June 2012

Of Beasts and Beings

by Ian Holding

Central Question: Can our stories make sense of ourselves?
Plot summary #1: Man is kidnapped, gagged, tethered to wheelbarrow containing pregnant woman, forced to haul wheelbarrow for miles across tortured landscape of utter desolation; Plot summary #2: White Zimbabwean schoolteacher prepares to leave post for far-superior position at St. James College in South Africa, experiences crippling guilt over eagerness to leave; Contextually relevant fact about author: He is a white Zimbabwean schoolteacher; Items described in reverent and/or ecstatic prose: fresh dew collected from a plate of pounded grass, a pot of blood sapped from a fresh carcass, an exhumed AK47 (no hyphen), spontaneous sex atop a wide cream-colored couch, a DVD player; Representative passage #1: “His body is a vessel. Of what he does not know”; Representative passage #2: “Maybe the absence of light in my life—not just the physical light of bulbs & lamps, but a light, the light, light itself, is the manifestation of my tantamount ignorance to all that surrounds me.”

And the best shot at resolution is what the title seems to imply: that the excess of passion from which such senseless violence stems must be un-felt.” This is one reviewer’s take on the central conflict of Ian Holding’s previous novel, Unfeeling. A boy witnesses his family’s butchering at the hands of roving militiamen and must resolve the problem of how to live with it. He must unfeel his own rage and hate, just as the volatile political climate into which he has been born must unfeel the scars of colonial racism that have defined its terms.

By contrast, Holding’s second novel implores its characters to feel. The narrative of Of Beasts and Beings is broken into two parts: the first chronicles the journey of an unnamed kidnappee hauling a wheelbarrow across the African countryside; the second, a series of journal entries, details the daily tribulations of a Zimbabwean teacher as he dismisses his servants, sells his house, and prepares to leave his homeland. At first the two segments are disjointed, the connection between them unclear, but over time Holding succeeds not only in bridging that gulf but also in connecting both sides to us.

How? The two narratives entwine toward the end of the book, but the more-relevant bond involves an implicit series of questions: how does the Zimbabwean experience affect me as a human? To what extent am I participating in my own reality? And in what reality am I participating, if not my own?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Zac Hill

Zac Hill is a game designer for the card game Magic: The Gathering. A 2009 Henry Luce Scholar, he has taught at Richard Hugo House and the University of Washington. His debut collection, Stories from the Collective Consciousness, will be released in August.

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