A splendid obscure find in a Dar bookshop

by Susan Abraham

With the exception of an established British-owned bookstore called A Novel Idea and its string of accompanying stores scattered all over Dar-es-Salaam, many of the older Tanzanian bookshops in this ancient harbour city, are still reputed to be poky and daunting haunts where a stern, po-faced bookseller is inclined to keep strange hours, willing a customer desperately out of his shop while ringing his old-fashioned till with annoying haste come lunchtime.

Yet, a visit to Dar is still propelled with the masochistic tradition that I slink into one of these historic shops selling quirky academic items; with clockwork regularity and with the clumsy attitude of a bashful schoolgirl, ready to be caught out for a misdemeanor.  If the truth be known, it is nostalgia that beckons for once upon-a-time many moons ago when I was still little, bookshops in the small town of Klang, Malaysia where I was raised, too were honed by no-nonsense and bespectacled Chinese booksellers.  These little shophouses contained the same dark mood that in contrast, held varied displays of fascinating Enid Blyton collections.

A month ago, I picked up Endless Toil, a print-on-demand affair, written and published by well-respected and widely-travelled Tanzanian journalist, Attilio Tagalile.  The novel whose plot hinged largely on controversial political and social statements, lay at the back of a big dusty bookshop, situated in a busy corner, just off noisy Azikwe Street.  I had gathered other titles too, plays and poetry. I discovered that Tanzanians were  clearly prolific about the Arts, but stayed quiet in their achievements. I summed up that the country’s writers were humble and often unassuming in their goodwill gesture for a reader’s approval.

In retrospect having curled up with it all of yesterday in my quiet Dublin apartment, I found Endless Toil a riveting masculine read in the way that I am attracted to tougher novelistic prose these days; simply from my brush with adventure purporting to the Tanzanian wildlife.

Endless Toil painted a story of East African peasantry in the old days just before and after the onset of colonial power while discussing engagingly if not a little hotly, about a culture I have recently absorbed myself in and so I held the plot to be equally befitting of my passions.

Village women who fetched water from a communal pump,  those who carried children on their backs and baskets on their heads  and who all lived in small huts but who were involved with hopes, dreams and materialistic attitudes lived out ambitiously through their strong-willed children; that defined their very womanhood tugged at my heartstrings. I was reminded of the affectionate Chagga tribe in the Kilimanjaro-Moshi region that I still desire to win over.

The story is built around many many colourful characters but headed by a longtime worker of the railways Swela who brings up his family amidst a controversial East Africa policy where colonial power often interfered with the region’s independence and which later saw Uganda, Kenya & Tanzania dissolve in unity and where Kenya was seen to  thrive over Tanzania by the novel’s  envious fictitious characters. Goverment corruption subtly laid out in all quarters would result in dashed dreams for many of the simple folk and pensioners.

The story starts and ends with Swela’s life but in between branches out rather gracefully to many of the clan comprising aunts, uncles, cousins, wives, sons, daughters, neighbours and so forth.  Had there been no bridges linking one self-sufficient character’s story with another, this could well have been a short story collection. Tagalile manages this art beautifully, very Dickension in a way with some fine rambling and meandering  except that he would still manouvere his sub-plots like a tight rein. The result is a bunch of characters that sit on each other like tall building blocks which fail to topple.

There are also several comparisons through captivating episodes, matched by heated quarrels and rebellion that set modernity against tradition with regards to medicine, education and social upbringing. All are told in a witty manner through well-fleshed out stories.

This is my first real foray into Tanzanian fiction but am amazed at how I am so easily able to identify the real life workings of Dar today, with all I read in the book with regards to similiar plots that may have gone on before.

Title: Endless Toil 250pp, Novelist: Attilio Tagalile, ISBN No. 998 908314.  The fabulous illustration was designed by Sammi “Jo’une’ Mwamkinga. The author’s address is listed as P.O. Box 5761, Dar es Salaam,Tanzania.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] is destined to make me feel at the happiest of moments – and you may read all about that here, then how more thrilling a treasured find like cheerful pictures and comic tales that threaten to […]

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