54d. Contemporary African Short Stories

The Foreigner, Sister of the Foreign Woman by Assia Djebar (Algeria) Translated from French by Dorothy S Blair
Assia Djebar
This tells the story of two sisters - Sirin and Marya - who were sent from Alexandria to Medina to be given to Prophet Mohammed. The story captures the struggles these two sisters faced as they worked to settle among the natives. Sirin was given in marriage to the Prophet's favourite poet, Hassan ibn Thabit, and Marya became the wife of the Prophet. Sirin's co-wives hardly ever talked to her because of her Christian background but are quick to send to her their children because she loves them and love to tell them her stories.
Then Sirin's co-wives made an effort to be civil, and their courtesy was almost genuine. The women gathered in the shady part of the little courtyard under a palm tree. One of the hostesses would very ostentatiously bring out from her room a silken cushion, another a silver tray, another a fan... (Page 125)
This is a story about religious identity and how physical features are important in determining one's 'true' religious inclination. Sometimes I tend to ask, is it faith or features? This is similar to Uwem Akpan's Luxurious Hearse, as long as it relates to religious identity. The sisters parents were captured by Patriarch of Alexandria   because of their Persian origins and the children had been sent to the Prophet. And even though they had converted to Islam their neighbours still consider them to be Christians. The story goes on to tell of their descendants and what happened to them.

Road Block by Jamal Mahjoub (Sudan)
Jamal Mahjoub
The Road Block is a simple story about a man referred to as The Storyteller who smuggles alcohol across the country. His father had also been known as The Storyteller, which obviously show the smuggling dynasty the man is coming from. However, the son had added guns to his story so that if that latter is unable to extricate his way out of problems, the former would be applied. 

The story also shows corruption amongst the very people who have been empowered to protect enforce law and order. When Bona a policeman found that The Storyteller was transporting alcohol after a curfew he asked for one box rather than arrest the man.
'That box there, I'll take that one.' [...] 'Just lift it over the side and leave it in the dust.' (Page 133)
Next is West Africa

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out of 6.0


  1. Djebar is one of my favorite authors, so happy to see she was included in this collection! The story about faith vs features sounds so interesting and relevant.

  2. @Amy... you really have read wide and I appreciate you for that. Yes, such issues always get me worried.

  3. This is a very thin book to have so many wonderful stories. I just picked up a copy recently and appreciate your synopsis.

  4. @Campele yes... it's only 196 pages long with 20 short stories. The thing is that one can talk about a story when he/she can relate to it. lol. Hope you enjoy the stories the same way I did or even more.


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