Recently in African novels and stories Category

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 lefaso.net by Arsène Flavien BATIONO. I have not yet read this book, but after this review, look forward to doing so very much.
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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 lefaso.net. 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?
Henrietta Hammond-Boadu reviews a new book from Ghana

Nana Awere Damoah's Tales from Different Tails is an easy read. The stories bring back memories of life on campus and gives an interesting look into some things we go through in life as a whole; from feeling overwhelmed on your first day on campus through, as a female, feeling like fresh meat left out with flies all over you to handling heart matters on and off campus, to dealing with the everyday life of taking troski. Oh, and then there are the nicknames that take over one's life leaving only family members knowing the documented name. Tales from Different Tails sometimes made me laugh out and other stories in the book left me thinking. Nana Awere Damoah uses words that make it easy for people from all age groups to read and understand, and injects humor which makes you want to keep reading. I really enjoyed this

Krystle's Book Review: So Long a Letter

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So Long A Letter.jpgMariama Bâ wrote So Long a Letter in 1981. That same year, she won an award from the book. Bâ was raised a Muslim by her grandparents in Senegal. Her struggle against her traditional upbringing is reflected in her novel. So Long a Letter is written in the form of a series of letters by Ramatoulaye, to her friend, Aissatou. Ramatoulaye recounts the life experiences of both her and her friend, and compares their reactions to similar situations. Both women are Muslim, as are the men they married. According to Muslim tradition, a man can marry up to four women if he so chooses.  Aissatou's husband takes another wife, and she decides to leave him because she does not agree with polygamy. After more than twenty years of marriage, Ramatoulaye's husband too takes another wife - the friend of their teenage daughter. Ramatoulaye is appalled, especially since her husband promised that she would always be his only wife. He abandons his first family to shower his pretty second wife and her mother with luxury. In her letters, Ramatoulaye struggles with whether she should have followed the path of her friend and left her husband. But she stayed for her faith. When her husband dies, both she and the young girl are treated equally in their status as grieving widows - even though the older women has been his wife for thirty years and the younger, only five. In an effort to prevent her daughter from facing the same struggles, she allows her to wear more Western clothing. She finds solace in reading, going to the cinema, writing and spending time with her friends.  Ramatoulaye, like Bâ herself, believes that it is through books that one (women especially) can find hope, and eventually the weapons, to fight oppression. Bâ said: "The power of books, this marvelous invention of astute human intelligent. Various signs associated with sound: different sounds that form the word. Juxtaposition of words from which springs the idea, Thought, History, Science, Life. Sole instrument of interrelationship and of culture, unparalleled means of giving and receiving. Books knit generations together in the same continuing effort that leads to progress. They enabled you to better yourself. What society refused you, they granted..."
You can read the full article here:

« Je ne suis un écrivain qu'à titre accessoire », aime à rappeler le Sénégalais Cheikh Hamidou Kane, auteur de deux romans. Agronome et homme politique de premier plan dans son pays, l'homme a consacré peu de temps à l'écriture. Grâce au succès phénoménal de son premier roman, il s'est rapidement imposé comme une des figures incontournables des Lettres africaines. L'Aventure ambiguë, qui raconte le drame du métissage et de la double culture, est un récit emblématique de l'expérience coloniale en Afrique. Il a marqué l'esprit de générations d'Africains qui se reconnaissent dans le parcours de son héros, Samba Diallo - des berges de la Vallée du fleuve Sénégal aux bancs de l'école française. Les cinquante ans de sa parution ont été célébrés au siège de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie à Paris. Dans l'interview qu'il nous a accordée, Kane parle de la portée universelle de son roman, des heurs et malheurs de l'intellectuel colonisé, de la responsabilité des élites dans la faillite du développement africain, de la « dépossession » identitaire... Et des Gardiens du temple, son deuxième livre, paru en 1995, qui poursuit la quête de ses personnages mais dans des circonstances postcoloniales.

Krystle's Book Review: "L'homme à la Bagnole Rouge"

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nikiema_bagnole.jpg

I don't get the chance to read in French as much as I'd like, mostly because books are expensive in Burkina. However, while I was at reading camp, I decided to take advantage of all the books surrounding me and read a few of them. I found such treasures as translations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (a personal favorite), Nancy Drew by Caroline Keene (who is known as Alice Roy in the French version) and Le Robot Qui Vivait Sa Vie (The Robot who Lived His Life) by Phillippe Ébly. I also read a book by a Burkinabè author, Susy Nikiéma, entitled L'homme à la Bagnole Rouge (The Man with the Red Car).

 

The book was published when Ms. Nikiéma was only 18 years old. It is the story of a high-school aged girl who lives with her grandparents, as her mother passed away and her father abandoned her when she was young. She begins spending a lot of time with an older man who drives a red car and is fairly well-off. At first she is suspicious of his intentions, but soon she learns that he truly only seeks her friendship. Eventually, he asks if he can adopt her because he has terminal cancer and he wants to share all he has with her. She struggles with the decision because she does not want to desert her grandparents. As she is about to make her decision, however, the man mysteriously dies. The girl receives a letter a few days later that the man sent before his death. In the letter, he explains that he is her biological father, and he abandoned her all those years before to live a better life in Côte d'Ivoire. He had returned to spend time with his daughter before his death. Eventually, we learn that the man was poisoned for his money, all of which he had already willed to his daughter. After proving her heritage, the girl is able to get the money left to her. L'homme à la Bagnole Rouge is an interesting read, not least because it discusses a lot of important realities of being a female high school student in Burkina. It is dramatic and suspenseful, and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to read French and learn a little bit more about life here.

Author NABIE Wabinle visits FAVL

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Elisée writes:

wabinle_nabie.jpgYesterday FAVL received a visit from NABIE Wabinlé, a Burkinabe author from the TUY Province. He came to present his book of fables, "La Gazelle et le Caméléon: conte bwaba du Burkina Faso." I met NABIE Wabinlé for the first time at a recent meeting held by the new Minister of Culture. His book is compiled of 11 fables, which uses animals to describe different human behaviors. This book, edited by Harmattan, is an excellent choice for the village libraries.


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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