Friday, 27 November 2009

Read Africa

This is a bit of an intemellectual post for a Friday, so don't worry I don't expect anyone to actually read it ;)

It is inspired by the Read South Africa campaign (on Facebook), which the lovely Damaria is involved in. The campaign aims to encourage South Africans to read. I think that is somewhat obvious. I am all for reading. They are doing a vote for the top 50 books from Africa this decade, and the top 10 South African ones. I have already voted, have you? If you don't have Facebook, you can still vote here.

This list does not obey those requirements, it is just a list of books from Africa that I have read that made an impact on me, or that I enjoyed, or that I think are worth reading, from any time. Just because I like reading, and did some UNISA courses that involved reading African literature and so I have read a few recently.

In no particular order:

  • Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe). This book says everything about a young girl caught between two cultures that you need to know. In the book, a white psychologist denies that a black girl could have an eating disorder. I think that about sums it up.

  • The heart of Redness by Zakes Mda (South Africa). This book is beautiful, it is like reading a fable. It takes the history of the Xhosa people and weaves into something magical.

  • Ake by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria). Again this book is magical. It is supposedly autobiographical but we have to allow hugely for poetic licence, as he writes how the world seemed to him as a kid, not as things actually were. I was fascinated by the richness of Nigerian cultures that I never knew existed.

  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (South Africa). I did not enjoy this book at all. I have not enjoyed any of his books. This one is clinical, dry, bleak to the extreme. That does not mean it is not brilliant though. I think he is just too smart for the average reader to appreciate. I found it strange that this book was controversial though. I could not find one thing in there that seemed controversial to me.

  • Down Second Avenue by Ezekiel Mphahlele (South Africa). This is an autobiography. What really impacted upon me in this book was the way things were before Apartheid. People can say whatever terrible things they want about Apartheid, and they would be correct, but South Africa was already segregated and as racist as hell long before Apartheid. Apartheid just extended what was already there. I am so glad this writer got to see it all fall down.

  • A long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela (South Africa). I already blogged about my appreciation for this book. I loved the tone, the style, the subtle humour. I loved it all.

  • Cry the beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa). I last read this years ago, but every time I enjoyed it very much. IT is just well written and real. The tone of this book defines South Africa for me.

  • Country of my skull by Antjie Krog (South Africa). Frik. Frikken frik. I had to read this book for a course, and because I was studying it, I had to read it a second time. I had to stop every two pages or so to recover and have a break. She does not withold any of the details of what was covered in the TRC in the 90's. But somehow she managed to turn this book into a work of art, by weaving her own reactions and interpretations into it that came out almost like a poem. This was very controversial, but in my opinion, she did it brilliantly. There was only one thing that I did not like in the book. She decided to introduce a fictional affair into the narrative. The whole book is about the elusivity of truth, I know. But she presents her side of the story as biographical, and then throws in a made up affair because she felt the story "needed it" at that point. I have to disagree. The book would have been perfect without the affair and by adding it you totally jar the reader, who is puzzled as to why it was necessary, and it detracts from the otherwise perfectly executed narrative. I will never understand her motives there.

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria). I enjoyed this much more than her second one. I did not know much about Nigeria when I read this, so I found it all fascinating.
  • Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (South Africa). Yes, I bought this! What with the soundtrack, the toy (which I am still thinking of getting) and the book, this is quite a product. The book is a really good sci-fi story, especially if you are into a cyberpunk-but-not-quite style. But anyone could read it. I love the ending, it is so unsentimental.

  • Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa (Uganda). This book is also thoroughly unsentimental and portrays what happened in Uganda in such a matter of fact way, through the eyes of a quirky protagonist who is not overly fond of his mother, whose name just happens to be Padlock.

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut (South AFrica). There is something about the interactions between the characters in this book that felt real (and slightly depressing) to me.

  • Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). This is a classic and was probably my first introduction to the ideas of colonisation of cultures and what happens when you allow two cultures to clash without considering the possibility of different frames of reference. Okonkwo was probably one of my educational foundations!

This is not an exhaustive list of what I have read and like from Africa, not to mention all the Afrikaans books we read at school, but as these came to my mind first, by my logic they must be the best.

Happy reading!


Charlotte said...

This is a great list. If you liked Purple Hibiscus, you might want to try Half of a Yellow Sun, which I think is brilliant and due to become an African classic. I haven't read Nervous Conditions or Moxyland - they both sound excellent. *puts on TBR list*

Damaria Senne said...

My TBR list is expanding, thanks:-). I'm also considering including some African books in Christmas stockings this year, to introduce friends and family to new to new author. And thanks for spreading the word about Read SA.

Ches said...

Ah sweet, thanks Po.

Here's some others if it's ok to post here...

The Trouble With Africa - Vic Guhrs

Mhalangeni - Kobie Kruger

Blood River - Tim Butcher (Brilliant)

King Leopalds Ghost - Adma Hochschild

SonnyVsDan said...

such an impressive list! I could probably count the australian books i've read on my left hand, but i know i wanted to rewrite every one of them.. !

Tamara said...

You might find this article interesting. It looks at why Disgrace might have been controversial in SA:

I enjoyed Dry White Season by Andre Brink, although enjoy is probably not the right word. I also loved Dance With A Poor Man's Daughter by Pamela Jooste, although I read it years and years ago and it was before her plagiarism issues arose.

I studied Things Fall Apart at varsity and also found it really eye-opening. Reading Athol Fugard's plays also made a huge impact on me.

po said...

Charlotte: for some reason I did not enjoy half of a yellow sun. I didn't even finish it. It felt a bit laboured to me. I don't know why!

Damaria: I love getting books for xmas, hope you are doing well!

Ches: thanks, have not read any of those!

sonnyvsdan: I am busy reading Shantaram, which is essentially Australian I guess, am really enjoying that!

MidniteGem said...

This is one of my favorites:
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah.
I think you would enjoy it :)

po said...

Tamara: thanks for the link! I must say I disagree with what she has to say quite strongly,b ut maybe that is because I am white?! She is incorrect to equate a character with the writer, you cannot do that, the book is fiction, it is a representation. In my opinion the book represents a certain type of experience in South Africa, one that some people will recognise. It is a fact that crime and rapes occur on farms, and the character's response and sense of alientation is true to life. I do not feel uncomfortable reading this, because I know people experience things this way. What she wants is political correctness, but I am so glad that people like Coetzee refuse to be politically correct and to say what they feel. I think she should be glad to have on offer all of the different perspectives out there in the world, it is enlightening!

I will also check out the books you mention, I have not read them!

Midnite gem: oooh have not read that one, a Ghanaian, that sounds interesting!

Tamara said...

Po: There has been speculation about JM Coetzee as David Lurie because some of the events in Disgrace parallel those in his own life.

That said, I disagree with loads of what she writes too, although I love that she says "On a personal note, I doubt if I have ever struck as many conversations with strangers as when I was carrying around the book in public."

And she does make a good point that until recently, most accounts of the new South Africa that received attention abroad were written by whites and that it's only now starting to change with black writers being given a platform outside of the country.

I don't think she's criticising JM Coetzee so much as trying to explore why the book has caused such a stir.

"Many would agree that Coetzee is an accomplished writer. He skilfully confronts us with the core of his characters’ anguish. He draws us unsuspecting into forbidden places. He tries to describe things as they are – no explanations, no judgements, no outrage," she writes.

I guess that this book just intrigued me (not sure if that's the right word. It was like a mix of appreciation, disappointment, anger, sadness and admiration all in one really) and I enjoy reading other people's considered opinions on it.

Wow... sorry for the essay in your comments section. Just so nice to discuss stuff like this, which nobody else cares to do with me ;-)

po said...

Hehe thanks Tamara, I totally agree with her point about the dominance of white fiction too, but in the end maybe it is better for J.M Coetzee to write from a white perspective because that is more real to him, I am thinking people might accuse him of "colonising" the black experience, although he has already done that in the life and times of Michael K.

I do think that no matter how close real life is to fiction though, we should never equate the author with what he writes. That is a very big point for me.

I found David Lurie thoroughly unlikeable, but I could definitely see some of his cowardliness, his impotence, and his inability to interact with people in me. Also he did not strike me as racist as such. I think everyone stuggles at times with interracial ideas and relations. But he was fairly typical of his age IMO. I know he has to be labelled racist because of the times and interpretations and attitudes. But to me he was just a cowardly, crappy, selfish guy who was not dealing well with getting old.

po said...

P.S. Damnit maybe I need to go read it again now, to make sure of my opinions, I have a shitty memory at the best of times!

EEbEE said...

I was force fed J.M Coetzee's Disgrace in Matric (then Examined on it for finals... ARGH!).

I hated every moment.

although come to think of it, set books at school are hated by definition... it's just more fun to complain about how crappy a book is between friends.

I would give it the same score as Fiela se Kind and Day of the Triffids.

po said...

EEbEE: I had it as a set book too, for first year varsity, frik having that at matric is mental, how depressing, and hard too! I remember writing some or other essay on it and not doing very well, I always seem to approach books from a philosophical point of view instead of a literary one.

Ja, in general the books we did at school were killed for me. Maybe I should go back and read them now and see if they improve.

Miss Definitely Maybe said...

I loved Tsitsi Dangarembgwa's nervous conditions i would recommend it to anyone.

po said...

Hey Tamara I read the article again (not the book, yet!) away from the madness of and I agree she is more trying to represent other people's POV than her own. I still disagree with some of what she puts forward, but I totally understand where she is coming from.

LadyFi said...

Wonderful wonderful list! I'm going to ask for some of these for Christmas.

Still haven't gathered up my courage to read Country of my skull though...

Blood River was good - should be read as Ches suggests.

Rox said...

Ah cool - good list. Ben Okri is another good one. Famished Road is awesome, like a Nigerian Murakami but even more intense.

po said...

Ladyfi: I think country of my skull is something to be read only if you are really really interested in that subject, it is too much otherwise!

Rox: ah yes thanks, actually I started reading that years ago but never finished it. If he is anything like Murakami then I can't wait, I am busy reading a Murakami book right now called Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world.

Rox said...

That was the first Murakami I read. Very good, especially the end of the world parts. Famished Road also magic realism style, but way more so - very beautiful writing though!

Dora said...

Going down the list, I was waiting and waiting to see if Things Fall Apart will come up. And I was very glad it did! It's one of my favourite books ever. I last read it in school. Really should pick it up again. :)

Tamara said...

Po, ever notice how all literatire set works are bloody miserable? I don't think we ever had a happy book to study. Even our Afrikaans set poems in Matric were dark and full of angst.

Champagne Heathen said...

Blood River.

I haven't read it yet, but cannot wait for The Guy to finish it, "Round Africa on My bike".

Grain of Wheat.

Athol Fugard.

There are some great looking ones on the current Fanatics (Exclusive Books) list.

I can think of so many more, EXCEPT, for me, its often not whether the book is well written, but that it gives you a new story or tells you about a aspect of history or part of Africa you never knew about. Then I love the book.

Considering the success of it, The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency. Does it count if it was written by a British guy though? Though, so was Blood River.

po said...

Dora: I read it again recently, it is so simple and it's message is so powerful.

Tamara: our Afrikaans books were always about divorce. And death. Always. Our English setbooks were pretty bleak too. King Lear and the Mayor of Casterbridge? Gettin your eyes poked out and selling your wife, and paying the consequences. Nice.

Champs: I think the detective agency book definitely count, he did live in Botswana after all. Those books are so much fun.