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?

Friday, May 09, 2014

Discussion: African Writers and Migration

I used to bring up topics for discussions and even though participation is sometimes low, I enjoy the few comments that do come in. We need to do a lot to promote African literature.

There is a trend among African writers which if not corrected could prevent some wonderful writers from being seen. The majority of Contemporary African writers live outside the continent. (And before anyone takes me on on what I mean by 'African writers', I refer to those writers whose names, when they should come up for awards, would be linked to a country on the continent. Some Africans have chosen to be Africans when it suits them.) It seems that if you are a writer on this continent and you have not won any major prize - especially the Caine Prize, you will remain anonymous forever even if you have been lucky enough to have been published by a publisher outside of the continent. Consequently, most writers either dream of winning some major award or of migrating to live partially or permanently in the United States or the United Kingdom so they could realise their dreams. Usually, this has nothing to do with talent. At least in Ghana, where I live and can back this statement with examples, a large majority of published authors live outside the continent. Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Ayesha Harruna-Atta, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Kwei Quartey, Taiye Selasi (if we claim her from the Nigerians) are a few of the Ghanaian authors living outside the continent. It is as if writing from the continent does not make one an author. I read somewhere that Teju Cole had a publication in Nigerian before his US publication of Open City, yet when this book came out it was described as a debut novel.

What is the cause of this? Is it the dearth of publishing houses? At least in Ghana, I know this is likely to be the case. Or is it that being published by big publishing houses expands the path to fame? Or is it the much touted excuse that 'we don't read'? What exactly makes writing from this continent add another layer of difficulty to an already difficult job of writing? What can be done to rectify this?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

New Used Books - In Search of Books

When it comes to reading, I am omnivorous. I read a lot of materials. However, even omnivores have their choicest food if it comes down to choosing. And no one makes me realise this than Kinna. More than 98 percent of our discussions are centred on books and most often that is my most amazing moments. I love to talk about books - read, unread, released, newly published, etc. I just love books. When Kinna saw a post of some books I have read, she wondered whether my shelf is depleted of books. And alas, she was right. If you have fewer books to choose from, you have to make do with all books you have skipped over time.

Consequently, when I saw that a Used Books dealer has spread his wares on the pavement of the Madina New Road road, I decided to take a look. What I have found, after years of searching and buying books, is that one could find strange and sought-after titles in such obscure locations. Except that the condition of the book cannot be guaranteed. In a country where booksellers are not necessarily book-lovers and so marvellous books are hardly stocked and bookshops are filled to the brim with text-books, these sources are very important. From my Madina New Road Used Book Dealer, I found the following exciting titles:
  1. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. This is a rare find. Orhan Pamuk a Turkish novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. It is said that this particular book facilitated that award. My happiness is also in part due to the fact that I have not read any Turkish writer.
  2. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. Hilary Mantel became a popular name, to some of us, when she won the Booker Prize with her book Wolf Hall in 2009 and then won it again with the sequel - the second in a proposed trilogy - Bringing Up the Bodies in 2012. She is the first person to have her consecutive works win the Man Booker Prize. Whether the third book will win her another Booker is yet to be seen, but it also means that she is an author worth the read and if I won't get those two books, I will make do with those that are available. In fact, A Place of Greater Safety was voted as Sunday Express Book of the Year in 1992. Her list of awards is impressive.
  3. Babel Tower by A. S. Byatt. I should not have purchased another Byatt but far from it I have one - Still Life - sitting on my shelf. I read and did not enjoy very much her Booker-winning book Possession. However, the reason could be peculiar to that book and I have try her other books in order to come to a more balanced conclusion.
  4. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Every reader chooses his books carefully. Selecting a book is a very difficult process because unless it is a reread, the reader will go into the book blind. Even when one has read reviews and summaries they are always different from the actual reading. Reviews cannot capture and present the prose of a book to the reader. It can only talk about it. Hence, readers have all sorts of means for selecting their books, including depending on long- and shortlisted books for awards. One award I rely upon is the Man Booker Prize. Yes, it has its own controversies; but it is more likely to deliver great books to the reader than any other award. Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
  5. Guardian of the Dawn by Richard Zimler. This is a complete gamble. I have not heard of the author or the book. I just chose it because of the reviews at the back and also because of the religious designs on the cover. The author is said to have lectured on Portuguese-Jewish culture all over the world. I am still in darkness on this. Every reader gambles. Sometimes he is luck to find an author who jumps onto the favourites list; at other times, he finds an author to blacklist.
  6. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Yes, I know this is for children but it is too popular not to have a look. Perhaps some of us have to plug some of our childhood reading gaps. But this would go the kids definitely.
  7. I got another children's book with three titles by Roald Dahl. Again, Roald Dahl belongs to the familiar-but-not-read authors. The titles are:
    1. The BFG
    2. Matilda
    3. George's Marvellous Medicine
  8. The final book is a science fiction by Douglas Adams with four titles. The first title could be found on a lot of list. I am gradually making my way into science fiction after reading Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy and Herbert's Dune. The titles in this book are:
    1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
    3. Life, the Universe and Everything
    4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
These are books I have added to my shelf and which should spark my reading interest in the coming weeks, hopefully. Which of these have you read and what do you think about them?

Monday, May 05, 2014

April in Review, Projections for May

My projections were to read three books in April but in the end I read only two. Too bad. This means that I am falling behind my ultimate goal of reading 60 books. I don't know when I can speed up. I should have read 20 books by the end of April; instead, I had read only 15. The following were the books I read:
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a unique love story. What if Time Travel is possible but isn't under the control of the person? What if it is a genetic defect? That is the problem with Henry and how will Clare, the eventual wife take it? In such situations, Time Travel is more dangerous than one would have thought. 
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. This was a selection of the Writers Project of Ghana. It was my second reading in three years and the this has helped. In this period of mass hysteria, when the killer is praised for being the saviour and the victim is consistently blamed for the actions of the killer, no book is as important as 1984. It shows how a whole society could be easily hoodwinked into believing something entirely different from reality and consequently become regurgitators of the powers that be - saying what they have been programmed to say and believing what they have been programmed to believe. It also shows the relationship between language and thought and therefore freedom. In this age of Snowden-files, Wikileaks, East-West tensions, uprisings and others, it is important that we revisit the man who knows how society is organised and ruled.
May: I truly do not know what is going to happen in May. I am currently not in my comfort zone as my life has taken a turn that requires time to settle. Thus, anytime I sit to read I lose concentration and my mind strays to other areas. I will therefore only move full-swing into reading when everything is settled. However, I have started both The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - which I scheduled to be read in April, and My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. In addition to these, I will reread Lord of the Flies by William Golding for the Book and Discussion Club of the Writers Project of Ghana.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014 Shortlist

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize announced its 2014 shortlist on April 30 for the different geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean and Pacific.

Africa
  • Ikanre by Adelehin Ijasan (Nigeria)
  • All Them Savages by Michelle Sacks (South Africa)
  • Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda)

Asia
  • Grandmother by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (Singapore)
  • A Day in the Death by Sara Adam Ang (Singapore)

Canada and Europe
  • The Night of Broken Glass by Jack Wang (Canada)
  • On The Other Side by Idrissa Simmonds (Canada)
  • Agnes Agnes Agnes by Luiza Sauma (United Kingdom)
  • Household Gods by Tracy Fells (United Kingdom)
  • Killing Time by Lucy Caldwell (United Kingdom)

Caribbean
  • Cowboy by Helen Klonaris (Bahamas)
  • Sending for Chantal by Maggie Harris (Guyana)
  • Miss Annie Cooks Fish by Charmaine Rousseau (Trinidad and Tobago)

Pacific
  • The Dog and the Sea by Lucy Treloar (Australia)
  • Monkey Boy by Janine Mikosza (Australia)
  • Hummingbird by Daniel Anders (Australia)
  • Playing the Stringless Guitar by Michael Hunt (Australia)
  • Tenure by Julian Novitz (New Zealand)
  • Rhododendrons in Mist by David Kerkt (New Zealand)
Read more about the shortlisted authors here
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