Recently in African novels and stories Category

Barly Baruti à Madagascar

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1st Book Club Meeting of FAVL Librarians

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Today we held the first official meeting of the FAVL Librarians' Book Club and it went incredibly well.  The librarians all actively participated, made interesting observations and stated their opinions. All had strong opinions on certain aspects of the book.  The book discussed was "L'amour d'Aissatou" by Andrée Clair. It takes place in 1960's Niger, right after its independence. Balkissa is determined to send her daughter Aissatou to school, but many villagers are against it, stuck in traditional ways. The book tackles many feminist topics including girls education, forced marriage and polygamy.

-"Ce livre décrit la vie des années 1960, mais ca parle des thèmes d'actualité. C'est ca qui m'a beaucoup impressionné. » (Donkoui)
This book describes life during the 1960s, but the themes ring true today. It made a big impression on me."
-«  Ca nous montre qu'il n'y a pas grand-chose qui ait changé » (Ivette)
« It shows us that not much has changed »

The book's topic of polygamy led to a heated debate on the pros and cons of polygamist relationships and the difficulties women face. One librarian is a monogamist Catholic, another a polygamist Muslim, so you can imagine how interesting the discussion was.

The librarians all say their favorite character in the book was Aissatou's mother because of her strength and determination.
"J'ai beaucoup aimée le courage de la mère d'Aissatou. Beaucoup de femmes rêvent d'être comme elle. » (Lucy)
"I really liked the courage in Aissatou's mother. A lot of women dream of being like her."

We were thrilled with how the first meeting went and are looking forward to the next book club meeting. We asked the librarians to look around during their next FILO visit and find the book they'd like to read for their next meeting.

L'Aîné des orphelins

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aine orphelin.jpgI read this novel set in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide on the plane back from Burkina Faso.  Pretty ambitious narrative structure, and a real challenge to take the viewpoint of a child, telling the story in first person (compare Uwem Akpan).  The climax, as Faustin's experience in les avènements is revealed, is very powerful.

Here is a nice academic article on the book.

McNee, Lisa. "Monénembo's L'Aîné des orphelins and the Rwandan Genocide." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 6.2 (2004):
In her paper, "Monénembo's L'Aîné des orphelins and the Rwandan Genocide," Lisa McNee discusses Tierno Monénembo's L'Aîné des orphelins, a novel that offers a double discourse and a dual memory of the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. McNee argues that L'Aîné des orphelins presents us with an extraordinary kind of fictional testimonial to genocide. Although Monénembo is not from Rwanda and did not participate in the tragedy, only someone who has paid the price of the clarity needed to distinguish between good and bad faith could have written a novel like L'Aîné des orphelins. Monénembo's characterization of Faustin as a young man who feels guilty without reason is plausible, given what we know of victims of abuse and their reactions, or those of survivors of other humanitarian catastrophes. One can only speculate about Monénembo's own experiences as an exile. In Monénembo, McNee proposes, we have a rare example of an intellectual who accepts the burden of a certain complicity, the complicity of those who did not speak out or intervene at the time of the genocide and who does not flinch at the cost of confronting that complicity. Of course, the Rwandan genocide recalls the shadows of other genocides and the reflections that others have shared may help us to better understand the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath.

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

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wifegods.jpgIf you have a friend who like mysteries, then this is a definite Christmas present. Of course, I enjoyed the setting, and Quartey never goes tourist-brochure.  Relevant details are introduced in a subdued way.  The mystery itself, like many, is pretty straightforward (I'm not really a big fan of the genre).  But the main character is a nice complex figure, and if Quartey chooses to write well, in future books, rather than make money, it bodes well. 

Measuring Time by Helon Habila

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measuring.jpgI bought this purely at random, as "suggested" it when I bought another novel online.  The blurb and cover made it sound pretty good.  And it was.  Pretty good, that is.  My opinion is that the relationship story between Zara and Mamo doesn't work at all... dialogue stilted, characterization uncomfortable.  But the "village" life of Mamo, as he refashions himself as a village intellectual, was super.  I found that part of be full of insight, presented in a nice narrative context.  Habila should have expanded on characterizing the Mai and Waziri and their conflict with Mamo.  That would have been great.  So definitely pick it up for a decent read.  Not quite as coherent as some other recent African novels, but quite interesting and nicely written.

Read "Birdsong" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in The New Yorker

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She continues to make her mark as current "best read" author from Africa.  I'm not really sure there is anything distinctly African about the fiction, though.  This seems a very universal story of a young woman slowly become wise to her lover and the life she is leading.  Nicely written. Read the story here...

Book review: Adichie's "The Thing Around Your Neck"

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Adichie.jpgChimamanda Ngozi Adichie's first two novels Purple Hibiscus and the award-winning Half a Yellow Sun made Adichie a well-known name in the world of African literature. The Thing Around Your Neck, a book of 12 short stories, is her third work.

Most of the stories revolve around middle to upper class African characters--graduate students, professors and doctors--who struggle against corruption, rioting and violence in post-Independent Nigeria, or face many challenges as immigrants in America.

I thought the book was well written and a good read. One of my favorite stories in the book is "A Private Experience," about a young female medical student--an Igbo Christian--who hides during a violent riot with a poor old woman--a Hausa Muslim--inside a small abandoned boutique. Both women represent each side of the violence occurring right outside the door. The story goes back and forth between the gruesome violence of outside with the relationship and bond of the two very different strangers inside.  

My only criticism is that after a while all the characters seem the same. It's the same type of people going through the same type of challenges. I recognize that Adichie is known for portraying all the realities of Africa. She doesn't simply focus on the poverty and swollen-bellied children of Africa, like so many authors chose to do, but all of Africa's people, including the middle and upper class. Yet I still would have liked for the author to diversify the characters and stories a little more.

- Emilie

Elliot thought it was OK....

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festival.jpgPart of the deal for allowing him to play World of Warcraft and Starcraft was he had to read some Africa-related stuff... this wasn;t the best thing to start with, but it was OK.

Zenzele by J. Nozipo Maraire

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Zenzele.gifThis unassuming novel is something I just found on the bookshelf of Santa Clara University's library.  A really good read.  Once I got started I just plowed the whole way through to the end. 

It is written in the form of a series of letters from mother to daughter.  While there is much hat-tipping to "Africa" really one has to be extremely clear, the Africa in the book is an extraordinarily well-educated, well-traveled and wealthy African family, albeit with rather normal roots in a village.  The setting, Zimbabwe, is an outlier in terms of colonial history. 

Mariaire is nowhere near the writer that Doris Lessing is (though she could have been- the bio notes indicate, rather, that she is a doctor and neurosurgeon).  While the prose is very good, and the style of letter writing is quite forgiving since meandering is part of the form, the subject matter makes the book complex.  At heart it is a serious attempt to construct an identity.  And this is where the reader (me) gets a little nervous, because I can't figure out whether Mariaire is a novelist, and is trying out what it would be like for someone to construct this particular identity, or whether Mariaire herself is constructing the identity.  The reason for nervousness is that it isn't really a very interesting identity to construct... the reflections of the identity-former and the narrator never really transcend, they stay very simple.  Like a knee-jerk to various stimuli.  It is useful to contrast with Chimananda Ngozi Adichi...

Dinaw Mengestu's story "An Honest Exit" in The New Yorker

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Thirty-five years after my father left Ethiopia, he died in a room in a boarding house in Peoria, Illinois, that came with a partial view of the river. We had never spoken much during his lifetime, but, on a warm October morning in New York shortly after he died, I found myself having a conversation with him as I walked north on Amsterdam Avenue, toward the high school where for the past three years I had been teaching a course in Early American literature to privileged freshmen.
That the opening of a great short story by Mengestu, in the current issue of The New Yorker.  It is a well-crafted story about stories.


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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