- Katena – A very Readable Crime Story
Until recently, I had high interest in crime stories, Sherlock Holmes being my most favorite detective. I don’t think I have grown out of my love for Holmes though I am not as keen as I used to be about crime or detective stories.
Holmes still fascinates me because he amazes me with his observation and deductive skills. His deductive skills used to solve his cases based on reasoning, scientific evidence, and the psychology of the criminals still fill me with wonder. For this and other reasons, I still tremendously enjoy Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie though I hate reading real crime stories.
Real crime stories, being what they are, tales of hatred, cruelty and pain inflicted on flesh and blood, unlike fictional stories, fill me with pain, certainly not as much as the pain the victims receive at the hands of the perpetrators (i.e. if they are not killed). So often I avoid magazines that report such terrible events.
Crime fiction is a newcomer to Tigrigna literature, so I read crime or detective stories in English. The crime stories we have in Tigrigna literature are translations from Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The only original crime story I remember reading is a book titled, ‘Geresit – Ruba Mot’ (Geresit – the River of Death), a Tigrigna story I read when I was 14 or 15. My recollections about the book are so vague that my comments may not be valid statements about the book. In fact, I don’t remember its author, the names of the characters, and the final verdict of guilty or innocent passed on the killer or killers. I don’t even remember if the criminals were many or not. I don’t remember whether it was a fictional tale or a true story. The only thing I remember about the book is its title and that it had many articles of law, which bored me so much that I hated the book. My assessment of my reading of the book is that I was not ready at that time to read and understand, let alone appreciate the book.
Geresit Ruba Mot was, therefore, the only original Tigrigna crime book I had read until I came across Katena (The Necklace) by Mr. Tesfai Ogbai recently. In other words, for me Katena is the first original Tigrigna crime story I have read.
I knew that Mr. Tesfai Ogbai, the author, to be a staff writer of Hizbn Polisn, a magazine published by the Eritrean Police and therefore has some knowledge about crime, crime detection, and the work of the police as some of his stories in the magazine show. Other than this, however, I had no information about the author.
I began reading Katena with all this background information about the author, crime fiction in English literature and in Tigrigna. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect much because the genre is new in Tigrigna literature, and, therefore, unless the author read such literary works from other cultures or unless he has made much out of his experience in Hizbn Polisn, there was no way he would gain experience to write such a successful crime novel. He can’t learn from other Tigrigna writers because (as far as I know) there are no crime writers in Tigrigna literature.
Katena is a small book about a theft, an attempted murder, and an illegal abortion. The story has 16 short chapters, each no more than a few pages in length, the book being only 116 pages long. The story starts with a theft in a church, and leads on to a failed murder. It then concludes with an illegal, attempted abortion (committed much earlier than the two other crimes but comes after both in the book, which gives the impression that it was committed after they were).
A man named Ato Ghidey arrives at Asmara Airport from the USA, we are told, for his only son’s wedding. He goes to his hometown and finds, one of his closest friends deep in trouble, for this friend accidentally kills a fellow villager. With evil intentions in his heart, Ato Ghidey gives his friend, Ato Haile, some money not out of charity but because he wants to use him in an illegal act. Ato Haile uses the money to pay his debt and then finds himself trapped when Ato Ghidey asks him either to return the money or help him in his criminal act. Left with no choice, the man steals a necklace donated to the church (in the village) by a friend of both men.
Zaid, Ato Haile’s daughter, who lost her mother has a quarrel with her father and steals some gold, her mother’s jewelry, and some of the money Ato Ghidey gave her father. First, she is thought to have stolen the necklace from the church because her father reports her as the thief that has stolen his money and gold from his house. The police suspect her of stealing the necklace and start their hunt for her. Knowing that the police were following him, Ato Ghidey tries to leave the country.
A young police captain, named Hiriyti, collating the information she and her colleague gather from suspected people and other people related with them, comes to the man that masterminded the theft and tried to kill Zaid.
In Chapter 12, five chapters before the book comes to a close, a new story starts. We meet Weizero Miraf, Captain Hiriyti’s mother, and we see Hiriyti’s and her mother’s story unfold. For the next five chapters, we read nothing but about Hiriyti, her maternal grandparents, and her mother’s boy-friend, named Ghirmay. In these chapters, Ghidey, Haile, Zaid, and the other characters we read about in the previous 11 chapters are not mentioned. Only as the threads (of both stories) are tied together do we hear of them again in the last three pages.
One of the strengths of the book is that the villagers are so real, especially the way they speak. The language they speak is typically used in rural Tigrigna areas. This is one of the reasons that makes the book a pleasure to read. The characters curse as villagers in Eritrean highlands do, and communicate with each other as Tigrigna farmers do in the rural areas. One can see that the writer has worked hard on this to make sure that the characters in his story were believable and convincing.
Despite our knowledge of the perpetrator of the crime, the author was able to hold our interest in the story. He makes us see how successfully Captain Hiriyti and her aide, Seid, handled the information they had to draw the right conclusions. We see and evaluate every step of their decisions, and the author helps us decide if they are to solve the case successfully or not because we are given information Captain Hiriyti, Seid and Major Zerai didn’t have.
As it is the story is fascinating. But I think it would have been more interesting if Captain Hiriyti’s and her mother’s story were intertwined with the story of Ato Ghidey and Ato Haile. Instead of starting Hiriyti’s and her mother’s story in Chapter 11, I think the author, Mr. Tesfai, should have started it much earlier, at least when Captain Hiriyti is introduced into the story. Now that the story is appended to the main-story it looks as if it was an afterthought, a deus ex machina, a part added to help solve the problem, because no mention is made of Ghirmay, Miraf, or the other characters that appear after Chapter 11.
Another aspect of the story should have received a more closer attention. Even without the author telling us, we could easily see the story is an adaptation from a movie because we see parts that have not been properly adapted for reading. In many places in the book, scenes are introduced without background information about the characters, the setting or the problem. Obviously, these were intended to be viewed, not read.
It looks as if the author has overlooked the fact that the camera and the pen work in different ways. In a movie, the camera does many things for you so you don’t need to write about the characters and the setting. At least, the viewers don’t read such descriptions because the photographer makes sure that his camera presents viewers with such information. You don’t need to worry about the physical appearance of your characters or the setting for the camera will do that for you. You need only to worry about the dialogue, which moves the story forward. In a novel, you have to describe the characters, their feelings, and the setting. We don’t see this happening in many places in Katena.
Taking the fact that this book is one of the foremost crime stories in Tigrigna, Katena is a well-written story. In addition, taking the fact that it was adapted from a script for a movie, it was almost writing from scratch and, hence, a book that has been written twice. In short, the author’s efforts have not been wasted for Katena is a very readable story.