Last year I decided that reading books from the same countries over and over again is boring. I want to know more about this planet and people that live here. And books are always my favourite way to learn. Plus, they are fun!
2014 was the year I started reading African literature. I'm embarrassed to say this - after all, I've always been a bookworm reading almost anything that came my way - but somehow there never were any books by local African authors. I did read many stories about African nature written by Western travellers and scientists, like Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (set in Rwanda) and Born Free by Joy Adamson (set in Kenya). Yet I didn't even know any names of African writers!
So I set out to find them and read them. I heard about the African reading challenge and decided to give it a try.
5 books. That’s it. There will be no other levels. Of course, participants are encouraged to read more than 5 books. Eligible books include those which are written by African writers, or take place in Africa, or are concerned with Africans and with historical and contemporary African issues. Note that at least 3 books must be written by African writers.”
I chose to read 5 books by local authors only and from a different country each time. Here is my list:
Egypt: Nawal El Saadawi “Zeina” - revolution, sexist men, writing.
Ivory Coast: Marguerite Abouet “Aya de Yopougon” - graphic novel, girls, youth.
Nigeria: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “Purple Hibiscus” - family, oppressive parent, religion.
Somalia: Ayaan Hirsi Ali “Infidel” - memoir, Muslims, immigration.
South Africa: Suzanne van Rooyen “The Other Me” - transgender teen, music, nerds.
I also read a web comic about the Somali immigrants in Europe:
“Meet the Somalis depicts experiences many of us will never know, like fleeing a warzone with your children or, worse, leaving your loved ones behind. But more often, these stories portray the values shared amongst many of us, like the importance of family, well-being, and identity in an ever-changing world.”
Just to be clear, I chose these books because they seemed interesting, not just to fill a quota. :-) I'm very happy that I've read them and got at least some idea about African literature. But my bookish journey to Africa doesn't stop here. I'm going to read more books from this wonderful, diverse continent. Feel free to recommend something in the comments! (Especially fantasy, science fiction and mystery novels.)
Bonus! A highly recommended video:
Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story
You can read its transcript here. Excerpt:
“I'm a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call "the danger of the single story." I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books.
I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. (Laughter) Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn't have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.
[…] But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.
Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.”