When I first started writing A Woman Of Africa” I had two ideas that were, as I thought at the time dominating my consciousness. Firstly I wanted to write a sort of “African Tess”, a rural African story loosely based around the structure of the D’Urbeville tragedy, this was then to form part of a series of stories each set in Africa, each from a different narrator that would come together to form a collection of “African Tales” in a similar structure to “The Canterbury Tales”. That at least when I sat down a wrote the first lines “ I am an African Woman, “ was the intention. In a way she was the Wife of Bath rising from the ashes of Biafra, events however took a different turn and the main character came alive and dictated me her story.
Jacques Derrida, my favourite philosopher famously stated, “there is nothing outside the text”. He expounded that books write them selves. The idea in brief is that the writer perceives and idea, a concept, the concept is, as it is yet unwritten “absent” it is unbound by language the fetters of lexicon have yet to shackle it to mundane meanning and interpretation. As the writer begins to write the absent book looses its freedom it is dragged kicking and screaming from the infinite freedom of absence to the physical constraints of presence, as it struggles in the form of text language is mutated and deformed as the concept tries to re-establish its self within the confines of a vocabulary limited by meaning and comprehension. Ultimately it fails. It is pinned to the text like a wild beast from the savannah closed in a cage, a tired shadow of its original inception.
Why this deviation, well sometimes I think she “the woman Of Africa” is still out there the all powerful mother of humanity the source of the original oestrogen stream, perhaps laughing at the presumptuousness of my rigid masculine Anglo Saxon imagination in trying to stalk her. Allan Quartermain with a pen, in fact Quatermain , the great white hunter, is a good metaphor he loved the African veldt and its wild life, a love which he expressed with high velocity rounds, the trophy head on the wall has none of the majesty of the animal running wild.
As A Woman Of Africa started to take shape on the pages I often found that as much as I sought Hardy it was frequently Topol the great chronicler of the Ghetto who spurred my dull intent. It was Topol’s observant Jewish ghetto humour that seemed to be laughing at my intentions as much as it paralleled her sense of humour. In the end “ A Woman Of Africa” is a ghetto story, or more specifically a story that is expressed through a ghetto medium, and I was not seeking the bitter intensity of Bernard Malmud, so who better as a spirit guide through the idiom of ghetto humour than fat old Topol.
In ghetto mentality not much has changed, how different deep down are the rap songs and videos of today, rappers draped in bling standing next to cars that most of their audience will never be able to afford, from Topol swinging round his barn singing “If I were a rich man”?