Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Reader's Top Ten - Nana Fredua-Agyeman (A Reader)

The most difficult thing to do is creating a list of top favourite items - books, movies, etc. Regardless of what one does, one can and will never be satisfied with a list. Creating a top list of favourite books become even more difficult for people with uncontrollable reading habits, as some participants of Readers' Top Ten alluded to. For a book, the questions or considerations that come to mind include genre: fiction or non-fiction; poetry, prose, drama, creative non-fiction, memoirs, or essays. These things are incomparable as flowers and sheep. See? A story may stay with you because of the prose; another, because of the story - the theme; another, because you can relate - personally - to the subject discussed; others, because they purvey information you never knew.

However, in order that I am not perceived as a dictator who only commands but does not follow his own rules and commandments, I have decided to share with you my Top Ten African books. Note that this is a fluid list and anyone who asks for my Top Ten at another point in time should not accuse me of lies if I mention a different list. Also note that I may take the liberties some contributors took.

To begin with, I define an African book as any book written by an African. An African, per my list, is any individual who is a citizen of any African country by virtue of birth or naturalisation or any first or second generation African in the diaspora who still think he or she is African. Some will kill you if you told them they are Africans; they are not members of this backwater of a continent.

These are what I have cut out: Chinua Achebe's Arrow of GodWalton Golightly AmaZuluAyi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones are not yet BornNaguib Mahfouz's Palace WalkSteve Biko's I Write What I LikeManu Herbstein's Ama - the Story of the Atlantic Slave TradeAmos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine DrinkardHaving cleared the way, I give you my Top Ten African Books (in no particular order):

Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. This book is on my all-time favourite list. This is the book Ngugi was writing to write. It encapsulates all the books he had written from the days of Weep Not Child, A Grain of Wheat, Matigari, The River Between, and others. However, better than these books, this beauty of a book has a large dose of humour, like in Matigari. It's like preparing a juice and infusing it with your favourite flavour. Mine is strawberry. In WOTC, Ngugi delicately and beautifully balances satire and sincerity, sustaining it throughout the over 700-page novel. There is not a boring word, line, sentence, paragraph or page. If Ngugi had written just this book, it would still have defined his life's work and would have earned him all the accolades he now receives. Reading this book will make you understand how today's politics are played and how dictatorship could be accommodated in democracies. This book is far better than Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma, though they both treat similar subject with slightly similar styles.

Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra. Repudiation was a banned book in the author's home country of Algeria. This is not why I like it. I like it because of the surreal and Kafkaesque style Boudjedra adopted. The book's focused investigation begins at the micro or family level and progresses gradually, adding on several limbs, to the macro or national level. Regardless of the issues being investigated - religion, sex, and sexual orientation, the state, plight and rights of women in a patriarchal state - the theme of 'repudiation' runs through. 

Mr Happy and the Hammer of God by Martin Egblewogbe. This is a collection of fantastic short stories that follow the tradition of Kafka. In this collection Martin did something I wish African writers will do more in their stories - philosophical investigation into life and existence as a whole. This book deeply explores the mind and the metaphysical with such a passion and intensity that other storytellers lack. As part of the world, we need to also participate in the broader discourse of existence. What we have done is to just list our problems - slavery, politics, poverty, dying children, and depravity - in NGO-ese, describing them as stories, when we can launch an intellectual investigation into these issues, which are a collective part of our existence, including breathing, sleeping, having sex, and others. Read Martin's book for a change. 

Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah. It is no secret that I love this book and all of Armah's books. He is one of my favourite authors. Some authors have described this book as 'woody' and 'not a novel', because of its disregard to plot and the general structure of a novel. But I found this novel deep, profound, and eye-opening. And I don't care about academic dictates and rules concerning what a novel is and is not. Without experimentation we will not develop. Rules are for the conservatives. Two Thousand Seasons is a story that shreds certain long-held beliefs into tatters. In this book, institutions and what had been referred to, wrongly though according to Armah's Narrative, as Tradition - such as the Chieftaincy and the inequality against women - do not stand up to Armah's critical observation and construct. Two Thousand Seasons is an important book. It is such a different kind of a book.

Search Sweet Country by Kojo Laing. Could there be an author who could own a language like Laing does? Well, I do not know. What I know is that Kojo Laing is a master at what he does. In this book, he does away with the straitjacket novelistic requirements. Those narrow rules that call for a plot, an arch, and such and such. Laing is the persona in that famous Frost's poem, for he takes the road less travelled, weaving words in unique patterns to tell a story and it is this boldness to chart his own course that sets him apart from other African writers. The words in this book performs magic on their own. You'll someone dropping his laughter and another picking and carrying her words.

Famished Road by Ben Okri. What I liked about Famished Road is its magic of words and of the world Okri described. Okri created a world all his own. He capitalises on the African's abundant belief in the spiritual world, or the supernatural, to tell his stories, presenting the reader with a cascade of fantastic images and challenging descriptions. In this book, he never faltered. From one scene to the other, one encounters strange events. Do not predict if you are reading Okri.

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer. Nadine Gordimer, 'who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity', is Africa's only female Nobel Laureate in Literature, not that the continent has had many. Her writings are tedious and demanding, told as if it was viewed through a roving telescope. They unveil their content slowly and what they show are deeper scenes of human failings and humanity. Her works cover the effects of the apartheid regime on the lives of the people. Their slowness, plainness, mirror the country's landscape, including their reticence and spurts of anger. There is some sort of distance between her characters and the land: for the Whites who have come to own the land, the distance is both physical and spiritual. It looks as if they are unable to fully occupy the land, to possess it as a man would possess a wife he loves. Their behaviour is like a poor man who has borrowed the cloth of a rich man for a funeral. On the other hands, the blacks who own the land spiritually, are forced to physically live on the periphery. This sense of incompleteness and desolation is common in most South African novels I have read.

I was torn between this book and Burger's Daughter and even July's People. Any one of these could have been here. In The Conservationist, which won the 1974 Booker Prize, Nadine Gordimer told a story about a rich white South African who had occupied large tracts of land but who is not happy and is not capable of bequeathing it to his heirs. His loneliness contrasts a black stranger who died on his farm but for whom the black squatters on Mehring's farm organised a funeral. 

A Question of Power by Bessie Head. To begin with, Bessie Head is an excellent writer. Her prose are always a delight to read. And I may have read all her published books with the intention of writing a paper on her writings, which I never got to do. In A Question of Power, she describes different mental states and what goes on in the mind once it is under attack from unseen forces. More importantly, the book discusses power relations in all its forms: sexual, political, mental, etc. There is a lot to gain from reading Bessie Head. She has a keen sense of observations.

Underground People by Lewis Nkosi. I love this book for its prose. The uniqueness of Lewis Nkosi's Underground People lies in its beautiful, fast-reading, and tension-building prose. And his ability to satirise South Africa's apartheid system whilst still keeping its seriousness, its human suffering closer to the reader. His approach to writing in this book is unique. Nkosi is known more for his academic writings.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Half of a Yellow Sun is Chimamanda's second novel. It follows Purple Hibiscus. It deals with the history of the Biafran War. At the time of reading this, the Biafran War was just a historical term to me. I considered it one of those things that happened. However, Chimamanda's book brought out the human side of a war that took the lives of many great individuals and destroyed the psyche of others forever. I like the back and forth way Adichie wrote this novel, and the ending. It makes you think.

Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. This is one funny book. In fact, the events after the publication of the book is even funnier. When the name Matigari (the book was written first in Gikuyu) became popular, the Kenya Government ordered the police to arrest 'Matigari', ignorant that it was just a book. When they realised that it was just a book, they raided shops and burnt every copy. The author followed the book into exile.

6 comments:

  1. woh yoh, I've only read two, LOL "Half of a yellow sun" and "The Famished Road" through whose review as u can remember, made me discover you. i have a copy of "A question of power" but i haven't read it for months now bc i started it and the whole thing was just so challenging to me.

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    1. For A Question of Power, you need to take your time. It's tedious, yes. But it is worth it. Has a lot of things to say.

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  2. Interesting, I have added Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra and Mr Happy and the Hammer of God by Martin Egblewogbe to my TBR. I have read A Question of Power by Bessie Head and Famished Road by Ben Okri there are actually very good novels of high quality, however, I wouldn't add them to my top(s). Quite tedious.
    Half of a Yellow Sun is also one of my favs.

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    1. You will enjoy them. A Question of Power could be tedious but not Famished Road. The many things we believed when we were growing up; the things we said! Okri through this opened up possible universes... like what scientists now called multiverse.

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  3. Thanks for the post.The first time I read a book by an African author was after the passing away of Chinua Achebe.I decided to step away form my realm ,read "Things Fall Apart".I was left wanting for more..touched is what the book left me feeling.I will surely read "your likes".

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    1. Try any of these books and you'll never regret it.

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