Reading: Karl Taro Greenfeld in One Story

While self is reading Alan Moorehead’s The White Nile, she is constantly reaching into a huge pile of unread literary magazines.  And she is always coming up with —  many different issues of One Story. Which perhaps shouldn’t be so surprising, since a new story arrives every three weeks.

Self finds the quality of the stories uniformly good.  The issue she’s reading now is Issue Number 149 (Why are the letters so infinitesimally tiny, that’s the only complaint self really has about this publication.  Does One Story really want to limit its audience to people who are not yet required to use bi-focals or reading glasses?).

The story, “Partisans,” has a vaguely science fiction tone.  She knows it’s about a war, but the landscape is vague.  Quickly, self pages to the back of the story to read the Author Bio.  And there is none.  Is she dreaming?  Again and again she thumbs through Issue Number 149.  No, she is not dreaming!  There is no Author Bio for Karl Taro Greenfeld.  With a name like that:  he could either be a resident of New York, Tel Aviv, or South Africa.  How’s that for self’s powers of deduction?  (And then a reader will be sure to leave a comment along the lines of:  You are so stupid.  Don’t you know who Karl Taro Greenfeld is?  You Luddite!  Call yourself a sentient being!  Always bringing up the Stanford stuff, the UCLA Extension stuff, the fact that you are a published short story writer!  You’re nothing but a pretender!  A stinking pretender!  Now, where was she?)

Of course, she could always google Mr. Greenfeld.  Shouldn’t be that hard to establish who he is, what he’s written, and if he’s famous.  But, this evening, self resists the impulse.

Instead, she will share with dear blog readers a section that puts her greatly in mind of The White Nile:

I had rarely ventured far from the capital.  My family had gone on excursions to the coast, cloudy weeks, the sea saturated with medusae.  Yet we had never visited the south, as it was considered to be an uncivilized, harsh land suitable for goat herding and the subsistence agriculture practiced by aboriginals.

I had just retired from another uneventful watch —  more rocks, more fruitless dwarf olive trees, more cactus, more harsh scrub scraping the earth —  and had taken up position under the tarp with my fellows when I heard Orston, shout, “Riders!”

We roused ourselves and made a noisy scramble for our bolt-action rifles.  We lay down at the edge of our railcar and scanned the horizon in the direction Orston was pointing.  There, in the distance, silhouetted by taupe-colored hills, we saw a squadron in grey and brown robes galloping parallel to us.  Their steeds kicked up a thick cloud of yellow and orange dust that trailed behind them like dense smoke, as if they were ablaze.

“Aboriginals,” that’s a curious word.  Perhaps the author is Australian?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Three Kingdoms of Uganda: Moorehead’s “The Vales of Paradise”

Self is batting three for three in her current travel-book reading phase.  The previous two were Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (perfectly timed for her plane trips to and from New York, last week), and Laurence Bergreen’s Marco Polo:  From Venice to Xanadu (This one took her over a month to finish: she lavished attention on every page)

Several days ago she began reading her third travel book, Alan Moorehead’s The White Nile (He has a companion volume called The Blue Nile, but self is going to confine herself to The White Nile, because she has a whole lot of other travel writers to get to know:  Patrick Leigh Fermor, W. G. Sebald, Rory Stewart and many many others).

At least half a dozen times, self has itched to post something from the book on this blog.  But she always managed to restrain herself.  That is, until she got to this passage, on p. 49, about the “three kingdoms” of Uganda.  It’s in a chapter called “The Vales of Paradise.”

Apparently, Uganda in the 19th century was divided into three separate kingdoms:  Bunyoro in the north, Buganda in the center, and Karagwe to the south.  Karagwe was the weakest of the three, and so the King of Karagwe, who at the time was Rumanika, was the most polite, the most “hospitable to strangers,” the most conciliatory.  If historical accounts are to be believed, “Rumanika had his eccentricities” :


He kept an extraordinary harem of wives who were so fat they could not stand upright, and instead grovelled like seals about the floors of their huts.  Their diet was an uninterrupted flow of milk that was sucked from a gourd through a straw, and if the young girls resisted this treatment they were force-fed like the paté de foie gras ducks of Strasbourg:  a man stood over them with a whip.

A few paragraphs later, we are in another of the Ugandan kingdoms, this one Buganda.  The ruler is “a young king” named Mutesa.  With perfectly straight face, Morehead describes the king “sitting upon a platform of grass covered with a red blanket, and surrounded by his nobles, his pages, and his wives, who numbered a couple of hundred or so.” (Just now it occurs to self that the “couple of hundred” does not refer exclusively to the number of the king’s wives, but anyhoo).  Here is how Moorehead describes the king:  “At this time (1860) he was a slim, well-built young man in his early twenties with beautiful teeth and liquid, but rather striking eyes . . .  At his feet were his symbols of royalty, a spear, a shield and a white dog.”

Tall tales, some readers scoff.  Racist, say others.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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