I am piecing together my thoughts. It was a great read, but work was so busy at the time, I found myself lacking focus. I could only read a few pages at a time before I needed to put it down. I want to re-read the novel because I think there is so much to gain from this book, so maybe I will just reserve my judgement until I have read it again. Also, I am unsure how I feel about The Order of Time, it think a lot of the science was well over my head. Carlo Rovelli has given me a lot to think about and he has challenged the how I think about time, so maybe the book has had its intended effect.

June was the month of first for me, my first time reading Manchette, but also my first time reading the great authors Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Sound of Things Falling was a great novel and I loved Vásquez’s writing style. This is the type of novels I love to read and it reminded me a little of the style of Bolano. While Llosa had a great writing style with his novel The Neighborhood, I felt conflicted about my feelings. So much so, that I have not been able to finish the book yet. Firstly, the sex scenes in this book are so cringe worthy I struggled to get through them, but also his treatment of LGBTQIA characters felt creepy. The lesbian relationship was such an interesting part of the plot, but it often felt more like the author fantasising about them having sex rather than focusing on the relationship. There is so much political intrigue going on in the background, it was a shame that all this was ruined when it came to the sex, which unfortunately was a huge part of the plot and therefore happening all the time.

I am very pleased with the way this month turned out, as stated in last month months wrap-up, I was housesitting which meant I was not distracted by other books. I only had access to the books I had with me. I will be finishing up The Neighborhood this month as well as Purge by Sofi Oksanen. I have no idea what I will be reading next, probably La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson but you never know, I could be distracted by the other books on my shelves. Also, I plan in participating in Spanish and Portuguese Literature Month this month and then Women in Translation month in August. I hope this will motivate me to blog more. I have so many books I want to review, and I want to get back into a habit of writing more frequently. So, fingers crossed that July is the month that gets me writing again.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted June 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in May 2018

When I first came to reading I was not sure what I liked and I turned to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list to help me. I saw myself as a literary explorer (hence my previous blog name) and I was willing to try anything and everything. With this in mind I joined a real life book club as a way to explore and practice talking about literature. Fast forward to now, and I have found my niche and I know what I like, so now sometimes book club feels like a chore more than a joy. Having to read The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland for May and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman for June have been challenging. It feels like they are picking pretty covers but the content has not been that desirable, for me anyway. I want more from my literature than what is provided in these novels. I feel like The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was too similar to so many other stories, like The Choke, Nest and Deep Water; all three were novels read because of the book club. I do love being the one that dislikes the books but at what point does it stop being worth attending? I do not plan to quit, but I have been thinking about this since I have not enjoyed a pick in a very long time.

Besides my contemplations on book clubs, I have been thinking about the Man Booker International prize as well. I am very pleased to see Flights win; I thought it was an amazing book. I was able to complete the entire longlist except two books which I might read later but I feel a little burnt out by the experience. While I loved being part of a community reading these books and it really sparked my passion for blogging again I felt very restricted by the task. I am very much a mood reader and to have assigned books can put me in a reading slump. This is not to say I would not attempt to read the longlist again in the future. I just hope to have read some of the books on the list next time. Out of all the books on the list Die, My Love was the one I still think about but I also loved The 7th Function of Language and Frankenstein in Baghdad.

Mexican literature seems to be the flavour of the month having read both Like Water for Chocolate and Faces in the Crowd. There is something about Latin American magical realism that seems to work for me, something that I have not found in other forms of magical realism. I have not been able to put my finger on why I enjoy it more but I will keep exploring. I absolutely adored Faces in the Crowd, which is a book you might hear me talk about in the near future. I think Valeria Luiselli might be one of those authors I will be watching closely in the future. I did read The Story of My Teeth but it was not until I read Faces in the Crowd that I realised just how brilliant she is.

Also this month I read Cop Hater, an old school police procedural and Lullaby, a novel that felt like the author was letting her own fears play out on the page. The final book I want to talk about is Packing My Library. I loved The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel and I expected that Packing My Library would bring me the same amount of joy. Though one book was able to blend his personal narrative eloquently with the history of the library, the other just felt more like digressions from his topic. To be fair the subtitle to Packing My Library is An Elegy and Ten Digressions, so maybe I should have expected this. I love reading books about books but I tend to enjoy the ones that are able to blend the personal with something more which is normal literary criticism.

I went a little overboard with my book buying this month and I told myself it was mainly for my podcast. I do not know how this works but I will defend myself by saying that yes, some are for my podcast and most of them have been read now as well. I do not think I was distracted by other books this month. This might be because I am currently housesitting and only have a handful of books to choose from. I thought it was a rather slow reading month for me as well, but this turned out to be untrue. I was sure I spent too much time watching Netflix instead of reading but the statistics prove otherwise.

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