Notes on Cion by Zakes Mda

I’m intrigued…the first chapter is narrated by Toloki, a professional mourner for the dead, from South Africa who has arrived in Athens Ohio…it is Halloween and he is very observant of this peculiar American custom.  There is an underlay of humour for me in Toloki’s detailed descriptions although Toloki, himself, is serious and observant.  Fate pairs him with Obed Quigley, who is dressed as a ghost of a former African slave, Nicodemus, who was killed in a house in Athens.  Through this developing friendship Toloki finds himself in the family home of Obed where he meets Mr. Quigley, the gnome garden attendant and Obed’s father, Ruth Quigley, Obed’s mother, who is the keeper of the family’s culture by way of recipes and quilts thus far…she is described as very obese and now I’m wondering if that is symbolic for a woman who holds the secrets of one’s culture????  just something to think about…Obed has a sister (who has remained unseen) named Orpah which I kept reading as Oprah.  She has remained in her bedroom playing on her sitar.

The second chapter switches to an unknown narrator.   Mda pulls from the general knowledge base of the industry of slaving and given it to individual circumstances to tell the events that gave birth to Nicodemus…the slave that Obed impersonated for Halloween.  I’m wondering if Nicodemus will be a blood related ancestor to the Quigley clan.

So far, the book has been a visual experience but at the end of the first chapter, Ruth brings out two quilts made by her great great grandmother and asks Toloki to “smell them” (I thought that was peculiar and it got my attention…who would ask someone to “smell” a quilt??).  Two sentences struck me:  “The peculiar smell is the smell of history” and “The story is told by the earthy scent of the quilts”.  I had a very old quilt that was well used when I got it from my great grandmother and I still wanted to continue using it but wanted to get that peculiar smell out…I washed it and it fell apart…I continued to kinda use it but kept washing it until it was in pieces.  (This was 30 years ago so forgive me for I knew not).

The book cover art is beautiful!

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Filed under African Diaspora reading challenge, Cion, Fiction

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