Update on Africa Reading Challenge

No, I haven't forgotten it.  Have you?Here's my update.  I took books, as I said, to Guyana to read.  That was optimistic; I didn't get the chance while on the ground, though I did read small bits of Purple Hibiscus in the bath once or twice.  I also didn't get the chance to attend Karen King-Aribisala's reading, much to my regret, as I know Karen personally, having attending the 1992 Caribbean Writer's Workshop with her (and Edwidge Danticat and Garfield Ellis and Geoffrey Philp -- time, hey, for me to get my behind published like my peers, huh?) Karen, if you ever chance to read this, please please accept my apologies, and start saving -- CARIFESTA's here in The Bahamas next time.I will be posting reviews -- I finished two more books -- over the next week or so.Cheers.

African Reading Challenge 2

So I've taken the books I hope to finish with me to Guyana.The one I'm reading now is Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. In short, I'm enjoying it so far. I cheated and skimmed forward -- I do that sometimes -- but now I have to read on, savour it.Watch this space -- I plan to blog about it soon.

ARC Review #1 - Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, (Lalami)

Country:  Morocco, North AfricaAuthor:  Laila LalamiReview:  This is a novel/collection of related short stories, and in this way reminds me of Naipaul's Miguel Street. The stories are about four Moroccans who take the risk of crossing the narrow straits between Morocco and Spain, and are separated into two main sections: "Before" and "After". The book grew on me; to be honest, I was not hooked by the prologue until I'd read the whole thing. By the end, though, I was sorry to finish the book.Lalami's style is clean and spare, and her four characters rise off the page and we care. Each of the characters gets two full stories, a "Before" story and an "After" story, and the prologue tells the climax -- the moment when they cross the straits and succeed, or fail, to make it to another life. One of the characters -- a man with an English degree, a voracious reader of American literature -- gets three; it's his POV in the prologue. By the end, the short stories lock together in a single whole, and the novel is there -- its protagonist is The Immigrant, and its resolution is variable.There were a couple of bits that stand out. One of my favourite stories in the collection, the first one after the prologue, "The Fanatic", is told from the POV of a character who never recurs. He sees, and affects the life of, one of the immigrants, someone whose story is told in the second part of the book. I suspect that it's a weakness, especially if the stories form a novel, but on its own it's very fine. Of course it is. It was shortlisted for the Caine Prize -- the African Booker.I imagine that for others part of the allure of this collection is the fact that it's rooted in Islam, which is the religion du jour for many Western literati, and that the characters do not conform to the expected stereotypes. Only one of them is particularly religious; the rest behave remarkably like people (warning: sarcasm intended).Comment: I've not read any North African literature proper, other than Camus, which masquerades as French literature, and Gide, who's an expatriate anyway. I keep meaning to read Mahfouz but haven't managed yet. My North African exposure is narrow. Lalami's a welcome change from that.I've been following her work for some time now.  I came across her blog, oh, sometime back in 2005 maybe, before Hope was published, and have often intended to read the book. I'm not disappointed I finally did.

My Africa Reading List

If I take part, that is.What's under my belt is pretty male and middle-century, and so I thought I'd branch out with some female voices and writing from more recent times

  • Adichie (Nigeria) - Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Emecheta (Nigeria) - The Joys of Motherhood
  • Ngugi (Kenya) - Wizard of the Crow
  • Baingana (Uganda) - Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe
  • Lalami (Morocco) - Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
  • Gourevitch (Rwanda) - We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families
  • Ilibagiza (Rwanda) - Left to Tell

Coming Late to the Party

And not knowing whether I will take part because I can barely keep up, but:There's a reading challenge going on this year that I'd like to alert people to, just in case.It's the Africa Reading Challenge:

Participants commit to read - in the course of 2008 - six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues.  (Read more if you like!)You can read whatever you want, but of the six books, I recommend a mixture of genres. For example, you might select books from each of the following:
  1. Fiction (novels, short stories, poetry, drama)
  2. Memoir / autobiography
  3. History and current events

I also recommend reading books from at least 3 different countries.  The challenge is for 2008, but if you feel like jumping in now: karibu sana!

There's help for the challenge.  For example, there's this list of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, compiled by a committee selected by the Zimbabwe Book Fair and published on the web by Columbia University Libraries.And here's the list put together by the challenger.Here's my own list of books which I've read by Africans/about Africa.  It's partial because of my memory, and you'll notice it's pretty old (mostly mid-20th century), and it includes only those books I finished (there are several, like Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Ngugi's Petals of Blood and Matagari and Okri's The Famished Road that I started but didn't finish).  Some of them I know pretty well, others not so well.  Some I read in the original French, but can't remember the name anymore.  Several are not here, because I have to go dig them out to remember them. But if they are here, be sure they stuck with me.

  • Achebe, Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People, Morning Yet on Creation Day
  • Armah, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born
  • Sembene, Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God's Bits of Wood)
  • Oyono, Houseboy
  • Soyinka, Death and the King's Horseman, The Lion of God, The Bacchae of Euripides*
  • Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat, Decolonizing the Mind
  • Fugard, Master Harold and the Boys, Siswe Bansi is Dead
  • Head, A Question of Power
  • Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

*Edited to get Soyinka's play title right - it's the Bacchae, not the Bacchus of EuripidesAnd of course one of the most influential books about Africa (and the whole colonial world, for that matter):

  • Conrad, Heart of Darkness

It's time, I think, to refresh my reading list anyway.  If I decide to participate (some things will help me decide, like, oh, CARIFESTA) I will do so here.Till then, I offer the challenge to you all.EDIT: Here's a bonus to the challenge - Siphoning Off A Few Thoughts' link to Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay "How To Write About Africa" in Granta 92.My favourite bit:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

There's a whole lot more.