Saturday, July 09, 2016

Swallowed the sun

I'm finishing up a chapter on the reception history of the Book of Job for a book on Wisdom Literature. I've been vacillating more than is prudent or sane: I feel it should be like what's in my book but not the same (in fairness to both projects and publishers). The 8000 words I've been given is enough to do some things new, so I've got a paragraph (nothing gets more than a paragraph) on Job in Islam (where he's known as Ayyub) and quotations from Milton and Ernst Bloch. The section on liturgy and art skips between genres, and talks more about paintings than in my book. And then there's this, that I'd love to use as my final paragraph but don't have the space for. It's something I learned about from one of the teaching assistant's for last semester's ULEC.

Zimbabwean gospel group Vabati VeVangheri sings a song called "Jobho" with a catchy dance. Linked with health warnings for HIV, it appears in NoViolet Bulawayo's 2013 novel We Need New Names, as some children come, uninvited, on a man dying of AIDS, and one starts the song. The narrator is the man's daughter.

When Godknows starts singing Jobho, Sbho joins in and we listen to them sing it for a while and then we’re all scratching our bodies and singing it because Jobho is a song that leaves you with no choice but to scratch your body the way that sick man Job did in the Bible, lying there scratching his itching wounds when God was busy torturing him just to play with him to see if he had faith. Jobho makes you call out to heaven even though you know God is occupied with better things and will not even look your way. Jobho makes you point your forefinger to the sky and sing at the top of your voice. We itch and we scratch and we point and we itch again and we fill the shack with song.

They reach for the dying man's hand and move it to the song. Soon all the children are touching the man, including his daughter, who has not touched him since he returned from a fruitless effort to find work in South Africa, mortally ill.

He feels like dry wood in my hands, but there is a strange light in his sunken eyes, like he has swallowed the sun.

In fact, this is so exquisite I have to find a way to make room for it!

NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
(New York: Little Brown & Co., 2015), 105

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