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The Jive Talker

Malawi-born Samson Kambalu's refreshing new memoir focuses on his father's time as a hospital administrator, a playful take on African autobiography, and a holy football.

Book Digest These days Africa seems to be the epicenter of misery stories—if not the planet’s epicenter of misery. Which makes Malawi-born (kudos if you can point to Malawi on a map) conceptual artist Samson Kambalu’s memoir, The Jive Talker: An Artist’s Genesis (Free Press), a literary refreshment.

His plans to be a doctor thwarted, Samson’s father—the jive talker referred to in the title—becomes a hospital administrator in a dysfunctional healthcare system that severely tests his parental abilities and his family’s resources. Nonetheless, he seems to have passed on to his son a creative passion that fuels an overarching artistic ambition. Writer and past Village Voice art critic Gary Indiana opines:
For every reader who’s been bedazzled and disappointed by the “pity-me” school of autobiographical writing, and every reader who’s been jived to death, this book should be a life-preserver of sanity in an upside down world, a reorientation in how to avoid claptrap, self-pity and boorishness, and have a high, smart time doing it.
Kambalu’s playfulness is exhibited in his creed: Holyballism, an “expressionist philosophy of life centered on the Holy Ball, a football plastered with the pages of the Bible.” Here’s Kambalu’s explanation of The Jive Talker and Holyballism.
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