African Christmas Reviews 2015

Book Reviews / Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Becoming AbigailBecoming Abigail was one of the Essence magazine book club picks.  It is also the first book I’ve read by Chris Abani and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from him this year, in particular The Secret History of Las Vegas and Song for Night.  In Becoming Abigail, Abigail is born when her mother Abigail dies giving birth to her.  This novel outlines Abigail’s journey through life from Nigeria to London, while trying to become herself.

In losing her mother she also loses her father.  He is no longer the same and can only see his wife when he looks at his daughter.   There is no room for Abigail to develop and become, not only that but she doesn’t have the protection from her father that she should because he never seems to stop grieving for his wife.  This novella is written with a beautiful, sensitive writing style, almost in a feminine way.  Descriptions are painful and streaking a sadness that goes from the beginning script to the last punctuation. “Always in this memory she stood next to her father, at all whip of blackness like undecided but upright cobra. And he held her hand in his, another lie.” (Becoming Abigail, p. 18)


Men of the South is a multi-voiced narrative that takes place in South Africa. I’ve had it on my iPad now for about a year and finally decided to delve into it. Not having heard very much about it, I wasn’t sure what it was about, but was interested to read another African story by another writer other than a Nigerian.  So Men of the South turned out to be an engaging and thought-provoking read.

Mfundo, Mzilikazi (Mzi for short), and Tinaye are the men of the South. The story opens with Mfundo who is a talented trumpet player who’s hoping to get his career started successfully.  However he seems to have run into a few glitches.  Mxi, the second protagonist, used to work in a Men of the SouthNGO and is hiding his sexuality from his father and lastly there is Tinaye who is from Zimbabwe but working for a NGO in a job where he is under paid.  Each point of view scrutinizes life in Africa – immigration, NGOs, male/female relationships, traditions, and feminism. The story is cleverly weaved through the connection that these three characters share with each other.

I enjoyed the book but I didn’t think it was great. It’s a solid three stars, a good book.  One big problem I had with it was that I read it on e-book.  Unfortunately there was a giant glossary at the end for all the Zulu words and phrases (that I didn’t know was there 🙁 ) and that I just could logistically look at while reading.  So I had to use my intuition for meaning.  So, if you decide to pick this one up you’d be better off reading a physical book.

The female characters in this book are minor and are painted in a negative way,which I believe is done purposefully. The men aren’t perfect either but they are realistic. The book is called Men of the South and that’s what it’s about the men. The women are a means to develop the critique on relationships, family, and tradition. The principle female character is called Slindile, Sli for short. She’s ambitious, bossy, and intelligent. She is the link between the three main male characters.

Zukiswa Wanner is a journalist from South Africa.  Men of the South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her first novel The Madams, was shortlisted for the K. Sello Duiker Award in 2007. I’m definitely going to check out The Madams eventually.


The Fisherman was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015.  It was Obioma’s first novel and seemed to be very well  The Fishermanreceived.  I finally read it in the last days of 2015 after hearing so much about how much people loved it.

The story begins introducing a Nigerian family with four brothers who are very close to each other.  As the story develops, they are forbidden to go to a river where some gruesome crimes have taken place.  Every one is forbidden to go there but the boys decide to go there and fish, hoping to catch big fish and earn a little money.  During one of their fishing expeditions,  they come across the village madman called Abulu, known for necrophilia, masturbation, and a few other objectionable acts.  He wanders around town predicting people’s tragic futures.  He predicts the future of the oldest brother, Ikenna and the story unfolds.  We learn the boys fears, their past stories, their jealousies, the history of their country, and their fear of the future as they watch Ikenna change into something else and their sibling rivalry becomes dark and sinister.

The book is well written in spite of those few moments where I felt it dragged.  I would imagine this book would come off very well on audiobook – hearing the African accents, language, etc.  Funny but I didn’t find reading this book very pleasurable and I can’t really explain why.  Maybe it’s because I got something completely different to what I was expecting. What was I expecting you ask? I don’t even know. I just know that what I got wasn’t it.  All in all it’s worth giving a try.  Obioma is being compared to China Achebe and his nomination and shortlist on The Man Booker List 2015 will surely catapult him into literary success.  I’m curious to see what he will write next.


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14 Replies to “African Christmas Reviews 2015”

  1. Great reviews! I’m setting out to read at least one book a month by an African author, so it’s helpful to get exposure to different authors. I’m hoping to pick up Chris Abani this year. I own the Secret History of Las Vegas and Graceland, but I’m not sure which I will get to first. Looking forward to more of your reviews.

  2. Interesting about The Fishermen, I wonder if it suffered a little from the hype, creating an expectation, rather than coming to it without any. Nice package of African Reads to end the year on. I’m going to stick with the one’s I’ve enjoyed I think and plan to read more of Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Condé and Jamaica Kincaid and others like them, there’s something about all these writer’s that I just love and I think its connected.

    1. All of those writers are on my TBR list for 2016 too. Maybe it did suffer from the hype. It’s a good book but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it unfortunately. I’d love to hear what you think about it. It seems as if I’m still on the African tale. Just finished The Hairdresser of Harare. Should be putting the review up next week.

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