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Only Two African Books Make the UK Sunday Times' Top 100 of the Decade

Half of a Yellow Sun YouthAlert! As far as BOOK SA can tell, the UK’s Sunday Times has listed just two books from Africa in its round up of the top 100 tomes to have appeared in the decade that ends at midnight, 31 December 2009.

You know you’re in trouble, as an enthusiast of works from this continent, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s magnificent Half of a Yellow Sun squeaks in at number 98. Scrolling along, the next African work pops up at number 52: Youth by JM Coetzee. And from there on, it’s a drought.

98 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007) The Biafran War of the late 1960s is seen through the eyes of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy, and the beautiful, passionate twin sisters Olanna and Kainene. This stunning piece of writing won the 2007 Orange Prize.

[...]

52 Youth by J. M. Coetzee (2002) It has been called “portrait of the artist as a young drudge”. The protagonist leaves his native South Africa for London and gets a dull job. It’s a wonderful reconstruction of the powerlessness and frustration of youth, and the making of a writer’s mind.

I suppose we couldn’t have expected much more from a list that includes Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in its top ten, but still, the impression that African letters come away slighted is strong.

The number one book of the decade, meanwhile, in the Times‘ opinion? Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

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Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    November 17th, 2009 @09:51 #
     
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    The Telegraph has the same two books in slightly higher positions in its own top 100:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6554803/100-books-that-defined-the-noughties.html

    What do you think? Which books from Africa have been overlooked?

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 17th, 2009 @13:18 #
     
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    Grrr. If Harry Potter is up there, where's our Spuddy?

    Three-Letter Plague (Jonny Steinberg.)
    You Must Set Forth At Dawn (Wole Soyinka).
    Links and Knots (1st 2 books in trilogy by Nuruddin Farah).
    In Our Lifetime: Walter and Albertina Sisulu (Elinor Sisulu). I might be biased on this one, but it broke ground as the first major "resistance" biography coming out of Africa that considered marriage, domesticity and intimacy as an integral part of the conventional "struggle" narrative.
    Tropical Fish (Doreen Baigana). Horrendously under-rated and bypassed, including in SA.
    Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller).
    The Other Side of Silence (Andre Brink). Not H-rated, but hell, if The Lovely Bones is up there...

    I could go on at GREAT length. But would be interested to see what others say.

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  • <a href="http://www.itsnotmytree.co.za" rel="nofollow">Annette</a>
    Annette
    November 17th, 2009 @15:11 #
     
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    Gosh, this list does not impress me much but at least JM Coetzee beat Lance Armstrong, for what it's worth!

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 17th, 2009 @16:33 #
     
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    Cut and pasted from Martha Evans's comment on Facebook:

    "'The Good Doctor' should be there. Vladislavic should be there (for Portrait and/or Supermarket). On another note, if they're doing poets, and if translations count, so should Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems."

    How could I have missed Vladislavic?? The Restless Supermarket definitely.

    And if we go over to francophone Africa, there's more treasure: Veronique Tadjo, Reine Pokou [Queen Pokou], As The Crow Flies. LOTS more.

    I've been thinking about this all afternoon, and maybe we're being unfair: it is such a very English list. And highly arbitrary, according to the (mostly disgruntled) comments. Where's The Book Thief? Jonathan Raban's Waxwings? Why Atonement, but not On Chesil Beach? How can there be no Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer, but I'd hold out for Animal, Vegetable, Mineral -- certainly a more NB book than most on this list).

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 17th, 2009 @23:41 #
     
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    Antjie Krog -- Country of my Skull. Mandla Langa -- The Lost Colours of the Chameleon. Uwem Akpan -- Say You're One of Them. Zakes Mda -- many would say Heart of Redness, but I'd hold out for The Madonna of Excelsior.

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    November 18th, 2009 @07:58 #
     
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    Isn't it time for a re-think on the "Best of" paradigm?

    It's Pedestal Fever: Here, let me put you, writer A on a pedestal above writer B, because you write like people from my plot of bother.

    Setting up the pedestal, the list, the award ceremony, the prize panel is a very antiquated way of negotiating creativity. Getting onto the pedestal can cause anxiety-provoking head rush that can shut down creativity.

    Oh. What do I know? Getting a prize is wonderful too, the validation. Getting left out is horrid. I think it's tough to remember that the selection is always subjective and culturally relative.

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  • <a href="http://kathrynwhite.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    Kathryn
    November 18th, 2009 @11:27 #
     
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    I think getting left off is ok - a list will always be flawed (even Not the Booker came out biased) but the money is what makes winning fun - and rightly so. money can help a writer's lifestyle - whether clearing anxiety-inducing debts that mar creativity or having the cash to redo the garden that u look at every day when writing or a celebratory holiday, money is this understood reward that 4000 years of value system creation has taught us to really feel, and really like.

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    November 19th, 2009 @05:23 #
     
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    Yep. The money. That demon lover.

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  • <a href="http://victordlaminini.co.za" rel="nofollow">Victor Dlamini</a>
    Victor Dlamini
    November 23rd, 2009 @14:56 #
     
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    Let's not lose sight of the fact this is UK The Sunday Times list, it is their list, not a South African list and as far as lists go I think they are quite entitled to compile it in the manner of their tastes and we should focus on compiling our own lists, sticking to them, using them, like all lists to influence many aspects of writing and the careers of those on the list. But by all means let's stop looking over our shoulder to see what the former masters are putting on their lists and getting worked up over that.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    November 23rd, 2009 @18:28 #
     
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    Agreed. Everyone, click over to http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=185226863073&id=146421296979 and be part of making an African list!

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