Benin: Femme Noire Ma Mere (excerpt) | Paulin Joachim

O Mother I see you dressed like your sisters in brief loin-cloth

Drawing telluric strength from the baptismal waters

I see you at the evening mass

I see you splendid breaking into the dance

With ceaselessly swaying hips

You are a blazing ripple at the foot of the houngan

and seemingly bonelessly supple beneath strong spices…

 


Paulin Joachim
 is a Beninese poet, journalist, and editor. His two volumes of poetry are Un nègre raconte (1954) and Anti-grâce (1967). In 2006 he was among the winners of the W. E. B. Du Bois medal.

 

The African Book Review is posting a poem from each of Africa’s 55 countries over the next few weeks. Poem suggestions can be sent through the comments form below. ‘Like’ us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

The Dark Child

“I was a little boy playing around my father’s hut. How old would I have been at that time? I cannot remember exactly. I must still have been very young: five, maybe six years old. My mother was in the workshop with my father, and I could just hear their familiar voices above the noise of the anvil and the conversation of the customers.”

So begins Laye’s enchanted tale of growing up in the village of Koroussa, French Guinea. The cradle of the child’s first and dearest memories is this idealized Africa, where the supernatural powers of his crocodile-taming mother and his father’s craft as a goldsmith, are normal parts of the everyday life in this universe.

The beautiful, almost unreal village, doubled with a sophisticated, poetic language is a metaphor of Africa itself, a land of long-living traditions and spirituality much praised in the Négritude movement of the 1950s and 1960s that aimed at bringing forth the riches of the African cultural heritage.

The boy’s childhood is framed by colorful figures in the village, such as Uncle Lansana, his friend Kouyaté, the beautiful young Marie, and traditional ceremonies heavy with spiritual meaning. However, as in any magical world, the balance provided by traditional stability is threatened when the winds of modernity bring with them Laye’s coming-of-age and the possibility of a new life far away from home.

The Dark Child, published in 1953, is one of the earliest African novels, from a second-wave of African writers in the 50’s, whose works surrounded the clash of cultures colonialism wrought.  (Later published as The African Child), it is the first novel of Guinean author Camara Laye, and is considered a classical African novel due to the fairy tale-like language and its colorful, illo tempore imagery. In spite of this idealized vision of Africa, a darker shadow roams over the atmosphere of this novel, bringing with it the responsibility and the compromises of maturity. And these compromises mean going to distant France in search of education and a better life.

However, the book does not focus so much on the dream-like world itself and instead focuses more on the representation the child has of it. The world as the reader sees it is mostly a creation of the child’s view, the vision that he himself has of this world. Childhood itself is a magical world, regardless of where one lives.

The Dark Child is a modern bildungsroman in which the attraction of distant worlds echoes the author’s need to see as many places and things as possible… if only to have a more complex perspective about his homeland.

The Dark Child by Camara Laye

Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 1953 | ISBN: 978-0809015481

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.

Tidimalo Manyaapelo: An Interview.

Growing up, author Tidimalo Manyaapelo enjoyed reading romance books like many of her peers. She was almost sure she was one day going to be a Mills & Boon author. She later realized that though the knight in shining armor plot with a happy ending filled her with joy, it was not real. She wanted her writing to depict life as she saw and experienced it. Born in Driefontein, South Africa, Tidimalo is concerned about women, South African women specifically, and the many ways women resist oppression and make their voices heard. Her novel, A Bus Ride Home reflects this concern, as did our interview with her.

20130805-IMG_4600 - CopyABR: As a writer, what sources do you draw inspiration from?

TIDIMALO: I draw inspiration from other books, magazines, and whatever else is around me. I get inspired by events that talk to me as a person and what I believe in.

ABR: Your writing seems to be nestled in a South African environment? To what extent does your environment influence you?  

TIDIMALO: Yes, I’m influenced by South Africa. I write about what I see happening around me. This refers to my own personal experiences as well as other people’s experiences. South Africa has provided a platform for women’s voices to be heard, for women to be treated equally as their male counterparts, yet women continue to be abused and undermined. While some women can be heard, there are still attempts to silence women who seem to be vocal. These women sometimes have to suffer character assassination meant to put them in their places. Women believe they have power and equality, and yet they still have to live with men who abuse them emotionally, men who prefer polygamy and men who expose them to risks of being infected with Sexually transmitted diseases.

ABR: Do you think being a woman writer adds to that experience or does it make it harder to write within that environment?  

TIDIMALO: Being a woman is always challenging, regardless of what you are doing – my opinion. As a writer, the challenge becomes whether you want your voice to be heard or you want your voice to sound right. In my case, I believe I want my voice to be heard.

ABR: Do you have a favorite African author or book?

TIDIMALO: I honestly do not have one particular author or book that I can say is my favorite. I admire different authors for a number of different reasons. I enjoyed reading Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi firstly because as an English/Setswana translator, I look up to people like Sol Plaatje, who was the first English/Setswana interpreter and translator. I love that in 1919, there was a man who had it in him to portray such a strong and resilient woman character in Mhudi. In Setswana we have a saying ‘Tsa etelelewa ke e tshegadi pele, tsa wela ka lengope’ which basically means women cannot lead. I am proud that a Motswana man was in 1919, aware that women could be and do whatever it was, they wanted. We have many Mhudis today leading on their own or supporting those leading others.

Another book I can mention here is Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower. Waris is resilience and courage epitomized. She became the voice of the voiceless and risked being denounced by her own by revealing the inhumane treatment young girls were being subjected to in her home country and many other countries.  I admire women who, despite their sufferings, rise up and strive to better their conditions and that of others who may be destined to the same fate. I believe that no woman should be married to a man she doesn’t love the same way that I don’t think women should be objects of male pleasure.

ABR: Tell us a bit about A Bus Ride Home

TIDIMALO: A Bus Ride Home is a novel about young romance that rekindles in maturity, thereby triggering a long reflective journey.  It is a woman’s personal journey. Through Tlotlego’s personal journey, the reader is also taken through the lives of her friends. There is Pelontle who is eccentric and adventurous but fears marriage, Amantle who is nursing an ungrateful HIV positive husband as well as Kgopolo who is forced to downgrade her opulent lifestyle after her divorce. This, I believe is a story of every woman.

 

Tidimalo Manyaapelo has written dramas for Radio Mmabatho and Motsweding FM. She has also written educational programmes for SABC Education Radio including I’special, I’spani and Takalani Sesame. She currently manages her own events management company, Td Concepts. She blogs at www.tdmalo.blogspot.com where she discusses modern issues from a feminine perspective. An avid hiker, A Bus Ride Home is her first novel.

 

So Long A Letter | Guest Review by Jade Yeung

“You forget that I have a heart, a mind, that I am not an object to be passed from hand to hand. You don’t know what marriage means to me: it is an act of faith and of love, the total surrender of oneself to the person one has chosen and who has chosen you.” – Pg 58

So Long a Letter is an epistolary novel written in the voice of Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese school teacher. Addressed to her best friend Aissatou, the letters chronicle Ramatoulaye’s emotional journey after her husband’s second marriage and his unexpected death. Written in a refreshingly forthright manner, the novel avoids usual narrative arcs (a beginning, climax and end) from the onset, the reader is aware of what has occurred to fuel Ramatoulaye’s letters.

In her first letter, Ramatoulaye writes to Aissatou, “Yesterday you were divorced. Today I am a widow.” The novel occupies the gap between these two sentences, as Bâ explores topics from African feminism to the intertwined relationship of tradition and religion and its implications for women such as Ramatoulaye, caught between a ‘new’ post-colonial Senegal and an allegiance to the patriarchal values that nourished her upbringing. Ramatoulaye’s thoughts reveal her to be a strong woman persevering under an oppressive patriarchy, shaped to some extent by societal, marital and religious traditions.

She writes “Start again at zero, after living twenty-five years with one man, after having borne twelve children? …. I had lost my slim figure. My stomach protruded from the wrapper…. Suckling had robbed my breasts of their round firmness. I could not delude myself: youth was deserting my body.”

These depictions of her female body as a vessel for bearing children are conflated with knowledge of the limitations placed on women by society.  While conversing with a male friend who works at the National Assembly, she fiercely rebuts a passive sexist remark:

Nearly twenty years of independence! When will we have the first female minister involved in the decisions concerning the development of our country? And yet the militancy and ability of our women, their disinterested commitment, have already been demonstrated. Women have raised more than one man to power… When will education be decided for children on the basis not of sex but of talent?

Though Ramatoulaye seems to dwell in virtual isolation, suspended between different ideologies and isolated by the practical realities of raising young children while mourning a dead husband and failed relationship, the reader never feels alone. Indeed, it often feels like Ramatoulaye is addressing not Aissatou but the reader. Her sufferings are not over, as her daughter points out, but she has not finished living either. In fact, it rather feels that Ramatoulaye is entering a new, promising epoch by the end of the novel.

Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter is a cornerstone of African feminisms, written brilliantly with calm and passionate intelligence, and it should be read by anyone tired of MFA poetry or empty fiction. Bâ was relevant yesterday and is relevant today.

So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ.

Translated to English by Modupe Bode-Thomas

Heineman | 1989| ISBN: 978-0-435905-55-2


548973_10150628616752966_250410152_nJade Yeung
was born and raised in Brooklyn. She received her BA in English at Hunter College. She reads literary fiction, poetry published before the 1980’s, and compelling non-fiction. When she’s not working one of several jobs in publishing and food, she likes to cook and listen to podcasts.

Americanah | Guest Review by Somto Ibe

“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.” – Pg 222

One of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Adiche has-dare I saybecome a maestro of sorts in the art of storytelling. Her work, in my opinion, reveals the importance of effective communication; the right mixture of simplicity, depth and finesse that is required to capture the attention of her diverse audience. You can therefore imagine my fascination when I learnt she was publishing a new book titled Americanah. With such a funky name, I couldn’t wait to read what she had put together this time.

Americanah is a complicated love story set in Nigeria and America, focused on the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze. Adventurous Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to further her education in America expecting, like many, to arrive in a land flowing with milk and honeyfiguratively speaking of coursebut encounters a host of sometimes amusing, yet often poignant surprises in the country.

One of such surprises is that skin colour may determine one’s experiences in America. This issue of race and skin colour leads Ifemelu to start a blog titled ‘Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.’ In one of her insightful blog posts she writes,

Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.

Adichie also tackles issues from growth in relationships to hair politics. Ifemelu’s values and opinions change as she moves from her relationship with Obinze a fellow Nigerian, to a white boyfriend, an African-American and finally back to Obinze (a rather interesting cycle with connotations worth contemplating).

Adichie’s focus on two West Africans does not limit the novel’s reach. After hearing my commentaries and uncontrollable fits of laughter while reading the novel, my Indian roommate asked to read it. Whenever she found something in the book to identify with, she would inform me and I must say, we bonded strongly over this book. She even ended up concluding that the values of our respective societies might be quite the same.

Americanah is a well written book that will make you think, lead you through an adventurous journey, and incite an array of emotions in you.

Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Knopf | 2013| ISBN: 978-0-307-27108-2

IMG_20131113_111232
Somto Ibe was born in the ancient city of Ibadan, in Nigeria, and lives in Canada. She’s studying to be a chemical engineer and likes a good read of any sort but preferrably historical fiction.

A Mother In a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe (excerpt)

Achebe 1This a wonderful excerpt from a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem is centered around a mother in a refugee camp, most likely during the Biafran war. The link between the past and present and the way war ruptures this is focused so articulately in the mother’s actions, combing her son’s hair. The foreshadowing, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave,’ anchors the poem rendering it heartbreaking yet somehow full of hope. Most people know Achebe as a great writer, not necessarily as a poet but his collection of poetry in Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is a brilliant, tender, and humorous exploration of a range of topics many centered around the effects of war in Biafra, colonialism in Nigeria, and the poets own observations on life.

 

 

The firewood of this world/ Is only for those who can take heart/ That is why not all can gather it...[Professor Dr. Kofi Awoonor - A Tribute] (Songs of Sorrow I)
The firewood of this world/ Is only for those who can take heart/ That is why not all can gather it…[Professor Dr. Kofi Awoonor – A Tribute] (Songs of Sorrow I)

A Simple Lust By Dennis Brutus

Born in 1924 in Salisbury to South African parents, Brutus is best known for his protest poetry which challenged the South African apartheid while celebrating freedoms all men ought to have. He was instrumental in the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia from the 1964 Olympics on the grounds of racism. His activism led to his being banned from all political and social activity and in 1973 he was arrested but escaped while on bail. He was later re-arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He spent those months on Robben Island, in a cell next to Nelson Mandela. Described as “A fearless campaigner for justice, a relentless organizer, an incorrigible romantic, and a great humanist and teacher,” Brutus died on 26 December 2009, at his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

584232-2A Simple Lust is a beautiful collection of Brutus’ poems during his time as a political prisoner and exile traveling the world unable to return to South Africa. Brutus captures the alternating awareness of limitations and challenges such restrictions in his poems about the land of South Africa, “A troubadour I traverse all my land… and I have laughed, disdaining those who banned/ inquiry and movement…choosing, like an unarmed thumb, simply to stand…” (2)

And stand he does, in his resistance to the forces of oppression and his insistence on delimiting the land as his, he captures the emotional gamut of black and colored South Africans, from the desire to fight for freedom, “Sharpevilled to spearpoints for revenging…” (9) to a simple resolute appreciation for just surviving, “Somehow we survive,/ and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither” (4).

Little can match  the well of understanding and emotion Brutus deftly disperses throughout A Simple Lust, yet his writing style and keen sense of observation elevate the reader’s experience even more. Brutus does to words what Achebe did to African Literature, he expands our appreciation of them. With words such as ‘air-live,’ ‘harsh-joy,’ ‘lovelaughter,’ he pushes their limitations past meaning into feeling.

A Simple Lust takes the reader from the darting eyes of a prisoner in his cell describing the effects of confinement on the psyche, to desolate beaches in Algiers, through the sorrowed longings of a wife separated from her husband, presenting cold reflections on ‘Amerika…the home of the brave’ (144), and on. Brutus welcomes the reader into a lush, experienced, understanding of oppression and resistance. More importantly, it offers a profound sense of what it means to carry joy as hope and to, as Brutus, reject desolation as the only reality.

“Peace will come./ We have the power/ the hope/ the resolution./ Men will go home.” (96)

A Simple Lust by Dennis Brutus

African Writers Series | 1979 | ISBN: 0 435 90115 X | HEB 115

Sefi Atta: An Interview with a Leading Nigerian Author

The African Book Review’s editor, Etinosa, had a conversation with renowned Nigerian author, Sefi Atta about her new book, A Bit of Difference, the changing roles of women in Nigeria and the unique position of young Nigerians growing up in the diaspora.

ARB: A BIT OF DIFFERENCE seems to take a moment in Deola’s life and use that as a lens for exploring a host of social issues. What inspired the book and did you have a goal when you set out to write the novel?

ATTA: I was inspired by the poster I described at the beginning of the novel. I saw it at Hartsfield-Jackson international airport in Atlanta, where I catch my connecting flights to Nigeria and England. My goal was to return to the territory of my debut novel Everything Good Will Come. I had stayed away for a while but I felt the time was right to revisit it.

ARB: One of the things that stood out to us in the novel was how astute the protagonist was in both noticing and maneuvering how other people perceive and categorized her. Is Deola symbolic of Nigerian youth caught between the varying (and sometimes conflicting) expectations of western and Nigerian societies? (Do you think being in that position is more difficult or advantageous than say, being a Nigerian born, raised, and residing in Nigeria?)

ATTA: Deola is tired of failing to live up to other people’s expectations, but I don’t know that her predicament would be any different if she’d never left Nigeria. She might not have to deal with the perceptions of foreigners, but she would have to deal with the perceptions of other Nigerians. I live in Nigeria, England and the United States. I have my working life in Mississippi, my social life in Lagos and a bit of both in London. I enjoy being able to escape from one country to another when I can.

ARB: To a fair extent, the female body is often regarded as social property to be regulated not just by the woman, but by society at large under the guise of morality. However, Deola stands out (and was truly inspiring) in her willingness to be comfortable and assertive with regards to her femininity and sexuality. Is this a reflection of modern Nigerian society? And what ideally, do you want the future of the Nigerian girl to look like in terms of the choices society affords her, and the choices she can make for herself?

ATTA: I would be lying if I said I thought about any of these issues while I was writing the novel. I will say this, though. We express our femininity and sexuality differently, depending on the generation to which we belong, our religions and cultures. The growth of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria has also radically changed how we see and project ourselves. It has increased our choices, but not necessarily in positive or empowering ways. I see Nigerian girls who are sexualized too young, who model themselves after celebrities and hip-hop video girls. My thing is this: Use your brains, whatever you do. Nigeria is not forgiving of anyone who makes stupid decisions. Thankfully, I see Nigerian girls who are enterprising, hardworking and smart.

Continue reading “Sefi Atta: An Interview with a Leading Nigerian Author”