Manu Herbstein at Africa Book Club

One of my reading challenges is to read the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region Winners (Best and First book winners) and on this list is Manu Herbstein's Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. This story won the award in the first book category in 2002. Manu Herbstein was interviewed by Africa Book Club. Issues discussed ranges from his dual citizenship, how he came to write this novel and what the future holds for him as a writer. According to the structural engineer cum writer, it is best for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to sponsor writers than their futile search of past presidents to award. Here is an excerpt of the interview. 

Tell us a little about yourself, and your background.
My grandparents arrived in what was then the Cape Colony in the last decade of the nineteenth century. They had fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe. (I was brought up as a Zionist but I now look forward, though with faint hope, to the day when Palestinians and Israeli Jews can agree to live together in a single secular state.) I grew up near Cape Town and studied there until I left South Africa in 1959. I planned to return after the demise of apartheid, which seemed unlikely to survive the sixties. It took longer than expected and in the meantime I put down roots in Ghana. These days I try to spend December and January in Cape Town.

What's the story behind your dual-citizenship? We understand you are both South African and Ghanaian.
I first went to Ghana in 1961, drawn there by the charisma of Kwame Nkrumah. I worked there until 1963; and again from 1965 to the end of 1966. I have lived in Ghana since 1970, so when the citizenship requirements were relaxed it made sense to apply. I’ve had a Ghana passport since 2006. I retained my South African citizenship throughout the years of apartheid, though it sometimes required subterfuge to have my passport renewed.


  1. Nana, I bet you, I enjoyed this interview. Mainly, the point he raised about the Mo Ibrahim award was what got into my system. I think it makes sense.

  2. @Geosi, I also believe that's an important point. After all how many ex-presidents are there that deserve such an award. Besides, which ex-president really needs such an amount when a quarter can do a lot of good to a lot of people. It is not Pareto optimal, as we would say in Economics

  3. So interesting, thanks for sharing. I'd actually never heard of the guinea-fowl war till I read that interview. Can you tell me more about it/point me to a link?

  4. @Niranjana, thanks. It was actually a 'guinea-fowl war'; however, a quarrel over a guinea-fowl has been cited as being the major cause of the war. Thus, it opened an existing animosity. There are other explanations but it was the 'guinea fowl' one that caught on with people.

  5. Niranjana (Brown Paper). For some background to the "Guinea-Fowl" war, see:

    For a recent in-depth analysis see Benjamin Talton's highly praised
    Politics of Social Change in Ghana: The Konkomba Struggle for Political Equality (Palgrave Macmillan: January 2010) $68.70

  6. Oohhh I have this book on my Kindle! Sounds like it is a really great one and I should read it soon.

  7. @Manu Herbstein, thanks for the link and for the response

  8. @Amy, you should. I have not as yet read it though but it promises to be interesting. And besides, I want to know more about my country.


Post a Comment

Help Improve the Blog with a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

10. Unexpected Joy at Dawn: My Reading

Quotes for Friday from Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are not to Blame I

69. The Clothes of Nakedness by Benjamin Kwakye, A Review