Recently in African novels and stories Category

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.

Sierra Leone's Olufemi Terry wins Caine writing prize

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Very scary story.  Read in morning, not at night.  From the BBC:

The Sierra Leonean writer Olufemi Terry has won this year's Caine Prize for African Writing, regarded as Africa's leading literary award. The prize was given for his story Stickfighting Days - the judges said it presented a heroic culture that was "Homeric" in its scale and conception. They described Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future. Terry was born in Sierra Leone, grew up in Nigeria, was a journalist in Somalia and Uganda, and now lives in Cape Town. His book is about Raul, a boy who lives in a dump and uses sticks to fight with other boys. The Caine prize, of £10,000 ($16,000), is given annually for a short story published in English by an African writer. Terry, however, told the BBC he thought it was "unhelpful" to see writers from the continent as a distinct category. "There is a danger in seeking authenticity in African writing," he told the World Today programme. However, he said he was glad to have won the prize, as it would help him get his first novel published.

Folktales from the Moose of Burkina Faso

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51720tjjOGL.jpgMy colleagues Alain-Joseph Sissao (Author), and Nina Tanti (Translator) have published an English-language version of Alain's collection of Moose folktales.  It is available on amazon.com here.  Here is Alain reading one of the stories (in French).  Congratulations Alain and Nina!

Elegy for Easterly

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elegy_cvr_v3.jpgDevelopment economist's are going to think something happened to Bill Easterly... and for awhile (speaking of visual illusions) I could not train my brain to realize that there actually was not a short story in this collection by Petina Gappah about how Bill Easterly was or was not responsible for Zimbabwe's collapse.

The stories are pretty good... good not great, as they say.  Certainly for someone interested in doing research on Zimbabwe, it offers a first glimpse into the country's social and economic structures.  Especially good on elite attitudes!  I look forward to reading more form Gappah.
aya BD.jpgOver the past week I undertook a reading marathon and read volumes 2, 3 and 4 of Aya, the bande dessinée that is sweeping West Africa by storm... sympathetic characters, realistic storylines, lovely drawings.  Cannot complain. 

The coolest thing is that Abouet too has gotten bit by the library bug and apparently has set up a foundation to establish a neighborhood library in Abidjan.

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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