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What the Day Owes the Night by Yasmina Khadra

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Algerian author Yasmina Khadra has gained acclaim throughout the world as much for his novels The Swallows of Kabul and The Attack which thoughtfully examine conflict in Afghanistan and Palestine respectively, as for the mystery surrounding his identity. An officer in the Algerian army, Mohammed Moulessehoul used his wife’s name as a pseudonym under which to publish his books in order to avoid being censored by the military until he retired and relocated to France. In What the Day Owes the Night, Khadra melds a bildungsroman about a young man with the coming-of-age story of the Algerian nation as it claims its independence.

Ten-year-old Younes learns lessons about hardship and misfortune early in life when his peasant father’s anticipated harvest of plenty is set on fire in an anonymous act of malice. Bankrupt and forced to surrender his family’s lands, Younes’ father moves his family to Oran, a nearby city. Younes recounts, “There is nothing cruder than the inequalities of a city. Walk around a block and day becomes night, life becomes death.” Initially, Younes’ father is too prideful and stubborn to accept anything more than the most minimal financial assistance from his brother, Mahi, who enjoys a prosperous life as the owner of a pharmacy in the European section of the city and is married to a woman of European descent. However, as he finds himself unable to turn the tide of his own fate and that of his family, Younes’ father abruptly takes up his brother’s offer, allowing him to raise his only son as his own.

Subsequently, Younes—now called “Jonas”—receives a privileged upbringing with parents who dote on him and provide him with an education. At the same time, Younes comes to realize that Mahi feels conflicted about the societal status he has achieved. Mahi is arrested for his involvement in the Algerian movement for independence, but even in these efforts, his conviction is compromised. “The gossips said that before the police even put him in the van my uncle was a broken man, that he had confessed everything he knew as soon as he was questioned.” The identity struggle of the successful Muslim who has assimilated into the Western world is one that Yasmina Khadra has reflected upon previously in his writing. In his novel The Attack, the protagonist is a gifted Palestinian surgeon who has cultivated a comfortable life and earned the respect of his Israeli peers, only to have his world shattered when his beloved wife is confirmed to have committed a suicide attack. In an effort to understand the meaning behind her actions, he returns to the Palestinian village he grew up in and is forced to revisit the hardship and poverty that he was able to leave behind.

Feeling disgraced, Mahi relocates his family to Rio Salado “…a beautiful colonial village with leafy streets lined with magnificent houses.” In Rio Salado, Younes discovers the relationships that will prove transformative for him. He becomes friends with five local boys who accept him even though he is the only Muslim in their group. He loses his virginity to a mysterious French woman whose husband has disappeared overseas, only to later fall in love with her daughter. The rivalry to win the affections of Émilie strains the kinship between the boys as they emerge into adulthood.

Seemingly without warning, the war for independence erupts in Algeria. The violence has tragic consequences for Younes’ friends and even Émilie’s family is affected. Younes’ ambivalence regarding the conflict is tested when he finds himself forced at gunpoint to abet the freedom fighters first by letting an injured commander take refuge in his house and then by clandestinely delivering medical supplies to them. When he is captured, ironically by an Arab who sympathizes with the colonists, it is an influential European nobleman in Rio Salado who secures his release. Younes bears witness to the obliteration of Algeria as ruled over by colonial powers through his frantic search to find Émilie who left Rio Salado for Oran with her young son after her home was burned down. “Algerian Algeria was being delivered by forceps in a torrent of tears and blood as French Algeria lay bleeding to death.” Younes cannot reclaim Émilie in the same way that the colonists cannot maintain their claim over Algeria.

As an author, Khadra carefully avoids taking sides through his narration of the conflict. Though he acknowledges the harm that colonialism inflicted upon native Algerians, the Europeans he depicts are well-rounded beings whose primary concern is preserving their way of life. As Younes’ neighbor from childhood laments later in life, ‘“Not everyone was a colonist, not everyone went round slapping a riding crop against their aristocratic boots; some of us didn’t have any boots at all.”’ Thus, the sense of loss they experience when they evacuate Algeria is not of power but of a homeland. Despite Khadra’s years of experience in the masculine military environment, his sensitivity towards his female characters is striking. Of the women Younes’ family shares their dilapidated tenement in Oran with, he writes, “The women stuck together, they supported each another [sic] if one was ill, the others would make sure there was food in her pot, look after her baby, take turns sitting by her bedside.” Though Émilie’s presence drives a rift that is nearly insurmountable through the youthful friendships Younes has cultivated in Rio Salado, she is never portrayed as having malicious intent. Khadra’s prose is creative and intelligent, describing a host of situations ranging from the pangs of love to the austerity of senseless violence with deftness.

The final fifty pages of What the Day Owes the Night serve as the epilogue. Younes, now an old man, journeys to France where Émilie’s son takes him to visit the grave of his recently-deceased mother. It is also an opportunity for him to see his friends who fled Algeria in the wake of its independence. Contemporary Algeria has faltered in its quest to thrive as a new nation due to the rise of Islamic insurgency. As Younes is about to board the plane to return to his homeland from France, he reconnects with someone very dear to him, the parting implication of the novel being that some ties are more valuable than unfulfilled love.

Bibliography

1. Anonymous. “Reader, I’m a He.” The Guardian, 22 June 2005. Web. 17 Apr. 2019.

 

 

This Is Our World: The Africa Book Challenge Year II

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Today marks the two-year anniversary of The Africa Book Challenge and I am pleased to report that its mission is halfway to being accomplished! 27 books from 27 different countries in Africa have been featured on this site out of a total of 54 nations.

2018 and the beginning of 2019 has been an incredible time for The Africa Book Challenge. The site received more than twice as many visitors in its second year than it did in its first. Furthermore, the site has now received visitors from more than 60 countries, nearly one-third of the countries in the world! 21 of those countries are in Africa.

Here is a map that shows all the countries The Africa Book Challenge has received visitors from thus far:

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For a comparison, here is a map showing all the countries the site had received visitors from at this time last year.

2018 was also an amazing year for Africa and the world, and there is every reason to believe that 2019 will be likewise. Some of the highlights include the following:

Of course, not all the news has been good news:

  • In October of 2018, Niger lost trailblazing journalist Mariama Keita. English translations of Nigerien literature are virtually impossible to find, making Keita’s success all the more invaluable.
  • In August of 2018, Nobel Prize-winner and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan passed away. Kofi Annan is featured in Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust due to his role in bringing about a truce in the aftermath of the contentious 2007 elections in Kenya.

Inspired by these gains and in spite of the losses, it is truly imperative for the mission of The Africa Book Challenge to continue. It is my firm belief that we get the literature that we demand. These past few years have seen many books translated into English from countries where literature by native authors was not available in English before, but there is still more work to be done. As publishers realize that these are the books that we want to read, they will respond to this demand.

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, and followed along these past two years. It is because of you that this site keeps growing.

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

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La Bastarda, the harsh-sounding title of Equatorial Guinean author Trifonia Melibea Obono’s novel, conjures up an air of grim condemnation that is contradicted by the surprisingly optimistic message that the book imparts. Sixteen-year-old Okomo lives with her grandfather and the families of his two wives since her own mother died during childbirth after getting pregnant outside of marriage. She has no knowledge of who her father is, and the person she feels most connected to is Marcelo, her uncle, who is known as a “man-woman” in the village and thus shunned. Okomo, herself, possesses none of the stereotypical feminine attributes that a woman in the Fang tribe is expected to exhibit in order to attract a husband, much to the chagrin of her grandmother. An excursion into the forest to collect wood has startling consequences for her. Okomo learns that the villagers have burned her uncle’s home to the ground and that he has taken refuge in the woods. The bearers of this news are none other than the very group of girls that Okomo’s grandmother has prohibited her from having contact with. She has a liberating sexual encounter with the three girls and finds herself calling into question everything that has been dictated to her by her grandparents while learning more about aspects of herself that she was previously unable to understand. An afterword by scholar Abosede George provides historical and geographical information about Equatorial Guinea as well as some thoughtful commentary on the themes explored in the novel.

What makes La Bastarda so successful is the way in which Obono juxtaposes homosexuality—the perceived abnormality—with some of the traditional heterosexual practices of Okomo’s tribe that are hardly consistent with the ideal of a loving relationship between a man and a woman. When one of Okomo’s uncles is found to have fertility issues, Marcelo is expected to impregnate the man’s wife in order to maintain the respectability of the clan, but he refuses. When Marcelo explains this situation to her, Okomo asks, ‘“The women agree to this?”’ Marcelo’s noncompliance with this practice is indicative not only of his homosexuality but also of his unwillingness to do something that violates a woman’s sovereignty over her body and sexuality. Likewise, it is revealed that the reason Okomo’s grandfather married a second wife is because her grandmother became sterile when she contracted syphilis from him after he had an encounter with a prostitute. An aunt explains to her, ‘“My father was cured in the hospital, he did it quickly, and that’s why he didn’t suffer any of the side effects, but he never told Mama.”’ Thus, in the Fang tradition, a woman has no recourse against a husband who has been unfaithful to her, and it is his prerogative to take another wife when it suits him.

A tragedy rounds out the narrative arc of the novel in the form of a betrayal that comes from within the group of girls. When their activities are made known to the villagers, two of them are married off and Okomo is sent to another town to live with distant relatives. Incidentally, this village is where Okomo’s father lives and she makes the effort to locate him. As it turns out, he is not the disreputable wretch that her grandparents made him out to be, but he also does not provide any solutions to the problems that are currently plaguing Okomo. Ultimately, she realizes that she no longer has any affinity to her family or her clan. “…I escaped to the forest to live with my uncle Marcelo, the man-woman, and the other three indecent girls from my village, the only family that life had given me.” Although it was her blood relatives who initially rejected her, she now understands that she must cut ties with them.

La Bastarda is a mere one hundred pages long, with ten of those pages devoted to its afterword. However, it is a testament to Obono’s clear and detailed prose that the novel feels rich and satisfying despite its brevity. Okomo may not be able to transform her immediate environment into one that is accepting of people who do not conform to its cultural expectations, but she can seek asylum in the woods, free from the judgment of those who would force her to change.

Bibliography

1. George, Abosede. (2018). Afterword. In Trifonia Melibea Obono, La Bastarda (pp. 91-101). New York, NY: Feminist Press.

2. “The World Factbook: EQUATORIAL GUINEA.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 5 Feb. 2019. Web. 13 Feb. 2019.

 

Weeding the Flowerbeds by Sarah Mkhonza

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Weeding the Flowerbeds is Sarah Mkhonza’s memoir of the years she spent in the early 1970’s at a private boarding school located on a Christian mission in Eswatini (known as Swaziland until 2018). Bulelo, as she is known in the book, and her two friends, Makhosi and Sisile, persevere in academics but chafe under the rules set by the hierarchical administration at Manzini Nazarene High School. They also struggle to determine the role that Christianity—which is imposed on them through daily worship services—will play in their lives on their own terms. Photographs included in the book show glimpses of Mkhonza’s life at the school, though they are unlabeled.

Sarah Mkhonza deserves admiration as a woman from a developing African nation who managed to produce a book about her experiences receiving an education in the era shortly after her country gained its independence. Therefore, her voice and perspective deserve to be heard. Unfortunately, Weeding the Flowerbeds suffers because it never identifies a strong enough plot objective around which to shape its narrative. The teacher who is credited as being a positive influence on Bulelo and her friends—a young Englishman named Mr. Fields—is not introduced until halfway through the text. None of the three girls experiences a crisis great enough to serve as a turning point in the narrative arc of the memoir. In Our Lady of the Nile, Scholastique Mukasonga successfully employed the boarding school setting as an arena to enact a prelude to the carnage that would later occur in Rwanda. Mkhonza does not connect the experiences of the girls at Manzini Nazarene High School to the larger issues that were ongoing in Swaziland as a newly independent African nation.

Tsitsi Dangarembga explored the ambivalence felt by a young African girl who receives an education in the British colonial school system in Nervous Conditions. Tambudzai knows that succeeding academically is the key to escaping the poverty that her immediate family endures, but is also keenly aware that her schooling is being provided by those who view her people as second-class citizens. Mkhonza does hint at the desire of the girls to use their education to resist the legacy that the European mission symbolizes. “… [W]e had subtle resentment that showed itself in excessive ridicule of the missionaries and the oppressive manner in which we thought they governed our lives. In all the positions that they occupied, we were sure that we wanted Africans.” However, this assertion never becomes the catalyst for significant action in the narrative. Bulelo and her friends may argue with school administrators about the punishments they receive for seemingly trivial infractions, but there is never any full-scale resistance or reformation. Long blocks of text and verbose, redundant prose further detract from the readability of Weeding the Flowerbeds. It is worth noting that Mkhonza published her book through a self-publishing firm. Therefore, some of the grammatical errors and other issues of readability may be attributed to a lack of copyediting and other editorial advisement that an author would receive at a traditional publishing house.

The final chapters of Weeding the Flowerbeds leading up to Bulelo’s graduation from the mission school constitute the strongest section of the book. Curiously, Mkhonza does not reveal what the three girls plan to pursue after finishing secondary school—nursing school is discussed as an option by one of her friends but is never confirmed. One issue that has been resolved for Bulelo is her relationship with Christianity. “There would no more be preaching and praying in my life. I was going back to my Methodist background, where salvation was not a daily thing that was preached about three times a day.” Mkhonza accurately captures the relief and regret that a student feels on the day when school is finally over. “I looked at the high school for the last time. I really felt that those red, white, and green walls had given more to me than I had given to them. I hoped that I would keep all that they had given.” In moments like these, it becomes clear that there is wisdom and poignancy in Mkhonza’s writing, but it struggles to shine in the midst of this frequently redundant and unfocused text.

Bibliography

1. “The World Factbook: ESWATINI.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 22 Jan. 2019. Web. 24 Jan. 2019.

2. “Sarah Mkhonza.” Ithaca City of Asylum. Ithaca City of Asylum, 19 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Jan. 2019.

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

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In her slim yet provocative novel, Mauritian author Ananda Devi challenges the popular perception of her country as a Western tourist’s paradise. Eve Out of Her Ruins reveals the unsavory underworld of an urban ghetto in which the East African island nation’s youth are driven to organized gangs and prostitution to escape the despair and poverty they are beset by. Narrated in turn by each of the four main characters, brief vignettes sketch out the realities of men and women on the cusp of adulthood, who rebel in various ways against the bleak fate that life has mapped out for them.

Seventeen-year-old Eve discovered prostitution when she was barely an adolescent and bartered her body in exchange for school supplies and other things she needs that her indigent parents could not provide. “I am in permanent negotiation. My body is a stop-over. Entire sections have been explored. Over time, they blossom with burns and cracks.” Yet her real passion is reserved for Savita, her best friend. “Nobody knows what pulls Eve and Savita to each other. Eve and Savita are the two sides of the moon.” Saadiq, who goes by “Saad” is a sensitive young man whose unrequited love for Eve is matched only by his passion for writing poetry. “I want both: to write, and to have Eve. Eve and writing. Hand in hand. Having only one of them is as good as nothing. They are the fruits that will sate me…” Clélio is a sullen, delinquent youth who has already spent time in prison for assault and declares, “I’m at war. Fighting everybody and nobody. I can’t get away from my rage. Someday, I know it, I’ll kill someone.” However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that he acts out in order to externalize his emotional wounds, particularly those left by the brother who immigrated to France and only interacts with his family via brief phone calls from overseas.

The novel is divided into two halves, the first of which delineates the relationships between the four main characters within the Port Louis ghetto that they call home. The second section begins with the neighborhood having been shocked out of its mundane drudgery and typical petty violence by the brutal murder of Savita. Savita was last seen alive walking Eve home from the high school where Eve turned tricks in exchange for a teacher’s help with biology lessons. This event has dramatic ramifications for the three surviving characters. Savita’s parents—and the neighborhood as a whole—hold Eve indirectly responsible for the death of Savita. Her father uses the situation as an excuse to lash out at the daughter he did nothing to protect from sinking into her fate, yet still despises for the ignominy she brings to his name. Clélio, the most disreputable juvenile felon of the neighborhood, is arrested for the crime. There is no evidence linking him to the murder, but he cannot provide an alibi either. Saad feels Eve’s grief embedded on his own heart and tries to assist her in any way he can think of. Initially, he accompanies her to the police inspector’s office so she can inquire about viewing Savita’s body in the morgue, but by the end of the novel, he has transformed into the man who will pay with his life for Eve’s actions in retribution against Savita’s killer.

Despite all the ugliness it unearths, Eve Out of Her Ruins manages to pay homage to the natural beauty of Mauritius. As Eve describes in the moment after she makes the harrowing decision to avenge Savita’s killer, “There’s a place where the birds’ cries are short and piercing, and where summer burns so vividly that you’ll forget even the memory of maggots in your guts.” In this way, Eve absolves the island of responsibility for the crimes that have been committed for so long by generations that they have warped the lives of herself and her peers. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the neighborhood youth are plotting a riot to protest the unjust incarceration of Clélio, which will likely backfire. Meanwhile, Eve’s own violence assumes a transcendent quality against the backdrop of the island’s splendor; she rejects passivity and chooses to fight back against what destiny presumes she will accept.

Bibliography

1. “The World Factbook: MAURITIUS.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 3 DEC. 2018. Web. 23 DEC. 2018.

2. Le Clézio, JMG. (2016). Forward. In Ananda Devi, Eve Out of Her Ruins (pp. 3-5). Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum Publishing.

3. Zuckerman, Jeffrey. (2016). Translator’s After. In Ananda Devi, Eve Out of Her Ruins (pp. 141-143). Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum Publishing.

Monnew by Ahmadou Kourouma

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The impact of colonialism is a theme that is commonly explored in contemporary African literature. In Monnew, Ivoirian author Ahmadou Kourouma sets his sights back in time and chronicles how French rule was imposed on the fictional West African kingdom of Soba at the end of the nineteenth century. When messengers from neighboring kingdoms arrive to warn Djigui Keita that a French commander leading a white, Christian army is advancing across the continent, seizing the land of the African kings, Djigui’s response is to insist that he is invincible and order members of his court to bewitch the invaders. “The sorcerers threw the most awful spells against the Nazarenes; the marabouts cursed them with the most secret verses; the griots praised the king.” Thus, Kourouma exposes the ways in which the “fixed and immovable society” ruled over by Djigui is unable to wage war successfully against the Western army. The ensuing chapters delineate the harrowing transformation that Soba undergoes as its people are compelled to endure “forced labor”—as opposed to slavery—on plantations and railroad construction sites controlled by the French, as well as being drafted into colonial armies during both World Wars. Throughout this metamorphosis, Djigui, who is made to sign a treaty with the French, remains unquestionably a figure of prominence amongst the Malinke people, though one of questionable power.

A note by translator Nidra Poller prefaces Monnew in which she comments upon the complex nature of literary translation. “With the graceful collaboration of the publisher, who has given me free reign to create an artistic interpretation of Monnè, outrages et défis, I have sought to honor Ahmadou Kourouma’s literary research with my own experiment in translation,” she writes. In this way, she alludes to the subtle power held by the interpreter, who has the ability to remold the way a text is understood without the full awareness of the author or the reader. The meaning of her words is revealed more fully in the novel when the French army utilizes a translator to converse with the natives who is prone to tacking his own commentary onto translations from French into Malinke and who sometimes withholds or mistranslates Djigui’s words to the French. Thus, in their unwillingness to deign to learn the language and ways of the tribes, the French are forced to place their trust in a subjugated native employed as an intermediary to interact with their new subjects. Further opportunities for misinterpretation arise due to the presence of griots in Djigui’s court whose sole purpose is to celebrate his existence with poetic chants, amplifying every sentiment or pronouncement expressed by him. However, Kourouma points out later in the novel that “…the journalists were the griots of Paris.” Therefore, the capacity for warping facts and exaggerating tales is hardly endemic to Africans.

This concept of adaptation and interpretation extends into Monnew’s treatment of Islam, which is also an import to Africa. Djigui and the members of his court visit a mosque regularly for prayers and invoke the name of Allah; however, they continue to engage in many cultural practices that are in violation of Islamic law. For example, Djigui frequently calls for sacrifices of animals and even humans and maintains a harem of hundreds of wives. It is only when a visiting Muslim scholar voyages to Soba and takes refuge in Djigui’s court that the emperor finds himself compelled to revisit the tenets of his declared faith. This leads to various comedic occurrences such as Djigui being forced to make the pilgrimage to Mecca twice because his first journey was nullified by the fact that he divorced the wrong wives in order to pare down his harem.

Ultimately, even after Djigui’s death, distortions emerge regarding his legacy. His followers are forced to concede that “…more than any other chief, he had fatigued his subjects to serve the White man.” Moreover, in the final years of his life, Djigui’s governmental role was largely ceremonial, as one of his sons was appointed the acting chief of Soba by the French. At its conclusion, Monnew cannot promise that the independence won by African countries in the latter half of the century is anything more than an exercise in symbolism and linguistics. The genuine liberation of Africa from Western hegemony is a vision that remains to be seen in the future.

Bibliography

1. “The World Factbook: COTE D’IVOIRE.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 Nov. 2018. Web. 16 Nov. 2018.

2. Poller, Nidra. (1993). Translator’s Note. In Ahmadou Kouroma, Monnew (pp. xi-xii). San Francisco, CA: Mercury House.

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

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Dust—a single word evoking brevity and simplicity—belies the complexity of Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s expansive tome that ultimately falters under the weight of its ambitious scope. A troubled family is forced to grapple with the death of a wayward son who was killed in a police raid. Patriarch Aggrey Nyipir Oganda travels to Nairobi from rural northern Kenya to obtain the body of Odidi Oganda. Arabel Ajany, Odidi’s sister, journeys from Brazil as much to escape her own demons as to bury her brother. Meanwhile, a stranger from England arrives at Wuoth Ogik, Nyipir’s secluded, desert homestead, stating that Odidi has information regarding the whereabouts of the father he was born not knowing. As the backdrop to this domestic turmoil, elections that have taken place in Kenya have been compromised by corruption. The unrest that ensues throughout the country leads Nyipir to reflect on the equally brutal period that ushered in Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule.

Dust opens with a riveting prologue that describes Odidi’s desperate attempt to evade capture by the police during what was supposed to be his last heist for a gang he was working with, only to be shot and killed. Unfortunately, the ensuing chapters are fragmented and fail to delineate central plot points that will advance the novel in the aftermath of his death. Thus, it is unclear whether Dust’s primary focus is on seeking justice for Odidi or dissecting the dynamics of the Oganda family that led to the estrangement of the children from their parents and Odidi’s descent into criminality. Upon being presented with the corpse of her son, Odidi and Ajany’s mother, Akai, vanishes into the desert, spurning her husband and daughter. The Trader, an enigmatic figure notorious for “collect[ing] secrets, a source of income, a pleasurable economy,” is summoned to Wuoth Ogik to eliminate demons of various forms. Nyipir’s reminiscences on his rise to power and fall from grace while serving his country in its founding days, as well as the arrival of British-born Isaiah, who hopes to learn his father’s fate, obfuscate the narrative further.

The characters Owuor crafts, while imbued with careful detail, fail to live up to the intensity the novel attributes to them. The fascination with Isaiah’s father, Hugh Bolton, for whom “[…his mother] cried out for… before she died” is unclear given that Hugh is portrayed as a negligent husband and a bigot who staunchly believed that the British should govern Kenya. The romance between Ajany and Isaiah feels forced, especially given that Ajany had recently left a troubled relationship in Brazil. Akai Lokorijom, Odidi’s mother, is portrayed as an imposing and captivating figure, but is not physically present for most of the novel. Thus, her character is not represented on her own terms until the conclusion of the book. Nyipir and Odidi emerge as the two most credible characters, who share a similar arc, though it occurs under different circumstances for each of them. Nyipir is deemed a traitor to the military for inadvertently acknowledging the atrocities that were carried out by the Kenyan government in its early days. He is imprisoned, tortured, and destined for death until a sympathetic former colleague helps him escape. He then turns to illicit dealings in cattle and arms in the north Kenyan desert. Odidi trained as an engineer at the University of Nairobi and founded his own firm with a classmate but resigned in disgrace after refusing to accept a government bribe in exchange for work on a corrupt project. “[…] Odidi’s time with the gang came from heroic idealism. He had only been organizing the disenchanted youth to work for a different future for themselves.” Thus, father and son are forced to turn their backs on the country they sought to serve.

The final sixty pages of Dust see the preponderance of the novel’s action, but the revelations that occur are unsatisfying. Isaiah’s discovery that his mission to locate Hugh Bolton is not relevant to his identity is weakened by the fact that his character does not exist much outside of this quest. Akai’s explanation for her emotional distance from her daughter detracts from the formidable complexity of her character. Even after taking revenge on the missionaries who betrayed him, leading to the deaths of his wife and children, the Trader remains a wandering recluse, “a gatherer and carrier of stories.” A wake for Odidi at Wuoth Ogik brings some closure for the Oganda family, but ultimately they disperse from their homestead, and it is unlikely that they will ever see one another again.

Perhaps the most compelling character in Dust is the northern Kenyan countryside. Owuor’s prose pulses with descriptions of “a stark otherworldliness where the sky dominated everything” and “[…] giraffes browse on the extended banks of streams, among pockets of flowering shrubs of all hues…” This arid landscape contrasts sharply with urban Nairobi and is divorced from the political turmoil that the latter is gripped by. The final message conveyed in Dust is that no matter who inhabits the country or takes charge of its government, the land will always remain and is the ultimate authority over Kenya and its people.

Bibliography

1. The World Factbook: KENYA.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 26 Sep. 2018. Web. 13 Oct. 2018.

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andreas

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The concept of marriage is virtually universal, and yet what it is meant to signify from a religious, cultural, social, or economic perspective is so fluid that it transcends any single, standard definition. In The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Neshani Andreas uses sensitive and inspiring prose to explore the marriages of two women in Namibia. Ali, the narrator of the novel, has a warm and loving relationship with her husband Michael, who lives away from home much of the year working as a miner. Though Ali became pregnant with his child before they were married, Michael voluntarily proposed to her and she relocated to his family’s village, where she gave birth to several more children. As a new bride, she befriends Kauna, for whom her only daughter is named. Kauna’s husband is Shange, a man who beats her and carries on an indiscreet affair with another woman. When Shange dies unexpectedly, Kauna accepts his passing with a stoicism that is deemed scandalous throughout the village. “Rumours that Kauna was not crying or showing any emotion towards the sudden death of her husband spread like wild fire.” Ali struggles to support Kauna while contemplating the history of her friend’s marriage in which she was victimized by her abusive husband.

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu bears many similarities to Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter. Both novels analyze marriage from the female perspective. Furthermore, this reflection takes place in the aftermath of the death of a spouse. Friendship between women is a powerful force in each novel, providing a counterpoint to the marital bond. The mutual respect that Ali and Kauna have for one another mirrors the admiration Ramatoulaye expresses for Aissatou in her letter to her friend, recollecting how she left her husband when he took a second wife. Ali admires Kauna’s strength in being able to raise her children without the help of a stable partner, whereas Kauna is impressed by Ali’s ability to negotiate her marriage on her own terms with a man who is committed to her.

The theme of female supportiveness is expanded in the novel as other characters are introduced who embody different forms of strength. Kauna’s aunt Mee Fennie is a role model in that she divorced her husband and successfully raised three children on her own. Sustera is a nurse who sends Kauna to the hospital after a particularly bad beating by Shange and helps her obtain contraception when she wishes to stop having children. Mukwankala is an elderly woman who challenges Shange in public about his treatment of Kauna after learning that she has been hospitalized. The most inspirational example of female collaboration takes place when Ali helps Kauna organize an okakungungu upon realizing that her friend needs help tilling her land. “The women understood Kauna’s situation. There was a wonderful spirit, a spirit of sisterhood.” In a single day, the women of the village are able to complete work which would have burdened Kauna and her children for weeks beyond the ideal season for planting. Ali is in awe of the outpouring of support shown for Kauna and what the women have accomplished as a group, “As we parted, I looked at them and thought, Yes, girls, you have done it again.”

Unfortunately, not everyone holds Kauna in such high regard. When her in-laws arrive to conduct Shange’s funeral, they are dismayed by her refusal to cooperate with the expected mourning traditions. Her disobedience has consequences in that her husband’s relatives buy Shange’s property, which she cannot afford, and evict her and her children. Kauna’s departure from Oshaantu is bittersweet as it represents her failure to triumph over the unjust will of her in-laws and the loss of her friendship with Ali. However, it also signifies Kauna’s realization that she must part ways with the remnants of her old life in order to build a new one. In the final chapter, Michael comes home to visit the grave of his childhood friend and spend time with his family. In this way, Andreas provides an example of a happy marriage and illustrates the positive effect it has on Michael and Ali’s children. Ali expresses her gratitude to her husband, ‘“Michael, I don’t always say this, but I want to thank you for what you do for us… I appreciate it […]’” Michael encourages Ali to connect with other women in the village now that she no longer has Kauna. Thus, Andreas implies that the key to a well-balanced life for a woman is to build relationships both within and outside of the domestic sphere that provide her with guidance and compassion throughout her existence.

 

Bibliography 

1. The World Factbook: NAMIBIA.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 27 Aug. 2018. Web. 3 Sep. 2018.

 

The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo

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The dictator who maintains his authority by violently crushing any opposition and making a mockery of the concept of democracy with rigged elections is a common character in the postcolonial African political landscape. In The Parachute Drop, Burkinabe journalist Norbert Zongo explores the mindset of such a leader as well as the circumstances that enable him to ascend to power. As a prelude to addressing the content of the book, it would be negligent not to acknowledge Zongo’s own life devoted to illuminating political truths in West Africa, abbreviated as it was. The Parachute Drop includes a preface in which Zongo describes being apprehended, beaten, and sentenced to a year in prison after authorities obtained a copy of the manuscript that he had sent to a publisher outside of Burkina Faso. Seventeen years later, in 1998, Zongo was murdered by agents acting on behalf of the Burkinabe president.[1] To contemplate the meaning of The Parachute Drop two decades later is to defy the will of those who sought to silence him.

In the hypothetical land of Watinbow, Gouama has been president for a decade since the country was granted independence from European colonial rule. He surrounds himself with a cluster of advisors including Kodio, an officer from the military, Marcel, an emissary from a Western ambassador’s office, and his guru, Tiga, who works with mystics and witchdoctors to determine the correct course of political action. When Gouama is presented with evidence that a coup is being planned by two high-ranking officers in his army, his delusions of invincibility are threatened. Of course, his team has already devised a way to foil the impending overthrow. The two men are paratroopers, and thus a military event is staged that will include a presentation of the skills of the paratrooper unit—the eponymous “parachute drop” of the novel. All goes according to plan as the two officers are killed when their parachutes fail to open, and Gouama celebrates his narrow but decisive victory over those who would attempt to usurp his power. However, as Gouama instructs Kodio and Marcel to search for sympathizers of the coup within the military, a more sinister reality emerges. Kodio, the obsequious underling, is the one who actually seeks to attain power and the two officers who were slain were loyalists to Gouama.

Kodio proceeds with his coup, but Gouama manages to escape to the countryside with the assistance of a few of his aides. In this way, Gouama becomes acquainted with a simpler manner of life as practiced by the villagers, far removed from the opulence and scheming that he is accustomed to. Beneath his imperious veneer, the president is shown to react with childlike helplessness to the obstacles he encounters during his flight. In the midst of a buffalo stampede, “Gouma […] managed to scramble to the top of the nearest tree” as opposed to confronting them. While listening to a radio broadcast of a press interview given by President Kodio “[…] Gouama was no longer able to control himself. He ran up to the radio, cursing and angrily waving his arms about. ‘The liar!’ he shouted.” By contrast, the men from the village who help Gouama are generous and rational. Never once do they inquire about the identity of the mysterious figure they are abetting. They agree to guide him to the border of a neighboring country, where he intends to ask for help from their president to regain his power. It is only when they have reached the border of Watinbow and are preparing to part ways that one of the men reveals to Gouama that he and his compatriots ‘“are […] both members of the student movement and former prisoners, your prisoners.’” He explains to Gouama, ‘“You condemned us to death, and it was us who saved your life.”’ Gouama contemplates the kindness of the men, but the seduction of returning to power is too great for him to change course.

Initially, Gouama is granted the privileges an esteemed ruler is entitled to when he presents himself to authorities in the ally country. However, the tables turn once again, as the president of that country has since established diplomatic ties with Kodio’s government. Gouama does not realize that he has been returned to Watinbow until the plane he boarded under false pretenses has already landed and he is back in one of his old residences in the capital—this time being held as a prisoner for Kodio. In some ways, even as he casts his judgment on Gouama, Kodio seems to recognize that his new regime is a facsimile of the one he toppled. Thus, Zongo demonstrates that progress cannot occur once democracy has been suppressed. He also exposes the role that Western powers play in influencing the unstable political situation in Africa for their own benefit. The ending to The Parachute Drop does not feel like an ending and that is precisely the point. The fate Gouama meets is of trivial consequence. The only way for a ruler to attain significance in a nation such as Watinbow—or any of the real countries this imaginary nation-state is based upon—would be if he were to accept limitations on his sovereignty.

 

[1] All biographical information regarding Norbert Zongo sourced directly from the book edition.

Bibliography

  1. “Burkina Faso Country Profile.” BCC News. BBC News, 3 Mar. 2018. Web. Aug. 5, 2018.
  2. “The World Factbook: BURKINA FASO.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jul. 2018. Web. 4 Aug. 2018.
  3. Wise, Christopher. (2004). Translator’s Preface to The Parachute Drop. In Norbert Zongo, The Parachute Drop (pp. v-xii). Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

The Africa Book Challenge on Goodreads

The Africa Book Challenge now has a profile on Goodreads. Come follow the page and explore the site to discover more great books from Africa and beyond.

It has been an exciting summer for The Africa Book Challenge. A new entry for Norbert Zongo’s The Parachute Drop is on its way. The site has now received visitors from 13 African countries and more than forty nations throughout the world!

Lastly, it would be negligent not to acknowledge the incredible new developments in East Africa between Ethiopia and Eritrea. When I read Alemseged Tesfai’s Two Weeks in the Trenches last year, I was struck by the intensity of the conflict. It is wonderful to see these two countries working towards peace.