The Commonwealth Short Story Prize gives writers from countries not often seen outside their home nation, a chance to reach a global audience. Let’s Tell This Story Properly is a collection of 16 stories from the 10,000 entries the award has attracted in the last three years. The selected stories represent some of the “most promising and original” entries and ones that evoked a strong sense of place according to the publishers. They take us from Asia to Africa and from the Caribbean to South Pacific.
As with most anthologies the selection ranges considerably in subject, style and quality. With many of them I experienced the same feeling I get with many short stories, namely that they end just when they are beginning to get interesting. Some I didn’t connect with at all, others I wondered why the writer felt there was a story to tell, but there were some that felt fresh in approach yet technically accomplished.
My favourites were Elbow by Khadija Mgardie from South Africa about a young orphan boy struggling to make his way in Johannesburg only to find that prejudice comes in many shades of black and Fatima Saleh, the story of a Sudanese refugee in Kenya who takes revenge after she is the victim of a gang rape.
Pride of place however goes the Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, the winner of the prize in 2014 with a story from which the title takes its collection. Let’s Tell this Story Properly is a tightly written and subtly humorous tale of a Ugandan widow living in Manchester, UK who discovers a web of deception about her husband and her marriage. When we first meet Nnam she is alone in her apartment, beginning the process of clearing out all signs of her husband. We begin with humour: Nnam feels she has to strip off her clothes in order to the clean up – an appropriate response given her husband “died in the bathroom with his pants down. He was 45 years old and should have pulled up his pants before he collapsed. The more shame because it was Easter. Who dies naked on Easter?” When Nmam travels back to Uganda for the funeral, the story takes on a more dramatic form.
If you want to find out for yourself how good this is, you can read the story on the commonwealth writers website here.
Let’s Tell This Story Properly, edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, is published by Dundurn. My copy was provided by the publishers.