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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Taban lo Liyong

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To purchase Fixions

Title: Fixions
Author: Taban lo Liyong
Genre: Stories
Written: 1969
Length: 81 pages
Availability: Fixions - US
Fixions - UK
Fixions - Canada
  • Stories by a Ugandan writer

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Our Assessment:

B : creative and clever, but definitely apprentice-work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 18/9/1970 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Some of these tales are rather lamely presented versions of folk originals; others are doodles which exhibit the search for a style but no adequate concern for content. (...) (B)ut if Mr. lo Liyong will both cool and sharpen his wit he may yet learn to cut deep." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The back cover blurb on this slim collection of nine stories by Taban lo Liyong notes that the author: "admires Kafka and Brecht and 'the concise and master stroke-y techniques' of the Argentinian Borges" (and that he was the first African to receive an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop), and, right down to the echo of the title of the famous Borges collection, Fixions is very much the early work of a young author exploring form, in imitation of the masters while also seeking new paths of his own.
       Repeatedly, Liyong frames the stories in a way to remind the readers of their artifice, the specifics of (aspects of) how they have been put together. The opening paragraph of 'He and Him' reads:

     A story doesn't have to have many characters in it. In this one, for example, we have two people, and we feel they are enough. One is he, the visitor from the country, and the other is him, the object of the visit. The subject, I may add, is the visit of he to town.
       'A Traveller's Tale' has a similar preamble:
     These are the ingredients: an Italo-American woman, a Negro bum, and an African student. The woman had her regrets and wishes; the Negro his anxiety and insecurity; the African student his readings and hope.
       The four-page 'Tombe 'Gworong's own Story' is presented almost entirely as stage-setting, beginning with the claim that: "To understand this story there are three things you must know" -- which are then laid out in some detail. Only the final paragraph then offers the summing-up -- "Here now is the story" --, much shorter than all the preceding exposition and background -- a modern take on the idea of 'story', and what its essence and substance is.
       Liyong also experiments with voice, most notably in the opening story, 'The Old Man of Usumbura and His Misery', a story which depends a great deal on rhythm and repetition. A typical section reads:
     One day the rich old man of Usumbura went on a journey. This rich old man of Usumbura. He went to Kigali. This rich old man of Usumbura. He went to visit his poor friend. This rich old man of Usumbura. When he arrived at Kigali he was struck by his friend's cry of 'Oh, my misery' and became sympathetic. This happy old man of Usumbura. He asked to be shown the nature of misery. This healthy old man of Usumbura.
       This tale is the most impressive in the collection, as Liyong here manages to be creative with form -- but that in service to content, the simple but effective story that unfolds. Elsewhere, Liyong shows a considerable creative range as well, but concept often trumps content -- the stories (specifically, the narrative approach) is clever, but the stories themselves not as successful as a whole.
       It's amusing also to see the variations on titles, which range from clever wordplay -- the title story, or 'Lexicographicide' -- to those embracing emphasizing African connections, such as 'Tombe 'Gworong's own Story' or, even more obviously 'Ododo pa Apwoyo Gin ki Lyech'. Occasionally, Liyong opts for simple, direct counterpoint: 'He and Him' or 'Sages and Wages'. Perhaps most revealing, in this regard, is a story that, a footnote explains: "was first published under the title 'Parable from Another Land' -- a simple, descriptive title. In this collection it has been re-titled: 'Stare Decisis Deo'.
       The variety is quote appealing -- especially the range of Liyong's voice, with even the most straightforward (and essentially traditional) narratives, such as 'The Old Man of Usumbura and His Misery' or the animal-fable 'Ododo pa Apwoyo Gin ki Lyech' markedly different in how they are presented. The more surreal stories also offer some rewards, with some creative and surprising turns, and the concluding title-story, presented entirely in dialogue, is a sharp satire on corrupt autocracy (the 'fix' in 'Fixions' something rather different than what one might have expected just from the title).
       It should be noted that one of the stories, 'A Traveller's Tale', is probably one that would be difficult to publish today, its presentation of the fantasy of sexual violation not adequately enough explored to pass contemporary muster. (You have to work a lot harder to convince with a story which includes sentences such as: "She wanted to be raped. She looked forward to it" nowadays (and, honestly, probably should have back then too).) It's not entirely irresponsible fantasy -- but, as is, could too easily be read as such (so also with selective quotes ...).
       Fixions is a minor collection, but not without some interest and appeal. Lioyong is particularly good with his short sentences and simple understatement, with quite a few inspired phrasings -- "He was angry beyond dictionary words" -- and amusing little scenes, such as:
Also, some of these people not wanting to come out of their huts at night to pee because they think we are nearby, sometimes use a bamboo pipe jutting from their huts for peeing. One of us caught them doing this and hit the bamboo right inside. There was noise.
       If not all entirely successful, the stories are short enough (and the variety great enough) that Fixions is well worth the quick read that it is.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 July 2020

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Taban lo Liyong:
  • Q & A at the Daily Monitor
Other books by Taban lo Liyong under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Taban lo Liyong was born in Kajokaji, in the southern Sudan, in the late 1930s. He grew up in Uganda, and studied at National Teachers' College (Kampala), Howard University, and got an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. He has taught at the universities of Nairobi, Papua New Guinea, Juba, and now at the University of Venda in South Africa. He is the author of numerous works of poetry and fiction.

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