Tag Archives: African-European Literature

What She’s Reading: “Dzino – Memories of a Freedom Fighter” and “The Long Song”

Dzino

Wilfred Mhanda, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Harare last year, pens a detailed and intriguing account of the the guerrilla war in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe’s subsequent independence, the rise of the ZANU party, and the rise President Mugabe.  This is a must-read narrative containing first hand accounts of political rivalries and perhaps the most in-depth account of President Mugabe’s rise within the ZANU-PF party.

levy

I tagged this one as “Afro-European Lit” because Andrea Levy is perhaps one of the most well-known Afro-authors and pioneers in the United Kingdom.  However, this is an Afro-Caribbean epic about slavery and the struggle for abolition in Jamaica.  Following a young slave woman named July, The Long Song weaves in and out of history telling a story that is at times engaging and suspenseful but at other times painfully slow moving. Honestly, I’m still trying to decide whether I will read her entire body of work this year as planned as I am not completely blown away this far.  Stay tuned . . .

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-European Lit, What We're Reading

Ghanaian Literature Week: “Ghana Must Go”

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Tolstoy)

I just finished Taiye Selasi’s highly praised Ghana Must Go and, in writing this post, the above quote immediately came to mind.

To be clear, this is a brilliant text.  Beautifully written and absolutely enthralling, Selasi’s debut novel is simply extraordinary. However, reader be warned, this is a dark and at times disturbing story.

This won’t be a traditional book review because, well, I hate writing those.  But really I fear that I may give away an important plot point.  So, instead here is a quick synopsis: The story opens with Kweku Sai – esteemed doctor, husband, and father of four adult children – dying from a heart attack early in the morning.  Using stream of consciousness, the remaining chapters reveal the story(ies) of Kweku’s life, death, and loves (his children and his wives).  Each member of Kweku’s family comes to terms with his death by revisiting dark and deeply hidden family histories and psycho-pathologies.

Upon finishing the novel, I realized the brilliance of the title being named after an ephemeral variety of “luggage” popularized in West Africa during the 1980s; this is a story about baggage.

I was so enthralled with this text that I found myself throwing caution to the wind and highlighting passages (and with a pen, no less!). Rarely does my love for a passage outweigh my librarian instinct of book preservation but I was captivated by words such as quoted here: https://afrolibrarians.com/2013/11/06/what-shes-reading-2/

And here: “It amuses her, always has, this disregard of Africans for flowers, the indifference of the abundantly blessed (or psychologically battered – the chronic self loather who can’t accept, even with evidence, that anything native to him, occurring in abundance, in excess, without effort, has value)”

And here: “The only reason for dating as opposed to mating for life – was to acquaint oneself, viscerally and immediately and non lyrically, with the fact of ones “personal mortality”, nothing else.”

I could certainly go on!

These insightful (albeit often cynical) assertions are just a few examples of this novel’s exceptional narrative, particularly from a contemporary “Afropolitan” perspective.  The text is full of such gems as well as other philosophical concepts (Go wild, existentialists).  For this reason, I also highly recommend Ghana Must Go for a philosophy and/or Afro-lit course.

My hat goes off to Selasi for constructing a truly provocative and unforgettable debut novel.  I can’t wait to dig into her short stories and am now impatiently awaiting her next project.

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10 Great Opening Lines in Afro-Literature

Every great writer knows the importance of the opening text. Not only is it the author’s first shot at engaging the reader, it also sets the tone for the entire novel.  A truly great incipit, as evidenced by the examples below, will also foreshadow theme, structure, plot and even conflict.

Let’s face it, a strong opening is perhaps the best indication of a strong text.  So let’s take a look at a few of the most profound within the Afro-literary genre:

“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbane slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” – Lalita Tademy, Cane River

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me.” – NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

“A dwelling.” – Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib

“I was not sorry when my brother died.” – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

“124 was spiteful.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” – Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish aboard.” – Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” – Ben Okri, The Famished Road

“They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.” – Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-American Lit, Afro-Caribbean Lit, Afro-European Lit