Recently in African novels and stories Category

Les Jumelles du Kurumari

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Elisee wrote:

Dounko has just read this excellent book, he sent us a little summary and invite us to read this book:

les jumelles de kurumari.jpg"Les jumelles du kurumari est le titre du livre d'Ismaël Soumaïla Traoré que je viens de lire.
Ce roman parle de l'histoire des jumelles de Nèènè habitante de farabougou. La naissance des jumelles fut une grande fête à farabougou. Adam et Awa leur noms respectifs, se ressemblaient comme une goutte d'eau de telle sorte à leur bas âge seule Nèènè la maman pouvaient les distinguer. Pour leur santé et les bénédictions de survivre, une de leur proche faisait le tour du village pour demander les voisins, parents et autres des bénédictions de santé selon les coutumes de farabougou. Mais aujourd'hui les gens abusent de ces coutumes pour maltraiter les jumelles ou jumeaux. A 7ans elles vont à l'école comme les autres enfants du village. En grandissant Adam était plus grosse et coquine qu'Awa. Awa aimait la lecture qui la faisait voyager à travers le monde et apprenait à comprendre toute l'actualité. Quant à Adam elle préférait sortir avec des garçons plus âgés qu'elle ou voulait plutôt se marier. Awa à travers la lecture a appris beaucoup de choses et sensibilisa sa sœur à poursuivre les études avoir l'âge normal avant de penser au mariage. N'écoutant pas les paroles, Awa utilisa les images qu'elle sait procurer à la bibliothèque pour parler et montrer les images des jeunes filles marié tôt soufrant de fistules, du VIH/SIDA etc. Cette manière convaincue Adam à reprendre ses études et à fréquenter la bibliothèque également. Etant de bonnes élèves en classe, tout le village les aimaient vu le respect qu'elles avaient pour leurs camarades ou aux personnes âgés qu'elles rencontraient sur leur chemin. Les plus riches voyant la beauté d'Adam, ont corrompu les parents prédisant la maturité pour le mariage. Les parents voyant l'argent ont accepté en décidant de les faire quitter et se marier les camarades de classe la nouvelle et devinrent tristes à tel point que nombreux d'entre eux préféraient quitter l'école si les jumelles venaient de les quitter pour le mariage. Une assemblée fut convoquée pour convaincre les parents sur l'importance des filles à l'école et pour toute une nation. C'est ainsi que les parents des jumelles les laissèrent pour continuer les études.
C'est un livre à lire absolument ou à partager avec les autres."

Dounko Sanou
Bibliothecaire Animateur

Krystle's Book Review: Graceland by Chris Abani

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I just finished Graceland by Chris Abani, and I must say I was sorely disappointed. The weird thing is that it was actually a pretty good book. It reminded me a lot of The Kite Runner, which I loved. The main character was likable and sympathetic. The book was intense and never boring, with a number of shocking and unexpected scenes. The young Nigerian author definitely shows a lot of promise. I think my hopes may have mounted too high when the teaser on the back cover told me it was "the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis impersonator hoping to make his way out of the ghetto [of Lagos, Nigeria]." When I saw that, I knew I had to read it, thinking, "how could this not be fantastic?"

Elvis is a teenager whose mother succumbed to cancer when he was young. His father, Sunday, decides to move them from the village to Lagos, in search of better job prospects. Young Elvis is forced to leave behind his beloved grandmother and Aunt Felicia and confidante and cousin, Efua. In Graceland.jpgLagos, life unravels for Elvis and Sunday. Sunday cannot find work, shacks up with a woman with three children and turns to drink to drown his sorrows. Elvis does not go to school and works odd jobs to support his family, singing and dancing on the beach as an Elvis Presley impersonator. He realizes he is not making enough money doing this, and under the influence of his friend, Redemption, he turns to more illicit financial prospects. Unsurprisingly, he lands in a world of trouble and hurt. Finally, *spoiler alert* he obtains a passport and decides to start afresh in America. Throughout the story, Elvis maintains a strong connection to his mother by carrying her journal of recipes and plant descriptions everywhere with him. Abani intersperses the scenes of urban disfunction with snippets from the journal as well as memories of Elvis' mother and village. The whole story is set to the backdrop of political malfunction and slum life in Nigeria.

Like I said it was definitely a good book. Maybe I've just read too many depressing books about the "state of things in Africa," where politics and poverty are the center of everyone's lives. I've lived in an African country for three years now, and I can tell you, those are not the only things people think about and concentrate on. It's not only bad things and poor people one sees here. I know that these books that "expose" dictatorships, nepotism and poverty are extremely important for raising awareness and fixing the problem. But why do ALL the books about African countries have to be about these things? There are so many good things that happen in Burkina every single day. Where are all the books about this side of life in African countries?

*Second spoiler alert*
I also have an issue with the fact that Elvis' salvation is leaving for America. Even Abani admits at the end of the story: "Even though it had become painfully clear to him that there was no way he could survive in Lagos, there was no guarantee that he would survive in America" (pg 318). However, Redemption convinces him to leave by telling him that America is better, and he is not met for the rough and tumble life of Lagos. "It wasn't like he couldn't make it in Lagos. Plenty of people did it every day and they lived full and happy lives. But Redemption had been right: not him" (pg 318). What about the ghettos of New York or L.A.? What happens when he finds it difficult to find a job as an uneducated immigrant in the United States, and it's the rough crowd that's making quick cash? Especially when his fall-back dream is dancing, a very difficult profession to land a lucrative job. Since he has fallen in with this crowd before to take the easy way out, who's to say he won't again?

In any case, the book leaves you feeling depressed about Africa and not-so-hopeful about Elvis's future. A disappointing conclusion to a book that started with so much promise! 

Nnedi Okorafor's youth novel, Akata Witch

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akata witch.jpg
I heartily recommend Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch.  Yes it is Harry Potter in Africa, but Harry Potter was The Black Cauldron, and turtles all the way down.  It's a well-written, swift novel for youth, and I hope she finds a big audience among African and African-American youth.  The central message of listening and thinking about how to be better, and wiser, than your parents, and also realizing that your parents maybe are just as human and agonized as you are, is nicely delivered. 

If you have read this, and want to send your used copy to our libraries in Ghana, do pop them into the mail to FAVL.  We'd be grateful, as will the young readers!

A personal list of key Ghanaian authors from Accra books and things

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A very nice list from a must-read blog... see here for the other categories and be sure to check the comments section.

More contemporary (part of Ghanaian diaspora)

  • Benjamin Kwakye: The clothes of nakedness, The sun by night, The other crucifix
  • Nii Ayikwei Parkes: Tail of the blue bird, The makings of you
  • Mohammed Naseehu Ali : Prophet of Zongo Street and other stories
  • Kwei J Quartey: Wife of the gods, Children of the street 
  • Yaba Badoe :  True murder
  • Marilyn Heward Mills: Cloth girl, The association of foreign spouses
  • Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond: Powder necklace
  • Akosua Busia:  Seasons of beento blackbird
  • Lesley Lokko: Sundowners, Bitter chocolate, One secret summer, A private affair, Rich girl, poor girl.  Architect, who also writes chick lit
  • Selasi Taiye : Ghana must go (To be published in 2012) + well acclaimed short stories
  • Esi Edugyan:  Half-blood blues, The second life of Samuel Tyne.  Canadian, born of Ghanaian immigrants
  • Glover, Boakyewaa:  Circles
  • Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe:  Writing memoir; creative non-fiction mostly

More contemporary (living in Ghana)

    • Amma Darko:  The housemaid, Faceless, Beyond the horizon, Not without flowers
    • Camynta Baezie:  The African agenda 
    • G A Agambila:  Journey
    • Ayesha Harruna Attah:  Harmattan rain
    • Meri Nana-Ama Danquah: The black body, Willow weep for me, Shaking the tree, Becoming American.  Writes mostly non-fiction
    • Farida Bedwei: Definition of a miracle
    • Mamle Kabu:   writes short stories
    • Franka Andoh:  writes short stories
    • Alba Konadu Sumprim :  The imported Ghanaian, A place of beautiful nonsense.  Both are satirical
    • Kofi Akpabli: A sense of savannah, Tickling the Ghanaian.  Writes creative non-fiction
    • Nana Awere Damoah:  Tales from different tails, Excursions in my mind, Through the gates of thought

Amma Darko's Beyond the Horizon

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BeyondHorizon.jpgGhanaian author Amma Darko's Beyond the Horizon, published by Heinemann in 1995, is a translation of her earlier German novel.  Reader beware, the books is quite sad... and particularly poignant now that sex trafficking and child labor have become major issues on the world stage.  If you wanted a "primer" on how a young woman comes to be trafficked, here it is.  All the collusion, the self-deception, and the criminality are displayed, unflinchingly.  Quite a brave novel, actually, especially for an African writer.  We don't find too many negative novels like this. Its didactic realism and dark tone do not leave much room for reader enjoyment.

Darko's prose is fine, but not anything you shake your head with wonder at (i.e. compare with Cormac McCarthy, the American peddler of deep dark times....). 

I recommend the novel- it is quite short, and would be especially good for students in college doing an African Studies or contemporary African diasporas class.  I am looking forward to reading some of her newer novels.

The Strange Destiny of Wangrin

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I'm a big fan of the wonderful novel of French West Africa, L'etrange destin de Wangrin, by Amadou Hampâté Bâ.  It was first published in 1973, and retains a verve and narrative drive that makes it readable over and over again.  Hampâté Bâ based the novel on the life of an interpreter and merchant who was an old friend of his family.  When Hampâté Bâ was posted as a young civil servant in the French colonial administration to what was then Upper Volta, in the 1920s, be became reacquainted with the aging Wangrin, and took down his story, which he then refashioned into the novel. 

I thought of Wangrin because I just read two nice academic articles about the novel and  colonial times... Ralph Austen, a historian at the University of Chicago, has a great article entitled Who Was Wangrin and Why Does it Matter? (divergences between historical record and the novel offer good entree into historiography of colonial period) and Anna Pondopoulo has a nice (gated) article entitled Amadou Hampâté Bâ and the Writer Robert Arnaud (Randau): African Colonial Service and Literature (they shared very similar styles and perspectives, notably a polyphonic perspective on the colonial period... administrators and natives were enmeshed in a complex web of ambiguity....).

The sad thing is that very few people in Burkina Faso will read either the novel, or the commentary.  Sigh.  Wait!  Maybe you will make a donation to FAVL via Paypal ;-)

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

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arrowgod.jpgStarted reading this last week, and couldn't properly pace myself, like a drunken palm wine lover I had to hurry and finish it all in a couple nights... because it was sooooo good!  What a great novel.  Less and less I find myself drawn to character study especially of the tragic sort, but Achebe's writing is so friendly and wonderful, each sentence carefully composed, the whole thing making you shudder as a well-crafted sentence sums up the previous three pages... ouch how good it is.  The novel is a very deep study of Ezeula, a priest of a local god Ulu... Achebe goes deeper and deeper into the man until by the end you can't get him out of your head, and I finally found my brain making a face for him... and then you get a brilliant finale ...

The social scientist in me thought the novel a wonderful counterpoint to a lot of social science that generalizes the past in terms of effects on the present... Arrow of God explores all the nuance and personality that made the past different for each locality and each person.  It helps remind you how idiosyncratic and contingent the past was for each place.

Since this week I was teaching Nunn and Wantchekon's paper on the enduring effects of the slave trade in eroding trust, I thought with amusement how their "hypothesis" is utterly absent from the novel.... and while the effects of the "white man" are everywhere traced and felt, one of the deft messages of the novel is to resist understanding the past as having simple effects and stark choices.  Everything is messy and happening at the same time, and people involved are alive to all the possibilities, and they negotiate and misunderstand etc.

Promesse Fatale

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Disclaimer : This post is not my own personal review of this book, but is a discussion of a book review on by Arsène Flavien BATIONO. I have not yet read this book, but after this review, look forward to doing so very much.
I love novels written by Burkinabè authors. During my month-long tour of FAVL's summer reading camps, I read as many of them as I could. It's fun knowing that my French skills are good enough that I no longer have to stop to look up every word in the dictionary and that my cultural skills are good enough that I understand a good number of random references. Vanity aside, the Burkinabè have really interesting stories to tell. So when I was surfing the internet for news this morning, I was immediately drawn to this book review on The book is called Promesse Fatale, and it was written by a police commander, Léopold Millogo from Dédougou. Promesse Fatale was published in October 2011, and is the story of a young girl who is forced into marriage with a much, much older man because of a promise her father made. Despite her protests, the marriage takes place. The review quotes the book as the father telling his daughter : "Ma fille, sache qu'un homme n'est jamais trop vieux pour une femme. Tes pleurs n'y changeront rien. La tradition doit être scrupuleusement respectée !" When the girl goes to her new husband's home, she finds that he already has four wives. The novel follows the results of the disastrous consequences of the marriage on the girl's life. 

According to the review, the author takes a firm stance against forced marriage. For me, the most interesting part of the review is when the author says, "le mariage forcé perdure en Afrique en général et au Burkina Faso en particulier, malgré les nombreuses campagnes de sensibilisation." In other words, despite numerous educational sessions, forced marriage still occurs throughout Burkina Faso. It reminds me of how frustrated I used to get in village, when I would talk to my friends, my girls at school, the administration, everyone about how girls were being taken out of school to marry. Everyone agreed that it was wrong, and everyone said it didn't happen. And yet, each year we would have large groups of girls abandoning school in favor of marriage, usually one that was long arranged or they were pushed into by their families for marriage. In most instances, they were among the brightest students in their classes. It's easy to see the girls' parents as villains in these situations, but often for financial reasons they do not have a choice. So it becomes one of life's Catch-22's, which may explain to some degree why this practice is still so widespread despite efforts to educate people against it.

I can't wait to read this novel. Not only does the story interest me, but I'm drawn by the fact that it is the product of a 57-year-old Burkinabè policeman. I'll let you know how it is once I get ahold of a copy.

Lucas Amikiya recommends Tail of the Blue Bird

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Six questions for Nii Parkes about Tail of the Blue Bird

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So I read the novel again in anticipation of Parkes's visit and book reading on Friday (see below) to benefit FAVL.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading the novel a second time.  I don't usually read books twice. This time I read it over a three sittings, so it was much clearer since I could keep track of the characters (last time I had to read it over a month, it seemed).  I thought the craft was more in evidence the second time: the sharp distinctions he draws between the narrated portions about Kayo, and the first-person "story" told by Opanyin Poku, the hunter.  I can't judge the verisimilitude of his voice (would a hunter really talk like that when transcribed to English?) but I loved the voice.  And I loved how Parkes repeatedly puts Kayo in an altered state, to emphasize how perception is different in the village...

Anyway, here are my questions:

1) Why is the musician called Tintin, and what is the symbolism/meaning/context of his giant balafon (xylophone) to replicate the church organ.... it's an intriguing vision, very underplayed in the book.
2) When Kayo mentions his dead grandfather... and the mystery about how he died... is that a mystery writer-detective novel convention, or is there a story that was more fundamental to you and your background?
3) The moral ambiguity of the story and the characters- Mintah especially, but also the villagers, who do not stop awful things from happening- is very complex.... is that also more influenced by the best detective novel conventions, or did it emerge more from something particularly Ghanaian....
4) What more can you tell us about the "blue bird" that a Ghanaian might apprehend readily?
5) Oduro is another character who could have been much more developed, like Opanyin.  Did you experiment with that and then decide to just have one character tell stories?
6) You are overt in the novel about "telling stories"... like the CSI report itself...  I want to find a delicious irony that the CSI report might be the "truth" and Opanyin's tale might be the "story", rather than the other way around... should I read the novel harder to make that case?


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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