Figures in a Landscape is a collection of non-fiction articles by Paul Theroux, in which he takes readers through a literary landscape includes celebrities, places, and the past. There are profiles of famous figures like Elizabeth Taylor and Robin Williams, as well as interesting non-famous people. There are shorter pieces on aspects of Theroux’s life including his love of reading and relationship with his parents. Theroux is one of my favorite writers but somehow I didn’t find this book too appealing.
The pieces vary in length with the profiles being over 30 pages while others like the personal essays are less than 10. The disparity in length and the widely varying subjects in the over 20 articles in the book give it an inconsistent effect that made it hard to fully appreciate them. But Theroux does well to probe his subjects and provide compelling portraits of their lives, whether it be a celebrity comedian actor or a dominatrix.
I found his personal essays to be interesting, especially the one about Hawaii, Theroux’s home, and about his father. Theroux had a complicated relationship with his parents as his mother scorned his writing career while his father was caring but deferential in life. What Theroux says about books giving him relief and hope while living in Africa as “no matter how badly the day went, a book was waiting” for him is the most touching statement I’ve ever read expressed about books. It’s something I will try to keep in mind with my reading.
The Caine Prize for African Writing recognizes the best African short stories every year. Redemption Song and other stories features the five shortlisted Caine Prize stories for 2018 as well as 12 stories written during a Caine’s Prize workshop. Featuring writers from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda and 4 other African countries, the stories highlight life, conflicts and other issues all over the continent. There are funny stories, sad stories, and even sci-fi, fantasy and ghost ones.
Among the more memorable are “Fanta Blackcurrant,” a sad tale of a street girl in a Kenyan slum, “American Dream,” which was about a boy in a rough Nigerian coastal community, and “No Ordinary Soiree,” about a female Rwandan businesswoman struggling to escape her loveless marriage to a wealthy heir. In “America”, a Rwandan woman visits her Cameroonian boyfriend in the US with high hopes only to be disappointed as she realizes the pitiful truth about him.