Saturday, May 9, 2009

Guernica/E. C. Osondu/Clifford Garstang/Short Story Review

Nominating editor: Meakin Armstrong

Guernica is a magazine of art and ideas that author Howard Zinn called "an extraordinary bouquet of stories, poems, social commentary, and art." In its short time online, it has grown from one of the web's best-kept secrets to one of its most acclaimed new magazines. In 2009, Guernica was called a "great online literary magazine" by Esquire.

Last October we ran "Waiting" by E.C. Osondu, and even after all of these months, it's still a favorite of mine. The story of Africans in a refugee camp, I find it compelling from its first few lines:

"My name is Orlando Zaki. Orlando is taken from Orlando, Florida, which is what is written on the t-shirt given to me by the Red Cross. Zaki is the name of the town where I was found and from which I was brought to this refugee camp."

I love fiction such as "Waiting," because it isn't pretentious nor rife with literary trickery. It's simply a well-told story about a kind of life most of us couldn't even begin to imagine.

Nominated Short Story:
"Waiting" - E.C. Osondu

Reviewed: by Clifford Garstang

“Waiting” is the story of Orlando Zaki, an African boy in a Red Cross camp for Displaced Persons. (The author, E.C. Osondu, is Nigerian, but the war-torn land of the story is not identified.) Camp life is a constant battle for food and water, and the children are waiting to be chosen for adoption by families abroad. Waiting is all there is to do. It’s a sad portrait of misery and unrequited hope that is, unfortunately, a little too familiar.

There are some wonderful passages here. We learn that Orlando’s name is derived partly from his t-shirt and partly from the village where he was found. The other children—Acapulco, Sexy, Paris, Lousy—all get their names in the same way. We also learn the history of the dogs in the camp. Once common and friendly, a period of food scarcity created a grisly conflict between humans and dogs, and now there are none. And the children are, today, waiting for a photographer to come. Having their pictures taken is an important step in the adoption process, and so the photographer’s arrival is eagerly awaited.

Orlando’s most important relationships are with his friend Acapulco, whose prospects are even bleaker than his own, and with Sister Nora. It is the Sister who has encouraged Orlando to write down his story, and also has provided him with books to read, including Waiting for Godot. She explains that the people in the book are waiting for God, but Orlando is waiting for water, for food, and for hope. There’s nothing else.

It is, perhaps, fitting that little happens in the story, as in the book Orlando reads. There is no specific conflict except for the daily struggle to survive. There is no real tension or plot. As the story comes to an end, Orlando and Acapulco do have to fight for a meager meal, but their small success offers no relief and no resolution. In the end, not a thing has changed, and Orlando is still waiting.

Reviewer's Bio:

Clifford Garstang’s story collection, In an Uncharted Country, will be published by Press 53 in September 2009.

He grew up in the Midwest and received a BA from Northwestern University. After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, he earned an MA in English and a JD, both from Indiana University, and practiced international law in Singapore, Chicago and Los Angeles with one of the largest U.S. law firms. Subsequently, he earned an MPA in International Development from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and worked for Harvard Law School as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 1996 to 2001, he was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., where his work concentrated on China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Garstang received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte in 2003 and has attended the Sewanee and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences. He is a Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and formerly served as the Fiction Assistant for Shenandoah: The Washington & Lee University Review.

Garstang’s work has appeared in Shenandoah, Whitefish Review, Cream City Review, and elsewhere.

Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this short story.


Mary Akers said...

Whew. Quite a story world. Thanks for the link and review.

About T. J. Forrester said...

You're welcome, Mary.

Meakin Armstrong said...

Story was just shortlisted for the 2009 Caine Prize, Africa's most prestigious writing award.

About T. J. Forrester said...

Thanks for the update, Meakin.