Category Archives: The Golden Country

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

There has never been a better time to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Not only because it has recently been hailed as:

A benchmark for excellence in fiction writing

by the Baileys prize judges as they crowned it the ‘best of the best’ of the past decade’s winners. Not only if – like this reader – you were woefully ignorant of the Biafran war, its causes and consequences and your own government’s underhand behaviour throughout the period covered by the novel. Instead, read it because it really is an enlightening tale, far from being a dry history lesson, instead packed with vivid, memorable characters who it is difficult to step away from every evening when it becomes time to put down the book.


Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene couldn’t be more different in their approach to life after graduation: Kainene dryly amused by her work in their father’s businesses while Olanna heads off to an unfashionable university in a outlying town to be with her boyfriend Odenigbo (who Kainene dismisses as ‘the revolutionary’). Events leading up to the outbreak of war between Nigeria and Biafra conspire to drive the sisters apart and it is not immediately clear that they will be able to resolve their differences amid the chaos. The stories are also narrated in part by Richard, Kainene’s British boyfriend, who is attempting to write a novel inspired by Igbo-Ukwu art and Ugwu, Odenigbo’s houseboy, whose adolescence, education and journey to maturity are interrupted by the fighting.

This is a novel of bold ambition, not only in telling the stories of the war, but in dealing with the themes that engaged and challenged people through the 1960s. Olanna and Odenigbo are both academics, hosting colleagues and visitors at their home each night for lively, wide-ranging and drunken debates on the future of post-colonial Africa. Kainene and Olanna are both modern girls, keen to have careers and not be as dependent on their men as their mother perhaps is. Meanwhile fine distinctions abound – between wealthy Olanna (who after fleeing finds herself missing her tablecloths) and her aunt’s more down-to-earth family, the differences between the sophisticated city dwellers and the superstitions of village life, Richard’s attempts to distinguish himself from the other Westerners – which are often missed when the ill-informed speak of ‘Africa’ as one mass.

Although set in a different continent and era, it is difficult to escape the thought that not much has changed, as Olanna and Odenigbo are displaced from one home to another and another, each one more precarious until they arrive at a refugee centre. Initially, as the ‘police action’ begins and rumours swirl, they are so convinced that the situation can be resolved that it is not until they hear the sound of shelling outside that they finally decide leave their home. It is such an unplanned flight that they leave with a half-cooked pot of soup in the back of the car and not much else. Earlier, when the twins’ parents decided to go to London it was easy for the younger relatives to dismiss it as an over-reaction. By the time it looks sensible, of course, it is too late to follow them. The targetting of civilians, forced conscription, starvation being used as a weapon, other nations lining up to support one or the other side, rapes by soldiers: this is the story of the brief nationhood of Biafra, but it is not too dissimilar to what is in the news today and it seems we are no more able to prevent it and assist the victims than we were back then.

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Slow down, you move too fast

Hard work is on the agenda. Hardworking is good. Hardworking families are apparently the best kind. Aspiration is the word of the year, surely, if we did one of those word cloud things for 2015 – or chose a ‘Word of the Year’ as they are about to vote on in Japan – it would be standing out bold and proud and – well – aspirational. But is all this hard work and racing about any good for us?

You may remember that ten minutes hate, perhaps strangely for a website on the internet, has long been an advocate for switching off your electronics and gazing out at the world around you instead. We agree with Carl Honore, practitioner of all things slow, that it is better to be a tortoise than a hare! At the start of the summer, I read an article about slow parenting and have been trying to give it a go. I don’t always get the balance 100% correct, but building in time for whatever comes up has been fun. Long walks to nowhere, rainy day painting and (of course!) time lazing with a book are all as valuable as days out and play dates.


If you have read the second volume of Hunter S. Thompson’s letters, Fear and Loathing in America, you may recall that after the splash created by his first book Hell’s Angels, he pitched a follow-up on the American Dream. Envisaged as an assessment of how the dream was faring, instead he got bogged down in trying to read everything from periodicals to magazines cover-to-cover. He did produce a series of jaw-dropping essays but crucially, no book. Deadlines whooshed by in a manner very pleasing to Douglas Adams. This American Dream thing is driving me mad, he confesses in letter after letter, as he pours out plans and proposals, attempting to get a handle on it. Until he eventually ditches the whole thing and writes the relatively small yet perfectly formed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The ultimate death of the American Dream story, right there.

We are in a similar state. It is impossible to see the wood for the trees in the forests of the internet. We kid ourselves that we can, but there is too much to be distracted by. All that remains is finding a focus, following what you love and trying to avoid clickbait wherever possible. Not to mention, turning it off every now and then. Now you have finished reading this post, we won’t mind!


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DisGRACEfully Delicious

The DisGRACEfully Delicious Grace Jones is a natural phenomenon. How can such a force of nature be contained and distilled within the confines of a hardback covered book? Reckless and unpredictable on stage, her world is like a tempestuous tornado. How the devil can the whole Bacchae experience that a Grace Jones performance delivers be articulated just by the written word?


It was quite apt I read the book on a Saturday night, the traditional night to paint the town red, blue, purple and green. To exploit all the colours in the disco palette, I complimented the reading with a disco soundtrack and became totally absorbed into the small hours. The music ceased, the soundscape of a police helicopter being replaced by birdsong.

And what a tale she has to tell. I felt like I’d been completely taken up in her storm of a life, twisting through a strict religious Jamaican childhood, charmed by the sexual seduction of Paris, to the dance floors of seventies (cocaine-laced) New York and being dumped back into my chair in my little Liverpool flat, Treeview.

We see the origins of the model’s fashion lust,

I would cut up old dresses and make new ones from the material.

To her theatre-dabblings that helped sketch out her performance art and assist her in finding her natural tribe of people, the creatives.

Well I am not going back home, I don’t need no more education. This is education.

She speaks frankly about her sometimes controlled drug experimentation,

The doctor would safely guide us through the trip. It was like a clinical trip, with a bit of anarchy thrown in.

Her quest to explore the many levels of her personality,

The underground clubs satisfied the explorer in me seeking new discoveries.

Throughout the memoirs she illustrates a strong degree of self-awareness and a tenacity that can only be admired,

I knew I didn’t have a natural voice, but I was going to work at how to make it work, stretch into a new place.

She has many musical anecdotes, like turning down the song BOOGIE WONDERLAND,

Can you imagine me singing Boogie Wonderland? Preposterous. That song needs a tinkling Tinker Bell to sing it, and I’m much more of a witch with a smear of blood on my cheek.

Her values and respect for creativity and individualism are illustrated when she openly talks about one of my personal bug-bearers the reality talent show, the modern-day equivalent of the Roman Colosseum.

I’m offered so much money to do these kind of shows, but no amount of money is enough to compensate for what appearing on them would do to my soul. They’re awful, there’s no learning experience, it’s demeaning and dispiriting. Sure, it’s part of life and you have to go through it, but to set it up as something that people laugh at is so damned cruel.


She is aware of reputation and plays the part of Grace Jones, particularly for the press,

I am having fun with the idea of the performance, with me as a performance. I turn myself into a kind of party, but after you’ve been to a party, you don’t come home and have the same party.

Also, the book is philosophical, she comes across at times as a glittered philosopher,

Disco in its purest sense means that you will come out of a place having gone into euphoria, feeling that you have rejoiced. That’s the sense the disc jockey in the clubs was helping crowds achieve… Mixing the music to completely control your emotions, bringing you up, taking you down, slowing you down, speeding you up, making you soft, making you hard.

Essentially, Jones HURRICANE album was autobiographical, she shrieks at the beginning of the work,

This is my voice, my weapon of choice, this is life.

And goes on to deliver a musical confessional, the most overtly personal album of the maverick’s musical collection.

Did we really need her to pen her memoirs, ‘I’ll never write my memoirs’, a lyric she sung in one of my favourite tracks of hers, Art Groupie.

Well, if the truth be known, we didn’t really. Part of me liked the mystique, the uncertainty of the real Jones. But is she really revealing the Grace behind the mask in this book or is it simply another guise, another art project.

I am very militant and disciplined. Even if that sometimes means being militantly naughty, and disciplined in the art of subversion.

I guess we needed Grace Jones to pen her life, explain some of the incidents, as much as we need luxury truffles and caviar. We don’t really need them but there is a decadent delight in the consumption.

May she long continue being disgracefully delicious!

If you are based in the US and wish to purchase the book from an independent bookstore, the link below will take you to IndieBound – a community of independent bookstores. ten minutes hate will receive a small commission if you do. Many thanks!

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Maps of the Soul by Ahmed Fagih

Remember when I said recently that Transit was going to be my favourite book of the year? Here we are a little while later with another contender. Put down whatever you are doing and read Ahmed Fagih’s Maps of the Soul right now.


The story, set in Libya in the 1930s, begins with one of the most affecting opening scenes I have ever read. It grabs you and does not let go for a moment. Without giving too much away, an otherwise nameless ‘you’ is waiting under a hot sun to be brutally executed by another:

Why did you care about fending off fear when your end was nigh, when you knew that once the electricity that provided you with energy and life was cut off, perpetual darkness would follow?

Of course, that second-person ‘you’ makes it very difficult to look away. You are right there in that ‘you’, feeling the heat beating down as you wait for the knife…

In the second chapter the tale flashes back some time to show us that ‘you’ is Othman al-Sheikh, a boy from a far off village forced to leave for Tripoli after being caught in an indiscretion. He flounders at first, sleeping rough and contemplating a career of begging, before beginning to find his way and make connections across the city that will see him admitted to the palaces and high society now controlled by the Italian Governor-General Balbo.

Whirling through the streets of Tripoli, shedding innocence and qualms as he goes, still Othman manages to never quite lose his moral compass, while all around are misplacing theirs. He joins the occupier’s army as one of few volunteers and is unapologetic and enthusiastic in his beatings of other recruits, eyes firmly fixed on a promotion.

Nevertheless, you would not eat blood dipped in the blood of your own countrymen. You prayed that God would not let the situation deteriorate to the point that Libyans would be used against Libyans.

He joins the Fascist party to try to get out of being sent to Abyssinia, is taught to drive by the most Italian of Italian characters ever encountered on the page and gets tasked with showing Balbo around the hidden parts of the old city his official motorcade could never reach. But it is the women of Maps of the Soul who centre Othman’s world, from the saintly Thuraya, who marries another man before Othman can make his move:

She was the brilliant essence of all happiness and comfort in the world, and at the same time of every sorrow, deprivation, and grief.

And who contrasts with:

Nuriya, whose dearest hope was to be able to pursue her profession officially, without being hounded or blackmailed…

Before he encounters the schemes of Houriya, the most beautiful of the Governor-General’s mistresses (and ‘your’ boss!):

You were attracted to her by something that spoke to you in a language that no one but you could discern.

From arriving in the city by truck, knowing no one, Othman comes to realise that:

Every person belongs to a place and a circle of friends and acquaintances.

And for all that he at times feels lost and unsure, making his way in a world with the competing demands of the Italians and his compatriots:

You didn’t have any other homeland, and it was more than being stone, tree and earth, it was people, hearts, and emotions.

But just as he begins to rely on these connections, history and events conspire against him.

The call to prayer awoke memories of the relationships, images, and events that tied you to the city you would leave… you wondered if this was your final farewell to this muezzin’s call to prayer, or to these people, or the vast deserts of your homeland and its scattered oases, like green stains on the red maze of sand. You wondered if your bones’ final resting place would be some distant, dark mountain, and if this was the last contact you would have with your friends and family…

As it is the 1930s in North Africa, the reader might suspect that Othman is in for quite a time of it before he meets that final resting place. Maps of the Soul is, not unlike Anna Seghers’ story of the refugees in Marseille, Transit, a tale of place – finding one’s place, growing into it – as well as the mistakes and missteps we make along the path and the good luck and good hearts we encounter as we go. It is beautifully written and captivating, pulling the reader in and along with the tastes, sights and even the smells of a city that is being forcibly modernised by the latest in a long line of invaders, intent on making their mark, similar to those of the Ancient Romans that Balbo finds on his illicit stroll.

No one could escape his fate or what the angels had written upon his brow, as the saying went among mothers and grandmothers.

Maps of the Soul is the first three parts of what eventually became a 12 part story. I can’t wait to read the other nine, when they become available – hint, hint, Darf Publishers, PLEASE – to see what Othman makes of his fate.

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The wisdom of no escape by Pema Chödrön

wisdom of no escapeI highlighted many of the sentences in Pema Chödrön’s The wisdom of no escape and you will too, when you go and read it, right after you finish reading this post. Before I had even got to the end of first chapter, I had told my good pal Mr Maguire to order a copy (and he did!) so we could talk about it. It is that kind of book, you want everyone you know to read it.

The quote that first pulled me in is one you will see quoted on goodreads and in many reviews, as it must speak to something in many of us. The words have that ring of truth that see us turning down the corner of the page, or making a pencil mark if we’re the sacrilegious kind, or swiping to highlight if we are fancy.

The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression towards yourself. The other problem is that our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.

The title of the book comes from its original existence as a series of talks given at Chödrön’s remote institute in Nova Scotia, where there are big windows looking out to sea and, literally, no escape. There is nothing to do but sit and meditate. You might as well get into it. It sounds heavenly, so long as you are allowed to take a big stack of books. And a teapot. And teabags.

But what Pema Chödrön is telling her students is that you don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by natural beauty and enjoying the peace and quiet to be doing it perfectly. She talks openly about her own struggles on the journey to enlightenment and is at pains to point out that she is not there yet and has stumbled along the way. You will too, she tells us, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.

That is an essential lesson for us all, particularly as mindfulness becomes an industry like any other, determined to sell us the cure for the perceived problems of our hyper-connectivity. Her message, that you have everything you need if you could just be kind to yourself, is so simple that you would almost slap yourself on the forehead for missing it, if she hadn’t just expressly forbid it.

…each of us has all that it takes to become fully enlightened. We have basic energy coursing through us. Sometimes it manifests as brilliance and sometimes as confusion.’

Well, quite. Often veering from one to the other in the same few moments. When you are strong enough to face your own fears, you can get on with tackling the ones we are all facing.

…no withdrawing, no centralizing into ourselves. That is what we aspire to, the warrior’s journey.

Then you are ready to meet dragons, without fear and without armour. And if you are not sure exactly what I mean by that, go and read the book and then we can talk more!

If you are based in the US and wish to purchase the book from an independent bookstore, the link below will take you to IndieBound – a community of independent bookstores. ten minutes hate will receive a small commission if you do. Many thanks!

Shop Indie Bookstores


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Welcome guests

For all the fabulous smoke and mirrors of modern-day spectacles like pop concerts, theatrical experiences and 3D or even 4D films, it always amuses me to see how Mother Nature can throw up an example of incandescent beauty, an act of natural phenomena that completely derails all man-made aesthetics; an example being this last week’s blood red moon. On travelling from Glasgow to Liverpool by train this pale eye to the universe completely transfixed me. It was also refreshing to see that social media had been taken over by La Luna too, the Kardashian types being completely overshadowed.

blood moon, National Geographic Your Shot community

There is a timeless allure about the natural world that persists. I am fascinated by this and the way that certain poems, stories and myths interweave with the elements. Stories like Beowulf and the passed down morality of fairy tales in whatever guise they take. I have found that this distraction of nature and certain literature provide a necessary antidote to the speedy contemporary world we live in.

I had been avoiding listening to the news first thing in the morning for the symphony of despair tended to play a discordant tune in my head that like one of those annoying song lyrics can linger and re-play over and over throughout my day. Also, I had been abstaining from reading the free newspaper on the morning bus commute. I found that to start the day engulfed in a multimedia bamboozlement of negativity was just well too much. I’d rather stick with nature and myths.

One poem that I have recently kept re-visiting that resonates with me and helps me tackle the varied speed bumps and uncertainties of the day is by the ancient poet RUMI, The Guest House. I first discovered this writer with his simple mantra, ‘Unfold your own myth’. The more I read autobiographies and follow the Twitter feeds of artists that I admire; I see how true this simple statement is.


The poem is a warming code for living that I think can really put each day into perspective.


This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Okay, so now I have started listening to the news in the morning again and occasionally picking up a free paper to scan the headlines. For as the poem advocates, it is important to welcome all that enters your energy field. I challenge you to spend 21 days (that is supposedly the time it takes to form a new habit, good or bad) reading out loud or writing this beautiful lyric out first thing in the morning. You never know what this incantation may bring you. It may help soothe the wildest of monkey minds.

Picture of the blood moon from National Geographic

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Choosing to remain

Thirty-five is a very attractive age; London society is full of women who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.

– Oscar Wilde


Thank you to Mr Maguire for the book!

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