African Christmas Reviews 2015

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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#ReadSoulLit

Hello All I’m launching a photo challenge over on Twitter and Instagram in February for Black History Month.  I urge you all to take part and add to the challenge, the more the merrier.  Primarily, there will be photos of books but you can add photos of movies and other things if you prefer.  It’s going to be a chance to get more recommendations to lengthen your TBRs and spark conversation about our favorite books.  #ReadSoulLit is the tag you should use and please share it and the challenge photo everywhere, which has already started circulating over on Twitter and Instagram.  My handle on Twitter is Frenchiedee@ReadEngDee and on Instagram I’m FrenchieDeeDee.  I’m linking the photo challenge below so that you can start getting your books and photos lined up to join in the fun.  I’ll also be linking videos from fellow Booktubers, as well as my own (channel name: frenchiedee) on a variety of themes for Black History Month.  Of course there will be my usual reviews too.  Looking forward to chatting with you on here and over there.   So, what are you planning to read for Black History Month?

 

readsoullit-2

The Memory of Love

After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive.  It seemedIMG_1139 to come so quickly for me.  I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday.  I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book.  I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end.

The Memory of Love is a story that takes place in the West African country of Sierra Leone.  The main characters are Kai a brilliant surgeon, Elias an aging academic, and Adrian a British psychologist.  It’s through the relationships of these three men that we follow their personal stories and memories along with the tragic incidents from Sierra Leone’s troubled political past and growth.   The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information is one of the essential themes of the story.  The past can be so tragic that one’s only means of survival is to bury that tragedy deep within and push the little that is left of oneself forward.

“The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep.  In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed.  Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those patients again.  They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot.  It was a trick of the mind,……the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb.  The pain is real, yes but it is a memory of pain.” (The Memory of Love, p.184)

This book isn’t plot driven.  It has no real beginning, middle, or end.  It’s life.  It’s survival.  This book will teach you about Sierra Leone’s history and culture.  The first one hundred pages left me a little frustrated because Forna was giving me information, but not as I was anticipating it.  I soon stopped trying to will the book into what I wanted and began to accept and appreciate the story Forna was trying to tell me.  Beautifully written and always with phrases that are exact and perfect for each situation, there are lessons to be learned through out the novel.

Forna writes the three male characters with absolute realism.  Not at any moment did I feel a feminine voice ringing through.  I would have to say that this is a book about men,  since the female characters were minor and not very vocal.  Their roles were to bring the male characters’ stories full circle.  Reading about the habits of the people in Sierra Leone was enlightening, as was unfortunately hearing about the atrocities that happened to its people.

Forna-Aminatta-e1410397047138Aminatta Forna is a Scottish-born British writer, raised between the UK and Sierra Leone.  The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir, was her first published book in 2003.  It discusses the imprisonment and later death of her father due to his political involvement.  Her first fiction novel is called Ancestors Stones and was published in 2006 and won her the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2007.  The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and others.  I’m looking forward to reading The Devil that Danced on the Water and Ancestors Stones.

Book Club reactions:

Everybody raved about it.  Some also complained about the first 100 pages being difficult because they couldn’t figure out who was speaking (story is told from multiple points of view and switches from first to third person frequently) nor could they figure out where the story was taking place specifically.  They marveled over Forna’s capacity to describe situations and places, as well as her poignant writing.  We also discussed at length her background and how Forna feels as comfortable in the UK as she does in Sierra Leone.  We all came to the conclusion that showed considerably in The Memory of Love because of the authentic descriptions of Sierra Leone but also of Adrian Lockheart and his reactions to things he saw there and descriptions of his family back home in England.  We all agreed we were interested in reading more of her books, specifically The Devil that Danced on the Water.

If you’ve read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone you’ll probably be interested in reading The Memory of Love.

We Need New Names

“Then we are rushing then we are running then we are running and laughing and laughing and laughing.” (back 15852479cover of We Need New Names)  The truth comes from the mouths of babes is what kept coming to mind as I was reading this captivating story.  We Need New Names struck me at first with much sadness, shock, and horror, but most of all it sparked my interest to learn more about the history of Zimbabwe.  The main character Darling narrates the hardship of her life in Zimbabwe with the language of a child.  Everything we learn in the first 60 pages of the book is recounted simply and directly.  It almost makes things feel even stronger and terrible coming from her in such an innocent way.  There are moments when the tension is so potent that I found myself squirming in my seat dreading what was coming next.

Zimbabwe is an African country with a very complex history that frankly I don’t know much about besides the few things I remember hearing on the news – food shortages, Mugabe, seizing of white owned land, etc.  All of these events start around the year 2000 like the story We Need New Names.  In the first half of the story, Bulawayo tells us the history and strife of life in Zimbabwe, while simultaneously giving us the background we need to know to understand Darling’s homeland and life.  Surprisingly, this story is more than just the terrible plight of growing up in an African country.  It is also a story of immigration and the difficulties that go along with it.  Most people think it’s easy to immigrate, especially when the person’s home country is strewn with violence, poverty, economic and political instability.  It’s just not that clear.

Amongst all the savagery we read about, there is the simple fun life of being a child that stayed with me.  Darling, Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, Sbho, and Stina were making memories.  Memories that could be rekindled by simply smelling a guava.  Memories.  I think we can all relate to that, even if we haven’t left our home country indefinitely.  The memories of what we did, what we ate, what and who we love travels with us, always there in the back of our minds.  The first part of We Need New Names is just that.  It’s the memories of Darling, family, friends, life in the village and the history of her homeland, Zimbabwe.

The second half of the book explores life in the United States.  The country which is perceived to be a saviour of some sort.  Or, is it?  Darling constantly talks about her Aunt Fostalina coming to take her back to live in America.  One day it finally happens and then we get the analysis of how that goes.  Bulawayo makes an obvious critique of American lifestyle and the American perception of Africa being nothing more than that place where there are starving children, civil war, and economic instability – nothing more than a stereotype and certainly no distinction from one country to another, while still narrating through Darling.  We as the reader learn more about the hardship and heavy responsibility to provide for family in America as well as family back home in Zimbabwe.  The separation is heartbreaking.  It’s like being in some sort of purgatory.  Darling has escaped life in Zimbabwe yet she isn’t able to live wholly in America.  The longing to see her mother and her country again is interminable, but Darling can’t go home because she wouldn’t be able to return to America, like many other immigrants.

We Need New Names could be a strong contender for the Man Book Prize this year but I’m not sure it will win.  I really can’t judge  since I haven’t read the others on the shortlist yet.  I’m also looking forward to reading The Lowland, The Luminaries, and A Tale for a Time Being.  However, there are a few problems with We Need New Names, in my opinion.  Firstly, the second half of the novel seems a bit rushed compared to the first half.  Aunt Fostalina, Uncle Kojo, and Tshaka Zulu are very interesting characters that I would have loved to get to know just a little better.  Another problem is that the section on America wasn’t in-depth enough.  It seemed to lack the sensitivity and personification of the first half.  Some events were skipped over too quickly so I didn’t feel as connected to that part of the story as I did in the beginning.  Lastly, after having some time to think about it, I feel as if the construction of the second half of the novel was built on vignettes, which Bulawayo employs to convey some of the important and minor themes.  Nevertheless, We Need New Names is a book that you should take a look at.  It’s well worth the 4 stars I gave it on Goodreads.  Noviolet Bulawayo is definitely an author we will be reading a lot more from in the future.  It’s also refreshing to read an author from Zimbabwe!

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