Tag Archives: African 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.

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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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What She’s Reading: The Granta Book of the African Short Story

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It’s a cold and rainy Saturday evening – the perfect time to stay indoors, curl up with a book and a warm blanket and sip giant glass wine 🙂

This week I’m cracking open my newest buy: “The Granta Book of the African Short Story”. Edited by Helon Habila, a formidable writer in his own right, this collection includes anglophone, lusophone, and francophone authors. (One of my new year’s resolutions is to read more lusophone literature so I’m feeling a bit smug ;-p about getting off to a great start). Habila describes this project as a compilation of Africa’s “post national generation” writers and includes 29 authors from 19 countries. From Leila Aboulela to Zoe Wicomb, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Alex Guma, and from Moroco to Zimbabwe; this is quite a diverse anthology of literature from the continent.

I’ll return to this post at a later date to list my favorites. In the meantime, pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online at the Hueman Bookstore by following the link below

Hueman Bookstore

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What She’s Reading: “The Tipping Point” and “Wizard of the Crow”

In a modest effort to increase my monthly nonfiction intake – and also taking advice from this helpful article on enhancing the reading experience http://myhometableau.com/the-one-thing-ive-learned-to-help-me-read-more/ – I’m continuing to experiment with reading two books at the same time.

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Book 1 – “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell
I read and loved his in-depth analysis of the patterns of success in “Outliers” and heard great things about this book as well. I’m 155 pages in and so far am not in love with it yet. The stories are interesting (of course) but a few conclusions seem to be drawn from relatively weak links (Paul Revere vs William Dawes and the New York phone book “test” particularly). So far, this book doesn’t seem to be as tightly woven as it’s predecessor but many of the concepts Gladwell presents are – even when seemingly simplistic – paradigm shifting. This is one to check out.

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Book 2 – “Wizard of the Crow: A Novel” by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
This novel has been on my ‘Book Bucket List’ for a few years. To put it simply, the story surrounds a fictitious country in Africa called “Aburiria”. Aburiria, like many countries in the region, is torn by political parties fighting for control of the country and it’s resources. This satire is loaded with symbolism surrounding political and humanitarian themes. I’m only a few pages in but can already sense that I’ll be writing a separate post on this one. Stay tuned; this story is epic.

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Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe

In honor of the late, great Chinua Achebe’s birthday today, we are paying homage to his legacy. You may be familiar with his most famous work, Things Fall Apart, as it may have been your first introduction to literature from the continent. Achebe, a Naija born and raised, also wrote a number of essays, poems, and critiques that are as relevant today as they were when originally published.

So without further ado, Here are a few of our favorite Achebe quotes:

“I tell my students, it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.”

“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” (The Education of the British-Protected Child)

“There is no story that is not true.” (Things Fall Apart)

“My weapon is literature.”

“People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.” (There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra)

“I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them” (Morning Yet on Creation Day)

Tell us your favorite Achebe quote . . .

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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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What She’s Reading

In honor of Ghanaian literature Week (November 11-17), I’m currently reading Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. The text is insightful, engaging and simply beautiful. A review is forthcoming but until then, enjoy this snippet:

“To him, who could name grief by each one of her faces, the logic was familiar from a warmer third world, where the boy who tails his mother freshly bloodied from labor (fruitless labor) to the edge of an ocean at dawn – who sees her place the little corpse like a less lucky Moses all wrapped up in palm frond, in froth, then walk away, but who never hears her mention it, ever, not once – learns that ‘loss’ is a notion. No more than a thought. Which one forms or one doesn’t. With words. Such that one cannot lose, nor ever say he has lost, what he does not permit to exist in his mind.” (Page 10)

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What She’s Reading

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Kaffir Boy – My never-ending search for auto-ethnographic texts (stay tuned for a post on this in the future), led me to this classic.  Inspired by Richard Wright’s  Black Boy, Kaffir Boy is an autobiographical narrative that explores Mark Mathabane’s childhood during South Africa’s apartheid.  Introspective and analytical, this novel is simply captivating.

Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright – Written by one of the authors of this blog *winks and looks over at him*, this text explores Richard Wright from a philosophical, psychological, and sociological perspective.  Although this book is written for academics, I found it to be very engaging and even paradigm shifting in terms of perspective on Wright’s work.

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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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