About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. He is currently writing his first novel entitled CHASING DEMONS. He is a martial artist, yogi, and world traveler.

Falling Water Haiku

thunder yon
Zambezi rafting
greenhorns beware


cataract
water wind-misted
plume-zone green


terraced hill
rice paddy cascades
depth perfection


dry season
murmur to trickle to
fall-less falls


level rising
the overspill rolls
pulling drops

POEM: Calypso Facto

For seven years,
Ulysses was hostage to Calypso.

He was like, “Wife is waiting, gotta go!”

“You know, by Neptune, you are still cursed?”

“Being stranded with you was fun at first…”

“Out there’s the ever-present threat of Death.”

“Worth it, to not wake to your morning breath.”

COVID-19, you are my Calypso!



[Anyone got Zeus’s number?]

BOOK REVIEW: The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The Old DriftThe Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This novel follows three Zambian families through three generations from before there was a Zambia (when it was Northern Rhodesia) into the near future. The nine chapters each correspond to a member of one of the families for a given generation. Throughout the first two parts — i.e. “Grandmothers” and “Mothers” — we occasionally see the lives of members of the three families bump into each other, but in the third (“Children”) we see them become entwined. The families are ethnically diverse. The grandmothers include an Italian and a Brit who married a black Rhodesian. And there is a mixed-race marriage involving an Indian merchant. While the diversity of the novel’s cast makes for some interesting considerations of identity (e.g. how one views oneself versus how one is viewed by others,) it’s not so much central to the story as it is a flavoring of the story.

While we learn in a prologue that the title is a term used by the locals living near Mosi-o-Tunya (Victoria Falls) regarding the Zambezi River, it takes on another meaning as the book’s theme. The thematic meaning has more to do with impotence to fix the country’s problems. In other words, the momentum of Zambia’s “drift” simply can’t be overcome. A central idea in the book is squandered potential. Each of the three grandmothers shows a potential for greatness that is wasted not only because they are women in a patriarchal society. Sibilla is afflicted with a condition in which hair grows over her entire body at an incredibly rapid rate. Agnes is a skilled tennis player until she goes blind. Matha is smart as a whip, but she becomes caught in the orbit of men who are dim.

Each character is caught in this inexorable “drift” that is littered with detritus like poverty, AIDS, technological dependence, and weak governance. By the time it comes to the third generation, they are not only loaded with potential but (to a large extent) have access to resources but they still can’t manage to advance on solutions. In fact, they can’t seem to help but to contribute to the problems they are set against. In a crucial scene, a confluence of the work of the three (Joseph’s vaccination, Jacob’s drones, and an embedded communication device worked on by Naila) all come together in an action that is just what they are trying to create a revolution against. [Not having control or autonomy, but rather being colonized in an entirely new kind of way.] The problem is so amorphous and vast that a consensus of what it even is can’t be agreed upon.

I picked up this book as part of my project to read literature from every country I visit, and I’m glad I did. It’s hard to imagine a book that is more useful for that purpose because it covers so much ground in terms of the history of the country and the lives of a range of Zambians from prostitutes living in shacks to the wealthy elite — not to mention the various minorities.

The book is literary fiction, centered on the characters, but a story does unfold as well as a powerful thematic exploration. The book isn’t easily classified. There is even an element of science fiction in that “beads” [imagine a smart phone built into the human hand, using neuro-electrical energy for power] are an important plot device and are relevant in the resolution of the story. There is this technology being made available to Zambians, free or at low-cost, but they are guinea pigs and have no say in how it works, when it works, or how it’s used. (In a way, that is the story of us all and is not unique to Zambia, Africa, or even the developing world.) This technological dependence is presented as a kind of neo-colonialism, and – in that regard – it’s railed against, even as people are addicted to the tech in the same way people are to their phones today. While “Bead” and advanced drone technology are central to the story, one wouldn’t call this science fiction, per se, but it’s hard to ignore the salience of technology as an element of power (and how that plays into the story.)

I’d highly recommend this book for fiction readers. While it may be particularly intriguing if you have a special interest in African or Zambian literature, one need not have a particular interest for the book to be engaging and a worthwhile read.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop

The Dolphins, the Whales and the GudgeonThe Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This tiny book is part of a series put out by Penguin called Little Black Classics. This one collects about 55 of Aesop’s fables together. These are all short fables, few longer than a page and many of only a few lines.

The title is an interesting choice in that that fable isn’t among the most well-known of those assembled. However, some oft the most famous have rather banal titles like: “The Fox and the Goat” or “The Wolf and the Lamb.” [Though “The Frogs Who Demanded a King” is also among the most well-known of the included stories.]

I found the collected fables to be thought-provoking, as well as being a broad sample (not a lot of the same moral repeating.) My favorites, for their cleverness, were: “The Stag at the Spring and the Lion,” “The Field Mouse and the Town Mouse,” “The Woodcutter and Hermes,” and “The Ass Carrying Salt.” Your results may vary.

I like that they’ve embraced the short format with these books. It often used to be the case that they would pad out a 50- or 60-page book like this to 120 pages, using filler, forwards, needless illustrations, and useless epilogues. This book is just the fables. (Most, but not all the fables, include a single line summation of the fable’s moral. While I don’t think this is necessary for adult readers, it might be helpful in explaining the story to children.)

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BOOK REVIEW: A Choice of Comic and Curious Verse ed. by J.M. Cohen

A Choice of Comic and Curious VerseA Choice of Comic and Curious Verse by J.M. Cohen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This poetry anthology consists of works selected and arranged by J.M. Cohen with the overarching theme of light-heartedness. Some of the poems are outright funny, others are more quirky, corny, or tongue-in-cheek. This edition was originally published in the 1970’s, though there was apparently a preceding edition that was largely the same that dates to the late-1950’s. The poems are almost all metered and rhymed, in part because that was still the dominant mode of poetry when these works were first published, and also because metered and rhymed verse conveys a jocular tone. Forms associated with comedic delivery, such as the limerick, are well-represented.

The 450-plus poems by about 180 authors (actually many more owing to the fact that the biggest contributor by far is Anonymous) are arranged into 22 thematic categories that are clearly meant to be more whimsical than categorical. The poets include those who are most well-known for playful verse such as Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear, but also light works by poets known for seriously toned work (e.g. Alexander Pope, John Betjeman, and W.H. Auden.) There are also plenty by authors known for mixing light and serious work, such as G.K. Chesterton, Robert Graves, and Hilaire Belloc. There are also a large number of poets who you’re unlikely to have heard of unless you’re a literary historian. Included in the collection are some widely anthologized works such as Belloc’s “Matilda,” Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” and Aldous Huxley’s “Second Philosopher’s Song,” but there are a great many more that will be unfamiliar to most (and a few that may be familiar as graffiti on a restroom wall.)

I enjoyed this book. It turned me onto some poets with whom I’d been unfamiliar. The works included, as one would expect of light verse, are quite readable (though there are some outdated references here and there.) If you stumble onto a decently-priced copy, pick it up.

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