Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Flat 9 by Mariam Akabor
Title: Flat 9
Author: Mariam Akabor
Publisher: Umsinsi Press, 2006
Price: Please check with Mariam or Felicity
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I rarely read short story collections, and I never go out of my way to find them, but after opening the first page of Mariam Akabor’s Flat 9, I couldn’t stop reading.
Set in central Durban, the collection of 11 short stories explores the loves, lives and troubles of a South African Indian community living in a dilapidated old building called AK Mansions.
“Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, the tenants of AK Mansions are never short of excitement, drama or pain,” the back cover synopsis says.
Flat 9 captivated me primarily because it explores life’s moments that are a familiar to me, even while I was learning more about another local culture. The stories are very short and move along fast. Some leave you with the need to know what happens next beyond the pages.
For example, in Latif’s Mother, we meet a cranky woman whose son moved away to get away from her. Even as she yelled: “You blurry idjits! Voetsek fum here!” I couldn’t help but feel pity for her. Given the chance, would she change?
Then there’s Fatima, in AK Mansions, whose life just took a turn for the better. She has a new job, is about to move into AK Mansions, which by her current standards is actually a step up, and she’s looking forward to her mother’s visit. But a big decision that most local young women, whether African and Indian face is just around the corner.
Some of the stories pack an emotional punch. The Paki hits too close to SA’s shame – its citizens’ zenophobia. It was not a comfortable look in the mirror.
I suspect many teenagers can identify Feroz, the main character in All About Money, destined for a secure, well-paying job that does not touch on their interests or passions. “It’s just a stage,” they say of Feroz when he explains he wants to be a chef, not an accountant or engineer.
Flat 9 has been prescribed as secondary reading for high schools in the KswaZulu Natal province in South Africa, and with good reason.
But the book is more than a duty read. It’s a fun read, to be enjoyed equally by teenagers and adults. The book is a good place to start if you or your teenager are not yet fans of the short fiction form.