Recently in African novels and stories Category

This was a bad reading week... I did not enjoy at all two high-minded novels- Ben Okri's In Arcadia and J.M. Coetzee's Foe. Foe is apparently taught in a number of high-minded literary theory courses. I'm not averse in principle to hard to read novels that are making a point about me as a reader and the author as a writer and all of us using langugae and so on. It's just that I wonder while I am reading these two particular books why exactly is it that I find them hard to read, and the only conclusion I can draw is that they're boring. I'm reading with a feeling of tedium, turning page after page and not really caring much what the characters are doing (perhaps because they aren't doing much). And I don't find myself puzzled and interested in my reactions to the text (I'm bored). So, not every book from Africa is a gem, some are just bad. These are two I don't recommend, and they are from excellent authors, at that!

The question... I was giving a presentation about FAVL to a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers, and towards the end the question was raised whether this whole endeavour, with its focus on the technology of books, wasn't simply missing the point, the point being that electronic reading material was rapidly eclipsing books. FAVL may as well be setting up darkrooms and teaching people how to develop negatives using chemical photoprocessing techniques. What do I have to say about that? It is a good question. People are indeed writing and reading text messages on their cell phones, even in remote villages in Burkina Faso. And undoubtedly someday people will be reading Ben Okri on their cell phone, the way people read novels on cell phones in Japan. But my son, who is 9, and an avid reader, and who lives in Silicon Valley, has yet to read anything on any electronic medium. And most likely he'll never read fiction in an electronic medium, unless the technology improves really really fast. So kids in African villages are unlikely to lose much from the investments FAVL donors make in community libraries. Besides, I believe the most important investment we are making is in the institution of the community library, rather than the books per se. This is the mission that drives FAVL every day, and makes FAVL so different from the book-oriented NGO.... our focus is on building the community library as a long-lasting community institution. So we are technology neutral. Not Luddites, and not bookworms. FAVL doesn't exist to give people warm and fuzzy feelings of reading printed letters on pages bound into books (covered in calfskin?). FAVL exists to help people read.

Recommended reading....

I am not a book critic, just an avid reader, and over the past several days I have been re-reading Chinua Achebe's A Man of the People . It's just fantastic, in the ambiguity of the theme.... is politics really character? The writing is sharp, wonderful turns of phrase here and there, and the characters are memorable and never overbearing. Chief Nanga... simply amazing. I was in western Sudan in a small village during the time that General Omar al-Bashir in Sudan was just consolidating his power, in 1989, after a coup d'etat. The local reaction to the coup and the new military rulers was so exactly like Odili's father... wise resignation.

Another Barbara Kimenye title

Wow! "Pretty Boy" by force of circumstances leaves his parents when their shanty home is demolished, makes his way to Mombasa , the sex trade, and AIDS... and his mother dies too, from the shame. Brutally frank, nicely written. Want an insight into the real Africa? Pick up some Kimenye.

Beauty Queen - Barbara Kimenye

This is exactly the kind of book that a secondary school student in English-speaking Africa would love... a quick Jackie Collins-like tale of a village girl transformed, and her eventual downfall from HIV/AIDS. The book is remarkable for the absence of explicit moralizing... you could have imagined it quite differently. There are flashes of great writing and story-telling, which keep the more sophisticated reader interested. The ending is dramatically abrupt. She's wasted away, and dies. You knew that from the beginning, that she was not going to a pretty end.

The book is part of a series developed by East African Educational Publishers for secondary school pleasure reading. It is available through Michigan State University Press. Buy an copy, read it, and then send over to an African village library, why don't you?

Ben Okri on his new novel

A favorite author of mine (whose short stories are excellent for teaching about Africa) has just released a new book... can't wait to read it.

Links, by Nuruddin Farah

If you've ever wanted to gaze into what has happened to Somalia over the last 15 or so years since the disastrous invasion and withdrawal by American forces, try this 2004 novel. Although I found the prose somewhat stilted for my taste, the novel contains loads of powerful imagery and insights, and a pretty decent (though somewhat contrived) story that keeps you reading.
Turns out the readers of have many many lists of fine novels by African authors... here is a sampling
African novels list 1
African novels list 2
African novels list 3
African novels list 4
African novels list 5
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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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