The Rebels’ Hour by Lieve Joris (trans. Liz Waters) a review by Jonathan Davidson
Although writers from the Lowlands are perfectly capable of being inspired by their own countries, they travel well. Writers on history and culture and politics, like Geert Mak and Frank Westerman and Joris Luyendijk, and poets and novelists like Toon Tellegen and Otto de Kat have travelled and written. The travel writer Lieve Joris’ book, The Rebels’ Hour, is in this tradition; written from personal experience, vivid in explaining the complexities of nations and individuals. Her subject is the relentlessly disputed lands in and around the Congo.
Using the cowherd turned rebel leader Assani as a CCTV camera, The Rebels’ Hour pieces together The Congo’s contemporary history. The narrative cuts backwards and forwards: the High Plains in Eastern Congo in the 1960s, nearby Rwanda in the 1990s, capital city Kinshasa in the early 2000s. A brief chronology allows the reader to at least grasp at The Congo’s story (King Leopold II of Belgium’s private property in 1885, Mobutu’s ‘reign’ from the 1960s, the Democractic Republic of Congo by 2006) and a cast-list gives the backstory to key historical figures. And two maps – absolutely vital to understanding the story – remind readers of just how vast and distant is this heart of the African continent, described by one character as ‘a black hole into which everyone falls’.
Of course, there are no ‘characters’ in The Rebels’ Hour: these are real people, whether they are known historical figures or the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who find themselves drifting or running or fighting their way from one corner of The Congo to the next. By describing the tins of Fanta that are drunk, the fine detail of the destruction of a railway system, the shine on the cloth of a uniform ironed beyond crispness, so many details, Lieve Joris releases the humanity of the years of violence that have overtaken The Congo.
And what violence. Child soldiers, rebels, generals; complex, sophisticated, troubled men (and some women) always about to break camp; being led, led, led, then leading, then dead. The turns of fortune are Shakespearean; every man holding the sword onto which every other man is running himself. Assani remains the centre of The Rebels’ Hour, but he is hard to get a grip on; so clearly dedicated to a cause but that cause remaining so unclear, becoming more opaque at every advance and set-back. To say that this is a fascinating book is to underplay its importance; it explains, in part, a country whose recent history looks almost inexplicable.
Lieve Joris comes to the West Midlands on Tuesday 15 January as part of the event, High Impact: Literature from the Low Countries which is taking place at Birmingham Cathedral, 8 – 9.30pm. Tickets for this event are still available, more information about this event can be found by clicking here. You can book online through the event page, by calling our box office on 0121 245 4455 or by popping into The Box which is located in Birmingham Central Library. Tickets will also be available on the night of the event.
The Future Poets’ Festival, which we ran on the 4 August 2012, was filmed by Ulfah Arts a creative social enterprise that uses arts and media as tools of social empowerment. The day was curated by a group of 16 – 19 year olds from the West Midlands region and was Project Managed by Amy Martin. Developed by us in partnership with mac and Ideas Tap and funded by Clore Duffield Literature and Poetry Awards. The Festival offered a programme of workshops, exhibitions, installations, screenings, games, an open mic and performances from some of the best performance poets in the UK. Featuring PolarBear, John Berkavitch, Jodi Ann Bickley, Al Hutchins, Musa Okwonga, Bohdan Piasecki and Kim Trusty.
You can see the video created by Ulfah Arts here: http://youtu.be/dEzGoq4U6Go?hd=1.
There was also a Storify made of the day, which is here: http://storify.com/amyrozelmartin/future-poets-festival
We are pleased to announce that the programme for our annual literature Festival, the Birmingham Book Festival, is out now! For anyone who is on the Festival’s postal mailing list, you will have received or be soon receiving a Festival brochure, if you aren’t on the Festival’s mailing list you can either join by clicking the Join Our Mailing List page or Request a Brochure.
Now in its 14th year, events range from the delights of acclaimed writers Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage, Patrick Gale, David Edgar, Femi Oyebode, Tiffany Murray, Peter F. Hamilton, Caitlin Moran and Stuart Maconie to the beauty of dramatic poetry performance Being Human and the quiet strangeness of night at the sixth all night writing workshop.
Visit the one off digital project Reliable Witness, an interactive transmedia installation that allows you to influence the outcome of the story. Featuring new writing from West Midlands writers Mez Packer and Rochi Rampal, Reliable Witness is a unique literature experience that exploits modern technology to weave an unforgettable tale.
With a main programme and a fringe festival you have so much to choose from. Throughout the Festival you will find literature experiences for all tastes. There will be a festival atmosphere in the city for National Poetry Day as we welcome a new Birmingham Poet Laureate and the Emergency Poet in her 1960s ambulance.
To see the full programme, please click here.