Comfort in Continuity

“Coups, child soldiers, famines were all a part of the same package of unending grief that we picked our way through in order to avoid our own frustrations and disappointments with life” (Mengestu 221). I view this line as straightforward evidence that The Coups Game is therapeutic for Sepha and his friends, but that much is clear from the way the three of them fall into it after work or during tense moments. I think that one of the most uplifting aspects of the game is that it is a constant reminder of cyclicality and continuation. While the cycle is a rather violent one, I argue that it is comforting because it doesn’t function like the American Dream/Immigrant narrative arc. The game the three share involves discussing snapshots in a continuous stream of ups and downs similar in form to Joseph’s budding, transforming spin on the Divine Comedy. All three men are not exactly where they once hoped to be. Kenneth’s faith in the rituals and platitudes typically sold to immigrants (and the working class in general) has not paid off yet. Similarly, Joseph hasn’t come to live a wholly academic life and Sepha, on occasion, has feelings of inadequacy when considering things like the expectations placed on immigrants and the shame of being low on funds. The projected immigrant path is an optimistic straight shot to success. Due, in part, to its intended goal, this plan seems to invite feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and failure when complications arise. The unending, wavy line of narrative represented by the game would allow for rises and falls, and its endlessness could help stave off the finality of “failure”.  It seems likely that Sepha and his friends would take comfort in another kind of narrative able to fit their identity (“African” in the game’s case).

Another soothing aspect of the game, at least for Sepha, may be the way it nods to fatherhood. Although I do not completely understand my thoughts on the matter, I link the game’s continuous repetition of similar narratives to Sepha’s reenactments of his father. Examples of this would be Sepha’s storytelling style or his desire to pass along sayings to Naomi. These small-scale resurrections don’t appear to ever fully realize; Sepha never really steps into a fatherly role and he thinks of Dawit as the one who takes after their father. Instead, those moments touch Sepha’s memory of Shibrew in a positive way without feeling like an epiphany or resolution. It is easy to imagine that times and moods like these will continue to come and go for Sepha the same way they do within the span of the novel. The exact nature of the treatment of the bond between Sepha and his father’s memory aside, I understand continuity, with remembrance or repetition attached, to be a theme that is positive for the narrator.

Note: Using Riverhead edition
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