Recently in African novels and stories Category

Just finished this interesting book, Mémoires de porc-épic by Alain Mabanckou. Hard to know what to say. The story is very straightforward. What I see in some of the online commentary is "aventures rocambolesques." A man and his porcupine double "eat" the residents of the village. People who live in Africa for any length of time are familiar with the idea, a favorite topic of anthropologists (is it real? false consciousness? me?). The people in Africa who I like best, as you may know, are the ones who say, "I have no time for such mysteries." The style and voice are more important than the text. No sentences, instead each short chapter is a long fluid paragraph. And I will say they are quite interesting here, but I do not know if my French is subtle enough to capture it. So I'm at loss for words.

Contes Du Pays Des Moose: Burkina Faso


My colleague Nina Tanti is translating another colleague's book, Stories of the Moose country, by Alain Sissao. It is a collection of folktales that Alain collected over the 1980s and 1990s. Curiously, many of them are reminiscent of folktales I've read that were collected in northern Sudan. Lots of arbitrary killing of animal, ogres, chiefs, women and children. The hyena is the figure of ridicule, the hare of cleverness. I'm sure there is a deep logic to it all! I enjoyed Alain's crisp rendering of the tales: for an advanced French reader (though hardly fluent) who is also very comfortable with Burkinabè French style, it is a pleasure to read. Nina's translations should bring the book to a wider audience.


FAVL friend Shane Auerbach writes:
I really like your list of West African novels on Amazon. I think that you should consider adding Massa Makan Diabate from Mali to that list. Like L'etrange destin de Wangrin, Diabate's novels are an incredible bookmark in Malian history. The humor in his novels is unbeatable, and it's also fascinating to consider his development as a writer, given his family's tradition as a family of griots (Described well in an biography of Diabate written by Cherif Cheick Keita). Although he wrote several Sunjata fasas, for me his most important work is his trilogy of novels:

Le Lieutenant de Kouta
Le Coiffeur de Kouta
Le Boucher de Kouta

They're all based in Kita, Mali. I think all of them merit being on your list. If you had to pick one, however, I would probably stick with the first, Le Lieutenant.

Anyway, keep up the good, and important, work that you do.

Great interview with Chinua Achebe

"Where one thing stands, another thing stands beside it." I love that proverb... Achebe interprets: There are no absolutes.

Devil on the Cross - Ngugi


On the plane to and from Senegal I had the pleasure of reading Devil on the Cross, by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. It is an excellent "experimental" and polemical novel, supposedly written on toilet paper while in prison. "Searing" is the adjective I see a lot on websites, and it does move through an indictment of Kenyan capitalism at brutal speed. Sometimes a little overbearing, and the contemporary reader wishes that the "laying it on thick" were a bit more subtle or ironic. Here's a neat article from a Ghanaian newspaper.












Here's a video clip of Ngugi:

Le Siecle des Sauterelles


While attending the African Studies Association meetings I spent a little time finishing Malika Mokeddem's decent novel published in 1992. I think really it doesn't work as a novel; sorry to be blunt for those of you who maybe loved it. It opens with a searing image of a desert rape and murder. But then seems to turn more into an adventure/existential/love story... The tone and "voice" was not developed. Great introduction to the Algerian desert and ending days of French colonialism...
Plein de critiques de livres en francais. Formidable!
Interesting chat with French Prof. Catherine Montfort the other day. She uses in class a play by Guillaume Oyono Mbia, Trois Pretendants... Un Mari, about village parents wanting to marry off their daughter to the highest bidder, so to speak. Weird thing is, I've never seen this on sale in the two Ouagadougou bookstores! A nice analysis of the book is here by Iheanachor Egonou from the online journal Ethiopiques... an extract:
La famille pauvre qui a une fille à marier peut espérer une amélioration de ses conditions matérielles grâce au mariage de la fille. La paix du ménage et la réussite éventuelle du mariage dépendent, entre autres, de la capacité du gendre à pourvoir aux besoins de la famille de son épouse. C’est bien le sens de la question que la cousine de l’héroïne pose à celle-ci : « Tu crois pouvoir être heureuse avec un mari pauvre ? Qu’est-ce qu’il donnera à ta famille ? » (p. 21). Pour protéger son intérêt, la famille se croit justifiée de donner la fille au plus offrant des prétendants, sans tenir compte de l’opinion ou des préférences de celle-ci. Oyono-Mbia a prêté à un des personnages de Trois préten­dants... un mari une attitude fort cynique, qui est aussi l’aboutissement logique de la poursuite des intérêts égoïstes de la famille. Mbarga, l’oncle de l’héroïne, propose qu’on emmène celle-ci à Yaoundé pour la donner en mariage à quiconque pourrait verser la somme requise : « ...il faut que tu emmènes Juliette à Yaoundé cet après-midi même. Une fille de sa valeur se trouvera aisément d’autres prétendants en ville. Passe tous les grands ministères en revue, et propose la fille. Si quelqu’un accepte de te verser trois cent mille francs comptant, tu lui donnes Juliette sur-le-champ ! » (p. 101) Trois prétendants... un mari montre ainsi à quelle sorte de vente aux enchères peut aboutir la pratique actuelle de la dot en Afrique noire. C’est un procès bien articulé de la pratique courante de la vieille coutume de notre régime dotal.

Africultures continues to provide us with the info we need! A wonderful interview with Didier Kassaï on his art and story. An extract:
En 1990, je me suis fait découvrir lors d'un atelier de BD organisé par le Centre Culturel Français de Bangui. Dès lors, ma notoriété naissante a dépassé le cadre scolaire, obligeant du coup mes parents à changer d'attitude à mon égard. D'autant plus que j'ai été engagé deux ans plus tard, à temps partiel, comme illustrateur de presse biblique à l'imprimerie de la Mission protestante baptiste de Sibut où j'ai travaillé jusqu'en 1996. Ce fut un hasard salutaire, car à la même époque, mon père ne travaillait plus et n'avait plus la possibilité de s'occuper de ses sept enfants dont j'étais le second. Grâce à mes modestes revenus dans le dessin, toute la famille a pu survivre et mes frères aller à l'école.

From the U.S. embassy website in Ouagadougou:

On Tuesday June 24th 2008, the American Cultural Center in collaboration with Antoine Sanon, organized a book signing ceremony in honor of his new book entitled ‘Madame le Président de la République’. The American Cultural Center was proud to host this activity because it supported our mutual goals of supporting freedom of speech, women's rights, and democracy. Professor Loada kicked off the event with a brief comparative analysis of democracy in Burkina Faso and the United States. The Center's own Binta Mayaki welcomed attendees by addressing the need for more local civil society initiatives to explore issues such as democracy and women's participation. Over 90 participants listened intently to the description of the book and supported a lively Q&A session.

« Madame le Président de la République » is a literary novel, which addresses the question of political succession and change in Burkina Faso. Antoine Sanon is currently Program Manager at Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and President of the Permanent Council of Citizens of the World (CIVIPAX).


FAVL Blog

Books, reading, and libraries relevant to Africa by Michael Kevane, co-Director of FAVL and economist at Santa Clara University.

Other contributors include Kate Parry, FAVL-East Africa director, FAVL Burkina Faso representative Koura Donkoui, FAVL Burkina Faso program manager Krystle Nanema, and FAVL friends Emilie Crofton and Elisee Sare.

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