Recently in African novels and stories Category

New book by Kwei Quartey: Children of the Street

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Former FAVL volunteer Lauren Bizzari writes in:

FC9780812981674.JPGI loved Wife of the Gods so much I couldn't help but pre-order 4 copies of Kwei Quartey's new installment a month ago. It just came out in late July, don't know if you've had a chance to read it yet, but it's quick and I think you'd find it interesting. I didn't enjoy the plot quite as much this time (a little more predictable I thought), and I was kind of sad that the book was so "American" in style again. But, the story line touches on the poverty in Northern Ghana. Specifically, the huge numbers of street children/teens in Accra who left the North seeking a "better life" in the city. I'm shipping these copies to Sumbrungu, and if the librarians/Lucas get a chance to read them I think they will enjoy it and have a lot to say.

Em's Book Review: "Chanda's Secrets"

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ChandaSecrets.jpg"Chanda's Secrets" is a heartfelt young adult novel by Canadian Allan Stratton. The book focuses on all aspects of HIV/AIDS but more importantly on the stigma surrounding the virus. It's the story of Chanda, a young woman who witnesses friends and members of her family die off one by one from AIDS, though no one in her village wants to acknowledge it. When her own mother gets sick, Chanda is forced to make some very adult and very difficult decisions. "Mama said I should save my anger to fight in justice. Well, I know what's unjust. The ignorance about AIDS. The shame. The stigma. The silence." Based in an unnamed Sub-Saharan African country, this is one of those universal books that any young adult, whether living in a rural African village or in a bustling American city, would appreciate and be affected by.

Heremakhonon by Maryse Condé

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While in Puerto Rico I picked up a book my brother must have read when he spent a year abroad in Senegal: Heremakhonon by Maryse Condé.  Unfortunately a translation into English (apparently she went on to marry Richard Philcox, the translator- wow!), but the experimental fiction, with shifts from description to interior monologue, and lots left unsaid, is really interesting.  She does seem very naive though. It's a "disappointed by complex inscrutable Africa and I still don't know who I am" story, in some ways very similar to Claire Denis' film Chocolat.  Worth reading if you are interested in African literature. There is a more literary review by Nandini Dhar here.
I'm looking forward to reading it.

Le paysage littéraire burkinabè vient de s'enrichir avec la parution de la nouvelle œuvre de Lazare Tiga Sankara. « Le retour des morts » est un recueil de trois nouvelles publié aux éditions Céprodif. Après la parution de son roman « l'aventures de Patindé » aux éditions l'harmattan, Lazare Tiga Sankara revient sur la scène littéraire avec un recueil de trois nouvelles intitulé « le retour des morts ». A travers cette œuvre, l'auteur fait voyager les lecteurs dans l'univers presque indescriptibles des morts. « Le retour des morts » est elle une réplique à Birango Diop pour qui « les morts ne sont pas morts » ? Négatif.

Nadine Gordimer - Six Feet of the Country

This collection of short stories was first published in 1982, and definitely reads a little dated when you know that a new South Africa was born in 1994.  But still, Gordimer's writing flows smoothly, and she is quite comfortable writing in a range of voices. You can understand why she won the Nobel Prize.  What I like is that all of the stories have the feeling of being something that she heard, that is, that someone told her.  The are stories feel like they were told, verbally.  She captures that nicely. 

Reading these stories reminds me of her novel Burger's Daughter, one of the really great novels of the 20th century.

Diane Cheater on books in Zimbabwe, at African Arguments

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It's kind of a long rambling post, and I'm not really sure what the main argument is, but lots of fascinating details about reading culture in Zimbabwe... though the absence of any sort of politics in the posting I find somewhat strange... why has reading culture declined in Zimbabwe?  Gosh I wonder why!!

In the wake of celebrations that once again a Zimbabwean author, NoViolet Bulawayo, has won the Caine Prize for African Writing, a revived Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) will be taking place in Harare at the end of July (25th-30th). The theme of the Book Fair will be 'Books for Africa's Development'. Last week, a well-attended event at the Book Café in Harare debated the past and future for the ZIBF, and ended up discussing the question, 'what is the point of books in contemporary Zimbabwe?' The theme of this year's ZIBF gives some clues as to dominant thinking on the answer: books are for development. But what do books contribute to development, and how will books in Zimbabwe help to ensure that 'things can only get better'?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the ZIBF was the premier book fair for all book deals within Africa - not only between Southern African publishers and the rest of the world, but also between publishers within Africa itself. At last week's meeting, Stringer stated that he does not think that it can ever regain that status - not because other states have stepped in to fill the vacuum that was created during Zimbabwe's 'difficult decade' of the 2000s, but because big trade fairs have been made obsolete by technological change. Publishers no longer need to meet in person in order to have conference meetings, to exchange contracts or to look at proofs. All of these things can be done electronically, via Skype and pdf documents emailed between negotiators. There is some truth to this observation. However, Frankfurt Book Fair is still as vibrant as ever, suggesting that publishers do still feel the need to gather together in a trade fair setting.


Nonetheless, Stinger's point about technological change was quickly picked by other commentators. One speaker suggested that the 'moment of the book' had passed; soon it would be obsolete. But Zimunya spoke lyrically about the vital importance of books in rural communities with negligible internet access, where development projects depended upon a textual support, and where more literate members of the community could easily share the material with others. Books, qua object, have practical benefits over all other forms of communicating information. And, as Brian Jones commented, 'In London there were iPads and Kindles all over, but they are still are a rare sight in Zimbabwe and I don't foresee printed books disappearing from Zimbabwe anytime soon.'


Zimbabweans display a changed attitude towards reading, after their hard decade. It is strange now to recall the days in the 1980s when Dambudzo Marechera sat in Africa Unity Square day after day, writing obsessively and magnificently, and insisting that those around him engage with 'difficult' prose. Reading still takes place, of course: this is, after all, the most literate nation in Africa.[3] Newspapers are read avidly; twitter feeds clutter Zimbabwe's cyberspace; Wikipedia provides a quick fix of information. But reading is not given time. Even in the world of literature, short stories, such as NoViolet Bulawayo's Caine Prize-winning 'Hitting Budapest', predominate over novels.

The crisis of books is seen everywhere. Bookshops are hard to find; and when you do find them, they disappoint. An African film-maker based in Kuwadzana, a high density suburb just outside Harare, told me that he used to enjoy reading contemporary fiction and works on film criticism, which he could find in Kingston's, the state-owned bookshop and stationers. Indeed, a visit to Kingston's was once rated in the top 40 things to do in Harare by Lonely Planet travellers.[4] But now, he said, 'There are no books; and if there are any there, they are just text books and manuals funded by NGOs.'

This point was reiterated by Irene Staunton of Weaver Press at the ZIBF event at the Book Café (a café, incidentally, that was once a book shop with a café attached, but where now, as Eugene Ulman, who made an influential film about the café, commented: 'You'd be hard pressed to find a book at the Book Café'). Staunton pointed out that publishers are struggling because people no longer expect to pay for books. Books are conceptualised as something that NGOs provide for free, to schools, communities and project participants, as part of a 'package' with an instrumentalist purpose. Books are for training, not for leisure. And they are certainly not for enhancing a society's imagination.

At every turn, an instrumentalist attitude to books and reading predominates. The novelist Zimunya's robust and moving defence of the importance of books in rural areas was describing the importance of training manuals, not of novels. Meanwhile, at the University of Zimbabwe, the world's academic journals are freely available to the undergraduates, thanks to gratis subscriptions to JSTOR and to the journals of significant publishers such as Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis. Africa Journals Online provides three free downloads per month to anyone accessing their pages with a Zimbabwe-based IP address.[5] And yet, university lecturers complain to me that their students are simply not making use of collections such as JSTOR, even when the technical support would allow them to do so. Undergraduates - and even some teaching staff - tend to seek affirmation from canonical texts rather than to engage with a wide range of positions. Reading tends to be focused on data mining rather than tracing the development of ideas and the conversations between academics. A revolution in resource availability has not led to a revolution in academic engagement or the blossoming of ideas.

Despite the high literacy rates, people no longer seem to love books in Zimbabwe. One publisher told me that, 'Parents don't read to their children any more. Children encounter books at school and those experiences with books are often bad ones.' And, she added, in a culture that is highly oriented towards kinship, community and patronage networks, community activities are valued above the solitary and individual act of reading. Undoubtedly, the avid - often social - reading of newspapers, along with the urban ubiquity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, maintain a text-oriented and literate culture. But book-reading is in decline.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 5685317264_062391a410.jpgThis is actually the first-ever solicited book review on the FAVL blog.  I got a free copy of the book, but no payment.  Stephen Davie lives in Djibo, northern Burkina Faso, and knows Charley and Emilie, FAVL's two Peace Corps volunteers. So I guess he's been reading the blog, and when his new book came out he sent along an email asking if I had noticed it, and then was kind enough to have the publisher, Anderson Press, send a copy.

The book is a good adventure story, with high appeal for the 10-14 year old boy crowd.  Elliot liked it just fine (of course, he's lived in Ouagadougou).  I thought it was good too.  Very nicely written.  Davies has excellent grammar, plotting, style.  And I enjoyed all the references to Burkina.

So definitely recommendable to anyone with Sahel experience and young readers in the household.

A very short plot summary is de rigueur: Jake Knight is son of British Ambassador.  he's the lead, but his sister Kas has a big role too. They are kidnapped in Burkina. Lot's of adventures and interesting characters.  There is a strong social justice component.  No dystopia here, just a lot of earnest fun and hope. 

Personally, I'd rather have had the Burkinabè outlaw Yacouba Sor character be the central character, and ditch the expatriate children altogether.  I'm hoping Steve will perhaps venture out into something along those lines?  There's little market for that, I suppose.  But then, what a fun adventure, to create and lead the market for adventure fiction in the Sahel... doing what Alexander McCall Smith did for the African detective novel.

Amos Tutuola's The Palm Wine Drinkard

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Believe it or not I am reading this for the first time and enjoying the style quite a lot.  I'm no heavy duty analyst, for that I turn to others.  I just finished "the complete gentleman" part, and found this excellent blog Gukira that provides some context and reflection.  An extract from the complete blog entry:

My favorite narrative sequence in The Palm-Wine Drinkard is about the "complete gentleman." Briefly, a "complete gentleman" visits a market and, while there, attracts the attention of the town beauty, a young woman who has refused to marry because she finds all other men lacking. Infatuated with him, she decides to follow him home, despite his repeated warnings that she should turn back. On the way home, he begins to shed parts of himself, returning his borrowed accoutrements, including clothing, limbs, and skin. Fully denuded, the "complete gentleman" is revealed to be a Skull. He imprisons the young woman in a community of Skulls and renders her dumb by tying a cowrie shell around her neck. The narrator rescues her. Of course.

The tale of the deceptively beautiful young man is fairly common in African folktales. And it is striking that it's often men, not women, whose beauty is considered deceptive. One could stage an encounter between urban and rural forms of masculinity here, and, following an East African vein, relate this sequence to that between Lawino and the absent Clementine. Interesting tangent. Will not pursue.

Two questions: what does it mean that a "complete gentleman" is composed of a series of discrete, borrowed parts? And, what does it mean, especially within Afro-modernity, that the "real gentleman" is a silencing Skull?

(I should confess that the African fetishization of "the gentleman," and our point of reference is invariably "the colonial gentleman," irritates me to no end. That we continue to valorize this figure and aspire to it is really quite silly.)

In disassembling the "complete gentleman," Tutuola makes visible the various elements that, cumulatively, create the gentleman, elements that, when disaggregated, function as fetishes, a term that has the same suturing effect as Afro-modernity. It sutures the anthropological-religious element with the psychic-capitalist.

Em's Book Review: "Beasts of No Nation"

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beasts_of_no_nation1.jpgThe Peace Corps transit house has a huge take-a-book/leave-a-book library but you have to spend a lot of time digging through the trashy romance novels before finding a good read. Well, I did some digging and was lucky to come across Uzodinma Iweala's award-winning Beasts of No Nation.

The novel follows Agu, a young boy forced to become a child soldier in an unnamed West African country. In a sort of Pidgen English, Agu describes his horrifying experiences of war, murder, mutilation, rape, cannibalism, starvation and thirst.
 From the depiction of a drugged-up Agu chopping up a woman and her child into bits with his machete to the rape scenes of Agu by his Commander, Iweala gets straight to the point, writing in a raw, crude and explicit style. Iweala hides no details but that's exactly what makes readers understand (well, at least try to understand) the horrors that the narrator goes through.
The scene of Agu's first kill is particularly moving yet disturbing at the same time: "...I am bringing the machete up and down and up and down hearing KPWUDA KPWUDA every time and seeing just pink while I am hearing the laughing KEHI, KEHI, KEHI all around me...Commandant is saying it is like falling in love."

I've read several novels and autobiographies on child soldiers (favorite being Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier) and I'm always struck by the fact that no matter how gruesome, violent or animal-like the soldiers become, no matter how many women and girls they rape, no matter how many men they mutilate with machetes, I'm always sympathizing with them. Despite their brutality you never forget they are innocent children, forced into a horrible situation.
Even though he commits unthinkable crimes, Agu fights to remember his previous self and the good son he once was. The novel shifts between the present day's war-torn atrocities and Agu's past life of living peacefully with his family: his love of books, his childhood friends, his village, his school-teacher father and his religious mother. It is by living through his memories that Agu tries to convince himself that he is not a "bad boy."

Why write a novel on something so horrific? As the Nigerian-American, Harvard-educated author says in an interview in the back of the book:
"I wrote and write about violence because of a desire to understand what makes people kill, rape and destroy. I wrote and write about violence because of a fear that one day I might be on either the delivering or receiving end of aggression. I wrote and write about violence because there is something fascinating and inspiring about the human ability to cope with and prevail over the worst of circumstances. In short, I wrote and write about violence because of a desire to understand my own and other people's humanness."


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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