Homegoing

30070018-_uy200_Effia
The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound. It moved quickly, tearing a path for days. It lived off the air; it slept in caves and hid in trees; it burned, up and through, unconcerned with what wreckage it left behind, until it reached an Asante village. There, it disappeared, becoming one with the night. (…)
The villagers began to say that the baby was born of the fire, that this was the reason Baaba had no milk. Effia was nursed by Cobbe’s second wife, who had just given birth to a son three months before. (…) “

In modern-day Ghana, in Fanteland, in the seventeenth century, Effia and Esi are born of the same father, but will have completely opposed destinies. One becomes a slave during the slave trade, the other- the wife of a slave trader. For the next three centuries, on each side of the Atlantic their descendants will struggle to make their own way into the everchanging New World where their ancestors were brought and forced to fit. From mine-working to jazz-playing, from slavery to academia, African- Americans become despite themselves a part of a foreign land and their stories are mostly about how to fit and become what they are meant to be.

Like an enchanted tale told by a griot, the story begins with fire taking over the Fanteland, the story of Effia and Esi’s descent mixes traditional Fante and Ashanti folk stories and the American history of slavery in a wonderfully mastered prose. Between Africa and North America, the characters are first torn, then resentful, then accepting their cultural heritage.

Yaa Gyasi excels in entagling the private stories of the characters with the bigger History which both lifts and suffocates the characters; story and History, slave trade and family dramas, the characters of the novel embody how fragile individuals are in the face of history, but also how time helps them go back to their origins. Time cannot heal the wounds of past abuses, but it can offer the chance to the youngest descendents of the old Ashanti-Fante families to make peace with their bruised lives and start over.

Once you understand and accept who you are, you can return home.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

978-0241242735 / Viking / 2016

Review by Ioana Danaila

Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

Nqobile: The Story of Becoming

What does the world look like through a foreign student’s eyes ?

What happens when, while going to the Promised Land, you find not the dream you had in mind, but much more and in a much more different form ?

Thus begins Mandhla Mgijima alias Sipho’s novel, like a modern fairy tale : the young Nqobile goes to South Africa, then to America. He likes English-language fiction, befriends white men; he is young and enthousiastic and sees the world as he wished it to be.

Nqobile had successfully forged another relation with white people, an achievement that made him silently proud. Internally, he was glowing. This was something he had managed to do seamlessly throughout his private high school with its white majority. He understood them well and held as a rule that mostly good came out of relations with white folk, and so he had made it a habit of actively engaging with them, especially at his American university.” (p.21)

Then comes the time when he gradually becomes more politically-aware and discovers the complex faces of the American society. The novel constantly refers to contemporary events (the campaigns #Blacklivesmatter in the United States and #Rhodesmustfall in South Africa, the terrorist attacks in Paris) and personalities, like Steve Biko- yet the profound meaning of the narrative lies elsewhere : this realistic scenery is home to a modern tale about how the notions of white and black shape our imagination, our judgement on people and our projects.

The book traces Nqobile’s transformation from an admirer of white men to a man fully aware of himself who has created his own philosophy on race, acceptance and life priorities. It is through the character of Nolwazi, Sipho’s South African publisher, that we learn how Nqobile reaches this awareness. It is also through her eyes that we learn how power relations work in everyday life between students of different countries and cultures. It is, finally, an image of what anyone could achieve if one stopped speaking in the name of truths one doesn’t really believe in.

Nqobile: The Story of Becoming by Mandla Mgijima

ISBN : 978-0- 7974- 8760- 4

Publisher : David Kaplan, Freelanceeditors.co.za , 2016

Review by Ioana Danaila


Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

The Day Ends Like Any Day

In 1990s Nige9781910688298ria, Sam, a young man, begins his life’s journey in O. situated east of Port Harcourt; as the “lazy stroller” he calls himself, he moves constantly in and out of the text in a cinematographic way. He introduces us to Pa Suku, Ma Ike, Ricia, Dora, Osagie, Margaret and all the other characters that mark his path. From the small crowded flat in which he lives with his family to the Delta State University in Abraka he later attends, Sam’s excursion through life guides the reader through past (the Biafran war and some events occuring back then) and present (President Sani Abacha’s years).

Timothy Ogene’s beautiful novel is a new form of Bildungsroman, in which the theme of coming of age becomes a coming of language: Sam’s story is also a journey through books and memories, so much so that a life’s journey is not only oriented forwards, but also backwards.

Like Sam, the reader is constantly going back and forth to the past through words and the images and sometimes the physical sensations they leave in our lives. As the title suggests, the days become not a flow of time-limited sequences, but an eternal present that shrinks or expands through the power of our own mind.

Ogene revisits the age-old theme of identity and transposes it into a world in which identities are constantly rooted out to be planted elsewhere, both never really free from their native soil and enriched by the foreign adoptive soils. The founding encounters in Sam’s life are also the encounters with his own past and his old self, now reshaped and revisited by the passing of time and the inevitable questioning of what life actually means:

Old Jumbo’s flowers were not as unkempt as I remember them. (…) State School One was east of the blocks. But in my head, in my recollection, it is positioned west. What else do I misremember? (…) It does not matter anymore. I remember what I remember, or what I consistently made myself remember. We are, indeed, wired to remember in twos: duplicates and originals. The original loses its composition the farther away we are from it.” (p.145)

The Day Ends Like Any Day by Timothy Ogene

978-1-910688-29-8  | Holland House | 2017

Review by Ioana Danaila


Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

Haunting Identity in The Icarus Girl

41shf-js-cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Then, without opening her eyes, she was caught in the crisp outward shattering of glass as the mirror crack’d from side to side, fying out of its flame. At the centre of it all was TillyTilly, manically screaming : ‘Seven years’ bad luck ! Seven years’ bad luck ! SEVEN YEARS BAD LUCK !

“What are you ?” Jess cried out from her safe place.

Tilly’s reply : “I don’t know ! You know ! You know ! “

 

8 years-old, sensitive, moody, very imaginative, Jessamy Harrison she feels constantly alone and unadapted. Bullied by her schoolmates and sometimes misunderstood by her mother, Jessamy cannot find a place of her own and a person to get along with. But eveything changes when goes to Nigeria to visit her mother’s family. From the extreme heat to the Yoruba language, Jessamy discovers a new, mysterious world which is also hers, paradoxically, and which will show her another perspective on herself and her life.

Jessamy receives a new, Yoruba name, Wuraola, to connect her to the cultural heritage and make her ‘become’ Yoruba. After receiving this name, Jessamy meets Titiola, a Yoruba girl her age with whom she finally seems to resonate. As the story moves on, the reader grows sceptical about Titiola’s intentions (as she is both very kind and very provoking and mean) and starts to question her very existence, until the friendship between the two girls provokes damage and crisis in Jessamy’s family.

Inspired by both English classical gothic stories and Yoruba traditional tales about the double identity of twins, Oyeyemi’s first novel makes the reader question not just “who is who” (Jessamy being also a mixed race), but also why it is so complicated sometimes to understand and accept who we are and why we are this or that way. The cultural difference between the Yoruba town and London, the two languages eventually becomes an extra obstacle to get over for Jessamy, who is already not at ease with her own unsociability.

The ending, however, accounts not only for a major change of perspective on her mother’s family and, therefore, on her own origins, but also on what growing up really means; much more than a modern allegory about cultural tensions, it is accepting some difficult realities about oneself, like fears likely to turn into haunting ghosts, that becomes one of the major lessons of Oyeyemi’s novel.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

9780747 578864 | Bloomsbury | 20o6

Review by Ioana Danaila


Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

The Fishermen

Omi-Ala was a dreadful river. Long forsaken by the inhabitants of Akure town like a mother abandoned by her children.… It surrounded Akure like ans snaked through its length and breadth. Like many such rivers in Africa, Omi-Ala was once believed to be a god : people worshipped it.…)This changed when the colonists came from Europe [and] began to see it as an evil place.

It became the source of dark rumours. One such rumour was that people committed all sorts of fetish ritual on its banks…. Incident after incident accumulated over many years, tainting the history of the river and corrupting its name so much so that- in time- its mere mention of it triggered disdain.

Thus begins the story of four brothers, Ikenna, Boje, Obembe and Benjamin, told by the last. Like all storytellers, Benjamin sets the atmosphere, the tone, the characters and the plot. The listeners, more than the readers, have no other choice than to submit to his charming story.

Benjamin, the narrator’s alter ego and author, Obioma’s persona, narrates the dissollution of his family from the moment Ikenna, the elder brother, decides to fish in the forbidden river. Abulu, the fool of the village, happens to be in the vicinity and predicts that he will die by the hand of one of his brothers.

The narrative voice creates a surrealist story woven by childhood, temptation, adventure and madness. The dissolution of the family is inevitable and tragedy seems to form a snow-ball effect in their lives. In the 1990s Nigeria, in a context of political and social tension, the story of Benjamin’s family works both as a mirror and as an allegory of human life and struggle through History and personal fate.

The construction of the plot is inspired by African tales and fables : each chapter is woven around an image (the river, the spiders) which leads the listener (and the reader) to the grand finale. Obioma’s great first novel, much acclaimed on the international stage, reveals human madness, ill-doings and immense tolerance wrapped in a brilliant tale.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

978-0957548862 | ONE | 2016

Review by Ioana Danaila

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Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France

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Waiting for An Angel

It was in the ships that the mouth-locks were used, so that they [the slaves] couldn’t console each other and rally their spirits and thereby revolt. To further discourage communication, no two persons of the same language were kept together: Mandingo was chained to Yoruba, Wolof was chained to Ibo, Bini was chained to Hausa. You see, every oppressor knows that wherever one word is joined to another word to form a sentence, there’ll be revolt. That is our work, the media: to refuse to be silenced, to encourage legitimate criticism wherever we find it.‘”

Nigeria in the 1990s. Military régimes follow one another, yet no-one seems to take an interest in people’s daily lives, their despair and their lack of perspective.

Lomba, Kela, Bola, James, Joshua, all writers, journalists or students, are some of the characters who try living lives as normal as possible in the maze of arrests and “official” killings hanging above their heads. As the story unfolds, they will all be bruised in one way or another by the abuses of the régime, by its violence and ignorance.

Helon Habila’s novel is more than a piece of writing: it is a chorus of voices sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant; sometimes screaming for freedom to speak, sometimes choked by despair. Starting from Lomba’s experience in prison, the story unfolds backwards, telling the experiences of his friends which echo in his own. All have loved; all have had dreams of writing; all have learned to live with their despair and go on hoping.

More than just a character, Lomba is the author’s alter ego who goes from one story to another, from one experience to another, from one character to another to give the reader vast spectre of a society in which intellectual value is feared and chained precisely because it is freedom-bringing. More than a political piece of criticism, the novel is a close look at the contemporary world, the perspective of exile and the luring media.

Journalists, poets, writers or students, the characters share a common identity: masters of words and speech,  against the system that punishes truth-tellers (Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death is highlighted).

Victims of the political establishment, their mission is to struggle for their voices and voice their deep struggles… a mission they succeed at, for the intertwined lives of the characters form the polyphony which the reader is invited to listen and meditate upon.

Waiting for An Angel by Helon Habila

9780393325119| 2004| W. W. Norton & Company

 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

The True Prison | Ken Saro Wiwa

It is not the leaking roof
Nor the singing mosquitoes
In the damp, wretched cell
It is not the clank of the key
As the warden locks you in
It is not the measly rations
Unfit for beast or man
Nor yet the emptiness of day
Dipping into the blankness of night
It is not
It is not
It is not

It is the lies that have been drummed
Into your ears for a generation
It is the security agent running amok
Executing callous calamitous orders
In exchange for a wretched meal a day
The magistrate writing into her book
A punishment she knows is undeserved
The moral decrepitude
The mental ineptitude
The meat of dictators
Cowardice masking as obedience
Lurking in our denigrated souls
It is fear damping trousers
That we dare not wash
It is this
It is this
It is this
Dear friend, turns our free world
Into a dreary prison

Life Must Go On

After the civil war, Imperi, a small Sierra Leonean town, tries to rebuild the life it used to have. Three characters, Kadie, Moiwa and Kainesi, come to their native town waiting for the return of the younger generation. Everybody is willing to start anew.

However, after a while, their goodwill and energy cannot resist material precariousness: the town lacks food and clean water, the teachers don’t get paid on time; the corruption of local administration officers ravages, rapes and accidents destroy the fragile peace and hope of the townspeople.

After the resounding success of A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah’s second novel is a story of hope and deep humanity. Beah imposes a powerful, lyrical tone in which suffering and sorrow are always transformed into hope and compassion; his characters are all the more powerful because they struggle not only to survive, but to keep their dignity and the cohesion of their community. It is a story of people doing their best to pass on their values, a story told both with gripping lucidity and poetry.

The oral tradition of Mendé language and culture permeates the novel and gives it a particular music and rhythm, and the very plot seems to follow the pattern of an oral story, with a circular structure framed by stanzas that remind the reader of the endless renewal of human hope despite the dramatic turns of fate. Life must go on, and people must live to tell its tale. As the Mendé say,

“It is the end, or maybe the beginning of another story. Each story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a child. Each story is a birth…”

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

Sarah Crichton Books | 2015 | ISBN: 978-0374535032

Read our interview with Ishmael Beah here. 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

The Rising of the Ashes | Tahar Ben Jelloun

In this country the dead travel

as statues and flames

They wear eyeglasses

and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.

We say they became invisible

Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.

Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.

Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:

“Death is not fatal just as night is the sun’s shadow.”

From The Rising of the Ashes by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Copyright © 2010 by Tahar Ben Jelloun and Cullen Goldblatt.

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan writer. The entirety of his work is written in French, although his first language is Arabic. He became known for his 1985 novel L’Enfant de Sable. Today he lives in Paris and continues to write.

An African Saga

Ségou, south-centre of present-day Mali, cradle of the Bambara people, 18th century.

At the the center of Ségou is Dousika, a nobleman close to the Mansa, the regional king, embodiment of power and wealth, everything the Ségou society stands for. It is Dousika, whose household comprises three wives, one concubine and four sons, through whom the narrative unfolds and splits.

In this society in which life is organized by rituals and customs, the inevitable course of history draws Dousika’s sons away from his house to make their own way in the world. Exploring three generations, the novel follows the sons’ destinies in the larger context of the expansion of Islam in Saharan Africa and the slave trade in the Americas.

Bambara, Peul, Ashanti, Moors, French, mixed races, the novel is a melting pot of ethnic groups, languages, religions and customs permeating the narrative substance and making the reading experience both rich and colorful. Maryse Condé pays homage not only to her African ancestors, but also to a world of infinite power, sophisticated culture and influence, emphasizing the diversity and complexity of Saharan civilizations, often too poorly known by the modern public.

The immense research behind this novel weaves itself into an intimate knowledge of African history—a primary reason Ségou is often called “the African saga.” Yet, set aside its historic frame, Ségou is also a novel portraying eccentric and passionate characters; from mighty Dousika to Nya, his fiery first wife; from the short-tempered Malobali, the son of Dousika’s concubine, to the utterly good slave Nadié. All of them bring their own insights to the multi-faceted human fate, half free, half contaminated by history.

Ségou by Maryse  Condé 

Editions Robert Lafont |1984| ISBN:2-221-01197-X

 

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teach