Reviewing and/or taking on the role as a critic of a self-published book such as The Roaring Lion and Wedding Bells – In the Heart of Tigers and Leopards by Azaria J. C. Mbatha is indeed a very serious thing. As reviewer and author I am expected to play with open cards and hopefully do my work honestly and well.

I fully admit that Azaria Mbatha might be way ahead of me and have a much better grasp of life than what I have. I also hope that he has a cult following as he has been published before. It is said about self-published books that they on average sell 300 copies. Let’s hope Mr Mbatha reaches this figure.

I have no doubt that the author put his heart and soul into this work but to describe it as page turning prose is a bit too rich for me. Maybe it was written in another language as Mr Mbatha is a South African of seemingly Zulu descent and the beauty and richness might have gotten lost in the translation. I don’t know. All I do know is that I have to review this work, written in English for an English audience, by someone that has been out of South Africa since 1965 and maintain that he is fully in touch with things on the ground.

My opinions will always be subjective, formed by what I enjoy or dislike. I try to be objective with material that I do not understand and treat any work with respect. I do know what effort and labour of love it is to write. I also know about the trepidation one suffers while awaiting a review. Any author writes to be read and ultimately to be liked. If that do not form part of your motivation then I can not see why you should bother.
 
I will start of with a quote from the author’s preface:

“I can assure my readers that I will continue writing as long as there are things I do not understand. Things that I do not understand are above my head at the moment. However, I don’t want to start writing if I am losing it and just writing in the same mediocre fashion. Then, I don’t think I should write.”

This is the trend throughout the book, categorised as a novel. Broad sweeping statements, interrupted by questions which lead to exactly nowhere and leaves the reader totally bewildered. I could not read one page without going back a few times to check whether there was something I missed as I just could not fathom his reasoning. I still don’t.

When trying to find my bearings in this massive brick of a “novel” I find that I get totally lost in a maze of intricate, many-facetted and confusing tale. I must confess I still struggle to fully understand what, why and where the author is trying to tell anything.

In all fairness I have to admit that I have not read this “novel” from cover to cover. Not because I’m lazy and have too many other things on my plate. No, but rather because I do not like being subjected to involuntary boring lectures about absolutely nothing. If I wanted to be bored and confused I would enrol on a course about the mating habits of the North Sea clam. This book numbers no less than 507 pages of which not a single one made coherent sense to me. However, I will in time complete my reading of this work and then write another review in the event of my initial judgement being too harsh.

In trying to say something positive about this book, in desperation, I subjected it to several reading level algorithms. These “readability tests” all differ but have one thing in common i.e. how easy the text is to read. As an example part of page 243 of Mr Mbatha’s book scored 67%. Anything over 40% is categorised as extremely difficult to read and understand, normally legal jargon associated with governments trying to cover up something. Very few of the pages tested, scored under 45% which places it firmly in the category of a laborious difficult read. I therefore do not seem to be alone in forming an opinion on the perplexing nature of this material.  

It’s just like an Indaba on speed, gone terribly wrong. Too many voices at the same time, too many songs sung out of tune at one given point in time, a beehive run amuck.
 
For those who are not intimately familiar with the traditional African way of storytelling, as I am, this is going to be a bumpy ride. (Southern African stories are often a riddle or even enigmatic at the best of times) Mr Mbatha’s style, where he intercept the flow of telling an actual story, complete with events and persons, and his personal opinions on e.g. Martin Luther, Glasnost, Verwoerd, Ubuntu, Christ, DDR and the Cubists (just to mention a few) is a difficult equation. It will without fail result in a catastrophic literary experiment. This never-ending, disorganised stream of consciousness rather exhausts the reader than offer any enlightenment.
 
I do recognise that this is a serious effort to get a message across. But regretfully, in Mr Mbatha’s orgy of artistic freedom and over-exposure of his self this is lost.
 
When trying to dissect the text into separate sections and areas there’s no denying that Mr Mbatha is indeed touching upon many a very valid topic. But why does it have to be in one and the same book? Is that why Mr Mbatha has so generously included no less than 104 footnotes to elaborate on certain aspects and/or to explain to us mere mortals what Africa is all about? Why is a “Select Bibliography”, listing some 40 sources included in a novel? I do not know. And frankly I do not really care. I don’t think Mr Mbatha have to defend his work by referring to others, nor am I of the opinion that he should need to use such a bibliography at all. As I have previously indicated, this is an author that is not at a loss for words, au contraire.
 
While on the subject of style I cannot help but being terribly disturbed by the countless inconsistencies and proofing errors. Whether or not that should be attributed to the author or his editor (if there was one) I’d rather leave alone. But for me, it makes the book very, very hard to read and follow.
 
I laboured under the illusion that Mr Mbatha would try to illustrate the riches of African story-telling in its own right. This is somehow lost along the endless meanderings of quotes, events, politicians and opinions. I will still give him credit for trying his best to tell a story that could have been important, furthering African literature to take its rightful place on the international arena. Alas, this time it’s not going to happen.

As it now stands I can not categorise this book as more than a rough first draft that still need to go through a meticulous edit, a final decision as to the genre and at least one proper rewrite. A title that sports 13 words also seem to be a bit out of place.

 

Gerrie Hugo is a South African living in Sweden. Visit his blog:  http://gerthugo.blogspot.com/

 

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