Celebrating East African Writing!
In the last few weeks I’ve found myself a little stuck in my room with a bad case of respiratory infection. I find that reading makes it a lot easier for me to bear the isolation. I have really good friends, it appears, and each one found a way to bring me a bunch of books to wear out the time.
My new collection of books seems to have more short story collections and novellas than any other form of writing. One friend even managed to get me both the Spanish version and the English Translation of The Aleph: A Collection of Short Stories by Jorge Luis Borges (1949), a book I have craved to acquire for quite a while now.
But what struck my attention with regards to The Storymoja Writers’ Community, was the Novellas. So I decided to spend a few minutes this week looking into it.
A Novella is a short novel; longer than a short story, shorter than a novel. There are some stories that just cannot be told in a short story, but are not large enough in scope to be a full-length novel.
The Novella spans in word count between 10000 and 70000 words, although this word count bracket does sometimes depend on the particular genre of the novella. Compare this to the short story’s average maximum length of 10000 words(Minimum can be as little as a 100 words for the short story) and the novel’s average maximum length of 110000 words (some publishers require a 70000 minimum word count for Novels, others an 80000 minimum word count)
Because of its length the short novel can allow a slower unfolding of character, incident, and idea as opposed to the single snapshot of time that the short story’s brevity demands. Yet like the short story, the short novel relies on glimpses of understanding, flashes of insight, quick turns of action to solidify the theme or reveal character.
What distinguishes the novella from its longer counterpart is its greater efficiency and sharper focus. Lacking time and space to accumulate incident, develop character, and amplify theme, the short novel cannot achieve the novel’s panoramic compression of effect that are the hallmarks of the short novel form.
Amongst my little collection of Novellas are the following titles:
Be sure to look up these titles. But in the meantime, here’s a little information about the one Novella that I have finished reading out of the collection.
The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine (2006)
The Woman Who Waited is set in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. In Leningrad, a young writer hangs out with other artists and intellectuals, sharing their disdain for their political leaders, as well as large amounts of alcohol and casual sex. Fed up with the shallowness of it all, the writer follows a friend’s advice and makes his way to the far northern village of Mirnoe on the White Sea. It’s a forgotten village, populated by elderly widows of soldiers lost in World War II. There the writer meets Vera, but finds there is much more to her than he ever imagined.
Vera was once young. Her fiancé headed off to fight in World War II, and a teenage Vera promised that she’ll wait for him. He never comes back, but she never gives up. She promised to wait. So she did.
Now a middle-aged schoolteacher, Vera is still beautiful and has become a folk hero among the villagers during her 30-year vigil.
“To begin with, there was nothing to distinguish Vera from the millions of other women who had lost their men. Like her they waited, young widows, forsaken lovers. No particular merit in that,” says the writer who’s supposed to be cataloging Mirnoe’s vanishing rituals but who has become fascinated by Vera. “This girl, this Vera, whose faithfulness at first passed unnoticed, later prompted respectful and sympathetic approval, then, as time went by, a mixture of weariness and irritation, the shrugging of shoulders reserved for village idiots; then, later still, indifference, sometimes giving way to the pride local people take in one of the curiosities of the region, a holy relic, a notably picturesque rock. One day, in the end, nothing remained of all that…. [Just] the pointlessness of all judgments, admiring or critical. Only this thought, hazy amid the air’s radiance: ‘That’s how it is.’ “
Vera is too strong and too busy, frankly, to fit passively into the preconceived notions of either the writer or the other men who fall in love with her. Following Vera in her cavalry greatcoat on her errands of mercy through forests of larches, it’s easy to see why the young man falls in love with her; what’s less clear is why Vera would have much patience with his shallow attempts at categorizing and conquering her.
Vera’s soldier remains a mystery. But Vera is depicted as a woman worth waiting for!
(Part of this short Review was borrowed from Powells.com)
As you can see, this story needs a little more time to narrate, yet for certain reasons the author chose to make it worth just a few snapshots, rather than a full novel. I personally enjoyed reading it, but perhaps because I found that Vera and I had a lot in common, not less than that she upended every conceivable stereotype presented against her.
In two weeks time, we will discuss how to go about writing the Novella.
For now, let’s go to this week’s short story submissions.
1. Dominoes – An African Story: Today is January 8, the year 2021. It has been two decades since the great war started. Twenty million people have died and the last of the world’s three governments are on the brink of collapse. Anarchy is the new world order.
2. Royal Diadem: It all began like a petite dark cloud, it grew and then became an obsession, in fact darker as the twenty fifth years began to draw to close, the wanton need. Njoki sought advice and before she could get the right cog, she was already in one passionate…
3. Stalker.com: It occurs to me that this man is a likeable fellow, seeing that he has friends, some whom I know. I don’t like him, and I have never met him! It also occurs to me that this man is probably usually a decent man. So what the hell is he doing on crazy lane?!
Next Week is Poetry Week. The Theme is Freedom. Thank you to those who have sent in your poetry well in advance. Everyone else has until Friday 1st April at 4pm to send in their poetry to Juliet@storymojaafrica.co.ke. Make sure you mark in the subject line: Poetry – Freedom. All submissions that don’t have this subject will be trashed automatically.
Have a grand week!