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

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 AFRICAN BOOK REVIEW

Our goal here at the newly established (!) ABR is to provide a platform to truly engage with African arts from a literacy perspective, exploring new, established, and upcoming African writers.

Books are a portal into our world, yes, the Africa that is never shown on television, the Africans who are always silent props in the western imagination, books give them the chance to not just speak the truths that they have spoken for centuries but to be heard and actively listened to by the rest of the world.

But we don’t want to only talk about books, we want to engage with Africa and Africans in as many ways as possible and explore what it means, not just to be African, but to be human.

So we thought, we’d have projects. Each month, with each book reviews, we’d have a special project about Africa/Africans/Literature.

We’re just starting out but we’re really excited to see where this goes and watch as more people become not only acquainted with but intimately connected to African Literature.