Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo"

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo is Peter Orner's first novel.

And what a debut. The novel earned rave reviews, won at least one prize, and was called "one of my five favorite novels of all time" by Stephen Elliott.

Here's what Peter said about page 69 of his novel:
Christ, I remember so well writing this page, took me years to get it right. I think I have a hundred drafts of it in a folder somewhere. All that work for something that is so completely random and goofy. My editor kept wanting to know what orificial excretions were. Anyway, I won’t even try to give much context here, except to say that we’re at a school on a farm in the semi-desert scrubveld of west-central Namibia, and one of the teachers, Obadiah Horaseb, is trying to sleep during siesta. I will say though that the speech he begins to give at the bottom of the page (to the offending whistler outside his window) is a jab at the United Nations. You have to love the United Nations. Namibia was occupied for decades by South Africa and the UN passed hundreds of useless, toothless resolutions in honor of the freedom of the Namibian people, much as they’ve done lately for the people of Darfur. But Obadiah’s speech is no political screed (the screed is mine), he’s only a character – probably my favorite of anyone else in the book (I miss him) – and at the moment he has just been woken up and he’s pretty pissed off, so pissed off he quotes Deng Xiaoping.
28. Siesta

We must raise the political and social
status of teachers. They should command
the respect not only of their students, but
also of the whole community.

-Deng Xiaoping
After classes, after lunch. A consecrated time of languishment. A flopped, dead-eyed hour. Our beds damp oases, narrow paradises of our own orificial excretions. And here we wallow in moist, sweat-clammy bliss until the study hour triangle rings, this is the general idea anyway.

One siesta – hark – treason! A boy (ruffian! villain! bandit!) whistles – loudly – as he wanders by Obadiah’s open bedroom window. The insomniac inside just so happens to be asleep this day. (Taped to Obadiah’s screen, facing out for the world to be inspired by, is a photo of Mandela after his release, that peppered hair, that raised fist, that loving-even-my jailers smile.) But Obadiah, now that he is awake, is no gentle spirit of the nation today. Nonetheless, he uses the language of diplomacy. The below resolution is translated from the French.
Be it known that Head Teacher Obadiah Horaseb of the Goas Primary School RC Calls upon all boys of Goas to heed the following…That Head Teacher Recognizes the need for spontaneous joy in young plebeians who do not yet comprehend that life on earth amounts to nothing but sorrow, regret, failure, and, ultimately, humiliation.
Many thanks to Peter for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. Read additional excerpts here.

For reviews by Alan Cheuse, Dave Eggers, and others, click here.

Stephen Elliott did not review the novel--he went one better and wrote this piece.

Click here to read an interview with Peter Orner.

This summer, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie put Namibia in the news, Peter wrote this essay for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Orner’s first book was Esther Stories, a well-received collection of 34 stories of which Margot Livesay wrote in the New York Times, “Orner doesn’t simply bring his characters to life, he gives them souls.” Stories from the collection have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2001 and the Pushcart Prize XXV: Best of the Small Presses, 2001 Edition. Peter's work has also appeared in such journals as The Atlantic Monthly, McSweeney’s, BOMB, The Paris Review, and The Southern Review.

Previous "page 69 tests":
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue