Monday, May 17, 2021

Return of a very jealous man

The character of Jealousman should perhaps have been retired in the first novel of what is shaping up to be a series. However, that was obviously not the thinking of the writer, Professor Christian John Makgala, because Jealousman is still running around Morwa, stirring things up with energy impossible for men half his age and living up to his name through it all.

In The Paroled Pastor, he has just returned from a book tour in the United States and his stock answer to everyone curious to know about this sojourn is “I went, I saw, I conquered.” In one of those moments when he feels the urge to make his presence known, the narrator reveals that the originator of this phrase was ancient Rome warrior-leader Julius Caesar who, after one of his successful military campaigns, triumphantly declared in Latin: “veni, vidi, vici.” Unfortunately, the writer is moved to display such historical knowledge outside the context of plot narration in one too many instances.

We learn that Jealousman has written a book called My Side of the Story which has been very well received and made him some kind of celebrity in both his native Morwa and internationally. In the prequel, he was fighting for the limelight with Dr. Leroy, an American medical doctor who so over-acculturated into Setswana identity to a point of becoming a traditional doctor. After four decades in Morwa, Leroy has gone back to his native Mississippi but every once so often communicates with Jealousman and old friends in Morwa via Skype.

With Leroy safely back home, the spotlight should be shining on Jealousman alone but there is competition in the person of the fatefully named Pastor Limelight Mmonadilo. The latter is on parole following a walk on the wild side with the foreign pastor of a charismatic church in Lobatse. Back home in Morwa after an interrupted prison stay, Mmonadilo is now a born-again Christian who is also so deeply involved in the affairs of the community that he has been made the chairperson of the Village Development Community. That makes him a somebody much to the chagrin of Jealousman who wants all attention to be on him, especially at this moment when he has just returned from the US.

How the writer handles the fiction will be a source of grave concern to a certain type of reader. Top of the concern list will be the use of dialogue tags because the writer deviates drastically from what is considered the norm. The latter is in the form of a comma coming at the end of a sentence followed by “he said/replied” or a whole variety of basic pronoun-verb pairings, some of which are frowned up by writing instructors. As stated, The Paroled Pastor is way outside the norm because its dialogue is closed with a full stop and the dialogue tags themselves form separate sentences: “So what! Responded Katso curtly not sure whether Lebogang’s comment was a barbed one or a genuine compliment.”, “Ok, I’ll get straight to the point then. On and on it goes.

More fictional acreage is devoted to Jealousman than to the main protagonist, Pastor Mmonadilo whose real introduction comes in Chapter 9. This is most unusual. The one question that the reader will be asking throughout is how old is Jealousman? We learn that he fought in the Second World War and upon his return went to work in the South African mines as a migrant labourer. One supposes that at a conservative estimate, he would have been in his late 80s in 2000. Leroy came to Botswana in 1971 and returns home 40 years later.

Events in The Paroled Pastor happen in the latter timeframe which means that Jealousman would be in his early 90s. It is difficult to accept that someone that age, who also drinks Jack Daniels, would have enough energy to be a malevolent busy bee, be driving himself and on the odd day, be able to reverse his car “at uncharacteristically high speed”. Jealousman also owns a laptop from which he can skype with absolutely no help from anyone. This man, we learn, learnt how to read and write at the battlefield and coming back home, developed a voracious enough appetite for books to be able to become a writer.

The writer would also appear to have tied himself in knots when he constructed conversation between Batswana characters that was obviously held in Setswana and for purposes of his fiction, translated into English. In Setswana, there is no equivalent of “You can say that again”, no “Oh! Nice meeting you” and no “… medal bestowed on him by the first citizen.” The reviewer has to confess limited to no knowledge of Morwa but it is improbable that a Jealousman contemporary would, in the manner of today’s urban youth, blurt out a dismissive “Whatever!” It is as unlikely that the same person would use air quotes as the writer would have us believe: “… said Mosesane using his index fingers to put the phrase ÔÇô those good at talking ÔÇô into inverted commas.”

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