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The Second Coming Of Mavala Shikongo

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Maybe this isn't right for the Huffington Post but I see there's a new section for non-political essays so maybe the editors will put it there.

This week I finally read Peter Orner's The Second Coming Of Mavalo Shikongo. It's not out yet, but I got the review copy months ago. I'm a friend of Peter's, he helped found The Progressive Reading Series back in 2004. But really, I know half the writers in San Francisco, maybe more than half, the city is only seven miles square, I get free books in the mail all the time. It's one of the perks of being a writer. One of the only perks. And I was kind of dreading reading this book. I mean, I see Peter all the time, what if I didn't like it?

I read the book this week and it's amazing. It's easily the best book I read this year and I know this for certain because I keep a list of every book I read with comments. In 2006 I've read books by Janet Malcolm, Paul Auster, and Joan Didion, so he's in good company. And I'm excited because reading a book by someone I like and actually liking the book is one of my favorite things.

The Second Coming Of Mavalo Shikongo is set in a school in Namibia not long after the end of the twenty year war of independence against the much better armed South Africa. Namibia is the most sparsely populated country in the world and the loneliness of the veld pervades every page, even as the narrator laments the cramped quarters alloted the teachers. The book gently transports the reader to the sub-Sahara and the endless lazy days at the school. The title character, a beautiful freedom fighter with a young child, lends the novel its narrative arc. But what makes the book so deeply satisfying is beyond its setting and story. It's the poetic economy of words, so rich and full of meaning. You could open the book at random and be almost certain to be struck by the prose. Here's an example:

Drought stories were told the same way war stories were - they filled in the gaps of the longest days - except they were more true and left less room for dramatic acts of bravery. You don't fight the Almighty. You don't sneak up behind lack of rain. You don't sabotage clouds. You die. At least back in the old days. Now drought means you breathe up dust and the food prices are higher at the Pick 'n Pay and salaries remain the same and the government has to import mealies from Zimbabwe. And cattle suffer

. That passage was chosen at random and appears at the top of page 81.

Anyway, I'm not setting out to write a book review here I'm just trying to spread the word. It's not available for purchase yet but you can pre-order it on Amazon so you don't forget. I loved this book. It's short, a quick read, minimalist in the best sense and when I was done I wished it was longer. But then maybe it wouldn't have been as good. It's a great novel and great novels can be hard to find and sometimes we have to read a lot of good novels to find a great one. I thought I would save you the time.

- Stephen Elliott