BOOK REVIEW: Haunted Grave and Other Stories: Eight Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction from the African Continent
– By Dave Dubrow
Some books just tell you what they’re all about from the title, like Haunted Grave and Other Stories: Eight Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction from the African Continent by Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso. With a name like that, you’d think you would know what you’re going to get when you first crack the book, but you’d be wrong. There’s some strange, original stuff in here, between the thematic elements and the style of writing: Chukwunonso combines Western story structure with vivid descriptions of the raw, aching difficulties of life in Africa in his own inimitable fashion.
The first story, Eaters of Flesh, is a slow build-up of dread, culminating in a horrifying ending that is more hinted at than described. It’s a good introduction to Chukwononso’s style of writing, and sets the stage for other, darker tales.
The theme of AIDS figures prominently throughout the anthology, which makes sense considering how the disease has ravaged Africa. In the dystopian story The Last Man Standing, AIDS has transformed into a far deadlier illness called ADAIDS, which annihilates the populace of Nigeria. In To Love is Strange, the horrible curse laid upon a poor family of women becomes a metaphor for both AIDS and sexual promiscuity. Conspiracy theories about deliberate infection of the virus by medical professionals get a workout in The Game of AIDS.
More traditional horrors are introduced in Exorcism and the eponymous Haunted Grave, though both of these stories have their own surprises. A Cursed City is a dark fantasy tale, of sorts, with the Biblical theme of betrayal a la the story of King David, and the clash between tribal traditions and Western conqueror mores.
Nowhere in the anthology is the theme of Western colonialism given a greater workout than in The Green Race, describing man’s contact with primitive Martians. There’s a depth of resentment to it, a wellspring of anger that screams through the digital page.
Do you want to challenge yourself? Take a look at the world from a different perspective? While Haunted Grave isn’t a transformative book, it is an entertaining one, and in a genre chock-a-block with vampires, sociopathic home-invasion slashers, and zombie apocalypses, you owe it to yourself to step out onto the boundaries every once in a while. The edges are what really define the genre, after all. Try this out.