Wednesday, January 04, 2006

memories and history and Nigeria of course

We've spent the past week eating and reading and sleeping and swimming and sauna-ing in the parental bosom. I have just finished Zadie Smith's recent Booker shortlisted On Beauty. While not in the same league as say Ian McEwan's Saturday (the best living UK writer imho) in terms of visceral compulsion to keep turning the pages and sink deeper into the quagmire of the characters' existential complexities, it's a good attempt at gauging race in England and New England, with some brilliantly conceived comic touches for balance.

The two main characters, Monty Kipps and Howard Belsey, are totems for a resurgent reactive conservativism and a liberalist ideal that has lost the plot, each vying for territory within the lebensraum of a leafy Boston liberal arts college. Smith hits some purple patches of description when entering the cloistered world of campus life and Belsey's fall from grace, but sometimes the dialogue is overworked, especially when it comes to trying to capture various American speech patterns. As usual, I felt that the editors had wussed out on the job. But with the text obviously aimed at an American readership (we have 'candy' instead of 'sweets' and various other US-English smattered through the text), its clearly a "Smith tries to crack America" text. Good luck to her.

Otherwise, being in Wheaton Aston is like being set within the amber of memory: I am the son, frozen in time. This is not a bad thing. Dad dug out a scrap book of press clippings written by someone who lived in the village for much of the twentieth century. I saw stories about my great-grandfather Frank in the early 1930's (he seemed to like hanging out with the Women's Institute posse for some reason!) - a clipping commenting on my grandparents' wedding in the 1930's; a story about electricity coming to the village at the same time etc. There was a whist-drive in the late 1930's to save up money for a Spitfire (war was humming in the background). As with the village, our family has come a long way since my grandfather's time - he having never left the country or received a university education - me having been to over 20 countries so far with a PhD. Our children will be space travellers.

Meanwhile, there seems to be all kinds of wahalla going on in Nigeria (as usual) - the most interesting for me being the botched attempt to flog NITEL to the Egyptian telco Orascom. The Egyptians thought they were going to get a bargain for under US$300million, only for Baba to step in at the last minute and stop proceedings.

Whatever happens next, it is almost certain that a foreign operator will buy NITEL. This must surely be a template for all future privatisations in Nigeria - public goods go into the hands of private hands from overseas. Its a shame but nigh on inevitable. In NITEL's case, there are many Nigerians with solid telecoms experience, and many Nigerians with expertise in the upper reaches of the financial services sector in the City and Wall St. The fact that telco experts cannot get together with financiers to keep NITEL within Nigerian ownership is yet again an example of Nigeria (and its diaspora) being less than the sum of its parts.


mw 9:37 pm  


How about contributing on ZS's book for 'Readers Books'? The deadline's gone now but if you let me have something by email in the next coupla days, I'd be glad to have it.

Whaddaya say?

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