Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret

Finished August 4
Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret by Ondjaki, translated by Stephen Henighan

This historical fiction book is told from the point of view of a boy who lives in a village, Bishop's Beach, near Luanda, the capital of Angola. He lives with his cousins and grandmother and their maid Magdalena. Angola was once a Portuguese colony and now the Soviets are running the country and, their soldiers in the village are building a large Mausoleum for a former Angolan president. There are some houses, a bakery, a garbage dump, a gas station that doesn't actually sell gas, with a lovely beach that fisherman use as a base for their work.
Granma Agnette is the one that tells the children what to do, that protects them in thunderstorms, and that tucks them in at night. Granma Catarina, Agnette's sister, dresses in mourning, stays on the edge of things and provides comfort and support. 
The gas station, located in the middle of a traffic circle, is manned by Comrade Gas Jockey who sleeps most of the time. One of the neighbours who everyone calls Sea Foam, acts and talks in crazy ways, dressing oddly, keeping an animal rumoured to be an alligator in a shed in his yard, is regarded with an edge of fear and a fair bit of awe. The narrator's best friend is Pinduca, who goes by Pi, and due to Sea Foam, is nicknamed 3.14. They also sometimes hang out with a bookish girl the same age, Charlita. Charlita's father Senor Tuarles often threatens to have his wife bring his gun when things get tense, but never uses it.
One of the security soldiers at the construction site, known as blue ants in the village for their uniforms, is enamored of Granma Agnette and visits often. He often talks about his homeland and how cold it is there and asks Agnette to go back there with him. He greets every one with Gudafter-noon, no matter the time of day and thus they have nicknamed him Soviet Comrade Gudafterov Lately there are rumours that someone has heard him utter the word dynamite in his own language and that there are plans to explode the neighbourhood. He has mentioned that they will relocating everyone to nice new houses.
The kids decide that they must prevent this from happening and come up with a plan. Meanwhile Granma Agnette has been getting pain in her leg, and after a visit from one of her daughters, who works at the hospital and a specialist called Dr. Rafael KnockKnock (because he likes to say knock knock and rap on doors before he enters) decide that she must have a toe removed. After this, she is known as Granma Nineteen. 
The narrator travels to the hospital with her, and sees where she is going, and comes home to inform everyone else. They stop at the cemetery on the way to visit Granpa Mbinha's grave. 
This is a story of the wonders of childhood, the silliness and grand schemes. This is a story of families, of their closeness and support. And it is a story of community that even some outsiders recognize and respect. 
A great read. 

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