Book Review: Monkey’s Wedding

Monkey’s Wedding by Rossandra White

2017 Independent Publisher Award Medalist
2017 National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist
2017 International Book Awards Finalist
2017 Paris Book Festival Awards Honorable Mention

Rossandra White is the author of the multiple award-winning

Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog

Anyone who has ever witnessed a sun shower and is asked about it later likely experiences a variety of curious and immediate memories. For myself, two branches of thought come together, starting with my mother’s frequent assertion that rain on one’s wedding day is good luck. This merges with the historical status of animals as purveyors of phenomena explanation in such folkloric expressions as monkey’s wedding, which refers to rain falling when the sun is shining brightly. It is magical and wondrous, typically a short-lived event that nevertheless has the capacity to elicit thrill and awe at nature’s fantastic contradiction. Perhaps people once witnessed a group of monkeys acting joyfully during a sun shower and related it to what made sense to them, deciding the simians must be on their way to a wedding.

In my own memory a monkey’s wedding really is magical, and so, might I add, is Monkey’s Wedding. Author Rossandra White brings the theme to bear on her novel starting with the cover’s color tones—dark profile of a hut and baobab tree set against the bright, hot orange and red of the sun and sky to the contradictions throughout, sometimes so subtle we don’t recognize their droplets as they nevertheless work out as part of the situations within which they exist.


Jiminy. That’s what she called her baby brother, instead of James or Jimmy. He reminded her of that little cricket from Pinocchio: head too large for his bird body, all that thick black hair, and when he wasn’t crying or vomiting, he chirped.


Elizabeth and her British parents live in 1950s Rhodesia, members of a society in transition as indigenous peoples begin to demonstrate their resentment of white rule. Annie, Elizabeth’s expectant and often moody mother, seeks to keep her daughter separated from “those kaffirs” even while the girl is developing a disallowed friendship with Turu, son of Nelson, the family’s houseboy (an ordinary but telling appellation). Though she reveals to her mother he is nasty toward his son, Annie tends to be focused on how the help are “getting bolder.” The pair maintain a strained relationship and Elizabeth’s father plays peacemaker, though she at times agrees with her mother’s assessment.

Turu, too, evades suspicious adult eyes as he navigates through time with his grandmother, a Shona high priestess who has chosen the boy for a position he severely doubts he can fill. White expertly shifts between perspectives, revealing some but not all there is to know from any given quarter. Her narrative is also tinged with a feeling of silent mystery, as if we are approaching something that knows we are there, and the sense of expectancy is heavy as Anesu the priestess seems to speak for our benefit, all the while enjoying our unfamiliarity, playing us a bit as she leads us along a path we know not.

The plot’s parameters widen, and we see Elizabeth and Turu off on their escapades, ordinary activities for children—even their plot to steal extra sherbit from the shopkeeper— were it not for the underlying, unspoken awareness of their race differences. Each child harbors thoughts about the other’s race and its implications, though they also spend time exchanging information and peacefully learning about one another. The book’s title reflects their friendship as they sustain a mostly productive relationship amidst societal shakeup. They do row on occasion, their tiffs sometimes being related to the increasing temperature and pressures of racial tensions booming over their heads, but their childhood wisdom often sets right derailed moments and each achieves opportunities to see for themselves who the other really is.

As the author steers us through events, discord amongst the unseen occurs too, as ancient spirits demand reckoning, pulling Turu into events in ways that confuse and shake him, and Elizabeth seeks a path into a world hidden from her, all while in plain sight. With Elizabeth, we catch proverbial glimpses of another world, perhaps with some recognition as Anesu performs chants and prepares poultices, admonishes Turu’s avoidance of his duties and bestows upon Elizabeth something that recognizes a connection even she doesn’t quite understand. Exotic though it may seem, it offers a real alternative to Elizabeth while powerful forces of both worlds thunder over their lives, threatening everything they know.

Thanks to White’s proficiency in winding through varying perspectives, scenes and histories, details are deliciously different yet also familiar, and we find that identity isn’t always what we might have previously experienced. Amidst exposure to traditional mythology, we also encounter a moment in which Turu’s handling of a modern machine is optimal given Elizabeth’s inability to do. There is, of course, the male/female stereotype to consider, but Turu’s ability to get the car running also highlights the reality that this mechanical place is also his world, whatever his ethnicity. Afterward,

 [a]lmost right away, it felt as if Jasu, God of the Sun, had turned his face toward them. The deep green of the sisal turned to hard green, scrubby grass the color of a lion’s haunch. The smell of rain hung in the air. On the distant horizon in front of them, the huge baobab tree beside bwana van Zyl’s shop looked like a fat stalk with tiny twigs branching upward. Acacia and other thorn trees dotted the veld. Three hundred yards away, five eland buck appeared out of nowhere and floated on a heat wave past the jagged outline of his people’s ruins.

Later, Elizabeth joyfully shifts attention to the ongoing monkey’s wedding, explaining to Turu about making a wish. His dismissive attitude highlights awareness of their shifting, sometimes merging, roles when she owns the superstition and he practical modern knowledge, bringing to delightful life the novel’s epigraph, an African proverb about sharing paths. White doesn’t spell any of this out, which is part of what makes it so superb. She allows her characters to be who they are, retaining the emotional or mystical nature of any given moment by employing a beautifully minimalist style.

Having said that, it should be noted that the author also brings to life these amazing events with imagery so stunning it provokes the senses and emotions, allowing readers to experience the moments as well, easily calling to mind scenes both reminiscent and foreign, whether ordinary or exceptional, a further union of opposites.

After tea Elizabeth headed for her bedroom, where she lay on her back on the cool cement floor. The tin roof creaked as the sun beat down on it. In minutes, she was asleep.

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Night had spread its blanket over everything.

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 The air stirred around her, and she opened her eyes. A short distance away, down a gentle slope, sat a hut with walls the rich color of a gazelle’s hide and thatch that was plump and golden. A strange, mesmerizing, blue-tinged fire burnt in front.

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 He returned with the milk and plunked the bucket on the table harder than he meant to. Milk sloshed up. The small brown creature on the other end of the table gave a short jerk of surprise and blew a spit bubble.

The contradictions rain down on us throughout the book, though sometimes so subtle in application it’s as if a shower has passed us before we had time to register it. Black and white, magic and ordinary, resentment and joy, life and death, young and old, outspoken and voiceless—these and more mingle with one another, like a monkey’s wedding, inspiring those it touches as they at times recognize a spiritual connection made between a twain that ordinarily “shall not meet.”

While Monkey’s Wedding now is amongst my top five reading recommendations for those wishing to know more about Africa, I’d also add that part of White’s dexterity in storytelling is that this tale could have happened nearly anywhere, simultaneously being particularly African, further adding to her mastery of fluently combining the unlikely. Set in 1953, it also is a timeless tale, evocative, magical as its spirit, like those within, wisping in and out of environments, maintaining an absolute embrace of our senses while setting us completely free to imagine.

About the author …

Rossandra White, a fourth generation South African, spent the first twenty-three years of her life in Zambia, where she had a baboon for a pet and learned to tell a log from a crocodile. As well as Monkey’s Wedding, she is the author of the memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, published by She Writes Press. At the moment, she’s working on finishing another novel, Mine Dances, the sequel to Monkey’s Wedding. She lives in Laguna Beach with her two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, with whom she fights for space in her bed. When she’s not writing, she’s at the gym or hiking the hills behind her home.

Readers can keep up with the author at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Monkey’s Wedding may be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Author image courtesy Rossandra White

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The author provided a copy of Monkey’s Wedding in exchange for an honest review. 

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A New Look … Maybe?

As can be seen by a glance at the page, I’ve changed the look up a bit. Actually, I’ve been playing around for a couple of days now and soliciting opinions because I have such a hard time making up my mind. A couple of things I knew I wanted was a sidebar – left or right, I think I’d like either one – and an end to what drove me to redecorate: full visibility for the captions under my sidebar images.

Here’s what I mean:

Seriously, what the heck? I contemplated, though, that perhaps it was time for a change of pace anyway and so started checking out different themes. I finally decided that this (Colinear) was perhaps maybe the one, at least I like it enough to move forward and put my sidebar items back in place – they didn’t automatically place there in this theme like they did in the others. That’s a bummer, and I also don’t really love that I can’t (as far as I can tell) get at a “click to link” option or add in captions beneath the images. Sure, for books the title and author are easily discerned, but I’d like to be able to caption people’s status as award-winning authors, or a prize the book won, and so on. Plus, not everything is a book, but I’m hoping to find my solution as I probe more into the widget options. I also have become aware of a failure to save properly: several times I’ve made changes and the preview had to be closed and draft re-saved several times before the new or corrected text appeared.

I was also at first pretty jazzed to see that there is a specific widget for linking to Goodreads. It’s nice in that it shows all your books, and links to their respective Goodreads pages, and so the blog page’s appearance changes, subtle though it may be, whenever I begin or finish another book. However, I did notice a glaring omission from that list of currently-reading books, and that is a Bible that also occupies my shelf but for some reason Goodreads sees fit to block from my widget. I don’t really care if not a single person employed by Goodreads ever reads one, or they want to throw a few down the nearest toilet; that’s their prerogative, too. My choice, however, is to own and read one, and while I’m not typically quick to accuse, the appearance of them overstepping their bounds is pretty strong and distasteful.

Added Notation: After publication I showed my son the Goodreads widget and he suggested it may be able to hold just five titles and selected randomly. Under his direction we played around a bit more – deleting 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry and adding in another book, though nothing changed. We logged out and back in, and deleted the new book as well. Then we ensured just five books were on my currently-reading list and not only did the Bible not show up, but also 1066 didn’t go away! Very strange! As before, despite my annoyance at the omission, I am willing to believe it is just random, with the added consideration that this widget works only sporadically. Perhaps by tomorrow the changes on my Goodreads page will have caught up to the widget? (Or is the widget working to catch up to the Goodreads page?) Will the search for a perfect theme continue? Stay tuned!

Added Added Notation: Guess what! Goodreads has not, after all, shown itself an outfit willing to go as far as to algorithm “offensive” titles out of public view: the widget has updated and the Bible shows! My very bad, Goodreads and readers, my very bad! It’s hardly an unreasonable suspicion, what I’d been wondering about, given these strange days we occupy; nevertheless I’m glad I’m inclined to keep questioning, myself as well as others, and that there are times I really love to be proven wrong. Not to mention the situational reminder that asking one’s child for advice isn’t an upside-down proposition at all. And now I really am off to bed. The daylight has tricked me into believing it’s only 20:00 or so, but it’s past 23:00 now and the wowza fatigue has hit. Toodles!

Other than that I really do like the Goodreads widget, which means I can do away with the “What’s on My Night Table” link. I also like that the text area is wider and the lines cleaner, sharper. It looks refreshed. Additionally, unlike several other themes, it doesn’t underline links, which matters because some are titles, some not, and it created a look of inconsistency. Also, the colors, while slightly altered, are at least in line with what I had before in terms of ease of reading: light background, distinct hyperlinks. I still have some work to do on the sidebar, but that will be forthcoming, plus I decided to air out the place some more and put up different kinds of items, such as video, audio and slideshows – and hopefully other things, rotating and static.

I also just discovered my pages (tabs) don’t show, so I’ll have to figure that out as well. If you’re looking for something you knew to be there previously, please bear with me as I make adjustments. If you’d like information on one or more of them you knew to be available before, feel free to drop me a line at scully_dcATyahooDOTcom.

That’s it for now, lovelies! Good night from the Great Land and may your dreams be sweet.

Forget-me-not, our official flower with the same colors – blue and gold – as our lovely flag.

Author Spotlight: Sir Alec Guinness

Because learning is an endeavor that embraces many linkages, often taking us to places we least expect, tonight’s author spotlight is a fantastic example for the epitome of what our author spotlights are meant to be, leading us into other realms of creativity, imagination and talent that inspire and drive. Do allow me to step back for a moment first.

Drawing by Nicholas Volpe after Guinness won an Oscar in 1957, by Nicholas Volpe via Wikimedia Commons

My fourteen-year-old son being the film aficionado he is, soon into his explorations discovered classic movies, Lawrence of Arabia being one of which he was instantly enamored. I’d seen it myself as a child, and re-watched with Turtle. Not long ago we had the opportunity to experience something no amount of Blu-Ray sessions can capture—watching this epic film on the big screen. Our recent watching ignited a spark that had glowed when seeing it as Turtle cut his teeth on this older epic, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year: Sir Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal, Emir and leader of the Arab Revolt during the Great War. His deliberate, slow speech and developed Arab accent (copied from a conversation he’d had with Omar Sharif) paired with portrayal of a real-life, complex character who maintained a delicate balance between tribal and new world politics. Guinness’s performance consistently displays the massive effort of such an intense role, all while sustaining a dignified and cool composure, speaking volumes with his coded facial expressions, particularly his eyes, even when he utters not a word. He maintains a magnificent presence.

It may surprise some to know that Guinness does indeed fit into this series by virtue of authoring three volumes of memoir: Blessings in Disguise; My Name Escapes Me and A Positively Final Appearance, also recorded as audiobooks. A Commonplace Book, reflections on life, literature and the world around him, was published posthumously. Within these works we are led through a world of ideas and experiences that touch history, literature, politics and religion, his lifelong craft, observations on society and so much more. His storytelling, whether in film or on paper, brings us closer to the heart of the man as well as the re-discovery of what lives within ourselves.

Born in 1914 London as Alec Guinness de Cuffe, Guinness’s first job was in advertising copy. He later was promoted to understudy (in a role with two lines) for a salary of £1 per week. During World War II he served a commanding role in the Royal Navy and planned to become an Anglican priest, later converting to Catholicism. Each morning he recited the first line of this stanza from Psalm 143, one of the seven known as penitential psalms, expressing sorrow for sin.

Cause me to hear thy loving kindness in the morning;
for in thee do I trust:
cause me to know the way wherein I should walk;
for I lift up my soul unto thee.

 

Guinness maintained lifetime ties to his Shakespearean acting roots, including parts in Hamlet; Henry V; The Tempest; King Lear and Richard II. His performance links to literature continued with roles in Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and Little Dorritt; Our Man in Havana; Kind Hearts and Coronets; Dr. Zhivago and Tunes of Glory, along with stage productions of The Alchemist; Cyrano de Bergerac; The Cocktail Party and Dylan. Apart from Lawrence, Guinness starred in two other films celebrating significant anniversaries in 2017: The Bridge on the River Kwai (60) and Star Wars (40). He also appeared in the serialized television versions of two of John le Carré’s renowned espionage novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People.

The actor is rumored to have had a volatile relationship with director David Lean, who nevertheless considered him to be “my good luck charm” and continued to cast him in films. Guinness went on to win the Best Actor Academy Award in 1957 (The Bridge on the River Kwai), several nominations and, in 1980, an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor twice, in the role of le Carré’s George Smiley. In fact, le Carré was so impressed with the actor’s performance that he based his characterization on the protagonist in subsequent novels on Guinness. Amongst a number of other honors, Guinness was also appointed, in 1955, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and knighted in 1955.

Sir Alec Guinness married actress Merula Sylvia Salaman in 1938, who also converted to Catholicism. They had a son, Matthew, who followed his father’s footsteps, becoming an actor and working extensively in theatre. Sir Alec passed away in August 2000, aged 86; the Lady Guinness, also 86, followed just two months later.

As a passionate reader with a rather average interest in film, it is not often an actor captures my attention in quite the way Sir Alec Guinness has, and I look forward to exploring his work, especially given that so much of it links directly to literature, an opening that likely will lead me not only to new work to explore, but also the interpretations he bore to invigorate and inspire.

Some great links to peruse:

Sir Alec Guinness biography

The ten best Alec Guinness movies 

Works by Alec Guinness 

A magnificent biography of Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness receiving an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement 

From Guinness’s Academy Award-winning performance as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai   (also below)

For our previous Author Spotlight: Lewis Carroll, click here

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