Review by James Holden
Freedom Magazine Issue 3
It’s often too easy to retreat into a cultural comfort zone, and forget that the short story exists as a cultural form the world over. Short story or literature fans looking to find a new source of stories might want to take a punt with the sometimes engaging Freedom Magazine. It’s a new, free publication from CFWriterz, who operate out of Nigeria. Issue 03 is titled Burnt, and features five short stories alongside poetry and brief features on African literature.
The five short stories are all from Nigerian writers (South African and Kenyan writers are included elsewhere) and were selected by competition. The winning entry in this issue is The Mysterious Matter of Mallam Musa’s Missing Murano by Adebola Oluwaseyi.
The Mysterious Matter… follows Musa who accuses his family of stealing ‘his beautiful, ash-coloured, air-conditioned Nissan Murano.’ The story moves along with the lightest of touches towards a genuinely funny conclusion. As with all good stories that end in a twist, hindsight shows that it’s sign-posted in advance. Mallam Musa is a well-drawn character, as are the various suspects that he points his finger at in turn. And yet, whilst Oluwaseyi has crafted an interesting family dynamic, the amount of ‘show and not tell’ reduces the pay-off the reader might expect from multiple readings.
My clear favourite here was Last Days by Amynah Dauda, which starts as a reflective piece on deadlines, before slowly spinning out to cover terminal illness, ambition, infidelity and parental relationships. Dauda skilfully introduces each element – it’s subtly done and also manages to drives the narrative forward. The piece builds into a great reflection on how we ought to live our lives, and the impact an awareness of mortality can have on those choices. The overall piece is affecting and insightful, and the characters are emerge fully rounded through just a few details. There are also some great splashes of humour:
I think she takes her love too far. For example, tattooing my face on her arm. What happened to pictures or getting a painting or making a video or any one of the thousand things she could do to remember me than permanently immerse my face on her skin?
Chinenyenwa Favour Chukwuma’s Carbon Copy similarly starts out with an interesting musing, brilliantly looking at the seemingly trivial link the protagonist has formed between colour and pain (‘My class teacher always grades our papers with a green pen, and each time I see my scores, the green stares at me, mocking.’) From there it feels like the scope of the story expands outwards with every paragraph, to include grief, domestic violence and adoption. The overall effect can sometimes be slightly dizzying given the number of elements introduced, but it is backed up by some affecting insight into the characters.
Tell Nonso That We Are Looking For Him by Kene Obiezu opens with a daughter transcribing a letter to an estranged sibling. Obiezu doesn’t overwhelm her story with too many elements or characters. Instead Obiezu recognises the simplicity of her basic story and giving it the space to build into a touching story. The narrative control is backed up by some beautiful writing:
Mama makes an effort to raise her head, but it falls back again. A wheezing sound escapes her nostrils and fills Lotanna’s ears with agony, causing her hand to run over the paper again and write was Mama is saying with breaths snatched through clogged airways.
The fifth piece is Jim Blessed’s Wings, which is the nearest thing here to an outright comic piece, as a mysterious woman appears on the doorstep of an aspiring writer. It’s not unusual for writers to write about their own craft, and Wings adds an interesting twist (I can’t say much more without spoiling the identity of the woman). The tone is light and wry and overall it’s a neat and tightly constructed piece with a nice ambiguous ending.
Elsewhere, there a number of pithy and interesting reflections on literature (“Simplicity is a lost art. You hardly find people who can just express the most profound ideas in simple ways. Most writers are struggling so hard to jam all together all the vocabulary they have ever learned”) and poetry. Sure, the editing could be a little sharper, but as a free magazine it succeeds on its own terms.
James Holden has had his short stories published by Silver Apples Magazine and On The Premises, and performed by Liars League. He lives in a retirement village in north London with his wife and two children, despite only being in his thirties.