I will be going to Caine Prize readings in Southbank on the 10th of July, so I thought it would be a good idea for me to actually read all the short stories nominated.
The first one up is "Hitting Budapest" by NoViolet Bulawayo.
It might very well be a coincidence but this is the second time I come across a Central/Eastern European name of a place being used in African narrative. In one of Doris Lessing's novellas the most dangerous part of the city was colloquially called Poland. Here, Budapest is the name that the children protagonists use to describe the rich part of the town where they go to steal guavas.
From the beginning of the story it is clear that it aims to please the Western Reader. The characters' names are an even mixture of exotic sounding ones like Sbho and Stina and the funny sounding ones like Bastard and Godknows and they are sure to satisfy any Western Reader fascinated by 'world literature'. Then of course, there is Paradise, shanty town where the kids are from - Western readers like this kind of ironic juxtaposition. And a couple of paragraphs later we can start to shed tears over Chipo "who used to outrun everybody in Paradise but not anymore because her grandfather made her pregnant." We then can rejoice in more juxtaposition - Bulawayo presents the children as innocent and deprived at the same time and we can shake our head in unspeakable sadness. And we are pleased, for it is a good story because it shows Africa and its problems, exactly the way we imagined them.
It's all nice and cozy until the children come across a Western woman who throws away her unfinished food in front of them and then asks if she can take a photo of them. And this is when we realise we've been made a fool. That all we got was a useless snapshot of hungry African children which we can now show to our friends. With the final scene of the story it might hit us that we are of more use to Africa dead than we are alive.