October 4, 2013 by markstani
Something is stirring in South Sudan, and it’s more than the natural exuberance which must surely come with being just over two years into its existence as the world’s newest independent nation.
There’s clearly been a cultural upheaval too, as evidenced by a new English-language anthology of short stories recently published by McSweeney’s: neighbouring nations in existence for centuries can still offer less.
In this respect, of course, South Sudan has benefited enormously from the involvement of McSweeney’s supremo Dave Eggers, who maintained his interest since presenting the excellent ‘What Is The What?’ – a semi-fictional biography of Sudanese ‘Lost Boy’ Valentino Achak Deng in 2011, around the time the nation first broke free of its northern cousin.
At 96 pages, There Is A Country is intended to serve very much as an introduction to South Sudan and its nascent literary talent.
The result of a call for manuscripts by the former refugee and now American-based academician Nyuol Lueth Tong, which yielded “dozens” of submissions from “mostly young” prospective authors, ‘There Is A Country’ consists of seven short stories and a final poem.
You might skip through in not much more than an hour, but the insight the collection provides into both the horrors of the independence struggle and the tantalising promise of freedom will linger much longer.
One of the strongest stories, Victor Lugala’s ‘Port Sudan Journal’, is published in its entireity on the McSweeney’s website here. Inevitably, war is a consistent aspect of the narrative, but with the exception of the short, sharp ‘Holy Warrior’, it is largely fought at a distance: my personal favourite is ‘Light Of Day’ by Samuel Garang Akau, in which a young couple find love by the village water-pump.
She was a girl of considerable height, dark and smooth-skinned. He could only gaze sheepishly as he watched her walk toward the water pump, with that bundle of yellow jerricans slung from her shoulders. She was unsuspecting, totally immersed in her own thoughts. Her hips, slightly burdened by the empty water cans, kept swaying left and right. Mayom thought she was the most phenomenal woman he had ever seen.
There’s an irresistible simplicity – almost a naivety – about these stories that certainly makes one wish for more. Two years into its existence, South Sudanese fiction evidently has a lot of things going for it: a rich, tumultuous recent history; the sponsorship of a literary titan in Eggers, and most importantly, a bunch of young writers who can really write. Thoroughly recommended.