Readers' Top Ten - Nana Yaw Sarpong (Blogger)
About Nana Yaw Sarpong: Nana Yaw is a Poet, the Producer of Ghana's foremost Literary magazine programme, Writers Project on Citi FM, and handles media relations for Writers Project of Ghana. He is also the curator of Creative Writing Ghana and a Literary activist.
I have read a lot of African novels, plays and poetry. Having to pick ten is a challenge, particularly because I've to recall titles and authors. I do not keep a unified library at this point in time and that made it harder. But in no order of preference, here is my list*.
1. Anthills of the Savannah - Chinua Achebe. I read Anthills while in Secondary School, before I even read Things Fall Apart. It represented for me the shattered opportunities of independence and a leadership of dictatorships. It was not so much the form of government that stood out for me: it was the neglect of people and the delusion of those military empty-heads. I will pick this book over Things Fall Apart for generational reasons. If there is space, I am definitely adding Arrow of God.
2. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born - Ayi Kwei Armah. Classic. I am very aware of the criticisms of Armah using filth and rot to describe African governments and systems of behaviours. I recently read a critical paper that sort to render Armah's descriptions of the man's perceptions of a decayed society as a homosexual obsession. Of course the author of that academic paper was a Western and he made his intentions perfectly clear: a homosexual agenda into African systems of thinking. But that is how powerful the novel remains. It was the second book of Armah's I read after Fragments. It's one novel that gives me pleasurable nightmares.
3. Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters - Kojo Laing. Laing is a master. Of language, of stories, and even of tooli. His latest novel brings to fore the magical realism that I have come to associate with his writing. When I first picked up Search Sweet Country, I did not want to finish reading it. I think Wainaina was right in describing Laing as the best out of Africa. He owns the language he uses. I have met Uncle Kojo and he is even more phenomenal when he talks about his work. If you want to start reading Kojo Laing, start with the short story Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ. (At Ghana Voices Series, which is a monthly book reading programme organised by the Writers Project of Ghana and the Goethe Institute, Kojo Laing said he was working on another novel).
4. The Prophet of Zongo Street - Mohamed Abdullah. This collection of short stories is so beautifully told by Mohamed. I think I was in my last year at the Department of English at the University of Ghana when the collection was published. It had been included in our reading list. One of the freshest stories about our zongos that we rarely see captured in fiction. Unfortunately, not many are aware of the existence of this collection in Ghana.
5. Changes - Ama Ata Aidoo. I had a lot of questions for Ama Ata Aidoo about the sexual choices her lead character makes. About how she treated her husband and how she goes along with Ali. But this novel is more than a love story. It's a message, it's a story about many women with wishes to have sexual freedom without the remits of constitutionally okayed affairs. It's a great story. If you have time, pick up No Sweetness Here, as well as Diplomatic Pounds.
6. Two Thousand Seasons - Ayi Kwei Armah. This novel represents for me the calling to reconstruct a very psychologically damaged African past. First, it was the acceptance that community leaders, kings - or the rather derogatory and reductive term chiefs - had played in assisting Europeans plunder Africa of its people and resources. Then glimpse of hopes of regrouping and retraining and re-idealising of African peoples. It is the ambitious project - the hard work that Africans must put in in order to be their own and compete on their own terms and own their people and resources again! Osiris Rising continues the project and there re shots at it too in Why Are We So Blest. For me, Armah remains the grandfather of African Literature - with a Galaxy tab or is it Uhuru?
7. Kongi's Harvest - Wole Soyinka. Soyinka is the king of plays and in Kongi's Harvest, we see how he dribbles through African leadership and followership matters. Kongi is your archetypical General Sam in Anthills of the Savannah, and thus, the failure of leadership in Africa. It's a great play. And who does not know of the prowess of Soyinka's writing?
8. The Poor Christ of Bomba - Mongo Beti. I only read this book because of the Book Discussion Club of the Writers Project and found its picturesque rendition of colonial Africa fascinating. Given that many are yet to come to terms with what happened, the variances of the experiences, this was a great book. Many argue that colonialism has ended, and so Africans should move on. Well, that's comfortable for the plunderer and the psychologically bought African. Memory is a guidance.
9. A Harvest of Our Dreams - Kofi Anyidoho and Look Where You have Gone to Sit (New Ghanaian Poets) - Edited by Martin Egblewogbe and Laban C. Hill. While all may be aware of Anyidoho's poetry, the anthology Look Where You Have Gone to Sit features nineteen poets from Ghana! All of these poets should be below 40 at the time of publishing and is clearly a bold attempt to present one of the best poems you will ever read from Ghanaians. I am sure Anyidoho would have a thing or two to pick from therein.
10. Chuma Nwokolo's Diaries of a Dead African and The Ghost of Sani Abacha are books I will include in my top 10. Martin Egblewogbe and Nii Ayikwei Parkes' Mr Happy and the Hammer of God and Other Stories and Tail of a Blue Bird respectively are in the 10th of my list. I'll also include So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie.
* I have linked some of the titles to posts within ImageNations, where such reviews are available. Note that my views on these books may differ from Nana Yaw's and so this must be borne in mind when reading them.