“HIRUT AND HAILU AND OTHER SHORT STORIES” Author Teodros Kiros Book Review By Tecola W. Hagos
Teodros Kiros loves to write, and as all true artists he struggles with his creativity and the content of his messages. Thus, he sketches in words at all times recording his experience of the imprint of life on his very being. This small book is full of such sketches that open a window to the very soul of an artist. There is nothing more telling than sketches by artists about moments in time and places in space as much as the unguarded moments that artists share with us in their sketches of life around them as experienced and lived through in real time.
It will be unfairly limiting to think of Teodros only as an author/artist, for he is multidimensional as a philosopher and social activist for a just social order. We must add to his many talents that he is also a superb media personality as founder and producer of his TV African Ascent production wherein he has been conducting excellent discourse with remarkably diverse and well known personalities from academia and social activism, and some such personalities are truly impressive, such as the humanist Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee itself, and the budding critical thinking philosopher Lewis Gordon.
I searched for words and/or phrases to describe this limited compilation (book) of mostly sketches in trying to avoid pigeon-holing Teodros. It is to our benefit to leave him as much room for narrating his journey of search for meaning for his own life as much as for ours too. It is always a disturbing academic issue to me in determining whether analysis should depend on descriptive base or on emotion. I being overly and enthusiastically on the side of Hume and the empiricists, I find it always too difficult to determine where “cause” ends and “effect” starts or the other way. In short, the conflict would come down to the primordial distinction between empiricism and Platonism. Despite the fact that the basis of all art is experienced reality (more accurately reality as experienced by the individual) in the life of the artist, the art work itself is never empirical to me.
The novella “Hirut and Hailu” (1) is half of the book in length. It is divided into thirty two sections with suggestive subtitles. That is more of a structural preference than any other literary use. These many subsections might give the impression that of fragmented reality, but the novella hangs together quite well. However, I find some degree of stereotyping or miscasting in the Hirut’s character. I do not know whether there are any prostitutes in Ethiopia who were former college graduates. In fact, this is the first time I read such situation. By contrast, the Hailu character is quite developed and believable in the many setting the author had him functioning. The ending is quite abrupt and providential. In other words, it is an ending that could have been as valid as an ending by a coin toss. I must admit that I was very disappointed by the tragic end of Hailu and subsequently of Hirut. My disappointment may be due to my dislike of sad endings, in like manner Korean and Chinese epic stories end most of the time with everyone dead.
I believe the most important short story is “Hunting Agame” (62). This short story by itself is worth the money paid for the book. “Hunting Agame” grew on me quite quickly. It is a story that I see as a narrative counterpoint to my own moral development. I was born and grew up in Dessie, Wollo. It is inconceivable to me that any Wolloie child would hurl anything at any adult no matter the identity of that individual. In Dessie, there were families from Addis Ababa, Asmara, Gondar, Mekele, et cetera whose children freely formed groups, sport teams, even gang groups but never on ethnic or religious lines. My friends were as diverse as they come from Ambasel, Hamssen, Lasta, Menz, and Afar. We had a persistent Italian little boy who wanted to hang with us whom we tried to discourage because of his very young age not because of his race. There were also mixed families made up from different ethnic groups like mine. Growing up in such morally highly advanced social milieu, and as children of such kaleidoscopic society, we were remarkably well adjusted and well mannered children and teenagers growing up in Dessie’s very harmonious community. I can see how and where some “Eritreans” picked their insulting bad manners—from their parents and community now that I read this great short story by Teodros. Of course, there are very many well behaved individuals from Asmara and elsewhere, needless to say. What Terodros did is to bring to the front the hash-hash innuendo and subdued backroom gossip for scrutiny in a form of a short story.
These sketches of Teodros are slices of life and may be considered as the breeding grounds for future short stories, novellas, and novels. In fact, some of these sketches cry out loud for full deployment right away. For example, “Philip” (54) is a highly provocative and enticing sketch that I wanted to know more of the character. Is it autobiographical? Prophetic? Another one more sardonic and dark is the “Tomb Digger” (97) that filled my mind with all kinds of images including ghouls and zombies. These sketches defy locality even though there are suggestions of places in some of the sketches. They deal with the human condition without adjectives of identity. However, one can find also inexplicable misuse of words by Teodros as is the case in “Keep on Dreaming” (58) for “nervous bees” are substituting for house-flies. The simple fact is that bees are seekers of nectar hardly ever bothering human beings, but flies bother people and animals seeking salty moist elements like sweat.
At least two of the sketches may be considered as bona fide free verse poems because of their fluidity of language in the lexical sense and their inner rhyming: “Grief” (84) and “Waiting” (98). They have merits as presented without any further flight of the imagination. What is remarkable is the fact that Teodros has the uncanny ability to create tense moments in few lines, which is a remarkable gift/talent.
The one sketch that is neither a breeding ground nor a social commentary is the sketch “The Song Writer” (94) that I felt personal to me. It touched me in quite different way than any of the other pieces. I am not discounting poetic flight of the imagination in any of the pieces when I single out this particular sketch as empirical and far closer to me—a person who struggles every single moment discounting its very reality. In this book, I believe the poet is not that far ahead or behind the story teller, for in Teodros they all tend to melt into one highly skilled writer. In a way, this form of writing may be considered as a break even from the post modernist literary form. May be looking for meaning undermines the full impact of the temporal invariance embedded in each work. It could be enigmatic to render a story without focusing on few main themes and characters. But in the hands of a kin observer and a skilled writer such classic form is secondary.
I prefer happy endings and triumphant entries on the stage of the world of politics. I prefer to smell a rose flower than smell the compost that sustained its life and beauty. This preference may not have any edge on my opinion of the literary import of any writing I read. There are very many books with tragic ends, but yet uplifting in the messages they leave us. On the other hand there are pieces that simply speak of everyday mundane life like a Dutch painting of a wedding festivity at a village. In fact, Montaigne, with his endless passing of water having painful bladder stone problem is my favorite author that I still read for over forty years.
The form of a literary work or art (painting) alone does not determine why I like a particular book or painting. There is much to a literary work than mere technical mastery. It is in such intangibles and indiscernibles that one becomes attached to pieces of writing as I am to the short stories and sketches of Teodros. HIRUT AND HAILU AND OTHER SHORT STORIES is a very short book, ninety eight pages in large print. However, size is not the determinate factor why this book is important, for it deals with the human condition in all of its universal dimensions. I would conclude by quoting from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” because Teodros like Blake speaks in a voice of great wisdom:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Tecola W. Hagos
February 26, 2014