ImageNations' Favourite Books of 2011
Reading a large number of books presents one major problem: choosing the favourite ones. To avoid this problem I decided to settle on six for each of the two categories: African-authored books and Non-African-authored books. No further classification such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry and others were considered as not enough books were read in some of these and would endanger this exercise.
African-authored Books: This blog is mostly about promoting African Literature. African Literature here is defined as any literary output written by an African and the African is somewhat loosely defined. I am yet to face some difficulty in its use. For instance, I consider all the works Coetzee produced pre-migration as African books. Perhaps, I might consider is post-migration books as Australian. Like I said, I'm yet to face such a difficulty.
- A Question of Power by Bessie Head. This is a book that can confuse the reader. It reflects the author's state of mind at the time of her writing and all through her life. It's a difficult read and trying to figure out all that happened requires careful reading. The margin between reality and dream or visions or the surreal is very thin and Bessie did a good job confusing the reader. This book is almost autobiographical. No author I've read investigates the ticking of the mind as Bessie Head has done in this book. This will be a good introduction for those who haven't yet read her.
- Underground People by Lewis Nkosi. Underground People satirises one-man's fight against Apartheid in South Africa. It does so by keeping the struggle serious but finding within it some elements that provide good laughter. This is what I said about the novel: "The uniqueness of Lewis Nkosi's Underground People lies in its beautiful, fast-reading, tension-building prose. And his ability to satirise South Africa's apartheid system whilst keeping its seriousness, its human suffering closer to the reader.
- A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. A Grain of Wheat has been noted as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's best novel. It was voted as one of the Best 100 African Books in the Twentieth Century by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. As the third published novel, A Grain of Wheat embodies distillates from Ngũgĩ's two previous novels: Weep Not Child (1964) and The River Between (1965). In this story, the fight for independence, started in Weep not Child and The River Between converges and hints of elitism, greed, and discrimination against the independence fighters that blossomed into the novel Matigari had just begun.
- The Clothes of Nakedness by Benjamin Kwakye. Benjamin Kwakye's novel The Clothes of Nakedness is a compelling narrative directed at a Ghanaian audience, in particular. It reveals the economic hardships existing in our society; it also reveals the intricately woven relationships between the rich and the poor and how the 'seemingly' rich manipulate the poor to further that wealth-dom in this dual economic society where absolute riches exist side by side with abject poverty. The latter scenario is even more stark and pathetic if one knows that Nima and Kanda Estates, two neighbourhoods presented in the story, are real and not just fictional representation made concrete by Kwakye's brilliant mind.
- Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe. In this very unique novel, Achebe treats the issue of despots, male chauvinism and power from a rather different and unexpected perspective. He opens up the struggles that goes on behind the power scenes and how easily an innocent, generally good individual could easily transmogrify into an absolutely demented despot.
- Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah. Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism is a step by step guide to unveiling, exposing, denuding, the factors, individuals, countries, and corporations working against Africa's development and unity. From chapters such as Africa's Resources, Obstacles to Economic Progress, Imperialist Finance, Monopoly Capitalism and the American Dollar, The Truth Behind the Headlines, The Oppenheimer Empire, The Diamond Groups, Mining Interests in Central Africa, Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, Economic Pressures in the Congo Republic, The Mechanisms of Neo-Colonialism, among others, Nkrumah sought to make the world know the kind of forces we are facing as Africans (and non-Africans) on the path towards development (and the people that rule our world).
Non-African Authored Book: Most of the non-African-authored books were mostly on my Top 100 Reading Challenge. Though this blog is mainly for the Promotion of African Literature I do read wider. This list is not in any particular order.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is a story set in the early nineteenth England in the town of Hertfordshire where five sisters lived, each with a different aspiration and disposition. Jane is servile, humble, quick to agree and forgive and almost never judges. Elizabeth, around whom the majority of the story is told is the thinking and cautious type. She does not easily submit to rules without questioning them. Mary is almost a recluse and played a minor role in the novel. Always learning, one can easily judge her to be suffering from an inferiority complex. The two others: Lydia and Catherine (or Kitty) are frivolous - acting without thinking of the effects of their actions.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison. In Beloved Toni Morrison expanded the possibilities of the fiction genre from that which she created in Song of Solomon. She redefined the boundaries, broadening the horizon so as to write a story of stellar attribute with depth, passion, and a sensibility no other writer can express except Morrison. It is as if the words, scenes, sentences, speech and sense-making were being drawn from a well she only could see the bottom
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is an imaginative dystopian about a fictional world; a place where all rhetorics about women's place in the world are realised. It is also a world that has been lived before. In this novel, Atwood relied on all that had been said and is being said about women and what they should and shouldn't do. In the fictional world of Gilead, the constitutional government of the United States had been overthrown; its place place taken by Gilead, a state based on the Christian teachings and its purpose for women.
- 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 is perhaps the greatest work of English Author, Essayist, Journalist and Political and Literary Critic, Eric Arthur Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell. This 'futuristic' dystopian book is more of a prophecy than a novel. It is everything but fiction.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner could easily pass as the best non-African authored book I've read this year, if not for 1984. The novel tracks the life and friendship of two individuals, Amir - the son of a Kabul merchant - and Hassan, the child of their servant, Ali as they grow in the affluent suburb of Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul. As their friendship unfolds, the history of a land that has been plagued by local and international wars unfolds. In fact, it is this very wars, leading to the overthrow of monarchs and governments, that dictated how the friendship between these two individuals went. Yet, the precursor of all the events is the age old tradition or practice of discrimination based on physical features.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful and innocent book that mirrors the conscience of a people. It belongs to the group of a few books, including Morrison's Beloved and Song of Solomon, that investigate our common mentality, query our attitudes and unapologetically point to our internal failings as humanity. Those books that slowly furl man's animalistic masque, a masque that creates a dissociation between thought and words so that we could think one thing and act entirely in the opposite direction or even a dichotomy of thoughts - one for the thinker and his or her coterie and the other for the Others, masques which further create a diametric self in an already dual personality. One might say a Jekyll and Hyde personality, had it not been described as a cliched phrase. However, what makes Harper Lee's book different from these few others in this sub-genre is the protagonist, nine-year old Jean Louise Finch or Scout. A young precocious girl who doesn't take everything as given but who asks questions, demands answers and ask further questions where issues are not clearer to her.