Black Women Be Like: An Interview with Andiswa Maqutu

Andiswa Maqutu describes herself as a pan-Africanist and feminist. She is the author of Black Women Be Like and the founding curator of the eponymous series that consists of stories, poetry, visual and audio art to be produced by black African women from around the continent. Whether exploring a lesbian couple in South Africa, or travelling around Asia as a black woman, Andiswa’s writing is a magnificent lens that captures so much of what it means to exist, on one level as a relational human being, and on another, as a black woman negotiating societal tensions. What could become a futile exercise in double consciousness instead becomes a work of art and genius in Adiswa’s hands. The ABR had a brilliant chat with Adiswa about Black Women Be Like and more.

 

Andiswa Maqutu

ABR: What inspired Black Women Be Like?

MAQUTU: Black Women Be Like-The Book, was inspired by my experiences as a woman who is black. It was driven by the conflict I had with my lived experience as a black woman in the 21st century, and the stories I had read and watched about black African women in short stories, books, films and music videos.

I believe the way to get a nuanced story about any people, is for those people to tell their authentic stories themselves. Even in stories that are purely from the imagination and may never take place in this realm, an authenticity needs to be tapped into. And if a storyteller wants to venture into the experiences of another person, she should do the necessary research.

But I struggled to find stories about women who looked like me and had similar conflicts to mine, even though I had read many stories about black women, especially African women. I mainly saw four recurring typecasts of black African women in the creative literature I read; the struggling, mystical and asexual grandmother raising her many grandchildren while dishing out pearls of wisdom or curses to strangers, the [perceived] oversexed jezebel who sleeps with army generals or older men to survive, the educated professional who is rude and proud, and the meek but passive aggressive black Muslim girl.

In her paper titled, Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and Their Homegirls: Developing an “Oppositional Gaze” Towards the Images of Black Women, Dr Carolyne West explores these stereotypes in American media and how they have narrowly evolved over the years. And I realized that it is not a problem unique to black women on the African continent, while the recurring stereotypes are sometimes the lived experiences of black women, particularly in Africa’s developing nations, they are not the only images of black women that exist. So I wrote the anthology with the intention to share stories of my experiences as a young black middle-class woman in South Africa.

Black Women Be Like-The Movement, was inspired by my desire to get other black African women writing their own stories, to get the nuanced story of the black African woman.

ABR: What was the process of writing the collection? Are they based on your experiences or on those of other people and was there any emotional/ personal journey that occurred as you confronted and wrote about these issues?

MAQUTU: The process turned out to be more emotional and conflicted than I had imagined. I usually carry a little black book to write down story ideas and experiences that I can explore in the form of short stories or poetry, so I can capture the emotion of each moment in the moment, so I had a list of potential stories and decided to choose the experiences that were closest to me for good and bad reasons.

I had intended to title the book When Black Women Speak for Themselves, because I felt that was what I was doing as a black woman who had been written about and yet had never seen her stories told. But I felt that title was too loaded and would distract from the content of the book, so I decided on Black Women Be Like, playing on the memes circulating social media and perpetuating stereotypes about black women.

I also wanted to shy away from exploring themes and experiences that presented new haughty extremes to combat existing stereotypes about black women. It was more important for me to share stories that were close to me, authentic and I could write well.

So the process of writing the book was me wrestling with trying to creatively write out my experiences using the characters in the book to explore internal conflicts, and worrying about how the book would be perceived because I am a woman who is black and aware of it. And I could have easily been labeled a number of things including angry black woman and/or using empowered black African women in my stories as a feminist trope and gimmick.

Each story has at least one of my experiences. The first and last stories titled My Favourite Aunt and Kulula Izila, are both inspired by my mother and her sisters, who have been my opinionated and empowered role models. .

The story When the Jacarandas Had Begun Rotting was inspired by friends who are lesbian and by the events and brutality against lesbians in South Africa and on the continent. I wanted to explore some of the forgotten ways black women are oppressed and how they fight back, love and are loved. I had my friends read the story to ensure I hadn’t explored it from the point of view of heterosexual privilege.
Out of Africa, is about my experiences and thoughts on my trips overseas during 2014. I was really emotional transferring that piece from my little book into a short story because the experience of the racism and otherness was fresh. I could still remember sitting on a bench outside the Ayasofya in Turkey, with people watching and pointing at me. On my visit to Istanbul, I experienced, for the first time, the kind of racism that made me fear for my life.

ABR: There’s a thread of dissonance that runs through the collection, especially in the essay titled Out of Africa. Dissonance between how the protagonist is perceived based both on her gender and skin color, which is different from how she perceives her own self as a human being. Do you think that dissonance is reflected in black women today? And with regards to the dichotomy between how the protagonist sees herself vs. how the world sees her, is there any point in trying to reconcile both viewpoints? Is there a stage when one should be more important than the other? And is there a way to utilize both to one’s advantage?

MAQUTU: There is definitely that dissonance reflected in black women, and particularly young black women right now. And that’s one of the conflicts that I experience as a young black woman that I feel is not explored enough in creative writing, even by black women writers.

Black women are an acute reflection of how perceptions about both race and gender have changed very little, and where those perceptions have evolved, they have only evolved narrowly.

Black men are grappling with a similar conflict to what white people and previous oppressors of black people are; that these people (women and black people) who were supposed to keep quiet and do as they were told, now want to exercise their right to control their own actions and also have opinions about the status quo…as equals.

Continue reading “Black Women Be Like: An Interview with Andiswa Maqutu”

A Powerful Essay on Being A Black Woman: An Excerpt from ‘Black Women Be Like’ by Andiswa Maqutu

Out of Africa

The brave ones, or their nosy children, come closer to look over your shoulder and walk off muttering and giggling. But you keep yourself on display, because you hope the more of you they see, the more of you they will believe is actually human.

Their nosiness reminds you of the girls who ran to you at Guangzhou airport chanting something in Mandarin between excited smiles and squeals. You remember how they grabbed and touched your dreadlocks. You remember how one of the girls pulled out her cellphone and typed something on it with small pale hands. You watched as the slits she had for eyes read something on the screen and then she said, “You hair pretty”

“Is that a translator on your phone?” you asked her, moving your head around, trying to dodge the pats from her friend’s hand.

“She like your hair,” the girl repeated her meaning, pointing at her friend, who was still excitedly trying to touch your dreadlocks. You remember how you were disarmed. How you smiled and let her examine your hair. Were you condoning the common ownership of a black woman‟s hair or was that a display of tolerance?

You wonder if tolerance and not treating people who look different as if they were zoo animals, is a product of education and exposure to the world. But then you think of the rich American brats at the summer camp you ran in Kinetikit during your gap year. Who, when you tried to show them how to do an activity or tell them it was lights out, would say, “Shut up! You‟re from Africa; I don‟t have to listen to you”. And you remember how the camp organisers told you to smile, because for some reason you just weren‟t smiling enough, or you would ruin a teenager‟s summer.

You remember walking in the Ayasofya, its marble floors wrinkled and painfully etched with the memory of earthquakes. Overlooking you were ancient paintings of Christianity and Islam, side by side. You struggled to connect with a history that did not include your people, who may have been despised at the time. But you were drawn by the symbolism of religious tolerance and coming together in painful earthquake times. You longed for a racial tolerance and you wondered where this tolerance was lost. So you thought that maybe you were being hard on them. I mean, maybe you stared the first time you saw white or Indian women. Maybe you tried to grab the locks of her silky hair.

The ships below sail your mind from your notebook to Lagos. To memories of a visit where you felt you belonged. You are ashamed now of the pride you felt when you basked in compliments about how you were a lighter shade of black; “Are you South African or Kenyan?” they asked. “South Africans are beautiful, not dark like us”. But out here, brown is all the same. There is no yellow-bone privilege. It does not matter the shade. You miss seeing black women wearing their copper and brown Peruvian and Brazilian weaves and big black afros, walking into a hotel in Lagos. You miss seeing the birthday girl, wearing a pink sash with the words “Miss Lagos” stitched across it, wearing a long black dress that ran its material over every visible and secret curve of her body. You miss watching her walk into the hotel and command a table of the best French Champagne to celebrate her 21st birthday. You miss her friends‟ short mini-skirts and printed peplums. You miss how some of them wore dresses and pants made of “African print” fabrics. You miss the way some of them wore the latest trends hot off the pages of the latest magazines and not seeming any less African. You miss the way the whole restaurant would stare at each one walking in, one after the other, with stares that were not threatening or loathing or ashamed, but appreciative and often curious.

You miss the way Lagos girls looked at you; sized up your hair and make-up by whatever standard they liked on that day, and walked off feeling more beautiful. The way they did not care that you looked foreign.

You miss measuring the size of their ass against yours, and sometimes coming up short. You miss watching women of your colour commanding appreciation from all kinds of women and men in ways that were not taboo. You feel superficial, as you miss having your beauty measured against your own kind.

Because yesterday, you took a selfie outside a store called “Gratis” in Istanbul, and giggled that everything in the store must be free, with the two blonde Afrikaans girls and the red haired male tourist with you on the trip. When you reviewed the selfie you felt like you stuck out repulsively among them. Then a group of young Turkish looking men told the other girls how pretty they were as they annoyed them with their advances. While you stood awkwardly aside, trying not to be seen, but wanting desperately to be noticed.

You wondered when you loathed yourself so much.

You are nostalgic. You miss hearing Kabelo‟s “Ngicela ukuhamba nawe” and singing along to the words. You wonder if it is okay, even for black men, to sing that way about black women‟s‟ bodies. But you are too desperate for home and belonging to care. A stranger‟s back that presses against your own as they take a picture of the ships sailing across the bay startles you back into the present. Maybe they didn‟t mean to, but it‟s the first physical contact you have had with a stranger on this trip. Maybe the display is working. Maybe their fear and ignorance is beginning to wear off, you think. But then you sneeze, once, and then again. And a third time too many. You are reaching for your purse, reaching for some tissues. And they begin to move away in panic. After a few sneezes, your hay fever has failed you. The café owner walks over to let know “No Ebola allowed here.” You try to explain that‟s it‟s an allergic reaction to the rose bed behind you. He tells you he doesn‟t speak English. He tells you to leave…in English.

And then walks off.

You are the dark brand face of a hemorrhagic disease some three thousand kilometres away because you sneezed. Suddenly you fear your own display. The stares are no longer curious. They are no longer excited. No one is taking pictures. Some are moving away slowly, more of them briskly. Some are standing just staring at you. Challenging. You are afraid. You are alone. You think of the reports you read about restaurants and shops in Thailand and Korea with signs at their doors reading “No Africans”, an uninformed fear, or precaution, that all black people suffer from Ebola. You think back to your trip to Mozambique and are convicted by how you kept your distance from the local people, out of a fear of contracting malaria. Or when you joked with friends about making sure you don‟t befriend anyone from anywhere “north of the Zambezi River” until “this Ebola thing” blows over.

You stand up to leave. They grab their children and dash off in different directions. You are left with the cries of those children reaching for your eardrums from distant places you can‟t see, and then slipping until faint and no more. You are alone, except for a few men who stayed behind. Their eyes are threatening. You move forward to leave. They remain stationed. You swear you see another smile. You see another caressing your skin and your behind with his eyes. The same way that store manager did when you ran back to spend the last of your last Turkish Lira on those sunglasses. Or the Chinese men whose eyes followed you as you walked down the beach on Hainan Island. Or when you were shopping downtown for cheap souvenirs in Sao Paulo. Or walked into the hotel elevator in Madrid. Those men who, when you caught them staring at you, would quickly look away, offended. Not out of respect for you, but from the self-damning shame of finding you attractive. Those scare you, because you don‟t know how dark their fantasies of exploring a dark woman might be.

You push through the remaining men, the last kick of your dying display. One of them grabs your arm and twists it. He mutters something and the others laugh. They move closer. He moves his grip from his arm to your face. He holds your chin between his thumb and index finger. His eyes are a muddy green covered by a hanging forest of dark eyebrows. His olive skin is weathered; maybe from drinking, definitely from smoking, as he breathes foreign words laced with tobacco onto your face and the others laugh, again.

His face is analysing your skin; like fine cocoa granules moulded into a face. You struggle from his grip only to walk into more grips; from different hands, because a black woman‟s body is for common ownership. On every visible and secret curve of your body. You struggle, and struggle some more to keep the glass sheets over your eyes from shattering into stinging tears. You are saving them to stain your pillow with muddy foundation. You struggle until you break away.

And now you sit in your hotel room nursing the bruised brown of your skin. It will never turn into a pale shade of white. You think about the interview on the talk radio station back home, about why it is not okay to mock black women‟s bodies. You remember the emotional voice of the woman who called in describing the struggles she had with the voluptuous body that carried her. You remember the men who called in saying it did not matter what anyone thought or said or did, and she should be proud of her body. The glass sheets over your eyes do not shatter. If people only get a certain amount of tears to cry about one thing, you‟ve long used up your ration. You resolve to go and report the men to the police, even though you don‟t believe it will make a difference.

But you will keep yourself on display, because you hope the more of you they see, the more of you they will believe is actually human.

 

Black Women Be Like by Andiswa Maqutu | Buy the Book | READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ANDISWA MAQUTU HERE

Andiswa Onke Maqutu | 2014 |  B00OM907TO

The Remarkable Life of Africa’s First Female President

I rarely read autobiographies and I’ve heard of just a few autobiographies by presidents, but my interest was piqued when I came across This Child Will Be Great by Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president.

This book is the memoir of a remarkable life. Sirleaf tells the story of her rise to power; the struggles she encountered, the sacrifices she made and also chronicles Liberia’s history. She explains the origin of the alienation between the Americo-Liberians (or the settlers) and the indigenous people that set stage for the disasters that befell the country.

Sirleaf explains that even though on her birth, an old man had prophesied she would be great, her life seemed to have been set up to be anything but great. It always seemed to be one disaster after another. If she wasn’t struggling to get out of an abusive marriage, she was leaving her four sons behind to pursue an education in America, trying to get out of jail after being incarcerated by her president or living in exile. Through it all though, she refused to give up, encouraging people around her–especially women– to never settle for less.

Sirleaf does not at all mince her words, telling near embarrassing personal stories that I imagined she would other wise not have shared. In retrospect, I see this was her method of drawing the reader’s attention to her struggles and their role in her eventual successes.

This also explains why she often got into trouble with the government of Liberia. She was never one to see injustice and keep quiet. Once, while she worked at the Treasury Department, she was invited to speak at a conference on Liberia’s economic future and a part of her speech went something like this: “Liberia will never move forward unless the government stops stealing the country’s resources.” I imagined a young divorced African woman making these audacious remarks and I knew then that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf truly is a force to be reckoned with.

In summary, I found the book to be very well written, a thought provoking and all together a great motivational book. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s story is truly inspiring.

This Child Will Be Great by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Harper|2009|ISBN:978-0061353475

Review by Somto Ibe

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Somto Ibe was born in the ancient city of Ibadan, 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.

Togo: Thank You for Being a Woman | Jémima Fiadjoe-Prince Agbodjan

Thank you for being a woman
For having been born
To know the pain of childbirth;
For having nursed my mother’s breast
To know the joy and happiness of offering my milk;
For having been carried on her back
To learn how to strengthen my back
For having known the tenderness of this maternal heart
To learn how to have a child’s heart.

Thank you for being a woman
For being at the school of prudence
Of endurance and of patience
In order to be guardian of the hearth
To insure its protection and fulfilment;
For being a nest of clear and creative thoughts
For being the welcoming earth where grow
              The seeds of the future

Thank you for being a woman
For being beauty and softness
For being light and warmth
For being discretion and lobe
And finally, more than anything,
For being born to give,
To give my Peace for the Peace
OF HUMANITY.

Jémima Fiadjoe-Prince Agbodjan studied medicine at the University of Dakar and then in France at the University of Lille. She works as a pediatrician in Lomé, Togo

 

Culled from Scottish Poetry Library

The Big Lie

In The Big Lie, Tanya Selvaratnam details how she came to the realization that age isn’t just a number when it comes to fertility. Born in 1971 (11 years after the FDA approved the Pill for contraceptive use and two years before abortion was legalized with Roe v. Wade), Selvaratnam had inherited reproductive freedom, and with it, she argues, the assumption she could wait to get pregnant whenever she felt ready.

When her experience revealed that her advanced age might have influenced her inability to deliver to term, the Harvard grad exercised her reproductive right in a new way—acquiring knowledge. The result is a fastidious survey of the baby-making business; a crash course on American healthcare policy, international adoption, and fertility tourism; a personal story threading statistics, reports, articles, and expert advice like beads.

Through it all, Selvaratnam is diagnosed with cancer and her marriage ends.

As intimate as it is, Selvaratnam’s book also serves as a resource, aimed at opening the door on a global network—and economy—fueled by the desire to have a child.

Selvaratnam says she wrote the book as an admonition to younger women who want children to arm themselves with information about their fertility. “I didn’t learn about this at home, in school, or at my doctor’s office,” she explains. “I found the information on my own… Although infertility is traditionally seen as a female problem, more and more reports are emerging about the man’s role. In fact, infertility cases are evenly accounted for by both male and female factors.”

She argues that while some couples hoping to get pregnant seek affordable treatments in parts of Asia and Africa, the next generation of Africans may find themselves facing infertility challenges as more and more couples postpone childbirth.

…despite having twenty-nine of the world’s thirty-one high-fertility countries…fertility rates are expected to fall by 2030 and possibly below by 2050, due to the rapid economic growth. According to an article in the Economist in 2009, ‘An emergent African middle class is taking out mortgages and moving into newly built flats—and two children is what they want. 

When the fertility rate falls below 2.1, the replacement rate (of people being born versus those dying) can cause an imbalance between the young and old generations, resulting in concerns about whether there are enough people to take care of the aging population and enough new workers to keep the economy going.

 

The Big Lie enters the market at a time when conversations around working families reproductive choices have captured the zeitgeist with renewed intensity. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s instantly viral article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In have influenced the discussion around the challenges women face on the job when planning for a family, and when they become mothers, if they choose to do so.

Selvaratnam represents women who have leaned all the way in—and must now balance career demands with the reality of their biological clocks (if they choose to have children) and the exorbitant costs of assisted reproduction, if necessary. Though she focuses solely on getting pregnant, not the costs of taking care of them, high mortality rates and undeveloped or developing economies of the most reproductive nations, her book is uniquely global in perspective and class-aware, expanding the conversation from privileged women at the highest echelons of society to women with less financial resources who endeavor to navigate the expensive morass of the fertility economy.

The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam

Prometheus Books | 2014 | ISBN: 978-1616148454

Review by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

NANA EKUA BREW-HAMMOND-headshotNana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Named among the 39 most promising African writers under 39, her work will be featured in the forthcoming anthology Africa39. She blogs at People Who Write.

 

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.

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”

A Bit of Difference

Who: Deola Bello

What: Exploring what it means to be a contemporary African woman.

Why: Female, thirties, working for international charity, soon pregnant, single, Nigerian. Nothing is unusual, nothing is as it should be.

Should I read it: Necessary for women everywhere and all the men in their lives.

Qq: “[Deola] gave up her virginity when she had no more use for it. Losing her virginity was like discovering her hair was not her crowning glory” – Pg 97

A Bit of Difference presents a commentary on African femininity, specific to Nigeria, yet easily applicable to women worldwide. The novel is assertive in its exploration and insightful in detailing the complexities, limitations, joys, and paradoxes of being a Nigerian woman, living within or outside the country. Using the life of Deola Bello, a single auditor working for a British charity, Atta explores everything from Western perceptions of Africa and indeed African women, to the contradictions inherent in social expectations for women and their abilities to meet, ignore, or defy set expectations.  A Bit of Difference, much less a novel than a brilliant portrait, successfully achieves what all good poetry strives for; it picks a moment and explores it. Atta offers no comfortable narratives or righteous solutions; instead her honest voice challenges the reader’s understanding of what it means to be Nigerian, African, British, European, American, but above all, what it means to be a woman inhabiting the battle ground that is the female body.

A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

Interlink Books | 2013 | ISBN: 978-1-56656-892-0

Read our interview with Sefi Atta here.

Ghana Must Go, A Novel

Ghana Must Go

Who: The Sai family, a loosely knit yet inexplicably bound group, each facing different directions yet somehow holding on.

Why: Failure, Success, Expectations, Betrayal.

Should I read it: On a cool day with lots of time to spare

Qq: “It was the reason, he thought they built churches so big, and investment banks so impressive. To dazzle the faithful. Arrogance by association. The machine was in control, and so he was in control who belonged to it” Pg 69

The women of Ghana Must Go, are creatures who exist in a manner that few other writers have captured. Many times excuses are made for the humanity of characters, banal characteristics used to code and justify their existence. Selasi however, grants her women an existence that does not need justification. They are because they are. Yet they somehow remain intangible to the reader, vessels suspended in the space between critical consciousness, and intimacy. Selasi’s writing style maintains a distance that sometimes successfully works emotion and tenderness into the tale. At other times, the narrator’s distance is much too far and the reader feels as though in a Brecht play, too conscious of the fourth wall, unable to grasp the humanity of the characters, or view them as anything other than threads succumbing to Selasi’s convulsing attempts to weave an intricate tapestry. Intricate it might be, but a complete tapestry it is not. The reader is therefore left with convoluted knots, spaces with unraveling threads, coupled with brilliant patches that underscore Selasi’s genius and force one to keep reading in the hopes that the rest of the narrative maintains such illusive brilliance. It therefore comes as a surprise when a grey character exudes a contentment that is critical to, yet almost overlooked in Selasi’s tapestry. Her contentment weighs as the anchor of the book, the place towards which each character is destined, but never quite arrives. It is audacious in a way that echoes the unfulfilled aspirations of Ghana Must Go.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Penguin Press| 2013| ISBN: 978-1594204494