Semester One Update

Its the end of semester one of my PhD. It has been fun and sometimes stressful. From funding applications to contacting publishers for potential projects, it has been an amazing experience.

Top Three things I’ve enjoyed this semester:

  1. Being considered an expert (although prematurely) in a specific subject area. With my thesis question being an area that has not been explored before, it is exciting being known as the go to person for that specific topic. And its also great that so many people are excited about my thesis and the outcome of it (even though this can also be very daunting at times).
  2. Being able to read all the time and to read things I’m interested in and its all part of my future career. I love that I am actually doing things I love to do and all in the name of a PhD. Its been great growing my knowledge of my topic area.
  3. Making new friends (virtually). Although COVID has made it very difficult to network and connect with others, I have been able to gain small wins and was able to set up a film club with a small group of people. Here is to another semester of making friends awkwardly online.

Top Three things I’m looking forward to next semester:

  1. More reading. I cannot wait to start doing some reading again. I am officially giving myself a week away (next week) from my PhD and will be spending the last week of December focusing on non-reading PhD work, e.g. administrative tasks, so by next semester I’ll be ready to go back to my reading.
  2. Starting one of my thesis chapters. I have to write 10,000 words by June 30th, and I am so excited to begin. I love my topic and just wish that there were more hours in the day so I could read everything I need to read. I cannot wait to begin writing some of my thoughts on paper. I believe that my 365 Days of Writing challenge last year has prepared me for this. I’m so excited.
  3. Planning my research trips. Ideally, I will be spending some time in Africa next year as my thesis is on African Literature, although COVID might have different plans. I cannot wait!! I will hopefully be visiting a few African countries and spending a considerable amount of time there. I haven’t planned a trip since COVID started and I am itching to travel again.

Here’s to semester two being just as productive, less stressful and more new experiences and exciting opportunities.

Thank you for reading.

Did We Enjoy 2020?

Did we enjoy the isolation and constant facetime?

Did we enjoy the working from home Wi-Fi dramas?

Did we enjoy the daily walks and mask covered faces?

Did we enjoy the confusing, uncertainty and misinformation?

Did we enjoy losing jobs and crashing economies?

Did we enjoy the home-schooling with no friends around?

Did we enjoy violent videos and protesting racism?

Did we enjoy finger pointing and blame culture?

Did we enjoy online orders that took weeks to arrive?

Did we enjoy buying clothes with no where to go?

Did we enjoy Brexit negotiations and still no deal?

Did we enjoy family time and new memories?

Did we enjoy new skills and paint by numbers set?

Did we enjoy finding green spaces for outdoor hikes?

Did we enjoy the year we’ve just had?

Thank you for reading.

Book Review: The Famished Road

Ben Okri’s The Famished Road is the first book by an African man to win the Booker Prize (1991) and is still the only book by an African man to have won the prize.

The Famished Road tells the story of Azaro, who is an Ogbanje/abiku, a child who constantly repeats the cycle of life and death through being born and dying as an infant over and over again. Azaro finally decides to leave the spirit world and is born to parents that are in the depths of poverty, both barely earning enough to cover their meals and pay the rent.

This novel showcases the blunt reality of poverty. The reality of greedy slumlords, and of politicians who only interact with the people when an election is at hand. The reality of young men being hired as thugs for political parties they neither care about nor believe in. The reality of slum riots and police brutality. The reality of homelessness in an African slum. The reality of residual systems of oppression left behind by colonisers in ‘postcolonial’ nations.

The book, part of a trilogy, is one filled with fantasy and mysticism, as Azaro can not only communicate with animals, but can see strange spirits and enter into the spirit world. The novel, set in an unknown African city, engages with African elements such as juju, secret societies and the spirit world. Through the eyes of a child, we follow Azaro as he is separated from his parents and kidnapped to be sacrificed by a police officer and his wife. We follow him as he is saved by his mother and reunited with his father, as he becomes a regular at a local bar owned by a women who others suspect to be a witch.

The reader is allowed to interact with extreme poverty through the simplistic understanding of a child. The reader is able to experience Azaro’s lack of judgement at having to go to bed hungry, in seeing his mother fight to get free milk from politicians, only for it to be infested with flies that makes the whole neighbourhood sick. We are able to experience poverty as a number of obstacles to be overcome before the next challenge is revealed. Each time the family seems to be ‘out of the woods’, something tragic and traumatic occurs bringing them back to where they started.

Azaro’s world is one where the reader is able to loose themselves in the wandering mind of a spirit child. The Famished Road perfectly combines a ‘childish’ magic with brutal realities. It allows the reader to understand the vulnerabilities, lack of security and susceptibility to abuse that occurs with poverty. For these reason, I rate this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Thank you for reading.

Amongst the Dead Things

When it all began

You were so vibrant and colourful

Bright greens and blinding yellows

You stood so majestic

Facing the shinning sun

Within months you began to whither

All your flowers faded away

The old leaves slowly died

Before long new life began

No longer did you bloom

But green leaves grew firm

They stood as if they always were

After long I forgot

The flowers that once were

All I knew were the striving leaves

Then summer came

The months of harvest

But all you did was die

You were burnt out

All the green changed to brown

No amount of water could bring you back

I soon gave up

Watered you only in passing

Paid no attention to your development

The greens slowly returned

And with them came the flowers

Flowers I had not seen since 2019

Flowers that are brighter than I remembered

Flowers that defy the cold dark winter

Flowers amongst the dead things.

Thank you for reading.

Book Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina is by far one of my favourite books of all time. My general rule when it comes to books turned into film adaptations is to never watch the film before reading the book. However, for Anna Karenina I had no choice; when I watched the film, I had no idea that it was adapted from a book. A few years later in my final year of my undergraduate degree, I was assigned the book as part a French and Russian Literature module. At first glance, with over 800 pages and the smallest font size imaginable, reading this monstrous novel seemed like a challenge. However, upon reading the first few pages, I was hooked.

Anna Karenina tells the story of Anna, a beautiful woman who falls in love with Count Vronsky whilst she is married and to a prominent man. The tale follows their love affair through Russia and its implications and impact on society and all those around the couple.

The novel is beautifully written to a point where it was almost impossible for me to put it down. Tolstoy is by far my favourite Russian writer as he evokes difficult questions on the audience through his characters. The novel opens with the statement ‘all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ This then propels you to consider the different ways that the families are unhappy and whether or not any of the families in the novel are ‘happy families’.

It is of no surprise that the novel far exceeds the film, as is so often the case. Although Keira Knightley did not encapsulate the fullness of Anna, she did manage to capture and portray her essence on screen. The film lacked depth and perspectives of the other brilliant characters in book, characters such as Levin and Kitty.

Anna Karenina is a love story unlike any I have ever read, it makes Romeo and Juliet seem like mere children playing at love, which they were. Anna and Count Vronsky’s love is passionate, addictive, toxic and self-destructive. The novel questions what it means to love and how we choose love. It is the kind of love story that novels were created to produce.

I absolutely love this book and could read it again and again and again and still gain the same feelings of intensity and obsession that I felt the first time reading it. It is the kind of novel that is perfect for a second lockdown. Thus, I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, merely for the fact that Tolstoy had me read 800+ pages and then wishing that there was more.

Thank you for reading.

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