Friday, May 16, 2014

Discussion: The Diasporean African Novelist

Last week I brought the fact that most of the successful and famous African writers live outside of the continent, mostly in the UK and US, up for discussion. Today, I would want us to discuss another interesting trend, the immigrant stories of the African Diasporean Novelist.

Any avid reader might by now have found out that most diasporean African novelists have written, at one point or another, an immigrant story. They are common in short story anthologies and also as independent novels and novellas. There are countless such stories. From Tayib Salih's Seasons of Migration to the North, Benjamin Kwakye's The Other Crucifix, Brian Chikwava's Harare North, and Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah, these stories are not unique to a certain generation. (I am told NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names is also an immigrant story. I have not read this because I thought it a complete novel, as was wrongly marketed, instead of linked short stories, as I have been reliably informed.) However, these stories have suddenly become popular again and with this popularity has made them trite. Unlike Tayib Salih's, most of the other stories concentrate on how the African immigrant did not like his or her new home and all that; and how he or she misses home. There is usually a sort of romanticisation of the motherland and a decision to come back home which is, sometimes, not fulfilled. Racism has also been a key theme in such novels. In fact, I have never lived in any country outside Ghana so I am in no position to judge their accuracy though comments from those who have show that they are sometimes true to the reality. Regardless of this, this story is becoming a pain to read. Personally, I feel I cannot read another of these one-dimensional stories. I think the novel was called 'novel' for a reason. It should be creative even if based on reality.

Have you also identified this trend? And if so what do you think about it? Do you believe that every African novelist in the diaspora feels the same, experiences the same things and for these reasons they write similar stories? Do you think it has become a trite topic?


  1. Yes i have also identified the trend. I read "Americanah" in January, it documents the character's experiences in the US and coming back to Nigeria, Adichie also looks at coming back. I've read and reviewed "We need new names" which i really love. hmmm, i would not like to use the term thematically linked short stories to describe it but this one "episodic novel". You didn't mention others like Teju Cole's "Open City" which I haen't read and Chinelo Okparanta's "Happiness, like water" which i also enjoyed. Chinelo splits up. her first six stories of her book are set in Nigeria and the next four in America....they experience many things in common like racism and write the immigrant experience but write from slightly diffrent angles. eg Chinelo writes about parental abuse and pressure to get married in America, NoViolet about quintessential US teenage tendercies like watching pornography online, cruising in a 'stolen' car, Chimamanda about blogging and chat room discusions. etc Yes yes it has become a trite topic the immigrant narrative but from slightly different angles as their perspetives are unique.

  2. This is an interesting question.

    I appreciate coming across an avid reader and specifically one who appreciates African Literature. I just began my journey of appreciating our literature and my joy is coming across people like you. Keep this up. Its inspiring and a good resource.

    About your question, I recently moved abroad and I have to tell you I resonate with the feelings of most of the writers. As an African who has lived in Africa most of her life, I have never had to face race in the same way i have had to while in a western country. Back home, race is discussed as a topic. In America or the UK, an African discusses race as a victim of race! This is a whole new experience and would render us understand why our writers seem to share something when they all go to the west; where unlike back home,they are no longer viewed as Adichie, or Chinelo or Teju but as Black!

    I agree with Nkiacha that in all the stories, perspectives and experieces are different and in his words 'unique' and for those reasons, in my view should not be referred to as trite.

    The struggle is real my friend! And fortunatley, living at home can mask you from this reality. Our children need to have as many references to the experiences of the struggles of our people. These truths have for too long been silenced.

    Good topic. I will be following your blog.


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