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Group Read - February, 2009 - Africa - Discussion Thread

Reading Globally

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1SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 13, 2009, 11:54am Top

Here is your discussion thread about the African group read. Feel free to post whatever you'd like whenever you want (even today!).

Please save the original thread for book recommendations only.

Addendum to this thread:
I'm adding some questions as a guide in your reading. I had originally entered some themes, but then deleted them because it was pointed out to me that the themes should emerge by themselves. If you have other questions to add please message them to me so I can include them in this first post. Thanks!

*************************

A Short (?) Guide to Reading Fiction by African Authors

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?
3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?
4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
5. What major themes were addressed by your book?
6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
7. What did you not like about your choice of book?
8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.
9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?
10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)
11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

*************************

ETA 1: I edited the questions a bit so they may look different from when you started to answer them. (12/27/08)
ETA 2: I incorporated depressoholic's question from post #50 below. (2/3/09)
ETA 3: If you would like me to add, delete, or change any question, please private message me so I can do that without having to discuss the questions in the body of this thread. Thank you. (2/7/09)
ETA 4: If you would like to skip the theme questions entirely and simply discuss your book, feel free to do so. That's your choice. Whatever works for you is fine. (2/13/09)

2GlebtheDancer
Dec 27, 2008, 12:19pm Top

Hi Squeaky,
Thanks for setting up the thread. I'll be doing the same for Argentina shortly. It should be really interesting.

I would like to suggest, however, that you don't try to push readers towards particular themes in the thread. The reason is that the word 'Africa' tends to come with a lot of baggage, and many people have preconceptions about what 'Africa' is and, by extension, what African literature should be about. I have found a huge variety of writers and themes, as you would expect from a huge and diverse continent. I think that we should all just discover whatever literature we can, and if we see any emergent themes we can discuss the reasons for these in the thread. I realise that this may result in a huge and wide-ranging thread, but, to be honest, that is what one titled 'Africa' should be.

Just a few thoughts. I am obviously happy to go with the flow on this one, as always.

3SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 25, 2009, 1:35pm Top

Sounds fine to me. I'll take the themes away. I have no preference one way or the other. I was only thinking what a vast continent Africa is and how we have preconceived ideas about it (in the same way we do about everything else!).

4SqueakyChu
Dec 27, 2008, 3:33pm Top

I think I'm going to take whymaggiemay's suggestion and read Disgrace. In looking through my TBR, I found two copies of that book! :)

5bonniebooks
Dec 27, 2008, 6:16pm Top

So, I'm a little confused about these two threads, and even how to go about this. (I guess I could look back on past discussions/threads...) In the meantime, book recommendations go on the other thread, but no discussion, right? (I think I already broke 2 of your rules, SqueakyChu. First, I recommended a biography, then probably worse, I commented on YOUR suggestion. Oops!) And on this thread we talk about the book we're reading--as we're reading it, come February?

6GlebtheDancer
Dec 28, 2008, 9:40am Top

I have a few books by African writers in my TBR, all, coincidentally, west african. I will definitely be reading 'Snares Without End' by Olympe Bhely-Quenum, as this fits in nicely with my reading globally challenge (he is from Benin). The others that I will try to get around to are:
Search Sweet Country by B. Kojo Laing (Ghana/UK)
The Famished Road by Ben Okri (UK/Nigeria)
Oil Man of Obange by John Munonye (Nigeria)
I have a busy year planned, with lots of different reading jags happening, so am not sure if all 4 are on the menu, but I'll try to read a couple in February.

7SqueakyChu
Edited: Dec 28, 2008, 10:43am Top

The Middle East in Africa?

I was interested in bonniebooks' comment about the writing of Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz in which she states "I loved The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz...It does seem more like a story about the Middle-East than Africa."

The statement brings to mind how often we forget that Africa is multicultural. I was wondering what stereotypes and pictures the word "Africa" conjures in your minds before we even begin to read our chosen books?

Sorry for starting this discussion early, but wouldn't it be an interesting introduction to this topic before we begin reading in earnest? :)

8SqueakyChu
Dec 28, 2008, 10:45am Top

Oh, a request please. In your discussion for our February discussion, if you write about general themes, please bold them in some way to make this thread easier to follow. Thanks!

9avaland
Dec 28, 2008, 7:52pm Top


A guide to African literature on the internet from Colombia University:
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/africa/cuvl/aflit.html
a great resource with many links. (note: not all of the 100 Best books listed are available in English)

MSNEncarta entry on African Lit
http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761555353/african_literature.html
(seems as good a summary as any).

wikipedia has reasonably brief summaries of the various regions of Africa (north, south, east, west) and, of course, the countries. It's worth reading the "people and culture' sections of the entries appropriate for the book or books one has chosen to read.




10hemlokgang
Jan 1, 2009, 12:56pm Top

One of my 2009 999 Challenge categories is African Authors, so I will return to discuss in February!

11berthirsch
Jan 2, 2009, 5:12pm Top

i am not sure if What is the What qualifies, it is not written by an African but is the fictionalized account of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. It is an amazing tale of courage, perseverence and the human spirit. Told with humor, depth and suspense.

12SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 2, 2009, 6:32pm Top

Thanks for mentioning this book, berthirsch. Although What is the What was not written by an African, I most highly recommend this book as well. If not for this themed read, could you all please squeeze this book in sometime soon? It is an *excellent* book. Kudos to Dave Eggers for how marvelously he retells the heartbreaking story of Valentino Achak Deng.

13kidzdoc
Jan 2, 2009, 7:10pm Top

I agree; What Is the What is a fabulous book, and, IMO, it should qualify for this category.

I still haven't read The Famished Road, or Starbook, which I bought in London in 2007, so I'll plan to read those two in February.

Another book written by an African author which is only partially based in Africa, which I also bought in London and absolutely loved, was Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu, which was released as The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears in the US.

I also loved Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and I plan to read Petals of Blood and A Grain of Wheat this year.

A few of us are also fans of Abdulrazak Gurnah, and By the Sea was one of my favorite books of last year. I will definitely read Paradise, Memory of Departure, and Admiring Silence soon.

14rebeccanyc
Jan 3, 2009, 8:10am Top

I also really enjoyed The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears -- and, although the protagonist lives in Washington DC, he is an African immigrant and his memories and thoughts about Africa are an important part of the novel.

15berthirsch
Jan 5, 2009, 6:43pm Top

An old favorite form my college years is The Forest People by Colin M. Turnbull. He was an anthropologist who worked for many years at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

This is a wonderful ethnography of the Pygmies who lived in the Congo's Ituri Forest. Though non-fiction the time he spent with this small tribe was considerable and his description of their customs and the individual personalities is as good as the best of the novels out there.

I am aware he wrote of other African peoples and I am sure there are dozens of anthropological works and those of "explorers" that are of great interest- ie- The White Nile, The Blue Nile.

When one talks of the African experience and African Literature does one include/differentiate between those of European descent and those more native to the continent itself? Can one differentiate at all? Have the great African writers been influenced by the West, and, if so, in what ways?

And what about the great J.M. Coetzee whose latest novel-Diary of a Bad Year, though set in Australia is informed by his life in South Africa. and Nadine Gordimer whose short story, "The First Sense", appeared Dec.18,2006 in the New Yorker; about a cellist, it is a marvelous study of marriage.

Interesting questions I invite others to comment on.

16SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 17, 2009, 12:09pm Top

When one talks of the African experience and African Literature does one include/differentiate between those of European descent and those more native to the continent itself? Can one differentiate at all? Have the great African writers been influenced by the West, and, if so, in what ways?

This is an interesting question, berthirsch. In my opinion, when considering African literature, most Westerners would consider "European descent and those more native to the continent itself". I, being Jewish, am always considering the Asian aspect or, more specifically, how Jews or Arabs from the middle east migrated across northern Africa. I am always fascinated to learn what influence the religions of Islam and Judaism have in Africa.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in our individual reads. Elsewhere you mentioned the book What is the What (written by Dave Eggers, definitely not an African!). In that book about Sudan, I was amazed to learn what power Arabs in its government have wielded in that country.

ETA: One fun thing I find about the Reading Globally group is seeing how much of the world is really interconnected, though we don't always realize this until we give ourselves time to learn about it.

17frithuswith
Jan 17, 2009, 5:03pm Top

SqueakyChu, being Jewish, you might be interested in The Pillar of Salt, by Albert Memmi, a semiautobiographical novel about a Jewish boy growing up in Tunis around World War II. If you haven't already been recommended it!

18SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 17, 2009, 7:39pm Top

Now, *that* would be a very cool read!

I think I'll work on finding a copy. I just wishlisted it, but if I can't find it soon, I'll just read it whenever I find it. Thanks for the recommendation, LizT.

19kidzdoc
Edited: Jan 18, 2009, 10:18am Top

I bought a copy of The Pillar of Salt yesterday from Book Culture in NYC. The web site indicates that there are still copies in stock, and shipping is available.

20SqueakyChu
Jan 18, 2009, 10:28am Top

Thanks, kidzdoc. I'll keep that in mind. Now I'm trying to limit my "purchase" of books to trades or my local friends of the library book stores because my TBR mountain is already over 150 books tall. :(

Are you going to make The Pillar of Salt that your themed read for Africa in February?

21sorell
Jan 18, 2009, 10:47am Top

SqueakyChu, I know exactly how you feel. I think that we should start a TBR group or something because I'm almost at 200.

22SqueakyChu
Jan 18, 2009, 11:09am Top

Well, here's an idea. I added this as a category on my 999 Challenge. It's called "Books On My TBR List for More Than One Year - *Sigh*"

This Reading Globally group is perfect for my "Authors Not Native to the USA" category.

23kidzdoc
Jan 19, 2009, 6:28am Top

SqueakyChu, I probably will read The Pillar of Salt in February, but I also intend to read Frantz Fanon: A Biography by David Macey, as an introduction to Fanon.

Other African books on my short list include The Famished Road by Ben Okri, Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer, and Admiring Silence or Memory of Departure by Abdulrazak Gurnah, to name a few!

24rebeccanyc
Jan 19, 2009, 9:16am Top

kidzdoc, I read Frantz Fanon: A Biography some years ago. It is undoubtedly very well researched, but it is one of those biographies that almost gives you a day-by-day account of what someone did and is quite a slog. I think I must have skipped a lot of it, because I don't remember much of it except that it was tough going.

25berthirsch
Jan 22, 2009, 1:28pm Top

regarding Franz Fanon- John Edgar Wideman, the african-American novelsit who often writes about his home Pittsburgh...has recently publsihed a fictionalized account called Fanon. It has received favorable reviews.

26kidzdoc
Jan 24, 2009, 6:52pm Top

Thanks for the preview, Rebecca. I'll think of your comments as I'm reading it, and maybe put it aside if I get bogged down in the details. I have way too many other good books to read if I don't like this one.

Bert, I read Fanon last year. It was okay, definitely not as good as other books of his that I've read, and it actually didn't have much to do with Fanon or his life. The main focus of the book was on a fictionalized author (who resembled Wideman) who was trying to write a book about Fanon, and this author's life and experiences.

27KimB
Jan 25, 2009, 12:35am Top


I've had White Teeth on Mount TBR for sometime so I'm going to try to get my coffee-tainted teeth into that ;-)

28SqueakyChu
Jan 25, 2009, 1:06am Top

...but White Teeth is by a British author. Did you mean to choose that book for your Africa theme read?

29KimB
Jan 25, 2009, 3:50am Top


silly me, thanks for setting me right Squeaky :-)

30SqueakyChu
Jan 25, 2009, 10:18am Top

...but don't miss reading that book, either. It's great!

31streamsong
Jan 25, 2009, 11:01am Top

I just mooched a copy of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for the read. I was very interested to read Barbara Kingsolver's comments on how she was influenced by this novel after I read The Poisonwood Bible last year.

I've got two 'outliers' in Mt2BR that I may also try to read. Neither quite fit the catagory exactly, but are oh so close. The first is What is the What which was mentioned above. The second is Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some.

32hemlokgang
Jan 25, 2009, 12:12pm Top

I have chosen The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley for my book in this group read.

33bonniebooks
Jan 25, 2009, 12:50pm Top

When and on which thread do we start discussing?

34SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 25, 2009, 1:31pm Top

This is the thread to start discussing your reads by native African authors. (See questions in Post #1 to guide your discussion.) The "official" dates for Africa are Feb 1 to Feb 28, 2009.

However, since this thread does not interefere with any other thread, feel free to begin early and continue this thread forever after. :)

35nzurisana
Jan 26, 2009, 10:09am Top

hemlokgang - Flame Trees of Thika is a longtime favorite of mine. Hope you enjoy it.

36rachbxl
Edited: Feb 8, 2009, 4:02am Top

It's 1st February and I'm raring to go!

I read A River Called Time ¨by Mia Couto, translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw.

I've taken Squeaky Chu's questions as a starting point, expanding on the answers where relevant to the novel.

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Mozambique, south-eastern Africa
A Portuguese colony from 1505 until 1975, Mozambique is still officially Portuguese-speaking, although Portuguese is only spoken by 40% of the population (and only 6.5% have it as their first language).
After independence from Portugal, Mozambique endured a lengthy civil war which ended in 1992.

2. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

Mia Couto's Sleepwalking Land was recommended to me by another LT-er whom I asked for ideas about what I could read from Mozambique for my round-the-world read; I couldn't find Sleepwalking Land but I found this instead, and this Africa read seemed like a good opportunity to read it.

3. Explain the title of your book.

The original title in Portuguese is Um Rio Chamado Tempo, uma Casa Chamada Terra (roughly translates as "A River called Time, a House called Earth"), and strange as it sounds in English, it's actually a much better summary of the essence of the novel.
The idea of "a river called time" is that time is fluid. Like a river, it runs sometimes faster, sometimes slower; time, like water in a river, can get caught up in eddies and whirlpools, can be channelled off into a sidestream which rejoins the main flow later, can stagnate in pools, but cannot be controlled by man.
The idea of "a house called earth" is, I think, that we are the product of the earth (as in, the particular bit of the earth that we call our own). Mariano's family home is of great importance in the novel, representing tradition and continuity, and it is inseparable from the earth on which it stands (I'm carefully saying "earth" here rather than "land" because it's not about a plot of land, it's about being rooted in the earth itself).

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The book is set on an island, a microcosm of traditional native society. (It's an invented island in a river). Almost all the characters are native to the island, and without fail they have a racist attitude to an Indian doctor who pops up regularly (he is tolerated because of the function he fulfils rather than welcomed).
The prevailing religion in the society in the book is Catholicism (with the odd local twist, notably the donkey living in the church), and the priest is Portuguese.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

- The non-chronological nature of time. Mariano, the main character, recalls how an old man who has just died once set out to discover the source of the river in the middle of which they live. He returns weeks later and pronounces that "The river is like time!" Mariano remembers how he concluded that "there was no beginning.... The first day broke when time had long been around. ... 'The river is a snake that has its mouth open to the rain and its tail in the sea'".

- Tradition vs. progress. Mariano, a university student on the mainland, has spent years off the island but has been called back because of the death (or possibly not, as it turns out) of his grandfather. He finds the traditional society of his childhood, most vividly symbolised by the old family home (the biggest house on the island, with a name made up of words from both north and south, representing unity after the civil war), threatened by "progressives", "modernisers", in the person of one of his uncles, Ultimio, also back from westernised life on the mainland, who wants to sell the house to developers who will turn it into a luxury resort.

- Identity. My overwhelming impression after reading this is the importance of the link to the earth out of which we came. I can't comment on whether or not this novel is particularly rooted in the culture of Mozambique, but for me the pull of the earth was quite extraordinary. At one point in the novel, when bad things are afoot, the earth refuses to open to allow any more burials; once the problems are solved, the earth opens up again. Several characters in the novel (including Mariano) turn out not to be quite who they appear to be, or even not to be quite who they think they are, but this does not matter as long as they have the link to the earth that they came from.

Story-telling, myth and magic. The whole novel is a little parable about the importance of story-telling in our societies; here, the whole community is held together by a web of carefully spun tales which have become the truth through so much telling. Stories even come from the other side of the barrier which death (usually) represents, in the form of letters to Mariano from his dead (or not) grandfather, written in Mariano's own hand, telling him the story of his family and giving him instructions on how to run the family affairs. Magical events are presented throughout the novel in the most normal way; Mariano's grandfather, for example, turns out to have died a "bad death", meaning that he is hovering in a half-way state between life and death. He won't come back to life, but he won't die completely until Mariano has made good for him and released him. (I read a review which I thought completely missed the point here; the reviewer stated that the grandfather was in a coma. That's far too prosaic for this novel and is not what it's about - I think that to understand this book you have to accept that he really is in a halfway state between life and death). In terms of genre, it's like magical realism but less whimsical, more rooted (yes, you've guessed it) to the earth.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

I'm not sure I "learned" anything as such, sorry to disappoint...However, the book did make me go and find out about Mozambique, so I know much more now than I did before I read it.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Nothing!

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

Definitely recommended. It really caught my imagination, and for once I wished that I had a pencil with me as I read to underline things. I've answered these questions without referring back to the book, but I think that there's an awful lot more there for the interested reader (I didn't refer back on purpose, as I thought nobody would thank me for writing my very own essay on this thread!) That said, it's still a quick and fairly easy read (about 230 pages) - one that could be read on many levels, maybe.

9. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I don't have lists as I read whatever takes my fancy at any given time, but I would hope to read Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi and if Akeela convinces me I may even finally make it to Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. I'm sure there'll be others too, as part of my round-the-world read. (I really, really want to make it to some Abdulrazak Gurnah this year, and there'll almost certainly be some more Assia Djebar.

10. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

I've read a couple of reviews suggesting that David Brookshaw's translation was rather stilted in places, but I (picky as I am) didn't find it so.

37rachbxl
Feb 1, 2009, 2:03pm Top

Please could someone tell me how to do bold? If so, I'll go back and edit the above to make it a bit easier to read.

38SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 2:35pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

39kidzdoc
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 2:47pm Top

TadAD has some great tips on using HTML, including the use of bold, italics, and underline on message #1 of his thread:

Basic HTML

40detailmuse
Feb 1, 2009, 2:53pm Top

>36 rachbxl: At one point in the novel, when bad things are afoot, the earth refuses to open to allow any more burials; once the problems are solved, the earth opens up again.

wow, this alone makes me want to read it. Nice summary!

41bonniebooks
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 6:48pm Top

Great information/comments on your book! To 'go bold,' do what I've shown you below, but substitute the pointy brackets for the parentheses I've used. Notice the back slash before the b in the second grouping. That turns the 'bolding' off.

Ex. (b)Middle Age: A Romance(/b) becomes Middle Age: A Romance

Edited because I forgot to 'bold' my example! ;-)

42bonniebooks
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 6:44pm Top

> Oops! SqueakyChu, I think you were the person to teach me how to in the first place. Is there an easier way to do it now? The old way still works. I tried your way on the word "bold" above, so I guess I'll answer my own question. :-)

Edited to say Wierd! Putting the pointy brackets alone around a word just made the word disappear both in original post and what shows up on LT. Straaaange! I'll try again!

Nope! Sorry, Squeaky, pointy brackets alone makes my word disappear, so follow the procedure in 41. P.S. You can also substitute "i" in procedure to create italics.

43SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 8:14pm Top

I deleted my message above because, in my haste, I didn't explain anything. My mind was elsewhere. Sorry!

By the way, I enjoyed reading the comments on your read, rachbxl. It's great that you were ready to jump right in on the first day.

44SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 9:48pm Top

rachbxl, I'm going to pull one of your answers and comment on it from my current read.

Relating to your novel about Mozambique, you stated:

Tradition vs. progress:
Mariano ... has spent years off the island but has been called back because of the death ... of his grandfather. He finds the traditional society of his childhood, most vividly symbolised by the old family home ... threatened by "progressives", "modernisers"... who wants to sell the house to developers who will turn it into a luxury resort.


In a chapter of my current read about Zimbabwe (Zenzele by J. Nozipo Maraire) this topic comes into play in an entirely different way. A young man, Mukoma Byron, was sent abroad to study to become a doctor. The small town pooled their resources be able to do this. Years and years go by, and less and less is heard from this man. When the man's mother is about to die and is still awaiting "her son, the doctor", he returns reluctantly and pretends that he no longer speaks Shona (their native language), wants to leave Zimbabwe as fast as he can, and is very happy to leave his native traditions behind as he finds his life in England to be a better sign of his personal progress.

Isn't that sad?

Anyway, here is a quote I want to share. It's about how a native land deserves to delight in its own talent.

Zenzele's mother reflects:
"If we could only learn from nature; it is our classroom. The trees bear fruit; the fruit contains seed; the flower bears the pollen. The earth regenerates itself; it sows, then reaps. We must develop a cultural ecosystem--some eternal cycle of African regeneration--planting our roots firmly, spreading and growing as the tubers and rhizomes, deep in the earth and sowing our children (the fruits) the seeds to reap another harvest. Each time one of us, like Mukoma Byron, is lost to the West, it is worse than losing a fruit; we also lose the seeds therein."

Now, back to my book...

45akeela
Feb 2, 2009, 3:59am Top

It's 2 Feb and I'm raring to go, too! Amongst other wonderful reads from Africa, this year, I read So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba. It's set in Senegal, in west Africa.

Ba was born in the capital of Senegal, Dakar, in 1929 into a wealthy, Muslim family. Unlike most women of her time, she received an education and began writing at a very young age, then already demonstrating a critical approach to the society she lived in.

She was a qualified teacher, and an activist committed to eradicating inequalities between men and women, hence the writing of So Long a Letter.

This novel was first written in French and has since been translated into 16 languages. Ba believed that writers within developing countries have a crucial role to play, and that their "sacred mission" was to speak out against the "archaic practices, traditions and customs that are not a real part of our precious cultural heritage”. She died at 52 after a prolonged illness.

The title So Long a Letter refers to the novel, which is written in the form of a (long, 90-page) letter from Ramatoulaye to her childhood friend, Assiatou, on the death of her husband.

I chose this book because it's a classic and, at the time, I hadn't yet read anything from Senegal for my global reading challenge, so it seemed like a good option.

Approximately 95% of the population of Senegal is Muslim. So the religion and culture of the characters in the book is rooted in Islam, practised in conjunction with African cultural traditions.

Some of the themes explored include marriage, polygamy, friendship, and the role of women in this society. Ba was a feminist and an educated women, who saw many injustices perpetrated against women in her society, in the name of culture and religion. As stated above, she felt it her "sacred mission" to address these injustices, to bring about some measure of understanding and ultimately the eradication of these prejudices.

There was a lot to appreciate in this little book. It revolves around two women who have to come to terms with the challenge and disappointment of their husbands taking second wives – something completely acceptable in Senegalese society. The two friends, who both had very good marriages, respond to the situation very differently.

I'd like to share an extract from the book that describes Ramatoulaye's difficulty in accepting her changed circumstances, when she and her husband are no longer together:

"Our common habits sprang up at their usual times. I missed dreadfully our nightly conversation; I missed our bursts of refreshing or understanding laughter. Like opium, I missed our daily consultations. I pitted myself against the shadows. The wanderings of my thoughts chased away all sleep..."

I think that paragraph could have been written by a woman from any culutral background! Although the book depicts a woman in the throes of disappointment and loss, it is also a voice of hope and remarkable personal growth.

I don’t know if learned anything as such; I just really enjoyed the African setting. There was nothing to dislike. I loved the book. Ba’s writing is exquisite and I’d definitely recommend it.

I'm on an African quest at the moment – mostly unplanned – but very enjoyable! So I'm likely to read more African authors, including some of the great recommendations already mentioned above! Thank you, all!

Rach, I have started Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I doubt I’ll finish it anytime soon, but I can say it’s wonderfully written, and I’d recommend it already!

46gscottmoore
Edited: Feb 2, 2009, 10:25pm Top

SqueakyChu: Upstream you say:

I was interested in bonniebooks' comment about the writing of Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz in which she states "I loved The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz...It does seem more like a story about the Middle-East than Africa."

I was planning on Mahfouz, and likely Palace Walk, but am unsure. Is Egypt within the selection range?

I've also been trying to find what is available/valuable from Algeria, where there seems to be a number of modern writers. But is that true to the intent of "Africa" in this context?

In other news, while tracking down potential alternatives I found an interesting mega-list for exploration:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_writers

Please advise.

-- Gerry

47akeela
Feb 2, 2009, 10:34pm Top

Thanks for the wonderful link, Gerry! Do read Palace Walk - it's definitely in Africa, and Mahfouz is great! :)

48SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 2, 2009, 11:34pm Top

I agree with akeela. We're here to learn about what Africa is! It might not be what we think it is. Egypt is an African county. This is the fun of discovery and sharing with others what we learn. It was for this reason that I thought that a *continent* read, for a change, would be just as interesting as a single country read.

I definitely have to insert another quote here (my book Zenzele is full of great ones!):

In my book, the mom advises her daughter, "Be prepared to meet many who still see Africa as one large amorphous mass: the Dark Continent, a primeval swamp, misty, and steaming, inhabited by Neanderthal creatures and cheerful but primitive natives who engage in sordid ritualistic ceremonies, deep into the night, to the frantic rhythm of drums."

So, let this be your challenge, Global Readers. Let us dissect Africa into parts that we can share with each other to show its diversity and as many of its interesting facets as we can.

I've also been trying to find what is available/valuable from Algeria, where there seems to be a number of modern writers. But is that true to the intent of "Africa" in this context?

Yes, it is. The deciding factor of which book you should choose (and feel free to differ, if you prefer) is that the author of the novel should be native to an African country.

49HoxSullivan
Feb 2, 2009, 11:39pm Top

Yes. He is Ethiopian.

I would recommend the following books by African Writers.

1. Infidel - by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - amazing! I give it 5 stars (out of 5).
2. Kaffir Boy - by Mark Mathabane - really good. I give it at least 4 stars but the writing isn't as good as Ali's ghost writer...but still so worth the read. I've read it a few times; South Africa.
3. Women at Point Zero - Nawal El Saadawi. Unbelievable story. I give this one 5 stars. How this writer is not more known stateside is beyond me; Egyptian.
4. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits - Laila Lalami; Morocco. 4+ stars.

The first three I've read and read again and I have to say they stick out in my mind as some of the best books. The fourth is a good read but not quite on the same level for me.

50GlebtheDancer
Feb 3, 2009, 1:33am Top

Just to echo what Squeakychu said in message 48, I have noticed that there has been a tendency for people to quibble with what 'counts' as Africa, not just in connection with this thread. I have been told that Camus is not African, Alan Paton is not African, and now it appears that people are wondering if North African countries are African. As Squeaky points out, it is almost as if 'Africa' is more like an idea than a continent to many people. That being the case, i would like to add a question to the list above:

Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

51SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 3, 2009, 8:17am Top

I incorporated your question into post #1, depressoholic. Good question!

For fun:
By the way, I'd like to call your attention to this quick quiz...
http://www.librarything.com/topic/55986

Take it now for fun. You may look up the answers (afterward) if you don't know them. Then wait until the last week of February and take the quiz again. Hopefully, some facts about Africa will stick with you as a result of this thread and your own research. :)

52MissDotty
Edited: Feb 3, 2009, 8:22am Top

I just went to my local library to get some books to join in this thread but I completely scoured the shelves and could find nothing suitable at all, my local library is rubbish! Bookmooch here I come I think :(

53SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 3, 2009, 8:29am Top

Your experience is not unusual. I went to my local used bookstore yesterday to see what I could find as another African read. Not wanting to choose well-known novelists (e.g Alexander McCall Smith, Nadine Gordimer, Naguib Mahfouz, etc.), I came out empty-handed. (Well, not exactly empty-handed as I found an interesting book by a Polish author!).

I think the fun of this Africa theme is not only learning about the various countries in Africa, but looking for authors of whom you've never heard and having them make an impression on you. Good luck in your search, The_Library_Nook!

54GlebtheDancer
Feb 3, 2009, 12:31pm Top

My first african read is going to be 'Snares Without End' by the Beninese writer Olympe Bhely-Quenum. I haven't finshed it yet, so am holding off from commenting, but I wanted to mention something that might interest those who participated in our 'Haiti' group read last year. In that thread we commented on the connections between the Creole culture of Haiti and its roots in western Africa. My current book has a glossary which includes the terms 'griot' (a musician) and 'Legba' (an idol to a spirit/deity). My Haiti read also had griots, meaning the same thing, and one of the spirits the Haitian villagers invoked was called 'Papa Legba'. I thought some of the readers from the Haiti group read might be interested to note the connections.

55rebeccanyc
Feb 3, 2009, 3:06pm Top

I'm waiting for an Amazon delivery, at which point I'll choose between two books recommended here on LT, Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto and The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agalusa. I also have A Grain of Wheat on the pile, but I've read so many books by Ngugi wa Thiong'o that I feel I should try other authors.

56urania1
Feb 4, 2009, 1:11pm Top

Yesterday I finished Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic, which takes place both in Senegal and France. Although the book did not begin auspiciously - it opened with a blow-by-blow description of a soccer game – not exactly the stuff to carry a non-sports fan forward, it turned out to be a lovely commentary on questions of place, interior homelessness, and exploitation of immigrants. Yes dear readers, France both uses and abuses its illegal immigrants as we do in the US. We are not alone. I was also interested to discover that soccer functions for the impoverished of Senegal (and other African nations) much as it does for the children of the slums here: as the preferred ticket (however unlikely) out. Large doses of the theories of Césare Aimé and Franz Fanon on issues of négritude, masks, and colonial abjection to the white other infused the texts.

57akeela
Feb 4, 2009, 1:37pm Top

Thanks, Urania. I have The Belly of the Atlantic on my TBR list but after your initial comments on one of the threads, I wondered whether I should still look out for it. Glad the book redeemed itself in the end!

58avaland
Feb 4, 2009, 3:07pm Top

>54 GlebtheDancer: Very interesting, depressaholic!

59GlebtheDancer
Feb 7, 2009, 7:02am Top

Finished my first African read for Feb (I hope to add a few more. I have at least started the next one). I will copy my review from my Reading Globally thread, and then try to answer some of the questions. It is the third thread I have copied this review to, so apologies if you are geting tired of seeing it.

Snares Without End by Olympe Bhely Quenum

This was a slightly oddly constructed book, split into halves that were almost unrecognisable from each other. In the first part the narrator recounts a meeting with Ahouna, a once proud man who has been broken by the events of his life. Ahouna tells the narrator his story, which involves struggling to make a living against the hardships of nature (locusts, floods, disease, etc.). Ahouna and his family overcome these obstacles, only to be undone by a faithless woman, who succeeds where nature failed, and destroys his life. It culminates in Ahouna committing a shocking act. This part is therefore told as a first person narrative using Ahouna's voice. The second part involved the narrator observing the aftermath of Ahouna's act, talking largely in the third person about what he is witnessing. In this part, the snares that have entangled Ahouna close in to stifle him, and we are witness to the ramifications of his crime.
Initially, I thought Bhely-Quenum (BQ) was a poor writer, because the narrative pace was jerky and clumsy. However, once Ahouna had finished telling his story the writing improved dramatically, leading me to assume that BQ was deliberately using an awkward style to reflect the fact that Ahouna's backstory was orally told in the book. As a narrative device it was a little disorientating, and I wondered if it was a deliberate mirroring of Joseph Conrad using the same thing in Heart of Darkness, which Snares Without End could conceivably have been a response to. The second half was much, much better, and a scene in which Ahouna is captured, and a thief and a priest abused, was full of fantastically grotesque imagery. It more than saved a book I was starting to feel negative about, and BQ started to really interest me as a writer.
I'm not sure I can rush to recommend Snares Without End, if only because similar themes have perhaps been addressed more expertly elsewhere (Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye spring immediately to mind), but I enjoyed this book. One to pick up if you come across it, rather than rushing to add to you wishlists, but worth a look all the same.

60GlebtheDancer
Edited: Feb 7, 2009, 7:23am Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Benin. It is thin sliver of a country on the South facing coast of west Africa, sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Snares Without End by Olympe Bhely-Quenum. The author was born and raised in Benin and moved to France as an adult, working for UNESCO. The book was originally in French. The title refers to the fact that the main characters life goes off the rails, despite the fact he is a good man, because of the 'snares' that life puts in the way. Some of these are natural disasters, some come from other people, and some come from inside ourselves.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

Honestly? Because it was the only Beninese thing I could find for my Reading Globally challenge. It looked interesting enough to try regardless, but I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Benin has a mix of Christian, Muslim, animist, black and white. The book, perhaps deliberately, doesn't present any divisions or tensions between groups. For instance, part of the book is set in a prison, and the prisoners come from all of the above groups. The ethnic group most consistently identified were the Fon.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

I suspect that the book was another answer to Conrad's Heart of Darkness (there are many in contemporary African literature). Basically, the main theme is showing how events can cause good people to go off the rails (perhaps Conrad would say 'to act like savages'), and that human psychology is more important than factors such as race in determining the events of our lives. This is shown particularly by the varied backgrounds of the prisoners in the jail, who have all come to the same place via different routes.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

It was not a new perspective for me, so I learned little from the central themes. There were interesting factoids about Beninese culture.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Slightly odd structure and badly paced narrative (see my review, above).

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

There was some fantastic prose in places, and once he was free of his first person narrative, the book became close to excellent. Probably 3.5 stars overall though.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

Based on the blurb, I expected something like I got, which was another 'good man takes bad road due to circumstances beyond his control' story. I was pleasantly surprised, though, because I wasn't sure it would stand out from the others i have read, and it was definitely above average.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I have 5 books on my TBR, one of which will be another addition to my reading Globally challenge.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

see post 54.

61kidzdoc
Feb 7, 2009, 9:04am Top

Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah (217 pp)

My rating: 4 stars

The nameless narrator is a Zanzibarian man in his 40s who emigrates to the UK as a teenager, makes a life for himself in London, and decides to travel back home to visit his mother and family, who he hasn't seen in nearly 20 years.

He is a dishonest and deceitful, yet well meaning man, and is incapable of decisive action -- his life is chosen for him. His uncle in Zanzibar chooses to send him to the UK. His uncle with whom he stays in London makes arrangements for him to enter the University of London and become a teacher. While attending university he meets Emma, a white Londoner, and she chooses him to be her mate. Emma decides to stop taking The Pill, and as a result she becomes pregnant. Emma's love for him gives him the strength and courage to become a reasonably good student, but his career as a grade school teacher in the public school system is chosen for him. He can barely tolerate the school and his students, but he does not seek a more fulfilling position. His daughter Amelia learns to despise him, as does Emma.

His only actions involve the deception of those he loves: Emma, Amelia, and his mother and family in Zanzibar. Although he does not love them, he deceives Emma's parents as well, and no one truly knows him. For that matter, he deceives himself: he does not know what he wants from life, and believes that he is a failure, but does not hate himself for this, and does not do anything about it.

He is welcomed home as a success story, and quickly re-establishes close ties to his mother and siblings. However, he does not tell his family of his secret life in London with Emma and Amelia, and circumstances cause him to disgrace his family, and for his mother to disown him.

I enjoyed Admiring Silence, but not nearly as much as the other novels I've read by Mr. Gurnah, By the Sea and Desertion, as the main supporting characters were not as well described as they could have been, in particular Emma and the narrator's mother.

62kidzdoc
Feb 7, 2009, 9:14am Top

Notes for Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

This story is set in Zanzibar, a small island in the Indian Ocean that is a part of the east African country of Tanzania. It was a separate country until 1954, until it united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The book is Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah, who was born in Zanzibar in 1948. He emigrated to the UK in 1968, and is currently a professor at the University of Kent. He is the author of seven novels, and a collection of short stories. Two of his novels, Paradise and By the Sea, have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I chose this book because I have enjoyed two of Mr. Gurnah’s previous books, By the Sea and Desertion, and because it is a story about a man trying to fit into another country with a distinctly different culture.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The book, which was written in 1996, deals mainly with Zanzibarian and white British culture. The events follow the narrator’s childhood in Zanzibar in the 1960s, his move to London to attend university in the early 1970s, a love affair with a white Londoner with whom he has a child, his life in the UK as a school teacher, provider and father, and his journey back to Zanzibar in the early 1990s.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

The major themes were emigration, multiculturalism, racism, estrangement, loss, and love.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

The most interesting aspect of this book was the narrator’s inability to make choices, and the negative effects this had on him and his family in London and Zanzibar.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

The lack of development of several major characters, especially the mother of the narrator’s child and the narrator’s mother, would have made this a better book.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I would absolutely recommend By the Sea (5 stars) and Desertion (4-1/2 stars). I gave Admiring Silence 4 stars.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I’ve read a dozen or more novels by African authors in previous years, but none that I can recall involved a love affair between an African man and a white woman. I was interested in this relationship, and how it would affect both parties and their families.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I have several books by African authors that I intend to read this year, including Mr. Gurnah’s novel Memory of Departure, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist, Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, Albert Memmi’s Pillar of Salt, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood, amongst others.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

Please see my review of Admiring Silence in post 61.

63jbeast
Feb 7, 2009, 11:54am Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Nigeria, West Africa.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Famous Igbo author. Born 1930. Full name Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, named after Prince Albert (his parents were missionaries), though later changed to his tribal name, Chinua. An academic and teacher, he has worked in the US, and is fluent English speaker.
Things Fall Apart, probably his best-known novel, refers to how the life of the protagonist, an Igbo man prominent in his village, starts to disentangle and ultimately falls apart due to various influences, including the arrival of white missionaries.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

Last year I listened to a World Book Club podcast in which Achebe talks about the novel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its publication in 1958. This is the first I had heard of it, though now I have read a lot more about it based on numerous positive reviews in LT. Also, I wanted to read more about Nigeria following Purple Hibiscus which I really loved.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Mainly tribal life. Also religion - the arrival of the missionaries with their talk of Christianity contrasts sharply with the strongly-held beliefs of the Igbo people, which in some cases resulted in cruelty to their fellow clansmen and (particularly) clanswomen.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

For me, the major theme of this novel was Okwonko's desperation to be strong and succeed where his father had failed, this failure having haunted him throughout his life. This can only be understood in the context of life in Umuofia (the village in which he lived, part of a wider clan). Achebe paints a very clear picture of this (to Western eyes) alien way of life, to such an extent that, while he is not easy to like, you can sympathise or even empathise with his struggles.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

How differently people lived, and yet how similar their desires and difficulties are to our own.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Nothing in particular, though I did find it a bit slow perhaps.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

Definitely this one. I know little about his others. 4stars.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I knew quite a bit about it, so I think I expected what I got: a taste of tribal Africa.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

Yes, due to LT recommendations:
By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiongo
The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda
The Stillborn by Zaynab Alkali
So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

I can think of nothing else right now. Definitely I would thoroughly recommend this book, it really is fascinating.

64gscottmoore
Feb 7, 2009, 7:20pm Top

While I really appreciate the information provided by jbeast, kidsdoc and depressaholic, I find the "form review" a bit unwieldy to read and feel like I'm losing answers to questions I didn't pose that the reader might have come up with on their own.

Is the form-review a given?

Again, many thanks for the info on the African books you've read.

-- Gerry

65SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 8, 2009, 2:23pm Top

I'm losing answers to questions I didn't pose that the reader might have come up with on their own

I don't understand what you're asking, Gerry.

The form review is a guide. Those were questions that I posed because I was asked to head this discussion and because I was interested in having them answered. I happen to like them.

In addition, it gives me a way to compare one book (read also: one country) to another in a way that simply an essay or review does not allow with ease. They are certainly not mandatory.

How would you change them? What would you add? Which would you eliminate? Would you do away with them all together?

Does anyone else have any strong feelings about them one way or the other?

66gscottmoore
Feb 7, 2009, 9:08pm Top

Re: 65

"The form review is a guide. Those were questions that I posed because I was asked to head this discussion and because I was interested in having them answered. I happen to like them."

Okay, I understand. I was just asking, not criticising. I didn't mean to offend. Please disregard.

-- Gerry

67rachbxl
Feb 8, 2009, 3:51am Top

>64 gscottmoore:-66 I worked what I thought was important about the book into my answers, whether directly relevant to the question or not - and then there's always the last question where anything else can be added if important.

BTW, thanks to all who told me how to do bold!

68SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 8, 2009, 10:12pm Top

Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

The country is Zimbabwe which is located in the southern part of the African continent and is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east.

Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The book is titled Zenzele. It was written by J. Nozipo Maraire. The author is a native of Zimbabwe, graduated from Harvard University, received a medical degree from Columbia University, and now practices neurosurgery in the United States.

The book’s title, Zenzele, is the name of the daughter to whom the story within the book is directed. The novel itself is a letter from a mother to her daughter who is about to leave Zimbabwe to continue her education abroad.

Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I’m trying to learn more about individual African nations. Zimbabwe is one of those nations of which I know very little. I’d never before heard of this author. I actually picked this book and country at random because it was the only book by an African author of whom I’d never heard before in my local used book store.

What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The story is based on a family of Shona ethnicity. The Shona is a name given collectively to several groups of dark-skinned people who live in Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. They number about nine million and speak dialects of Shona. The Shona believe in spirits, but there is also in my book references to churches to which the family belongs. I’m presuming that this was the religion imposed upon the native population by the white man’s missionary endeavors during the time of British colonialism.

What major themes were addressed by your book?

A dominant theme in this book was the struggle for a free and independent Zimbabwe through political activism. Lesser, but also important, themes were feminism, cultural pride, and education.

Quotes I liked based on themes in this book:

“He so strongly believed that education was the key to our freedom.”

“He dares to change reality because for him the present construct is simply the realization of someone else’s vision.”
(I couldn’t also help but think of U.S. President Obama when reading this line)

“I could not forsake our determination to expose you to our culture. If in the end you rejected it, that was fine, but we had fulfilled our responsibility as African parents; the rest was up to you.”

“Freedom is something you all take for granted.”


What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

I can’t pick out one fact that was most interesting. What stood out for me was helping me discover how Zimbabwe is different from other countries in Africa .

Quote that struck me from the book:

“Be prepared to meet many who still see Africa as one large amorphous mass: the Dark Continent, a primeval swamp, misty and steaming, inhabited by Neanderthal creatures and cheerful but primitive natives who engage in sordid ritualistic ceremonies, deep into the night, to the rhythm of drums.”

What did you not like about your choice of book?

Because it was a letter rather than a story, I felt my mind wandering a bit more than if it had been a story with a defined plot. I actually set this book aside twice to read a second novel and begin a third! As this book ended, I appreciated it, in its letter form, much more than while I was reading it.

Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating

I would heartily recommend this book because I feel it introduces the country of Zimbabwe and the Shona culture to others. I also think its universal themes are appealing to most readers. I’d give it a 4 star rating, mostly because I felt my mind wandering to other things during the reading of this book.

Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I expected to learn about some special aspects of a particular country in Africa, things that would set it apart from other countries in Africa. I succeeded with my hope.

Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year?

I have none yet!

Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

I was noting with interest that so many African authors have left Africa completely to live in Europe or the United States. In my book, this issue was addressed with the following quote:

“Each time one of us…is lost to the West, it is worse than losing a fruit; we also lose the seeds therein.”

The author of my book, J. Nozipo Maraire, lives in the United States but maintains a home in Zimbabwe.

69SqueakyChu
Feb 8, 2009, 2:14pm Top

Phew! I feel as if I were back at college. Sorry about my *very* long post. I got carried away. :)

70kidzdoc
Feb 8, 2009, 2:38pm Top

SqueakyChu, that was excellent! It was not too long, IMO, and your post was quite educational, about the author and her country. I'll order this book the next time I place an order from Amazon.

71rachbxl
Feb 8, 2009, 2:40pm Top

Don't apologise, SqueakyChu! I enjoyed reading what you had to say. When was your book written?

72SqueakyChu
Feb 8, 2009, 2:45pm Top

I loved school (way back when). I guess I miss it!

My book was copyright 1996, with my copy of the book having been published in May 1997.

73gscottmoore
Feb 8, 2009, 4:35pm Top

Re: 68:

It may be a form review but it must be a mighty form! I can't imagine that too much review could be problem for the hungry booksters hereabouts. I particularly liked your adding quotes (in the review and further upstream) directly from the book that appealed to you.

-- Gerry

74SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 8, 2009, 10:10pm Top

I'm a quote saver. The quotes I took from Zenzele I added to my personal collection as well as to Common Knowledge here on LT for that book. I'd strongly encourage others who find notable quotes in their Africa reads to also add them to the Common Knowledge pages of their novel here on LT.

75avaland
Feb 8, 2009, 7:04pm Top

>64 gscottmoore: Gerry, I find using the form a bit cumbersome myself and usually do what Rachel in >67 rachbxl: does (I also find the form a bit cumbersome to read). However, some prefer to follow the 'guide' a bit closer than others. Do what makes you comfortable.

76rmostman
Feb 8, 2009, 10:03pm Top

>68 SqueakyChu:

I loved Zenzele as well! I thought it was a very phenomenal book.

77hemlokgang
Edited: Feb 9, 2009, 12:04am Top

Well, I finished The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley this evening. I was trying to sleep and couldn't, so I thought I would share my thoughts and reactions to this lovely memoir. Here goes....

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
This was a story which took place in Kenya in southeastern Africa.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?
The book is The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley. Ms. Huxley was born in 1907 and spent most of her youth in Thika, Kenya, a sparsely populated area quite a ways outside Nairobi. The title refers to the flame trees which her family planted along their future driveway, which were taller than she when she and her family returned to England at the onset of WWII.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author? Actually, I am part of the 999 Challenge group on LT and one of my categories is Africa and this just happened to be the first in a list of nine books I hope to read this year.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
This book was entirely about the co-existence of a small British enclave with Kikuyu and Masai peoples, with an occasional visit from other groups.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book? The major themes in this book were as follows: childhood and its innocence and wisdom, co-existence of cultures, colonialism and the damage it inflicts, and in some ways its futility as well, the joys of cross cultural experience.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
Oh, there were many interesting tidbits, like how to protect a pet antelope from the python living in the river under the waterfall, or that when hunting a leopard always look for its mate, and to kiss all four walls when leaving a place you want to return to. I also was reminded of many life lessons learned first in childhood, such as, tolerance, acceptance, trust, the wisdom of observation, and independence.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?
The only negatives about this book had to do with the fact that this is all written by an adult and it is inevitable that some of the dialogue and events have been re-constructed as all memory is. Also, it is written by an outsider looking in, although, as a child, she was sort of a semi-outsider.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.
***** - Fabulous book, and the writing is lovely. So, even though I do not know what else she may have written, I would likely recommend giving it a shot.
9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?
I expected a glimpse into another culture through the eyes of a child.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

2) Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
3) Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe by Doreen Baingana
4) From Africa: New Francophone Stories
5) Century of Locusts by Malika Mokeddem
6) Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout
7) Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar
8) Shantytown Kid by Azouz Begag
9) Tribal Scars by Sembene Ousmane

78nzurisana
Feb 9, 2009, 8:19am Top

> 77 Enjoyed your summary and was pleased you mentioned kissing the walls, something I have never forgotten. Just before leaving for Tanzania in 1982, our family kissed the walls of our Connecticut home, and we did the same two years later as we left our African home.

You might enjoy reading Huxley's The Mottled Lizard. It continues the story of The Flame Trees when Elspeth and her family return to Kenya after the first world war. There is also Nellie's Story by Nellie Grant with a memoir by Elspeth.

79urania1
Feb 9, 2009, 10:51am Top

>77 hemlokgang:,

Your presentation is lovely. The Flame Trees of Tika is one of my favorite books.

80frithuswith
Edited: Feb 9, 2009, 3:26pm Top

I've also read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and am going to try to avoid saying the same things as jbeast!

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Nigeria is in West Africa, on the Southern coast (next to Benin!). Its name arises from the fact that the Niger finds its way to the sea in the country.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Achebe is often viewed as the father of African literature. When Things Fall Apart was first released, despite glowing reviews in the UK, apparently views in Nigeria were mixed: in particular, his faculty at his alma mater were amused by the notion of a worthwhile novel written by an alumnus! He has since been instrumental in bringing African literature to the wider world, sending Ngugi wa Thiong'o's first novel to his publishers and acting as general editor of the African Writer's Series. A quote from Achebe which I liked that I found on Wikipedia:

"Africa is not like anywhere else they know ... there are no real people in the Dark Continent, only forces operating; and people don't speak any language you can understand, they just grunt, too busy jumping up and down in a frenzy."

The title comes from a Yeats poem, quoted as an epigraph:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre /
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; /
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; /
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
--W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming"
The book charts how "things fall apart" for Okwonko, the main character, and acts as a surrogate for "mere anarchy" being loosed upon what would become the Nigerian nation.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I chose this novel because it's so often listed as an important book - I was interested to see what all the fuss was about! It didn't harm that I have a soft spot for West Africa as well.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The main culture in the book is Igbo culture. Things Fall Apart could in some ways be read as an elegy for the purity of Igbo culture and their traditional society and faith, which was lost when the Europeans arrived. The Christian missionaries and colonialists are the other culture which appears in the novel.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

One of the main themes was shame, and fear of shame: Okonkwo does many things because he is ashamed of his father and wants to completely dissociate himself from his failures. This meant the rejection of anything he perceived as feminine, or weak. I found this difficult: it made Okwonko very unsympathetic to me. His one redeeming feature was his love for his eldest daughter, Ezinma.

A major theme was the clash between the culture of the Europeans, specifically the missionaries, and the tribe. The arrival of the missionaries leads to a breakdown of the whole, carefully constructed, social structure that the tribe exists in, as members of the tribe desert the tribal beliefs and convert to Christianity.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

Eeek, I don't know. Achebe's very unsentimental rendering of Igbo culture was interesting, although I found it hard not to feel judgemental at times, which makes me feel horribly awkward.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

I feel so strongly ambivalent about Achebe's novel. Parts of the portrayed Igbo culture were appalling to me, which wasn't helped by the fact that Okwonko was clearly dysfunctional by anyone's standards. And yet the destruction of this unique culture is repellent to me, made even worse by the fact that it was perpetrated by people who are, in many ways, just like me. I found it a deeply uncomfortable read.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I don't really know how to give it a star rating. Four? Four and a half? Five? I feel like I have to recover from reading it before I can give it a rating! But I think that very thing means that it should be read.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I expected something far more straightforward: I expected things to fall apart because the Europeans arrived. In fact, things were falling apart for Okwonko throughout. Perhaps he would have been capable of eventually recovering had the Europeans not arrived; their arrival shook the certainty of Okwonko's life and world and undoubtedly precipitated the final tragedy. But he was a broken man throughout. I think I expected Achebe's portrayal of Igbo culture to be more glowing than it was.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I'm going to try to read The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa by the end of the month, which won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007. I've got Cry, the Beloved Country out of the library as well, so I'm going to try to get through that in the next month. Oh, and I still haven't read Paradise and everyone has said such good things about Gurnah!

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

I think I've already said far more than anyone will wade through! I had rather a strong response to Things Fall Apart, it would seem.

81SqueakyChu
Feb 9, 2009, 3:38pm Top

I loved wading through your responses and found them interesting to read, LizT. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

82arubabookwoman
Feb 9, 2009, 5:35pm Top

I read The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

1. Name of country, author.

This book is set in Nigeria during the 1930's to the 1950's. Nigeria is a former British colony on the west coast of Africa, populated by the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa peoples.

Buchi Emecheta is an Igbo, born in 1944, who was married to a man to whom whe had been engaged since the age of 11. She had 5 children within 6 years. Her husband was violent and abusive. With great courage she took her children, left him, and supported herself and the children while she earned a degree from the University of London. She has written more than 20 books, with themes of freedom through education, female independence, motherhood, and child slavery. (Information on Buchi Emecheta is taken from Wikipedia).

2. What does the title mean?

The title is ironic. The protagonist, Nnu Edo, begins life viewing her entire status and value as stemming from her ability to bear children for her husband--many, many children. By the end of her life, she is left wondering how the values of her country and culture had so changed, that she, the mother of many children, could face a lonely old age and a miserable death.

3. Why did you choose this book?

I already owned it and I wanted to read a book by a female African author.

4. Cultures

The book dealt primarily with the Igbo culture with some references to the Igbo interaction with people from the Yoruba culture in Lagos. While the two cultures were superficially courteous and respectful, some of the Igbo characters expressed dislike and distrust of the Yorugba. More seriously, there is an incident of violence perpetrated by Nnu's husband against the father of a Yoruba man their daughter wants to marry.

Although the book was written in 1979, after the Biafran War, there was no attempt to emphasize differences between the cultures, or to foreshadow the coming hostilities. (Book ended in late 1950's, independence early 1960's, Biafra War late 1960's).

5. Themes

The major themes were the themes of the status of women, family relationships, and outside influences on tribal cultures.

6. Most Interesting Thing I Learned

I learned many things about Igbo culture--the paying of bride price, the requirement that a brother take a deceased brother's wives as his own following that death, the belief that a spirit or chi controls much of your life. But for me, the most remarkable thing about the book was the character of Nnu. I loved her.

7. What didn't you like? Would you recommend this author? Before you read this book what did you expect?

There was not anything I did not like about this book. I would recommend this book, and I intend to read more by this author. I didn't have any preconceptions about this book before I read it.

8. Other African Books on Your Challenge List

I didn't have a challenge list per se, but I had some other African books on my shelf, one or more I will read before the end of the month. These are:
Children of the New World
Zenzele
Links
The Story of An African Farm
God's Bit of Woods
This Blinding Absence of Light
Antonia Saw the Oryx First
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
The Palace Walk Trilogy

I also immediately ran out and bought Half a Yellow Sun which I devoured and will post about soon

83Fullmoonblue
Edited: Feb 11, 2009, 2:40pm Top

re #46 --

"I've also been trying to find what is available/valuable from Algeria..."

gscottmoore, I'm not sure if your question about Algerian authors was ever answered, but I'd love to offer some ideas.

First, let's not forget that a number of very well known writers who many consider French were actually born and raised in Algeria! I'm thinking Albert Camus (The Stranger, The Fall, The Plague etc) also Helene Cixous (The Book of Promethea, Stigmata, Twelve Steps on the Ladder of Writing, and her famous essay "The Laugh of the Medusa") and the recently deceased philosophy and literary theory guy Jacques Derrida. His collection on Acts of Religion contains a lot of beautiful stuff.

Another contemporary Algerian writer whose heritage is intellectually somewhat French but with Arab and Berber North African roots is Assia Djebar (Algerian White, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade). She often lectures at American and European universities on literature and feminism.

My personal favorites from Algeria are Ahlam Mosteghanemi (Memory in the Flesh, which is book one of a trilogy), Merzak Allouache (Bab elOued, which is also a film; Allouache is a director as well as novelist), and the author who writes under the name Yasmina Khadra (In the Name of God, The Swallows of Kabul).

I would also highly, highly, HIGHLY reccomend a long poem entitled The Wail of the Arab Beggars of the Casbah by Ismael Ait Djafer.

Other Algerian writers whose work I'm less familiar with but who've been translated into English include Tahar Djaout, Mouloud Feraoun (The Poor Man's Son), Fadhma Amrouche (My Life Story: The Autobiography of a Berber Woman) and Ali Ghalem (whose last name is also sometimes spelled 'Ghanem').

Re the rest of this disscussion --

I'm enjoying reading all of these posts.

And PS, yay, I can bold things now! If only I could get my touchstones to work right...

84GlebtheDancer
Edited: Feb 12, 2009, 6:55am Top

Finished my second book for this month's Africa theme: Riding the Whirlwind by Bereket Habte Selassie (Eritrea). As this is also part of my Reading Globally challenge, I have copied my review from that thread over to this one:

Bereket's book is set in the early seventies, during the fall of the last Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. The events set in motion during this period eventually lead to Eritrean independence. Bereket was an Eritrean nationalist, politician and academic, who played a significant role in Eritrea's break from Ethiopia.

The story follows Desta, a senior politician in Haile Selassie's government, who is also plotting with left wing republican rebels to overthrow Selassie's despotic regime. The narrative intertwines Desta's personal, political and secret lives, building up a picture of the last days of the Ethiopian empire and the forces that conspired to overthrow it.

I was impressed with Bereket's book. It is difficult to tell histories in narrative form while balancing the need to keep characters fleshed out and believable. Bereket definitely succeeds. The writing is a little dry, and occassionally becomes overly didactic, such as during an argument between students about left wing politics, but the author stays aware of the need to portray the foibles and quirks of his characters, and the effects they can have on the decisions they make. The only character that didn't work for me was Desta himself. He was portrayed as being largely flawless, except a few sexual misdemeanours which result from his overwhelming sexual magnetism. He was, in short, a bit much. In general though, I would recommend this book. The prose won't win any awards for its fluidity, but I have read many books that aim to tell larger histories through personal stories, and many struggle to find a balance between the two. Bereket's didn't and, as such, was an enjoyable and informative read.

85akeela
Feb 12, 2009, 8:19am Top

> 83 Fullmoonblue, many thanks for the wonderful input on Algerian works. I will be looking for some of them, including the moving poem of Ismael Ait Djafer, which I had not heard of before.

86gscottmoore
Edited: Feb 12, 2009, 10:57am Top

Re: 46

Many thanks for the input on Algerian writers. Duly clipped.

Relative to whether the children of expatriates are "natives"--always a tough question. In my experience it seems that many live in enclaves among other ex-pats, speak their native language, eat their native foods and eventually move back home again.

I guess I'm talking about American/European expats that are part of imperial outreach. I'm reminded of Lafcadio Hearn who, though greatly admired by the Japanese, never learned to speak the language. It's tough to think of his writings as "Japanese" in any way, as his life was spent commenting on the Japanese.

But in the case of Camus, or others that were actually born in such nations, it's really a question of whether they adopted the nation, customs, language, culture and/or whether the country adopted them, no?

Surely this discussion has been cycled through a number of times, in a topic like "Reading Globally"!

-- Gerry

87Fullmoonblue
Feb 12, 2009, 12:15pm Top

86 --

I'm not sure what the various arguments are (and I imagine there are many!) about how to classify someone like Camus. I vaguely recall hearing him once referred to as a 'hyphenated subject' of empire or something like that. The writer Salman Rushdie comes to mind too. How many hyphens does it take to classify someone like that...?!

It's surprising how little attention many people give Camus' connection to Algeria, though. So many of his novels and essays and short stories and early journalism deal with North African settings and topics. If nothing else, this highlights a weakness of identifying writers according to national boundaries (...which, gosh yes, I'm sure must have come up repeatedly in a group like this!)

85 --

Glad to have helped out! I found the Djafer poem through my library. :)

88LolaWalser
Feb 12, 2009, 12:56pm Top

#80

"Africa is not like anywhere else they know ... there are no real people in the Dark Continent, only forces operating; and people don't speak any language you can understand, they just grunt, too busy jumping up and down in a frenzy."

I hope everyone realises Achebe was being sarcastic.

89muddy21
Feb 12, 2009, 1:23pm Top

The book I read is set in Botswana, a British protectorate (Bechuanaland) from 1885-1966 but now an independent nation. Botswana has a very strong economy with a standard of living comparable to Mexico and Turkey. Since independence the country has developed from one of the poorest countries of the world to one of middle income with one of the world’s fastest growing growth rates in per capita income.

Botswana is located in an inland area just slightly above the southern tip of the African peninsula, bordered by South Africa to the south, Zimbabwe to the east, Zambia to the north and Namibia to the west. Botswana is the world’s 45th largest country, only slightly smaller in size than the state of Texas in the US. About 70% of the country is comprised of the Kalahari Desert, so most of the populated areas are along the country’s borders or in the northwest which contains the world’s largest inland river delta.

I read The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. The main character is a single woman in her mid-thirties, Precious Ramotswe, who uses an inheritance to set herself up in business as the country’s first lady private detective. The book recounts the various cases she undertakes in the first months after opening the agency. The details of the cases and their solutions are very human oriented and Miss-Marple-like.

What made the book most interesting for me were the reflections on and implications of differences; those between people with different tribal backgrounds, between Botswana and South Africa, between urban and rural areas, between cultural ‘old ways’ and ‘new ways.’ It is difficult to comprehend it all fully without understanding at least some of the colonial and tribal histories of the region, but this was a very enjoyable way to get at least some sense of the issues. I very much enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and reflections on various aspects national pride and of connection to the land, a topic that is of particular interest to me.

I’m not much of a fiction reader. I chose this book because it was beginning to seem as if I was one of very few people in the world who hadn’t read it yet and because I was trying to stay in line with SqueakyChu’s strict interpretation of the discussion thread requiring fiction. I don’t know all the details of the author’s background, so I’m not entirely certain he is quite up to the stated requirements.

I give the book four stars and happily recommend it to others if there are any out there who haven’t read it yet. I don’t actually have “challenge lists” so I can’t say I have other African authors on them, but I do hope to read one or two more of this series and perhaps The Purple Hibiscus during the year.

90sally906
Feb 12, 2009, 3:32pm Top

Hi All

I am new to the group - I have been 'reading around the world in 80 books' for a while as a personal challenge on my blog
http://myreadingchallanges.blogspot.com/2007/02/around-world-in-80-book.html

However, an 'African' book I have read this month is A Guide to the Birds of East Africa. Set in Kenya, it is not a birdwatching book, but a gentle romance and a 'duel' for the right to ask the delightful Rose to the ball.

Other books set in Africa that I have read are:
Whatever you do don't run - Botswana
The Camel bookmobile - Kenya
Half of a Yellow Sun - Nigeria
Left to Tell - Rwanda

91TadAD
Edited: Feb 14, 2009, 10:04pm Top

Hi, I haven't post in this group before, though I've lurked a bit. I just finished a book that fits this group read, Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, so I thought I'd post.

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

This story is set in Egypt, located in the northeast corner of Africa.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The book is Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz. The book is named after the alley in Cairo in which it takes place.

Mahfouz was born in 1911 and died in 2006. He worked as a civil servant like his father before him. He was a fairly prolific writer and, in 1988, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was an opponent of Islamic fundamentalism and his criticism of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie placed him on the death lists of several fundamentalist groups.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I chose this because I've never read any books by Egyptian authors and the nature of the story (the lives of several individuals living in a poor neighborhood within Cairo) appealed to me.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The characters of the story are all poor and lower-middle class Egyptians, most of them Muslims.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

The major thread through this book seemed to be contrast and tension between individuals who were content with a closely-knit, self-contained community and those who felt stifled by it. Without being heavy-handed, Mahfouz portrayed some of the damage done by cultural imperialism as some characters came to rely upon the British Army as a means to a new life, only to have that life fall apart with the war winding down.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

Definitely the fact that there was a profession in Cairo of "cripple maker" who created beggars.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Actually, nothing…it was a wonderful book.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

Yes. Mahfouz is an excellent story-teller. This was a 4½ star book for me.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I expected something that would feel a bit more foreign. Though the setting was exotic, I was surprised at how universal the stories felt.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

Not specific authors, though I do have a goal of reading books by African authors this year—I just pick up books as the mood strikes me. In January I read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto and will probably pick up more over the rest of the year.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

This was my review:
This book was my introduction to Egyptian writers in general, and Mahfouz in specific. In this book, I found him a gifted story-teller to whom I want to return.

This novel is told as a series of interlocking stories that portray the lives of a small group of individuals over a short period of time during the waning days of World War II. The stories are set in Midaq Alley, a poor backstreet in Cairo. As the book unfolds, you realize that the alley is a small village within the city; its inhabitants live, socialize, work and marry largely within its confines. Some embrace this sense of community; some feel confined and struggle to escape. The alley, itself, might almost be considered the major character of the book. Mahfouz fills it with a character of its own: shabby, cynical, vibrant, faintly corpulent. It seems to sit there, observing the individuals that run about within it, loving them in its own distant way. This sense of intimacy made me feel that I was watching the events through the alley's eyes in an odd sort of first person narrative.

There is a vibrance to the human characters who populate this story. Each individual, major or minor, is drawn with a keen eye for detail, with affection for their strengths, humor for their foibles and a lack of judgment for their flaws. I felt I knew each of these characters intimately: the inconstant Hamida, ruthless in her desire for wealth and luxury; responsible and kind Abbas, content with his life in the alley but willing to give it up for love; Kirsha, owner of the café, married but with a predilection for young men; Saniya, the miserly landlord obsessed with finding a younger husband; Zaita, the cripple maker who feels nothing but contempt for all but Husniya, the baker who beats her husband.

The social changes as Egypt struggles with a modern era, the side-effects with Western cultural imperialism, the role of religious faith in life, all of these provide an unobtrusive background as Mahfouz circulates among his creations, advancing each of their stories bit by bit as the novel progresses. The inherent inter-connectedness of their lives causes their stories to brush against each other until he draws them together in an ending that, though containing sadness, was never bleak or unsatisfying.

Highly recommended.

92Fullmoonblue
Feb 14, 2009, 10:06pm Top

91 -- terrific review! Glad you chose to share it with us. :)

93urania1
Feb 15, 2009, 7:52pm Top

The February 14, 2009 broadcast of Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table featured Chef Pierre Thiam, author of Yolele!: Recipes from the Heart of Senegal. Thiam made an interesting comment. He said that the West has stereotyped Africa as an incredibly impoverished country. While he doesn’t deny that people are starving in various places in Africa, he points out that Africa has much wealth to offer the rest of the world in terms of cuisine as well as possibilities for growing and purchasing locally grown food. He hypothesized that Africa could be the future breadbasket of the world. You might want to listen to the podcast here.

94janeajones
Feb 15, 2009, 8:21pm Top

Mary -- as I was driving home from Boynton Beach, I heard part of this broadcast -- unfortunately I lost the signal before it ended, so I'm delighted to have the link to the podcast! Thanks. I think I might have to but the cookbook -- though I don't have much time to cook at the moment.

95SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 16, 2009, 11:28am Top

One of the nice things about our African theme read is how we can apply what we read in fiction to real life. What caught my eye today was an article in The Washington Post ("A Resuscitation of Hope in Zimbabwe" by Karen Bruillard). It discusses the political situation in that country. However, the paragraph that spoke most to me was one that echoed a theme of my fiction read about Zimbabwe.

Back in post #68, I spoke of Zimbabwe's losing the educated to the West. In Bruillard's article, she states:
"Much of Zimbabwe's revival will depend on keeping well-educated Zimbabweans and luring back the millions who have emigrated, people here agree. (Morgan) Tsvanirai (Zimbabwe's new prime minister)said in the interview that those who have left have a 'duty' to help rebuild the nation. 'Personally, I think this should inspire Zimbabweans to come back home,' he said."

I was wondering if your African read has opened your eyes and interest to news about the country you chose for the Africa theme read. I know mine has.

96GlebtheDancer
Feb 16, 2009, 2:20pm Top

-->95 SqueakyChu: One of the things I have enjoyed about my global reading is how it has become a springboard for a greater understanding of history and culture in other parts of the world. Every time I read something I don't understand or haven't heard of I am straight on the web to try and find out a little more.

97rebeccanyc
Edited: Feb 16, 2009, 3:22pm Top

I've now read Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto and The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eudardo Agalusa. I'll try to answer the questions for Sleepwalking Land in this post, The book of Chameleons in the next and then some general thoughts about both in a third.

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Mozambique is in the southeastern part of Africa, on the Indian Ocean. It was a Portuguese colony until 1975 and then underwent a brutal civil war.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The book is Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto. The author is descendant of Portuguese colonists (this raises issues that I'll bring up in the third post). The title reflects something about the plot that I don't want to mention because it would be a spoiler, and also the way the characters seem to drift through a lot of their lives.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I chose this book because it was recommended here on LT and because I hadn't read any books from Mozambique, or any from former Portuguese colonies. It was also hailed as one of the 12 best African books of the 20th century by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
The tribe or tribes were not identified. Most of the characters were black Africans, although there were some Indians and white Portuguese characters too. There was not much religion in the book, although there were some Catholic missionaries.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

The major theme is certainly the total disruption and displacement of families, societies, and cultures caused by colonization and then civil war. Another was traditional religions. Another is birth and rebirth, and still another is story-telling.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

The most interesting thing for me was that the son of Portuguese colonists seemed to have such a deep knowledge of traditional African cultures -- of course, I can't be sure how accurate the information portrayed was.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

What I didn't like about the book was that I had a hard time understanding what the author was getting at a lot of the time. The book makes heavy use of magical realism and I am sure that much of the magical material was significant in ways I just couldn't figure out/didn't know enough about the culture to understand. All in all it was quite dreamlike, and I'm afraid I missed a lot.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I certainly think this book is worth reading, but I can't give it a star rating because I've never worked out a star rating system.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read? I as interested in seeing how this book was similar to or different from other African books I've read, especially since I hadn't read anything from former Portuguese colonies.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I don't have challenges, but I have several other African books on my TBR piles.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

This is a very complicated book, and I think I should probably reread it to get a better grasp of everything the author was trying to accomplish.

98rebeccanyc
Feb 16, 2009, 3:04pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Angola is in the southwest part of Africa. Like Mozambique, it is a former Portuguese colony and underwent a brutal civil war.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The Book of the Chameleons is by Jose Eduardo Agualusa who, like Mia Couto in the previous post is the son of Portuguese colonists. The book title refers both to the narrator, a gecko who used to be a person, and to the people for who the protagonist creates "new pasts."

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

For similar reasons as in the previous post.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known. European, Angolan, South American

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Identity, the need to overcome the past. It is both humorous and deep.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
That I could find it totally believable that a gecko was the narrator!

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

I really enjoyed this book. It is said to be tribute to Borges, and this certainly makes me want to read some works by Borges, who I've shied away from because I thought I might not understand him.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I would recommend this book, but as above, I don't give star ratings.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?
10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

See above.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

For me, this book stretched my idea of African literature; it didn't seem very specifically African to me, except for its location, although in the interview with the author at the end of the book, Augualusa claims the book is very Angolan. I would have to know more about Angola and its history to understand this.

99GlebtheDancer
Edited: Feb 16, 2009, 3:10pm Top

I am using this month's themed read to get rid of a chunk of my TBR, on which there are usually some African writers. I have read a couple more in the last few days:

Search Sweet Country by B. Kojo Laing (Ghana)

Laing's book is an ambitious attempt to describe the city of Accra (c.1980) through the interacting stories of its inhabitants. The central narrative deals with the aftermath of an event at the city's airport, in which some horses escape from their containers. The horses are supposed to be agricultural animals, destined for a politicians farm, but it is obvious to all that they are high quality race horses, and that something fishy is afoot. The horses' owner tries to silence the witnesses, while their handler (Kojo Pol) starts to lose faith in his country, which is frequently cited (inside and outside the book) as being Africa's 'first modern democracy'. The ripples spread in motion by the airport event touch many corners of Accran society, forcing the city's inhabitants to examine themes of modernisation and tradition, and to ponder the meaning of 'Ghana'.
Laing is foremost a poet, and it shows in the almost startling beauty that he brings to the prose. The novel is told using a lyrical, almost abstract, turn of phrase that occasionally conjures the most fantastic imagery. Bits of this novel are truly lovely. However, I ultimately struggled to like the book. Laing's substitution of poetry for narrative lead to a meandering, unfocused, picaresque piece of magical realism that floated for 350 pages on its own whimsy. I, as a reader, couldn't maintain interest, or even retain a clear pattern of the characters, as I became lost in the shower of (admittedly beautiful) words. It reminded me of The Mulatta and Mr Fly by Miguel Angel Asturias, or Flann O'Brian's At-Swim-Two-Birds, both of which are widely admired, but both of which did nothing for me. The word 'picaresque' is the kiss of death as far as I am concerned, and Laing's book flirted with it too often for my tastes.

Oil Man of Obange by John Munonye (Nigeria)

There is a phrase that has entered my private vocabulary in the last couple of years: 'Random Heinemann'. A book is a 'Random Heinemann' to me if I read it based on nothing more than the author's nationality and a liking for the cover. It started because a lot of my African authors were published by Heinemann, though it now refers (in my head) to any book fitting the description. I had vowed to cut down on 'Random Heinemanns', because I have read a lot of not very good stuff because of them. However, I feel my determination slipping, because Oil Man of Obange is one of the best RHs I have read in a long while.
The story is very simple, following Jeri, a seller of kola nut oil, as he struggles to keep his kids in school and to make a living from an arduous daily cycle ride from Obange to Otta, the town where he sells his goods. Deep in poverty, and perched on the edge of destitution, every single penny he gains or loses can spell the difference between survival and death. Although Jeri's story is punctuated by major events (births, deaths, etc.) it is the everyday obstacles that threaten to haul him down. Even a burst tyre could mean the difference between sending his children to school or not. The book shows the extreme difficulty of overcoming crippling poverty with even the best heart and strongest will.
Munonye's prose and narrative are both simple, but no less powerful because of this. The pain of hope against hopelessness is brilliantly portrayed, and I was completely invested in the futures of Jeri's children by the end of the book. Oil Man of Obange is simply a very nice example of uncomplicated storytelling that delighted, touched and moved me far in excess of expectations.

100rebeccanyc
Edited: Feb 16, 2009, 4:11pm Top

The issue raised for me by both Sleepwalking Land and The Book of Chameleons is the issue of books written by Africans of European descent and whether this is "truly" African literature. (Previously discussed above in 14 and 16) I bring this up especially because I recently read Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature in which he makes the point, among others, that much African literature is really Afro-European literature in that it is written by Africans but in European languages and in European styles. So what makes something "African" literature?

With the two specific books that I read, Sleepwalking Land deals directly with African characters, cultures, and history, while the characters in The Book of Chameleons are mostly European or of European descent.

I guess where I come out is that African literature is anything written by someone who lives in and identifies with an African country and that, just as with European literature or US literature, there are many variations and permutations. But I do think that the legacy of colonialism makes the issue a little more significant, and fraught, in Africa.

101arubabookwoman
Feb 16, 2009, 3:56pm Top

I agree with you Rebecca. A large part of the history of Africa, and the life of the peoples of Africa, for the past 200 years relates to issues of colonialism and its legacy. Previously, a lot of what was called "African" literature was written by Europeans or colonists. In more recent decades, literature written by native, non-colonial African authors has become more widely available and better known.

I think it would be very difficult for a European to write authentically of the experience of colonialism from the point of view of the native, or of life unaffected by European contact, or to write literature based on tribal folk lore. However, I think insofar as the European experience of colonial issues and modern day Africa are concerned it is legitimate to consider things written by Africans of European descent as African literature.

102rebeccanyc
Feb 16, 2009, 4:13pm Top

Both of these writers were born during colonialism and then continued to live in Africa after independence, through the civil wars, etc., so I can see how they identify themselves with Africa. However, for the very reasons you give, arubabookwoman, I had more trouble with the Couto book because it's difficult for me to understand how he could have become so imbued with the myths and culture of the Mozambican people.

103deebee1
Edited: Feb 17, 2009, 9:20am Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Egypt. It is in the northeastern part of Africa and
borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west. The country became a republic in 1953.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

The book is Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz, the first in The Cairo Trilogy. The title comes from the name of a street in Cairo where the story takes place.

About the author, please refer to Tad's message in #91 where he reviews another work by Mahfouz.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I've always wanted to read Mahfouz and the Africa theme was a good motivation.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

The story provides a close look into a conservative Muslim society caught in the middle of significant political change.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Various aspects of a highly traditional, conservative society -- religious fundamentalism, role of men and women, the importance of family and social ties. Also colonialism, nationalism, and the impacts of modernization on tradition and way of life.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

It is not exactly a new thing i learned but still it disturbs me every time i read about it -- cultures where women remain cloistered all their lives, in total ignorance of the world outside their homes, and absolutely with no say in anything.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Until about 300 pages, the story seemed to drag, as it focused only on the daily routine of each member of the family of Al-Sayyid Ahmad.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I have not read other books of his, but based on Palace Walk, i find Mahfouz is an engaging storyteller. I would give this book 4 stars.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I expected a good depiction of a culture very different from mine, and I was not disappointed.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I don't keep a "list" of authors but I'm sure I will be reading other African authors this year.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

The manuscript of The Cairo Trilogy was too dense to be printed as a book, so it was first serialized in weekly installments. As it is a study on culture, i found it important to give attention to some subtle details and nuances in the flow of the story, the characterizations, the daily household routine and rituals, as they hold certain meanings and symbolisms, things which a reader can easily miss on a quick reading.

104Fullmoonblue
Edited: Feb 17, 2009, 3:32pm Top

Re 100 and 101, on Ngugi, colonialism, 'Western' aspects of 'African' lit...

I notice how you two mentioned the argument that "much African literature is really Afro-European literature" and how, recently, "literature written by native, non-colonial African authors has become more widely available and better known."

This is true (or may seem true) but I'm still often skeptical of WHICH new works and writers get noticed by readers outside Africa these days. And why/how.

Specifically, I worry that major publishers STILL do not typically promote and publish novels unless they can be reasonably certain that the subject matter or author's biography will attract our reader-shoppers' dollars... and that they still use violence and sexuality, which have historically done the trick pretty handily, to make that distinction. So I feel suspicious that stories featuring terror (e.g. 'war-torn' settings), violence (particularly against women), poverty, children in need, and African characters struggling with, about, against, and because of "modernization" and/or religious strife still make up SO MUCH of the work that major Western publishers choose to offer.

I wonder how many modern African writers go 'undiscovered' by big publishers because their work doesn't fit that tried and true formula.

And I wish it were more common for publishers to pick up writers whose work includes topics beyond child soldiers, "FGM", AIDS, etc.

It would be as if all readers in Africa ever saw of life in the USA, for example, were stories featuring 9/11, urban decay, and the Real Housewives of Orange County. (On that note, I once heard that in the 90s the most popular American TV shows in North Africa and the Middle East were reruns of Baywatch and the Jerry Springer Show. I mean, yikes!)

Anyway. I just wonder...
Don't authors in Africa write "fluff" too?
Stuff that doesn't readily lend itself to a political reading?
Can anyone recommend a "beach read" or some "chick lit" from Africa?

Does it exist...?

Does it ever get translated and published?

If you've got any info, please share!

105arubabookwoman
Feb 17, 2009, 9:05pm Top

Hi fullbluemoon--You've raised some interesting questions. I'm probably not the best person to respond since my exposure to African literature is somewhat limited, although I'm working on fixing that.

I don't think it's just African writers who face difficulties in getting published/promoted unless they fit into a certain niche or write about specific subject matters--look at the same authors and types of books which appear over and over again on the NYT Best Seller list, and are featured on the front tables at Barnes & Noble and Borders.

I think that the African books I have read for Reading Globally could to a certain extent be considered "nonpolitical." Earlier in this thread I discussed The Joys of Motherhood, which I saw as a novel about family relationships, which just happened to be set in Africa in an Igbo family. (And I have to assume that the setting, customs etc depicted in the book were authentic).

The other two African books I read this month may be more like what you are referring to. Half a Yellow Sun dealt with the Biafran War; however, the half of the book that took place before the war read like a soap opera. This Blinding Absence of Light was the story of a political prisoner in Morocco, and I found it particulary relevant to some of the US's actions over the last 8 years.

Anyway--that's my limited exposure to African literature. I'd be interested in hearing about "beach read" African literature. If Akeela reads this, I think she has read lots of African books, and she may be able to help.

By the way, what is FGM?

106akeela
Feb 18, 2009, 8:58am Top

Fullmoonblue and arubawoman, as an experiment, I called my local, usually efficient librarian and asked her to recommend some "chick lit" or "fluff" by any African or South African writer. Uhm, I do believe she was stumped by the query!

I haven't come across African "chick lit" or "fluff". I did find a rare and wonderful "beach read" in the last couple of months, which was quite coincidentally set on a beach in South Africa :) by Zakes Mda called The Whale Caller, which was a purely fun read.

A South African author who comes to mind, whose Afrikaans books have been translated into several languages, including English, and whom I would heartily recommend is Marita Van der Vyver. She is currently based in France and has at least nine novels to her name, including Breathing Space (for which she was labelled an erotic feminist) and Entertaining Angels, which is a personal rather than a political tale. Her work is worth reading, IMO.

FGM = Female Genital Mutilation

107frithuswith
Feb 18, 2009, 4:10pm Top

I thought some might be interested in this article, about a recent visit of Achebe's to Nigeria (he lives in the US at the moment because of a car accident that means his medical needs can't be met in his home country). It's interesting to read about his viewpoint on the government, and the description of the motorcade (which is a tradition not limited to Nigeria) has to be read...

108tracyfox
Feb 19, 2009, 10:40am Top

I also chose to read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, set in a Nigerian village at the turn of the last century. I was surprised to learn that Chinua Achebe chose to write the book in English. Since both Achebe and his main character are native Igbos, I assumed the book had been translated. The cadence of the dialog (both internal and spoken) coupled with the decision to leave a number of words in Igbo transported me to a place long ago and far away. The unfamiliar wording never bogged down the narrative, but it never let the reader forget these were characters from an unfamiliar realm either.

I selected this book because it is frequently listed as a foundation of African literature and because its plot deals with traditional African religious beliefs. The story is set in the early days of colonialism and describes the first encounters between the polytheistic Igbo people and Christian missionaries. Obligations to the gods, cultural taboos regarding twins, the disabled and death, and unanticipated pronouncements from oracular priests and priestesses all govern the tribe's communal decision-making. Strictly delineated roles for men, women and children and tribal titles granting tribe members privileges such as harvesting palm wine govern day-to-day life. Okonkwo, a young Igbo man hoping to better himself despite his shamefully indolent father, feels these pressures acutely but manages for the most part to push ahead in the tribal hierarchy without making waves. The tribe's routines are upset when a priest erects a chapel in the evil forest where twins and outcasts are sent to live apart from the villages. Predictably, things fall apart. As Oberieka, one of the Igbo elders, put it: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

As noted by an earlier reviewer, the title of the book is taken from Yeats' The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The poem effectively captures the way the characters are set adrift in a chaos of events largely beyond their control. From the beginning, the main character Okonkwo, vacillates between pride in his accomplishments (despite having a lazy, flute-playing drunk of a father) and self-recriminations for preferring his foster son and his daughter to his first-born boy. Okonkwo, a product of his culture and time, is a complex and not always likeable character. He is quick to anger, judges others harshly and remains blindly obedient to tribal customs and taboos. Although his efforts often seem misguided to a 21st century woman, he nevertheless comes across as committed to his family and tribe and willing to put community interests above his own. His spiraling despair certainly echoes Yeats' words and his actions at the end of the story show him to be both the worst, full of passionate intensity, and the best, lacking any conviction at all.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was its depiction of Igbo tribal rites and the way the author used conversations between Igbo elders and the Christian missionaries to explain the interrelationships between the pantheon of Igbo gods and the tribe's animistic practices. I feel like I now have at least a concrete example of how a polytheistic African religion weaves in and out of daily life. That is not to say that the specifics of that religion left me unmoved. At various points in the story, I longed for someone to step forward and put an end to the violence against women, the practice of leaving unwanted infants to die in the forest, and the senseless sacrifice of innocent children, but I was disappointed.

Another thing I did like about the book was its explosive ending. I felt it resolved all the major plot turns, without tumbling into a predictable, overly tidy end. The bitterly ironic comment that concludes the story was a graceful end note.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting an interesting introduction to black African literature. In some ways, the book so closely mirrors a Greek tragedy that it's hard to forget you are reading a title common on high school world literature reading lists. On the other hand, it's an excellent read that can be enjoyed in just a few evenings and it's on those reading lists for a reason. I give it 4.5 stars.

This book impressed me enough that I intend to seek out the sequel No Longer at Ease. I plan to read two other African books, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (which has been on my tbr pile for a few years now), this year. When deciding on this book, I also added another Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa'Thiong'O to my wish list. Of course, this thread will add a few more titles to that wish list as well. Thanks to everyone for such an interesting discussion.

109frithuswith
Feb 19, 2009, 2:25pm Top

Thanks for your comments, tracyfox, it's interesting to hear how other people felt about the novel!

The bitterly ironic comment that concludes the story was a graceful end note.

I agree entirely - the last line was the perfect ending.

110Fullmoonblue
Feb 19, 2009, 2:40pm Top

106 -- "...as an experiment, I called my local, usually efficient librarian and asked her to recommend some "chick lit" or "fluff" by any African or South African writer. Uhm, I do believe she was stumped by the query!"

That's hilarious! (And also pretty revealing...)

But what a great idea, putting a librarian on the case.

PS, coincidentally, I just mooched a book by Zakes Mda called The Madonna of Excelsior. Its plot description sounds anything but 'fluffy', so now I'll definitely put The Whale Caller on my wishlist... I'll be curious to see the contrast in topics and emotional tones. Thanks for mentioning it!

111Fullmoonblue
Feb 19, 2009, 2:59pm Top

108 -- Disgrace was incredibly dark, in my opinion. Good -- very good, even -- but whoa, what a punch in the gut. Reading it was my first exposure to Coetzee and it was quite a heavy introduction.

But, after recovering from Disgrace, I decided to try Coetzee's Foe, so named after Robinson Cruso. It's one of those stories that takes a second look at a 'classic' and invents (or merely uncovers?) a huge range of other plot possibilities that I, for one, had never even imagined. And WOW, I really, really, really enjoyed that one. It's plenty dark too, but in an extremely creative and compelling way. Some of the dark bits are so beautifully written that they just wash over you... And it was one of those books, for me, where you finish reading and just have to sit still for a moment, trying to figure out what you're feeling.

So, if you've ever read Robinson Cruso, or even just know the basics of the plot, I would advise ANYONE to give Foe a chance.

112detailmuse
Feb 19, 2009, 3:45pm Top

I have Heart of Darkness in my 999 Challenge this year … and after reading tracyfox’s comments and LizT’s BBC link about Achebe (“He was inspired to write when he realised that Africa's story was being told by outsiders, writers like Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary whose descriptions of Africans he found offensive”) I think I must pair Things Fall Apart with it.

113whymaggiemay
Edited: Feb 19, 2009, 7:48pm Top

I finished Cry, the Beloved Country. What a wonderful book! You journey from a rural South African farming community with a parson, Stephen Kumalo, to Johannesburg, in search of lost souls from his church, including his own brother, sister, and son. Each has quit communicating with their family and he hopes to find them or discover their whereabouts. Never having been out of his area before, the trains, scenery, numbers of people, and traffic are all strange to Stephen. He is lucky enough to be taken under the wing of two good men who help him navigate the confusions of Johannesburg. Without spoiling the suspense for you, Stephen is only one of many characters whom you come to know, love, and sympathize with in the course of this amazing story about Apartheid.

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

The Republic of South Africa. As the name would indicate, it is the southern most country of Africa, and encompasses the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town). The South African coast stretches 2,798 kilometers (1,739 mi) and borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory. There are 11 official languages. Population of 47+ million people composed of 79.5% black, 9.2% white, 8.9% colored, 2.5% Asian.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean? .

Alan Stewart Paton, born 1903 in South Africa, died 1988 in South Africa. Married twice. His first wife (of 40 years) died in 1967, and he re-married in 1969. He had degrees in Science and Education and was a teacher. From 1935 to 1948 he served as the principal of a reformatory for African offenders, where he made sweeping institutional changes. In 1953 he founded the South African Liberal Party, a non-violent group opposed to Apartheid. Unfortunately, some members resorted to violent means, which caused it to be disbanded in the late 1960s. Apparently as a result of his political stand, Paton’s passport was confiscated in 1960 and not returned to him for 10 years.

The title derives from a line in a poem quoted in the book. "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author? .

I suggested this book to my RL book club for reading in 2009 and it was chosen for the February (Black History month) read. Also, it’s been on my “I should have read this long ago” list for several years.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Races: white and black. Tribes: Zulu. Languages: 11 official languages, including English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu which were discussed in the book.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Morality; understanding of and reconciliation between father and son; inequality and injustice; repentance; kindness.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book? .

I learned an immense amount about Apartheid, the many ways it played a part in the every day lives of both blacks and whites, and the complexities of it. Paton did a masterful job of explaining the economic, constitutional, legislative, and legal sides of Apartheid, all while telling a compelling and very sympathetic story.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

The only thing I felt was missing was closure on John Kumalo and the legal fate of his son and his friend. This is a very minor complaint, however.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating. .

Definitely would recommend this book to everyone. 5 stars. Clearly a seminal Apartheid work.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read? .

I expected to learn something about South Africa and Apartheid. I learned much, much more than expected on those and other subjects.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? .

Currently reading Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna. Though I have several other African authors on TBR, I have no present intention of reading them in 2009.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others. .

Paton does an excellent job of presenting tribal manners and speech patterns, thus allowing me entry into a world (and a time) I was unfamiliar with.

114janeajones
Edited: Feb 19, 2009, 9:02pm Top

#107 -- LizT -- thanks so much for the article on Achebe. It really gives a human face to the situation in Nigeria. I read Things Fall Apart years ago and have taught it 3 or 4 times in World Lit courses, also have a Nigerian colleague, and our next door neighbors, who are saints, are presently in Nigeria building houses. There is so much wasted richness in Africa -- colonialism, and now oil capitalism, AIDS, and corruption, have really subverted the possibilities for a good life. Every African I have personally met has so much joy and energy, but the situation at home in Africa seems to be so desperate and complex.

115Tifi
Feb 20, 2009, 4:03am Top


1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

Nigeria

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Purple Hibiscus by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie. The title refers to the unusual and bright flowers in her aunties garden that her brother brings back to grow at their home, an effort to bring some of the brightness and happiness of aunties house to their home.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

It was on my to be read pile.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Nigerian-Catholics, traditional Nigerian worship and culture

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Domestic violence, colonialism, family relationships, corruption

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

The plants that grow in Nigeria

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

I find domestic violence very difficult to read about and had a very, very strong dislike for her father, although she tries to show what a good person he was outside the home. There was laughter in the book at aunties house, but the tension caused by the violence of her father was always there and it permeated the novel, so it was very sad.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

Yes I would recommend, 3.5 stars

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I like to read novels with a strong sense of place and this novel had that.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

Not sure.

116CEP
Feb 20, 2009, 6:12am Top


For light and entertaining African reading, Alexander McCall Smith fits the bill. See muddy21's comments in post 89. I've only read one of The Ladies No. 1 Detectvie Agency books but will get to more of them as my mood dictates. Shame on the librarian who overlooked this prolific and well-known writer.

I'm somewhat of a lurker as I don't particularly like to write reviews. Thanks for all your insights; I'll be reading right behind many of you as a few of the books are already on the tbr pile and others on the list!

117frithuswith
Feb 20, 2009, 8:48am Top

CEP> she may well have 'overlooked' The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency because Alexander McCall Smith is British, although he was born in Rhodesia and has taught in South Africa. (I agree entirely, however, that they are a lovely comfort read, although apparently get repetitive as the series goes on.)

118tracyfox
Feb 20, 2009, 9:55am Top

LizT - Thanks for the tip on the Achebe homecoming ... it was fascinating portrait of both the author and the country. I found his comments on the loss of oral tradition really forward-looking and something I wish more authors would embrace.

"We are fascinated by the oral tradition, and it's right that we should be fascinated. But if it's not going to work any more in the future, then rather than sit and weep and mourn, why don't we find out what has come to replace it?"

I'm looking forward to an Achebe blog or perhaps a graphic novel.

Fullmoonblue - I am about 2/3 through Disgrace and I don't know whether I hate David Lurie or myself more. With all the horrible things going on in this story, the places that tear at my heart the most are the scenes at Bev's surgery with the animals.

Detailmuse - I added Heart of Darkness to my challenge ... I am going to try reading it off as an eBook off my phone. I may switch to paper but I have never actually read an eBook from start to finish so it will be an interesting juxtaposition. (This decision may have been influenced by the Achebe comments.)

Whymaggiemay and tifi - Wonderful reviews of two more possibilities for my African experience!

119CEP
Feb 21, 2009, 6:46am Top

>117 frithuswith: LizT,

Thanks for the details on McCall Smith. I do recall a photo of him in a kilt--and I belive he lives in Scotland now.

120Fullmoonblue
Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 2:36pm Top

118: "...I don't know whether I hate David Lurie or myself more. With all the horrible things going on in this story, the places that tear at my heart the most are the scenes at Bev's surgery with the animals."

Isn't that wild? Believe it or not, you're not the first person I've heard say that! It really, really makes me curious whether Coetzee actually balanced his depictions of human characters versus 'animals' in such a way so that readers would have to experience that kind of reaction... if so, it could add a whole new dimension to how a reader responds to the story!

121CD1am
Feb 21, 2009, 4:35pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
South Africa, the country at the "bottom" of the continent

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?
The Steam Pig by James McClure. McClure was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1939 and had worked as a crime reporter before he emigrated to Britain in 1965. He worked as a journalist and editor while continuing his writing of both fiction and non-fiction. Died in 2006. The Steam Pig won the Crime Writers of America Gold Dagger Award in 1971.
The meaning of the title isn't revealed till the end of the book, so it would be a spoiler to tell it.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?
It's been sitting in my to be read pile for years, but I'd put it off due to fearing the horrors of apartheid.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
The police detective is white with a Bantu partner. The tribal affiliation of most other blacks is not given, except for a mention of Zulus.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?
Black/white relations under apartheid
social status issues in both black and white communities
black on black crime
police brutality
male/female relations

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?
nothing

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not?
Please give us a star rating.
Yes. Good writing, interesting characters, touches of humor, many unexpected twists. I'd rate it 4 stars

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?
As I mentioned, I'd put off reading this due to concern about the horrors of apartheid.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)
I don't have a "challenge list"

122frithuswith
Feb 21, 2009, 4:41pm Top

121> It sounds intriguing. Was it as dark as you expected or did the humour make it less bleak?

123CD1am
Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 5:02pm Top

#122 The humor and the positive relationship between the two detectives made it a far more pleasant read than I expected.

124janeajones
Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 6:00pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
Zimbabwe, still Southern Rhodesia during the period of the book, is in the Southeastern part of Africa between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. It is bordered on the south by South Africa, on the east by Mozambique, on the northwest by Zambia and on the southwest by Botswana.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean? Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. The author was born in 1959, educated in Zimbabwe and England, and returned to Zimbabwe in 1980 with black majority rule. She studied medicine and psychology before turning to writing and filmmaking. The Book of Not: A Sequel to Nervous Conditions was published in 2006. The book's title comes from an introduction to Fritz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth: "The condition of native is a nervous condition."

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author? Someone from LT recommended the book to me months ago, so I had a copy on TBR pile. I remember the struggle for Zimbabwean independence from the apartheid rule of Ian Smith in the 1970s, and in the late 70s, the woman who cared for my baby while I was going to graduate school and teaching was the wife of a Zimbabwean graduate student at Columbia U.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
The characters in the novel are an extended family of the Shona tribe and speak Shona and English.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?
The displacement of identity under colonialism. The struggle for female autonomy in a patriarchal society.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
As I was quite familiar with the situation in Zimbabwe at the time of the novel and because the novel was more focused on character than politics or history or geography, I can't say I really learned anything specific from the book other than some Shona words.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book? Nothing. I found it quite an engrossing read and read it in two sittings.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating. 4 stars. Yes, I would recommend this author.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read? I don't generally start books by authors I haven't previously read with any expectations.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :) I don't do challenge lists. I'd like to read many more African authors as I come across them. I probably have half a dozen on my TBR list including Buchi Emecheta and Ben Okri.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others. This is a moving rites of passage story about two teenage girls living in a time of cataclysmic change. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

125SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 5:46pm Top

</B>--> 124

I, too, am reading Nervous Conditions presently and am enjoying it immensely. I'll wait to read your response to it until after I've finished that book myself.

126frithuswith
Feb 22, 2009, 12:08pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

South Africa. Right at the bottom!

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in 1991 with the citation: "who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity". Her most famous works, July's People & Burger's Daughter, were part of the struggle against apartheid.

The title appears to be an allusion to the fact that all the characters seem to want to "get a life" different from their own. Probably. I felt it sat poorly with the novel - the style felt like it merited a title with slightly more dignity.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I was interested to read some Nadine Gordimer and found this book in a remainder store last year. The premise intrigued me: the main character, Paul, is having radioiodine ablation for thyroid cancer (iodine basically all goes to the thyroid so if someone ingests radioactive iodine it will go to thyroid tissue in the body, including any potential metastatic tissue not in the thyroid, and irradiate it, hopefully killing all the cancer off. It's probably one of the nicer radiotherapies to have as it's so targeted). You don't get many novels about medical physics, which is where I'm working, so I was interested to see how she traced the impact of his treatment on him and his family.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Primarily white South Africans, but they have black colleagues and friends. One appears to have lost any tribal identity and speaks "four or five" local languages.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Ultimately the book seemed to be about the conflict between progress and conservation, particularly in post-apartheid South Africa. But initially it was more about family relationships and how they are affected by issues like illness, isolation and adultery.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

Some of the small insights into life in post-apartheid South Africa were interesting.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

Oh dear, this is where I really get started... The prose was very stilted - I think it was meant to be a kind of stream of conciousness effect but the general lack of regard for common grammatic and punctuation norms was distracting and often obscured the meaning. I feel like a stream of conciousness-type narrative should lead to greater affinity with the characters, but there was an odd mixing-in of narrative comments with the conciousness which made the characters seem rather flat and inhuman.

The themes were also not addressed very coherently - I wasn't really sure what point she was ultimately trying to make in the novel.

Finally, she played fast and loose with the physics of radiation. She took everything to its absolute extreme (in the first few days when you're still in hospital you need to be careful about sweat and saliva, but once you're out of hospital you don't need to use paper plates, for example). This would have been fine if the novel had been good enough, but it just felt like she got an idea and couldn't really be bothered to do the research, which is a shame.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I wouldn't recommend this book. However, I do still want to try some of her earlier work (although I'm hoping the prose is slightly less angular).

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I wasn't necessarily expecting any great insight into Africa, although as mentioned above, some of the insights into integrating were interesting (perhaps a little heavy-handed at times). I was, however, disappointed by the quality of the writing and characterisation, as well as the lack of focus the novel seemed to have.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

I appear to have completely ignored my previous answer to this question! I still might try to get round to The Book of Chameleons by the end of the month, although life has been disappointingly getting in the way of reading far too much this month!

127SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 23, 2009, 2:08pm Top

--> 63

I thought you'd like to view this Library of Congress video with Chinua Achebe reading from Things Fall Apart.

128trisweather
Edited: Feb 23, 2009, 2:18pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
Nigeria in central West Africa

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?
Half of a yellow sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The title refers to the national flag of Biafra, which contained half a sun. It is a story about twin sisters, their relationship, the people around them and how the civil war about Biafra affects them.
The author is a native of Nigeria and have family who took part in the war

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?
Due to where I live I didn't have much African literature to choose from. This was home at the library so that was it.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.
There was alot about the difference and tension between tribes, igbo, yoruba and hausa, that had been forced into the same country
Also alot about traditional lifestyle vs new, educated and European

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?
civil war, colonization, family

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
I didn't know much about Nigeria and the civil war about Biafra. It was really interesting to read how white men and their way of breaking Africa into pieces caused war. I learned alot about how much the Europeans caused many of the problems that even today is a problem in many African countries

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?
I liked everything about it

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.
I would certainly recommend the book. It is at times a hard book to read, because of what the civil war does to the people and the land. But I think that it is an education that everybody should give themselves.
I would give it five stars out of five

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?
I really didn't have that many expectations. Just to read something from a different culture and learn something.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)
I don't have a challenge list, so no. I do however have a book of short stories from Africa that I will read at some point

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.
It is a good read, but not a joyful one. So to read it one should have the time and the want to read something very well written about a subject that at times will touch you hard

129PaperbackPirate
Feb 23, 2009, 7:20pm Top

1. My book took place on a wildlife reserve in South Africa near Cape Town.

2. The White Giraffe is by Lauren St. John. The author "...grew up in Zimbabwe, on a farm that was part game reserve..." but lives in London now. The title eludes to (according to the book) Zulu folklore.

3. I chose to join in on this Africa challenge because I have many students who are refugees from Somalia. This book is recommended for 3rd grade and up, so I thought it would be fun to get to know a little more about Africa through fiction and maybe have something to recommend to them when they are older. Even though it takes place in South Africa and not Somalia, they talk about Africa all the time.

6. One of the *most interesting* things I learned from my book was how to make a natural compass.

8. I would recommend this book to my students because {spoiler alert} the main character gets to ride a wild giraffe in the story! How much fun to imagine! One of the aides at the school is actually going to go to college in Cape Town in the fall so I'm going to pass it on to her next. I would give it 3 stars.

9. I expected to learn a little more about South Africa from this book. Mostly I learned things by looking them up on Wikipedia, but it at least inspired me to do that.

10. I don't have any other African authors on my challenge lists for the year, so thank you Reading Globally for the nudge!

11. Here is one of my favorite quotes: "...animals might scratch you, or bite you, or even rip you apart in hunger or in fear, but only a man can crush you inside, in your heart, for no reason other than the color of your skin."

And here is my favorite bushman legend: "...the moon was a man who had angered the sun. Every month, when the moon was full, the jealous sun would take his knife and cut away a piece of him until only a thin slice remained. The moon would plead for that piece to be left for his children. His wish granted, he would build himself up again until he was once more prosperous and whole."

130cushlareads
Edited: Feb 23, 2009, 9:23pm Top

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

South Africa. As LizT said, right at the bottom!

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

At the Still Point by Mary Benson.

Benson was a white South African who was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. She was born in 1919 in Pretoria. In the 1950s she was secretary of the fund that financed the defence of the ANC members who were tried for treason. She wrote numerous books about the resistance movement, including a biography of Mandela and a history of the ANC.

At the Still Point is set in 1963 and tells the story of Anne Lawson, a white South African journalist who has been living in London and New York. She comes home for a visit and gets increasingly involved in the anti-apartheid struggle when she travels to the East Cape to write about the trial of a teacher for stealing a van.

The book's title comes (I think) from TS Eliot's Quartets: "At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. "

(I love google!)

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

I’m trying to reduce my mountain of unread books, and had a choice of this one, Cry, the Beloved Country, or Half of a Yellow Sun. Christiguc read the book recently and recommended it.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

Most of the main characters were white South Africans, with both British and Afrikaner heritage. The black South Africans were mainly Bantu.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Race, apartheid, conflict within the white community about apartheid, the rule of law, freedom of expression.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

It was all interesting. The range of attitudes and decisions made by white South Africans –e.g. how much to resist the regime, how involved to get, and how guilty they felt about being brought up within the system.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

That it ended so soon!

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

I gave it 4 ½ stars and will be looking out for her biography of Mandela and her autobiography.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

I loved Long Walk to Freedom and found it really uplifting (geez that sounds cheesy – but it was!). I thought this might be a bit grimmer and depressing. It was, because it was written when the repression was at its strongest, and there couldn’t be a happy ending. But alongside the desperation, they still had hope that they would win the fight.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!! :)

Cry, the Beloved Country and Half of a Yellow Sun.

Eek, I think that's my longest every post - is anyone still there?!
Edited to fix formatting.

131janeajones
Feb 23, 2009, 11:09pm Top

cmt -- since you were so involved with this book, you must read Gordimer's Burger's Daughter -- which I think is her best book and really illuminates the plight of anti-apartheid white SAs during the 1960s -- it's also an amazingly insightful coming-of-age story of a young woman.

132sanddancer
Feb 24, 2009, 8:41am Top

Like Tifi (Message 115), I also read Purple Hibiscus. To save repeating what Tifi has already said, I thought I'd just add a few brief comments.

I found it refreshing to read a book set outside of the West that wasn't about abject poverty. The aunt's family are poorer but still have an ok standard of living and are educated. Although it was about domestic abuse, it wasn't specifically about the mis-treatment of women. I found the portrayal of the father very uncomfortable to read, but I think it showed that the characters of abusers is universal regardless of where they live. The father here is a hypocrite with a respectable reputation and outward proclamations of religious piety but abuses his family and shows no kindness towards non-Catholics.

I was particularly interested in the tension between Catholicism and the old religion and the use of languages.

I don't physically have any more African books to my to be read pile, but from this thread, there are certainly lots more I want to read this year.

133catarina1
Feb 24, 2009, 1:22pm Top

I love, love, love this web site. But it is making me crazy - already have way too many books (someone will commit me to an institution soon!!). There are so many great suggestions for more books to read. And I am so far behind, I have yet to start a selection for the Africa read.

But one question - I have read all of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books and love Mma Romostswe and her extended family. I was trying to find other books about Botswana and could only find memoirs written by caucasians who grew up there, due to employment choices that their parents made. Does anyone know of any books written by native Matswanas?

134frithuswith
Feb 24, 2009, 4:43pm Top

Unity Dow was born and grew up in Botswana - perhaps her books would be worth a look (I'm quite tempted by Juggling truths).

Bessie Head who wrote A Question of Power (to get the touchstone!) may also fit the bill for you - born in SA but spent most of her life in Botswana and seems to be identified as Botswanan (or Matswana? I've not heard that before!)

135GlebtheDancer
Feb 24, 2009, 5:47pm Top

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

It was commented above (message 104) that nobody has read any African 'fluff'. I work in a bookshop and we received an uncorrected proof of Nwaubani's book, to be released later this year, which probably qualifies. Nwaubani was born in and resides in Nigeria. This is her first book, and I think its fair to say that it doesn't have any great literary pretensions. It was, however, pretty good.

The book is about a young man, Kingsley, whose family live in relative poverty, despite being hardworking. Things like schooling and healthcare are a constant struggle. Kingsley's uncle, Boniface, however, has never worked hard, but has become the king of '419' scams, where foreigners are fleeced for their money by e-mail hoaxers. A family illness and a needy girlfriend force Kingsley towards his uncle's world, much to his family's horror (though they like the cash it brings). The narrative followers Kingsley as he tries to balance his moral qualms against a very real need for funds, and examines the ways in which poverty, morality and crime can sometimes interact in very confusing ways.

Nwaubani's book was nicely written, though at no points outstanding in terms of language. Her characters were nicely drawn, especially Kingsley and his family, and were sympathetic enough to maintain an interest throughout the whole book. For me, this is the bare minimum for enjoying a book, and Nwaubani passed this test with flying colours. Her narrative, however, was little bit of a mess. I never really felt Kingsley's moral confusion keenly enough to join him on his apparent roller coaster of emotions. I like books that challenge and confuse my own viewpoints, and this didn't really do either. I was pleased to read something contemporary, because this was a Nigeria of mobile phones, internet cafes and laptops, and a book that didn't deal with big political issues, which made a change. In fact, Nwaubani does make some half-hearted pokes at bigger issues, but they are largely superfluous and forgettable.
It is perhaps unfair to describe this book as 'fluff', but if you don't expect too much from it. you probably won't be too disappointed.

136catarina1
Feb 24, 2009, 8:43pm Top

Thank you very much for the suggestions. You have just added to my "to be read" pile.

137sanddancer
Feb 25, 2009, 3:26am Top

Yesterday I read Tropical Fish Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana. I read this in one sitting and absolutely loved it.

It is set mainly in Uganda and is made up of 8 stories. The stories could be read separately but they work together as a whole as five of them involve Christine at various stages in her life and the three others are about her two elder sisters.

The effects of political instability, Idi Amin, AIDs, the "brain drain" to the USA and Europe, and the conflict between old religions and Christianity all come up across the course of the book, but its strength is in the voices of the women central to the story and it is a great coming-of-age story. The story "A Thank You Note" was particularly memorable.

Not to do with the content of the book itself, but I had trouble finding this book in my library. It was on the system as being in Adult Fiction, but I couldn't find there because it had been put on a "Black Writers" shelf. I wouldn't normally look on that shelf and I wondered how they were making the decision as to what made it onto the main fiction shelf. This book has received some acclaim and I think deserves wider readership.

138kidzdoc
Feb 25, 2009, 7:04am Top

Nice review, sanddancer. I had forgotten about this book, but I'm adding it to my Amazon wish list now.

139rebeccanyc
Feb 25, 2009, 7:49am Top

Interesting comment, sanddancer, about the location of the book in your library. I have mixed feelings about "Black Writers" sections in libraries and bookstores. On the one hand, it makes it easier for people to find these works if they are consciously looking for them, but on the other hand it makes it less likely that people browsing in the "main" sections of the library/bookstore will have the opportunity to find writers they might be interested in but don't know about already. I'd be interested in what others think.

140sanddancer
Feb 25, 2009, 8:03am Top

Rebecca - I think the ideal solution would be for them to have two copies of the book and have one in each location! But as that isn't always practical then at least their records should be accurate. As Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie's books are kept on the main fiction shelves, I wonder if the decision is being made on popularity as obviously Adiche has crossed-over into the mainstream and at what point does a writer cease to be a black writer, and just become a writer. As a white person, I think I'd previously assumed that the black writers section isn't for me (just a heterosexual, I assume the gay section isn't for me) but perhaps I should browse there more often.

141SqueakyChu
Feb 25, 2009, 8:05am Top

I like the idea of works of black and/or African novelists being included in the main general fiction section of a library. I also think that such works are more easily "chanced upon" in the general fiction section of the library. Nonfiction should be classified by genre, but all novels, in my opinion, should be placed together. It would be advantageous, though, for libraries to monthly highly any sub-genre of novel by creating a special shelf to help people note books by a particular person or group of people. In this case, it might be fiction by black or African authors. Then back into general fiction they should go.

142kidzdoc
Edited: Feb 25, 2009, 8:17am Top

I agree with both of you. Although a separate "African American Literature" section in a bookstore makes it easier to see offerings in this genre, it also segregates these books from the larger literature section. So, unless someone is looking for a particular book AfrAm book or has a special interest in this field, these books will likely be passed over. Also, who gets to decide what constitutes AfrAm literature? Are the Caribbean writers Jamaica Kincaid or Edwidge Danticat "African American"? What about Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe? In my local Borders their books are listed in the general literature section. What about writers of mixed descent, such as Bliss Broyard or Rebecca Walker?

I'd much rather see these books in the general literature section of bookstores and libraries, especially since a number of good AfrAm literary works are being overlooked, due to the proliferation of urban (ghetto) literature (which should be sold only in adult bookstores, IMO).

143arubabookwoman
Feb 25, 2009, 2:03pm Top

I would expect these books to be shelved in with the general fiction. In a section called Black or African-American writers, I would expect to see nonfiction works exploring cultural and political issues, biographies and similar books.

144detailmuse
Feb 25, 2009, 3:00pm Top

Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.
Ethiopia, in northeastern Africa, under the rule and revolt against Emperor Haile Selassie. The story is set mostly in the 1960-70s, and mostly near a mission hospital in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Late in the book, passages set in hospitals in Boston and the Bronx provide a nice perspective on Ethiopia in relief (contrast).

Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?
Cutting for Stone (published just three weeks ago) is by Abraham Verghese, an internal medicine physician born in Ethiopia to Indian physics professors. Verghese has published short stories, essays, and two memoirs: My Own Country, about establishing a medical practice (and a life) in Tennessee during the early days of AIDS; and The Tennis Partner, about mentoring a drug-addicted medical student.

This book’s title comes from a passage in the Hippocratic Oath whereby doctors promise not to "cut for stone," which I interpret to be cutting (practicing) beyond one’s expertise. I think the title comes equally from the fact that several characters are cutters (surgeons) surnamed Stone.

Why did you choose this country and/or author?
I began ignorant about both Ethiopia and Verghese. But raves by Richard Selzer, Atul Gawande, and Mark Salzman prompted me to take a look, and the medical/hospital-based story and good reviews for Verghese’s previous works hooked me.

What cultures and themes were addressed by your book?
Family (biological, adoptive, domestic)
Immigration (chosen and forced)
Politics (imperialism, military coups, civil war)
The practice of medicine and surgery (including lots of aphorisms; I can’t resist including one about obstetrics: "He tried to remember the citrus rule from his student days. What was it? Lime, lemon, orange, and grapefruit corresponded to four, six, eight, and ten centimeters of dilation of the cervix. Or was it two, four, six, and eight? And was there a grape or plum involved?")
Love
Loss
Loyalty
Laughter

What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
An entreaty to return to the bedside -- to remember the presence of the actual patient there, instead of modern, industrial medicine’s increasing emphasis on patient as data in a computer. It’s evoked in the following:
Q: "What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?"
A: "Words of comfort."

What did you not like about your choice of book?
Take away nothing, just add more! More outright Ethiopia, perhaps, although Verghese does a terrific job of weaving its history and culture into what is mainly a story of family and work. He’s prompted me to explore other sources on my own.

Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.
The first hundred pages are riveting, the next 400 are sprawling, fascinating, and often funny, then the ending is a bit quick and tidy. But I highly recommended it, 5 stars. I've already ordered Verghese's My Own Country.

Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year?
So far only Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun
But I plan to add Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Also have these Africa-based stories by non-African authors: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Richard North Patterson’s Eclipse

145frithuswith
Feb 25, 2009, 3:18pm Top

detailmuse: Wow, you've certainly sold it to me. It sounds like a fascinating read!

146BillPilgrim
Edited: Feb 26, 2009, 2:25pm Top

I immediately thought of Palace Walk when I read the subject of this group, so i was not surprised that it was the first book mentioned. But more than that, you should read the entire trilogy, The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street. All three novels are excellent, and they really make you feel Cairo as if you are there.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned yet, The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. She is one of my favorite authors. I especially loved the part of this book that is about a white family living in Africa with their missionary father.

I am currently reading Cutting for Stone, which many have mentioned. I am about 80 pages into it, and I am enjoying it immensely. It takes place in more than one locale, but the bulk of it early on is in Ethiopa. It is a substantial book also (over 500 pages), so it can take you deep into the place with great detail.

I also highly recommend the memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. It is, like Poisonwood, about a white girl growing up in Africa, but this time it is true. She grew up in then Southern Rhodesia, and lived through the revolution there as a child. It is excellent.

And, finally, I also recommend God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir, by John Bul Dau, who is one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan. It describes his terrible story in fleeing the violence in his homland, through refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, to relocation in upstate New York. I wanted to contact him after finishing the book (I am also upstate but about four hours away from him) to talk.

147whymaggiemay
Edited: Feb 26, 2009, 2:44pm Top

Ancestor Stones is a sensually and beautifully written character-driven story about five women from two generations whose lives have remained tied to West Africa, even though three of them have traveled far from home. Aminatta Forna does an excellent job of giving individual voices to each of these women.

Abie returns from England to West Africa with her young family to the coffee estate begun by her grandfather, a polygamist Muslim, who had 11 wives and more than 36 children. She is greeted by four of her Aunts, Asana, Maryiama, Hawa, and Serah, each a daughter of the grandfather by a different mother or a sister to him. Ancestor Stones is essentially a story of West African post-colonial problems told through the lives of the four Aunties.

Asana says of herself “You never knew my name was Yankay, the firstborn. That I was once a twin. That I had a brother Alusani, the other half of my soul. Or that I grew jealous of him and longed for my mother to look at me, without knowing what it was I wished for. And how I watched a man with skin like the shadows of the moon collecting the souls of lost children in the forest.” Abie says of her “Asana, daughter of Ya Namina, my grandfather’s senior wife: a magnificent hauteur flowed like river water from the mother’s veins through the daughter’s.”

Maryiama of whom Abie says “Gentle Mary, from whom foolish children ran in fright but who braided my hair, cared for me like I was her own and talked of the sea and stars.” Mary says “I returned home the way I departed. I stood on the deck watching the coastline widen in front of me, felt the sea breeze, the molecules of air, salt and water attaching themselves to my skin. Even the whiff of fish and oil at the dock was like a perfume. And the people! The pride in them as they looked and never looked away. For the first time in a long while I saw myself again, reflected in their eyes.”

Hawa who says “This is what I think about luck. Luck is like adjoining pools of water, each flowing into the other. One pool might be dry, the next pool overflowing. It’s the same with luck. Some people have everything. Other people have nothing. The people who have plenty just seem to get it all, all the luck that ought by rights to belong to someone else. That’s the way it was with me. Always the luck just seems to drain out of my pool and into somebody else’s.” Abie says of Hawa “Hawa, whose face wore the same expression I remembered from my childhood — of disappointment already foretold. Not even a smile to greet me.”

Serah says “And the first thing I feel is guilty. Guilty. A mental checklist of offences committed and undetected. As though the appearance of dozens of people in the dead of night might be something we have brought upon ourselves. For practising swear words when we were alone. For holding spitting competition. For someone’s doves we accidentally set free; they flew up to the branches of an orange free and broadcast there freedom with thunderous coos. We didn’t try to catch them. We ran away.” Abie says of Serah “Serah, belly sister of my father, who spoke to me in a way no other adult ever had — as though I might one day become her equal.”

1. Name your country and identify where it is situated in Africa.

West Africa, which is comprised of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast.

2. Name the book and the author. Tell us something (brief) about the author. What does the book's title mean?

Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna. Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, and raised in Sierra Leone and the UK. She currently divides her time between London and Sierra Leone. She was formerly an award-winning journalist for BBC Television. She is also the author of The Devil that Danced on the Water, a non-fiction book about her dissident father and Sierra Leone. She both her books have won many awards.

The title comes from one of the first sections of the book when Maryiama’s mother uses Ancestor Stones, 17 stones of unusual shapes and colors each of which represent a family member, to tell the future and connect herself with her family.

3. Why did you choose this country and/or author?

When searching for books for this challenge, I noticed that it was written about West Africa and since I’d never read anything from that area decided to try it.

4. What cultures did your book deal with? Include race, religion, language, tribes, etc. - if known.

West African culture, black and white races. There are actually no hints given by the book of which tribes compose the natives. The whites, when they play a part, are all British.

5. What major themes were addressed by your book?

Family, identity, colonialism, civil war, education, loss of self/culture, search for the Western dream.

6. What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?

That Sierra Leone invented and was the first country to use a self-adhesive postage stamp.

7. What did you not like about your choice of book?

The book is divided into four sections, plus a prologue and epilogue. The four sections are each divided in four parts, one for each Aunty. In the first two sections I found it hard to remember the backstory which comprised each of the Aunties. However, by section 3 they were each such individuals in my mind that I had favorites among them and looked forward to their new sections.

8. Would you recommend books by this author to others? Why or why not? Please give us a star rating.

Yes. It was gorgeously written, with evocative writing. 4 stars.

9. Before you read your book(s), what did you expect from your African read?

Before reading this book I though West Africa was a single country, not a group of four. I thus expected this book to be about a single country. Instead, although it is primarily set in Sierra Leone, it does discuss the whole area and how colonialism and civil war shaped it.

10. Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year? Answer this question as soon as you read it. Don't go back and alter your list before answering this question!!

Already read Cry, the Beloved Country about South African Apartheid.

11. Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.

This is a book which stayed with me during the day when I was away from it. It made me want to read it faster to find out how each was fairing as time went on and the country became more unstable.

148lauranav
Feb 26, 2009, 3:19pm Top

I just found this group from a comment made to one of my threads. I read Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart in January. I would echo the comments made by LizT in post #80 and tracyfox in post #108.

Detailmuse (post #112), I learned afterwards that recent versions of HOD come bound with the text of the lecture that Chinua Achebe made were he discussed the racism of Joseph Conrad. I found that lecture to be very challenging and interesting in light of reading Heart of Darkness.

149detailmuse
Feb 26, 2009, 3:40pm Top

thanks lauranav -- I ran to my copy (bought it just a few months ago) but alas, no Achebe essay. It's a Penguin Classics edition, on first glance seems pretty rah-rah about Conrad. But there's lots of appended material, maybe some of it includes a summary or such of the debate. If not, at least I now know to seek out the lecture.

150tracyfox
Feb 27, 2009, 9:17am Top

Disgrace, the 1999 Booker Prize-winning novel, is set in post-apartheid South Africa and moves between Capetown and the rural countryside. The author, J.M. Coetzee was born in Capetown, descended from 17th century Dutch colonists and Polish immigrants. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003.

This was my first exposure to Coetzee and I found the novel sparse, sharp, and dark. It contained no colorful natives, no majestic wildlife, and no exotic scents or flavors. It quickly, almost surgically, boxed the main character, communications professor David Lurie, into a prison of his making. Chance circumstances leave Lurie looking for sexual companionship and a series of bad choices lead to his disgrace. Readily admitting his guilt, but unwilling to admit to any remorse, Lurie compounds his disgrace and is exiled to his estranged daughter's country home. In a self-imposed solitary confinement, cut off from the rural community by his homophobia, sexism and racism and other bigotries, he is forsaken even by the romantic poet Byron and can only empathize with Byron's left-behind lover Teresa as she fades into middle age.

I specifically chose this book because it deals with the aftershocks of apartheid. Due to Coetzee's minimalist approach, the reader learns little about the various characters' previous experiences. No specific reasons are given for David Lurie's suspicions about Petrus, his daughter's black "dog man." No details are shared about the circumstances that left Lurie's daughter Lucy running a dog kennel and a farmer's market garden by herself in rural South Africa. Nonetheless, what Coetzee does choose to include paints a complex picture of human interactions -- between men and women, parents and children, victims and perpetrators of crimes and blacks and whites. Coetzee's characters are maddeningly inarticulate, but in many ways their inability and unwillingness to explain their motivations speaks for them. I was left in many places feeling that I would never understand Coetzee's characters' actions because I haven't lived their lives.

One of the most interesting aspects to me was the role that animals played in the story. As part of his disgrace, Lurie assigns himself to help at a local animal shelter which attempts to give unwanted dogs a dignified death. He even goes so far as to transport the dogs to the local hospital for incineration and oversee the process himself. Despite being a thoroughly despicable character, Lurie's tenderness with the dogs left me sobbing and gasping for breath. This was especially troubling because the terrible things that happened to other characters in the story didn't move me to nearly the same degree.

Although this was a dark, depressing book it is masterfully written and I have thought more about it after the fact than any book I have in several years. I would highly recommend it, especially to read in tandem with a friend, and give it five stars. I hope to read Foe or some other Coetzee title later this year.

151tracyfox
Feb 27, 2009, 9:40am Top

The Yacoubian Building is a melange of stories revolving around a commercial building in Cairo. Its author, Alaa al Aswany, is an Egyptian dentist whose first office was in the Yacoubian building.

This book has been on my tbr pile for a few years. This global reading theme spurred me to finally read it. I had originally selected the book just to read something contemporary translated from Arabic. For me, this ended up being the most enjoyable aspect of the read overall. I liked getting a feel for how Egyptians use names -- from formal full names to first names to endearments. I liked going to a map and puzzling out the geographies of the various Cairo neighborhoods and surrounding communities. I liked the way the Koran was quoted, giving me a sense of how it might be interjected into everyday life.

The cast of characters seemed to run the gamut of Egyptian stereotypes … from the aging debonair playboy and his sister the shrew-like crone to the poor student-turned-fundamentalist and his too-practical less-conservative girlfriend. Thrown in were a few scheming servants, greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians and semi-closeted homosexuals. The predictable dramas ensued as the characters scratched out a living, confronted bigotries of various kinds, and searched for love. The novel was fast-paced, laying out the circumstances for a particular character, and then moving to another. To me this organization made it easy to stay interested in the various people moving in and out of the Yacoubian building even if they were a bit two-dimensional.

This book may not be what people typically think of as an "African" read, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable introduction (albeit with a very Western-leaning worldview) to a vibrant African culture. I would rate it four stars.

152lauranav
Feb 27, 2009, 11:28am Top

Last year I had an opportunity to travel to Cairo, so as preparation I read The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. It covers 3 generations of a family and gives a very interesting perspective of life in Cairo and how it changed during the last century. The three books are Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. It is a good look at the life of a citizen of Cairo, the attitudes toward women, the practice of the Muslim religion, it is also a portrait of growing old as we see the first generation change, grow old, get sick, and die.

153sanddancer
Feb 27, 2009, 12:07pm Top

Traceyfox - interested in your comments on both of those books as I intend to read them both soon. I have The Yacoubian Building from the library so should read that soon. I understand your comments about the book not be typically "African" as in a way Egypt itself is perhaps not thought of along with the rest of Africa - I associate it much more with Middle Eastern countries than the rest of Africa.

154arubabookwoman
Feb 27, 2009, 2:35pm Top

I am reading Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari in which he describes his trek from Cairo to Capetown by boat, car, train and foot. In Cairo, when he describes his plans for his trip at a party, a couple of people comment that they have never been to Africa. Theroux responds, "But this is Africa."

Here's a rather long quote from the book about this question of whether Egypt is really part of Africa:

"Still...in the opposite Arabesque corner of Africa from Cape Town, I had all sorts of chance encounters with black Africa, tantalizing suggestions of the bewitchment of the larger continent, the African faces that are sometime identical to African masks.
"Traipsing between my hotel in the shadow of the Sphinx and the Sudan embassy in the middle of Cairo; going to the museum, to coffee shops, to the university, where I was buying books and checking facts, on the way to the party in El Maadi and to literary gatherings, I encountered the tall, slender Sudanese, the mute watchfulness of Nubians, the big beautiful animals--lions, elephants, cheetahs--carved in bold relief on coffins and bedsteads. Sometimes it was the drumming I heard, a syncopation in the night air, or the aroma of Zanzibari cloves and Kenyan coffee, or a splintered chest in a rubbish heap;;, stenciled 'Tea-Uganda.' Ethiopians and West Africans hawked tourist carvings in the markets of Cairo, and as the haj was soon to start, and Cairo was the gateway tto Jidda and the holy places of Saudie Arabia, I got used to seeing the sneering small-boned people of Djibouti and Somalia, robed Muslims from Mali and Chad and Niger, Nigerian Hausas, Fang people and Dogons and Malian mullahs from Timbuktu, all in white for their pilgramage. Representatives of the whole of Africa gathered here, as if this were the polyglot capital of a vast black empire and I was seeing examples of every animal and every kind of food and every human face."

As Theroux makes his trip southward through the various countries and encounters various tribal peoples he is constantly reminded, as was I, that too often we think of Africa as a monolithic place, when in fact it is made up of hundreds of places, all different.

155GlebtheDancer
Feb 27, 2009, 6:40pm Top

My final read for this months theme is Ben Okri's The Famished Road. It has been on my list of interesting books for several years, and I finally got round to it this month. Unfortunately, it is going to go down as a major disappointment.

Okri's book follows Azaro, a spirit child, who chooses life on earth over his spirit existence. Born to a poor family, his fellow spirits try to drag him back towards his other world, as he struggles to find a life in this one. His father is a drunken idealist, his mother a downtrodden pragmatist. The family witness changes to their ramshackle community, changes which incorporate battles between tradition and modernisation, political and social unrest, and the apparent moral decline of their neighbourhood. Azaro's family are witness to the battles between conflicting forces for the soul of their community, and the evolution of their lives.

So, why the negative reaction? Firstly, because the book uses a very heavy handed form of magical realism. I like magical realism with a deft touch, such as in books by Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In all these examples, the magical realism is a device employed alongside the narrative to create a dreamlike reality. Okri, however, uses magical realism as a replacement for narrative. The book is a long allegory, and there is no real story to it, just a series of mostly unconnected allegorical events. I can think of several books which take this approach, none of which I have enjoyed. Characters flit in and out of focus, doing weird stuff with abandon. Their roles as ciphers for wider events completely overtakes the need to flesh them out as real people, making everyone in the book 2-dimensional and, for me, therefore completely uninteresting as individuals. Secondly, and in complete contrast to all the blurbs, I found Okri's language pedestrian and mundane. His use of staccato sentences frequently made the text read like a novel for children, often barely rising above 'He did this. He then did that. Then this happened.'. It was among some of the most boring prose I have ever read in an adult book. Thirdly, the narrative, such as it is, is repetitive, and involved Azaro running into and out of the jungle, getting slapped on the head, before there is a big fight and his father gets beaten up. This seemed to happen pretty much every 20 pages or so. I don't believe this was a deliberate device by Okri to make a point, simply a result of failing to keep any eye on an overarching narrative amongst all the weird stuff happening. To cap it all, I'm not sure I could find any sympathy for Okri's themes. The blurbs described them as universal, but I though they were rendered as such by a persisting vagueness in what he was actually trying to say. It may be my prejudice as a reader, but I think it is a pitfall of magical realism that it can be used to create a smokescreen behind which it is possible to hide fuzzy thought and vague ideas. Perhaps it was a result of not appreciating Okri's language, but that is exactly what I thought he was trying to do here.

So, there we go. Lots of people love this book, including the Booker panel, but I, as you can probably tell, didn't. It was a slightly disappointing end to my 'Africa' month, but I have read some good stuff in the meantime.

156SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 28, 2009, 4:45pm Top

As in post #124, I also read Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Here are some of my thoughts about that book compared to my previous read, Zenzele:

Why did you choose this country and author?
I chose Nervous Conditions because my previous read was also by a Zimbabwean author. I wanted to see what was similar or different about the two different novels, both based on the Shona culture in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). What I found was that in the first book, Zenzele, the narrator's mother was proud of her daughter's emancipation and strongly encouraged this as well as looked forward to her daughter's ability to continue her education. In Nervous Conditions, however, the mother was heartbroken at the thought of her daughter leaving home, becoming more independent, becoming educated, and becoming more "English".

What was the one *most interesting* thing you learned from your book?
I've become aware of the subtle ways in which the English attempted to subjugate the native Africans of the Shona tribe by educating a certain few who would be those most likely to not cause any disturbance. It was especially interesting to me, in Nervous Conditions to see how, between two female cousins, it was the one who was more "compliant" with the rules of Shona society who was the one most able to advance.

What did you like best about your choice of book?
I found Nervous Conditions to be a captivating read and one which really brought me into the thought processes of various members a particular family. All were so different. It was also interesting to hear their thoughts expressed as they vocalized their disagreements. Nervous Conditions had much conflict, whereas Zenzele was a book in which a daughter would be fulfilling a mother's own wishes so the conflict was minimal.

Would you recommend books by this author to others?
I would give Nervous Conditions 5 stars because it explores social conditions and family relationships very fully and is an engaging story at the same time.

Do you have any other African authors on your challenge lists for this year?
No, but now I definitely want to read the sequel to Nervous Conditions!

Share any additional comments of note about your book that you think would be of interest to others.
I'll just share just this quote by the narrator's mother in Nervous Conditions about assimilation:
"It's the Englishness," she said. "It'll kill them all if they aren't careful..."

157SqueakyChu
Feb 28, 2009, 4:45pm Top

As today is the last "official" day of the Africa theme read, I want to thank everyone for participating. Your contributions were excellent, and I'm sure they have swelled the wishlists of many Reading Globally members.

I was not sure, at first, how cohesive a thread about an entire continent would be, but our novels did reveal some universal themes which did lead to points of reference as we shared our individual reads.

Please feel free to add more entries to this thread, even long after February, 2008, becomes history. Thanks again, everyone!

158berthirsch
Sep 1, 2009, 7:57pm Top

ecellent discussion on African writing at Scott Esposito's Conversational Reading site:

http://quarterlyconversation.com/99-essential-african-books-the-geoff-wisner-int...

159avaland
Sep 11, 2009, 9:32am Top

Thanks, for posting in this thread again, berthirsch, as I had a lovely time skimming through the posts again. Such good reads during February.

160SqueakyChu
Sep 11, 2009, 11:28am Top

I agree. I was unclear about how a theme about an entire continent would go, but the results were truly excellent. Educational as well. Thanks to all who participated!

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