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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

The best African books

The best African books

 

To celebrate Africa Day, we asked our Books LIVE community what their favourite African books were.

You can suggest contemporary books or classics, fiction or non-fiction. The list is a work in progress. If you feel something is missing, let us know on Twitter @BooksLIVESA or Facebook.com/BooksLIVESA.

Without further ado, the best African books – as chosen by you!
 
 
Do Not Go GentleDo Not Go Gentle by Futhi Ntshingila
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EAN: 9781920590505
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Sweet MedicineSweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi
EAN: 9781928337126
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MalikhanyeMalikhanye by Mxolisi Nyezwa
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EAN: 9780958491594
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Born on a TuesdayBorn on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
EAN: 9781911115021
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Season of Crimson BlossomsSeason of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
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EAN: 9781911115007
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Easy Motion TouristEasy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle
EAN: 9781911115069
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The Lazarus EffectThe Lazarus Effect by H J Golakai
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EAN: 9780795703195
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Half of a Yellow Sun Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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EAN: 9780007200283
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Say You're One of ThemSay You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
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EAN: 9780349120645
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In Corner BIn Corner B by Es’kia Mphahlele
EAN: 9780143106029
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Lost and Found in JohannesburgLost and Found in Johannesburg by Mark Gevisser
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EAN: 9781868425884
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We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
EAN: 9780099581888
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Portrait with KeysPortrait with Keys: Joburg and what-what by Ivan Vladislavic
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EAN: 9781415200209
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Nervous ConditionsNervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
EAN: 9780954702335
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Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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EAN: 9780007189885
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UnimportanceUnimportance by Thando Mgqolozana
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EAN: 9781431409525
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The ReactiveThe Reactive by Masande Ntshanga
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EAN: 9781415207192
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African DelightsAfrican Delights by Siphiwo Mahala
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EAN: 9781431402519
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Half of a Yellow Sun Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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EAN: 9780007200283
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Under the Udala TreesUnder the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
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EAN: 9781847088369
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The Book of MemoryThe Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
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EAN: 9780571249626
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AffluenzaAffluenza by Niq Mhlongo
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EAN: 9780795706967
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What Will People SayWhat Will People Say by Rehana Rossouw
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EAN: 9781431420247
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The FishermenThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
EAN: 9780957548862
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The Woman Next DoorThe Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
EAN: 9781784740344
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EfuruEfuru by Flora Nwapa
EAN: 9780435900267
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Second Class CitizenSecond Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta
EAN: 9780807610664
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More accolades for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Author awarded Barnard College’s highest honour

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Honorary Degree
Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 

It’s been a busy week for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The internationally acclaimed Nigerian novelist was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, but the day before, in a ceremony that flew under the radar, she was also awarded the 2016 Barnard Medal of Distinction from Barnard College.

Barnard is a private women’s liberal arts college in the United States, affiliated with Columbia University. The Barnard Medal of Distinction is the college’s highest honour, serving a similar purpose to an honorary degree. Previous recipients include Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Billie Jean King, Joan Didion and Barack Obama.

In the medal citation, the college said of Adichie: “You spark the conversation, upend the status quo, and open our hearts and minds to the world.

“We honour your work, your humour, your respect for history, and your vision for the future. In your footsteps, we will all be feminists, unlearning what we have been taught to believe in order to dream for ourselves. Steering clear of the single story in favour of an ever more kaleidoscopic view. Staying true to who we are, messy though that may be.”

In a video filmed at the ceremony, Adichie gives some advice to the students receiving their degrees: “Eat real food, be kind to yourself, and read books.”

She continues:

I think it’s important for young women to remember that they are much stronger than the world tells them that they are.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Read the full citation:

Citation for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Celebrated author. Beloved storyteller. Artist. Visionary. Feminist. You spark the conversation, upend the status quo, and open our hearts and minds to the world.

Being born in Nigeria in 1977, the fifth of six children, was clearly a significant start. Your father was a professor, your mom the University registrar, and your childhood, a happy one, though tinged by the legacy of war. Books were your haven and your guide, and by age 10 you had read enough to know that people just like you could, in fact, inhabit them.

Medicine seemed like a worthy pursuit, but by age 19 you left for the United States to follow a new and auspicious path. A bachelor’s summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State, a master’s in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, and another in African studies from Yale. You were gathering the tools and the temperament to present us with your gift in words, with Africa as your muse.

In 2003, that gift took the form of Purple Hibiscus, your first novel and one to notice, about breaking free and defying expectation. Three years later, in Half of a Yellow Sun, you gave voice to the ravages wrought by your country’s Civil War decades before, and for it, won international acclaim and the Orange Prize for Fiction. You were thirty years old. And in 2013, with Americanah, you wove a post-9/11 story of race and identity that has been hailed as a benchmark for literary excellence—one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of the Year, winner of the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and the object of heaps of attention. And your TED talks, The Danger of a Single Story and We Should All Be Feminists have multi-millions of views. You write, we read. You speak, we listen.

We honor your work, your humor, your respect for history, and your vision for the future. In your footsteps, we will all be feminists, unlearning what we have been taught to believe in order to dream for ourselves. Steering clear of the single story in favor of an ever more kaleidoscopic view. Staying true to who we are, messy though that may be.

On behalf of my alma mater, it is an extraordinary privilege to present to you the 2016 Barnard Medal of Distinction, with all due gratitude, reverence, and heart.

 
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Spike Lee awarded Johns Hopkins University honorary degrees

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Honorary Degree
Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 
Internationally acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was awarded an honorary degree by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, United States, on Wednesday.

Adichie was one of eight “distinguished achievers” to receive the honour this year. The list also included groundbreaking filmmaker Spike Lee, Nobel Prize winner Richard Axel and Ellen M Heller, Maryland’s first woman to become an administrative Circuit Court judge.

Adichie earned a prestigious creative writing master’s from Johns Hopkins in 2003, the year her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was published to worldwide acclaim. At just 26, Adichie was shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction and won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and her career has since skyrocketed.

In a video released by Johns Hopkins to celebrate the event, Adichie says: “My advice to the graduating seniors is, eat real food, as often as you can. And embrace ignorance. Say those words ‘I don’t know’. Because by embracing ignorance you open up the possibility of knowledge.”

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 
Brittlepaper tweeted a photo:

 

Filmmaker Spike Lee, whose works include Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever, began his speech by referring to two words he said are in almost all of his films to date: “Wake up.”

“Wake up from the sleep, wake up from being comatose, wake up from the slumber that keeps your eyes shut to all the inequalities and injustices. To this more often than not evil, crazy and insane world we live in. Let’s move our unconscious minds from the back to the front to a conscious state, and wake up.”

Lee continued: “We are at a very crucial moment in history in these United States of America. And the way I’m looking at it today, to tell you the truth, things are looking dicey. It can go either way.

“I wish you could be graduating into a world of peace, light, and love, but that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairytale, but I guess the one percent does. After you leave here today, it’s going to be real life, and real life is no joke. It’s real out here for the 99 percent, for sure. It’s up to the graduating class to make a better world.”

He ended his address with the words “black lives matter”.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 
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Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehikhamenor

Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor

 
Alert! The Africa Centre has announced the five artists selected by The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center as part of its 2015 Artists In Residency Programme.

Books LIVE congratulates the three writers on the list: Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor.

Dangarembga is the author of the critically acclaimed novels and The Book of Not and Nervous Conditions, but is also a filmmaker. Late last year Umuzi announced that she will be producing a film adaptation of Imran Garda’s novel The Thunder That Roars.

Victor Ehikhamenor is an award winning visual artist, writer and photographer based in Nigeria and the United States. He was the cover designer for Stranger, a recently released debut poetry collection by Sihle Ntuli.

Excuse Me!Nervous ConditionsBroken Monsters

 

The Africa Centre received a record 423 complete applications from 40 countries for its Artists In Residency programme in 2015, from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Sudan. 68 artists were shortlisted in December.

The Africa Centre announced the winners of its Artists In Residency Programme in February, including writers Masande Ntshanga from South Africa and Nana Oforiatta Ayim from Ghana.

But after receiving a large number of applications, across artistic disciplines, The Africa Centre also shortlisted 24 artists on behalf of the Bellagio Center.

Based on their specific interests, the following artists have been selected:

  • Lauren Beukes (author, South Africa)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (author and filmmaker, Zimbabwe)
  • Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor (author and visual artist, Nigeria)
  • Yared Zeleke (filmmaker, Ethiopia)
  • Fathy Adly Salama (performing artist, Egypt)

 

The addition of these five artists mean a total to 14 have been accepted into nine different residencies around the world as part of the 2015 Artists In Residency programme.

The Africa Centre will release more information about the artists over the next couple of weeks. The call for 2016 applications will go out in the second half of the year.

 
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‘I’m stubborn; I was destined to be a writer’ – award-winning Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta chats about her writing

Chinelo OkparantaHappiness, Like WaterUnder the Udala TreesNigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta is currently in Cape Town for the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

Okparanta is the author of two books: a collection of short stories called Happiness, Like Water, and a novel, Under the Udala Trees, released this year.

Okparanta was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, and Happiness, Like Water was shortlisted for the the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. She is the winner of an O Henry Prize, was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2012, and was featured on the Guardian’s list of the best African fiction of 2013.

None other than Zakes Mda says: “Under the Udala Trees bowled me over.

Okparanta was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and lives in New York. Books LIVE’s Jennifer Malec caught up with her recently ahead of her trip to South Africa.

You can read Malec’s review of the book in full here, and the complete interview in full here:

Books LIVE: First, thank you for an extremely complex novel. It seems to me that, considering the subject matter you deal with, it would have been easier to write black and white, morally unambiguous characters. But this is not the case, and even characters such as Chibundu and Ijeoma’s mother are not “bad” people; it could be argued they suffer as much from the disjunct between society’s expectations and their own actions as Ijeoma does. Did you actively work on creating sympathetic antagonists?

Chinelo Okparanta: First, thank you for reading and engaging so deeply with my work.

To answer your question, it seems to me that the best books are often those in which the dignity of the characters are upheld. Also, those in which the characters are nuanced. I tried to keep this in mind while writing Under the Udala Trees. Chibundu, as you mention, is as much to be pitied as he is to be rebuked. We would have a hard time completely condemning him. He is a hopeful man – simply wants what he wants. Unfortunately, that hopefulness is both his strength and his weakness. How does one balance out hope with unrequited love? Chibundu certainly tries.

I admire the way that the same-sex relationships in the novel are not foregrounded; they are part of a more complex matrix of stories. How far along the publication process were you when same-sex relationships were criminalised in Nigeria in January 2014? Did you alter the book in any way, plot-wise or writing-wise, after that development?

The novel is ultimately just a story about people struggling to live out their lives the best way possible, even in the face of societal pressures, discrimination and in some cases, outright abuse. I completed the novel a month or two before Goodluck Jonathan signed the bill criminalising same-sex relations. With or without the bill, Nigeria is a very homophobic country. With or without the bill, I would have (and had indeed) already written the novel. But I thought it was important to add the author’s note regarding the signing of the bill in order to help readers – especially those who are not familiar with Nigeria – to contextualise the story. Ultimately, though, the novel is a story of individuals living in Nigeria, under a particular system of things. It is only about the bill insofar as the bill affects the day-to-day lives of the nation’s citizens.

Storytelling plays an important role in the book. Did traditional Nigerian folktales and proverbs play an important role in your life growing up?

Yes, definitely. My mother gathered me and my siblings around her, in the evenings when NEPA (the National Electric and Power Authority) took light, and she told us folktales. Sometimes there was singing and clapping involved. Dinner first, then folktales, then off to bed. This was what we did in place of watching television. Her tales were always peppered with proverbs. Nigerians often speak in proverbs. Sometimes, she read to us from books instead.

You moved to the States as a child, but your writing doesn’t betray that distance. Did your family continue to surround you with Nigerian tradition and language after the move? Do you often spend time in Nigeria?

I moved to the US as a child, but I’m lucky to have a family that upholds traditions (but also one that allows room for change). Sometimes I don’t feel that I ever left Nigeria. And sometimes I do. After the move, we continued to speak Igbo at home, we continued to eat fufu and soup, beans and yam, etc. We continued to sing and dance to Nigerian music, etc. These days I go home as often as I can. In the past year or so, I’ve been back to Nigeria at least three times.

Do you think you would have written the same book if you had stayed in Nigeria? Or how do you think it may have differed?

Would I have written the same book? I don’t know. The “correct” response would be to say, “Probably not.” But who knows. My mother says I began reading and writing at age two. She also says I’m stubborn. Perhaps I began reading and writing so early because I was destined to be a writer, and perhaps given my stubbornness, it’s likely that I would have been stubborn in the issues I chose to write about, regardless of the sociocultural context. Or maybe I’d be married with five kids and no time to write, if I had stayed. It’s hard to know.

This is your first full-length novel. How long did you work on the manuscript for – is this specific book years in the making or are you working on a number of longer projects simultaneously? If the latter, why did you decide to complete this one first?

I began working on the novel at the same time that I was working on my collection of short stories, Happiness, Like Water. The collection was completed first, and during its pre-publication and post-publication period, I had to take time off from working on the novel to focus on the collection’s edits, and then later, on promoting the collection. I went back to the novel in mid 2013 and finished it very early in 2014, maybe a little earlier, I can’t quite remember now. Anyway, the point is that there’s no rationale behind what book came out first, just that it was ready when it was ready.

Was the Biafran War something your parents and grandparents spoke freely about? If not, was it difficult for you to broach the subject, or did you learn more about it from other resources?

My mother spoke freely of it. She lost her father in the war, so my siblings and I grew up always knowing that story. It was a devastating time for her family, and of course, there are always lingering effects to having lived out a war.

But I also had to do my research for the novel. I conducted some interviews, read old newspapers, watched the BBC documentaries on the war, studied old photographs, that sort of thing. One photo was of a man carrying a casket on the back of his bicycle. Only, the casket was too small and the feet of the deceased stuck out from the bottom of the wooden box. When I did my research, there were so many photos of kwashiorkor children, distended bellies and all, photos of the dead and the decapitated, photos of soldiers who are now long gone. But for whatever reason it is the photo of the casket on the bicycle that particularly sticks to me.

Some descriptions in the book are quite poetic. Do these images come to you as you are writing, or do you carry a notebook around to jot down moments of inspiration?

I don’t carry a notebook, but I do carry a smart phone with a “Notes” application. Images generally come to me as I’m writing, but if an idea comes to me when I am not writing, I try and make a mental note of it. If I don’t trust myself to remember, then I might jot myself a note on my phone.

A naming question, just out of interest: The names in the book are meaningful, and quite beautiful to my South African ears. I noticed that like your characters Chibundu and Chidinma, the names of you and your siblings – who you mention in the acknowledgements – also all start with “Chi”; what does that prefix mean?

The essential translation of “Chi” in English is “God.” But specifically it refers to the personal gods that we Igbos traditionally had. “Chukwu” was the supreme God, while each person had his/her own personal god(s). So, the name Chidinma means “God is good.” Chibundu means “God is life.”

It seems to me that Ijeoma does not reject tradition – both societal and biblical – rather she forges a path for herself and proves that you can discard some aspects of tradition without threatening the whole. Do you think such a stance could be a viable option for a Nigerian youth, today or in the future?

Yes, it’s definitely a viable stance. No doubt, tradition has its place. But it is also the nature of tradition to evolve.

Follow Jennifer Malec on Twitter @projectjennifer

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Nigeria has a new star: Read an excerpt from Jowhor Ile’s ‘unforgettable’ debut, And After Many Days

Nigeria has a new star: Read an excerpt from Jowhor Ile's 'unforgettable' debut, And After Many Days

 
And After Many DaysThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Jowhor Ile’s newly released debut novel, And After Many Days.

Fiction fans in the know have been waiting for this book since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned it in an interview with the Boston Review back in 2013: “There’s a young man called Johwor Ile who is just finishing a novel, who I think is really spectacular,” she said. “His novel, when it comes out, will be very good.”

And now, it’s out!

And After Many Days has also received high praise from literary luminaries such as Taiye Selasi, Chigozie Obioma, Uzodinma Iweala and Binyavanga Wainaina, who says:

Jowhor Ile is a rare talent. This rich book is ripe with mood and full of love, masterfully written with the perfect emotional pitch. Nigeria has a new star.

Jowhor Ile was born in 1980 and raised in Nigeria, where he currently lives. His fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly and Litro Magazine. And After Many Days is his first book.

Scroll down for an excerpt.

About the book

An unforgettable debut novel about a boy who goes missing, a family that is torn apart, and a nation on the brink

During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of 17-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family.

Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.

In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.

And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.

Chapter One

Paul turned away from the window and said he needed to go out at once to the next compound to see his friend. It was a Monday afternoon in the rainy season of 1995. Outside, the morning shower had stopped and the sun was gathering strength, but water still clung to the grass on the lawn. “I’m going to Fola’s house, “he said again to his brother Ajie, who was lying on the couch, eyes closed, legs hooked up the back of the chair. If Ajie heard, then he gave no sign.

Ajie sighed as a woman presenter’s voice came up on the radio, cutting through the choral music, “Why do they always interrupt at the best part?” Paul floundered by the door as though he had changed his mind; then he bent to buckle his sandals, slung his backpack on, left the house and did not return.

At least this is one way to begin to tell this story.

Things happen in clusters. They would remember it as the year Mile Three Ultra Modern market burnt down in the middle of the night. The year the Trade Fair came to town and Port Harcourt city council, in preparation for this major event, commissioned long brightly painted buses which ran for cheap all the way from Obigbo to Borokiri (a full hour’s journey for a mere two Naira!). It was the year of the poor. Of rumours, radio announcements, student riots, and sudden disappearance. It was also the year news reached them of their home village Ogibah, that five young men had been shot dead by the square in broad daylight and the sequence of events which led to this remained open to argument. Ajie stretched out and yawned, then dropped his arm and let it dangle from where he lay on the couch. He heard the gate creak as Paul let himself out and the house fell back to the radio music and the sound of Bibi, their middle sister, blow-drying her hair in the bathroom. Ajie and Bibi were due back in school that weekend. Their tin trunks were packed, school day uniforms already ironed and hanging, waiting in wardrobes. Their mother, Ma, went through the school lists, as she always did before the start of each term, checking if everything had been bought. Paul had just finished his final School Certificate exams that past June, so he stayed back at home while Ajie and Bibi spent hot afternoons at Mile One market with Ma, buying school supplies for the term: textbooks, notebooks, buckets, mosquito nets, provisions, T-squares, drawing boards, four figure tables, cutlasses, brooms and jerry cans.

Their father Bendic had decided that since Bibi’s school was on the outskirts of town, she would be dropped off on Saturday evening. Ajie’s school was four hours away, so they had all of Sunday reserved for his journey. The blue Peugeot 504 station wagon was sent out to the mechanic for servicing. For a whole afternoon their driver, Marcus, sat under the guava tree and read a paper and fanned himself and when the cloud changed face, he carried his seat into the gate house where Ismaila had a little pot set on the stove. The pot boiled and the lid clattered against the rim, letting go a fold of steam that escaped through the windows into the trees outside, and the sharp scent of dadawa sauce reached toward the main house.

*

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South African writer Faraaz Mahomed wins 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize: Africa Region

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

 

Alert! The five regional winners of the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize have been announced.

South African writer Faraaz Mahomed has been named the Africa Regional Winner for his short story “The Pigeon”.

Mahomed is a clinical psychologist and human rights researcher based in Johannesburg. “I am an unseasoned writer, who continues to struggle with the insecurities and anxieties of inexperience,” he says. “Winning the Commonwealth Prize for the African region is more than an accolade, it’s a prompting to continue down this path.”

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize judge Helon Habila says: “The Africa region included stories on almost every conceivable theme, accentuating the endless complexity and beauty of the continent; a testament to the inexhaustible talent that abounds there. ‘The Pigeon’ is a carefully and patiently woven tale about love, lust, guilt, and escape. It illustrates just how, as humans, we will always come short of our ideals, and we must learn to live with that.”

Other South African writers on the shortlist were Andrew Salomon, Cat Hellisen and Mark Winkler. From Nigeria, Lausdeus Chiegboka, Enyeribe Ibegwam and Oyinkan Braithwaite were also shortlisted.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize aims to “brings stories from new and emerging voices, often from countries with little or no publishing infrastructure, to the attention of an international audience”. 26 stories by writers from 11 countries made up the shortlist. Five winners from the five different Commonwealth regions are selected, winning £2,500 (about R53,000) each. The overall winner will be announced at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on 5 June, and will be awarded £5,000 (about R106,000).

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners

  • Pacific Regional Winner: “Black Milk” by Tina Makereti (New Zealand)
  • Asia Regional Winner: “Cow and Company” by Parashar Kulkarni (India)
  • Africa Regional Winner: “The Pigeon” by Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa)
  • Canada and Europe Regional Winner: “Eel” by Stefanie Seddon (UK)
  • Caribbean Regional Winner: “Ethelbert and the Free Cheese” by Lance Dowrich (Trinidad and Tobago)

Chair of judges, South African novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, said of the regional winners: “From Faraaz Mahomed’s ‘The Pigeon’ with its playful tone and unreliable narrator, Parashar Kulkarni’s ‘Cow and Company’, a witty satire that engagingly immerses the reader in its world, and ‘Eel’, a simply told and moving story of childhood by Stefanie Seddon to Lance Dowrich’s comedic ‘Ethelbert and the Free Cheese’ and Tina Makereti’s ‘Black Milk’, which impressed with a lyricism that takes the reader into another world while keeping us always on earth, these were all worthy winners and show how well the short story is flourishing in the Commonwealth.”

Commonwealth Writers has partnered with Granta, and on winning story will be published online on that platform every Wednesday until 1 June. At the same time, a conversation between the regional judge and the regional winner will be available as a podcast.

In the meantime, read a short excerpt from “The Pigeon”:

Each morning, for about four months now, I am woken by the same foul, fat pigeon. I am certain that he’s the same one, even though I have no means to prove it. In truth, I have no way to be sure he is a he either. It used to occur to me that maybe he had left something at the window, or inside and was hoping that being here to retrieve it would allow him some release. On most Saturdays, I leave the window open. It makes me feel kind, because I am easing his spirit into the next phase or something of that nature.

Excerpts from all 26 stories are available to read on the Commonwealth Writers website.

 
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‘It is the nature of tradition to evolve’ – Jennifer Malec reviews Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

First published in the Sunday Times

Chinelo OkparantaUnder the Udala TreesUnder the Udala Trees
Chinelo Okparanta
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A month after Chinelo Okparanta completed Under the Udala Trees, a novel that deals delicately but boldly with lesbian love, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan criminalised same-sex relationships, making them punishable by up to 14 years in prison or, in the northern states, death by stoning.

Okparanta addresses the subject in an author’s note, to contextualise the story for readers who may not be familiar with the country. “With or without the bill, Nigeria is a very homophobic country,” she says. “With or without the bill, I had already written the novel. Under the Udala Trees is ultimately a story about people struggling to live out their lives the best way possible, even in the face of societal pressures, discrimination and abuse.”

Okparanta moved to the US with her family when she was 10, but her debut novel does not betray her physical distance from her home country. It is animated with Nigerian Pidgin and Igbo dialogue, as well as enigmatic folktales and proverbs understated in their insight: “If God dishes you rice in a basket, do not wish for soup.”

“I’m lucky to have a family that upholds traditions, but also one that allows room for change,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t feel that I ever left Nigeria, and sometimes I do. We continued to speak Igbo at home, we continued to eat fufu and soup, beans and yam, we continued to sing and dance to Nigerian music. I also go home as often as I can.”

Under the Udala Trees begins in 1968, a year into the Biafran War, when 11-year-old Ijeoma’s father is killed during a bombing raid. After his death, Ijeoma’s mother, Adaora, begins to suffer terrible nightmares. She stops eating, and alternates between blank silence and rage. The child begins to sense that she is a burden, something to be rid of, “Like an animal casting off old hair or skin”. Adaora concocts a story about the need to send Ijeoma away while she scouts out the safety of her parents’ old house in another town, and the betrayal is keenly felt.

In the midst of this, Okparanta startles us with a glimpse of the old Adaora, the caring mother who used to rouse her daughter from a sulk by taking her hands and joking, “Dance your sadness away.” In the context of a growing dislike of an unkind, neglectful parent, the vignette is almost unbearably touching.

This depth of character is Okparanta’s great strength, and she says: “It seems to me that the best books are often those in which the dignity of the characters are upheld. Also, those in which the characters are nuanced. I tried to keep this in mind while writing the novel.”

Ijeoma is sent away to work as a house-girl. One day she is followed home by Amina, another displaced girl. A childhood romance begins, which develops into a tender physical relationship. In the years that follow, Ijeoma attempts to reconcile her sexuality with her religious beliefs. But societal pressures intensify and when a childhood friend – now a handsome and successful man – proposes, she accepts, both out of loyalty to her mother’s wishes and out of longing for a life lived without fear of being “found out”. Sensing something unsound in his marriage, Chibundu is by turns caring and cruel, suffering as much from the disjunct between society’s expectations and his own actions as Ijeoma does.

“Chibundu is as much to be pitied as he is to be rebuked,” says Okparanta. “We would have a hard time completely condemning him. How does one balance out hope with unrequited love? Chibundu certainly tries.”

After a series of disturbing dreams, Ijeoma realises she has to leave Chibundu, describing the revelation as like hearing a murmur of sound in the distance, unnoticeable at first, but getting stronger, “and finally you look up and see a skein, a flock of geese, a perfect V up above in the sky”.

Ijeoma does not reject her heritage. Rather she proves that it is possible to discard some aspects of tradition without threatening the whole. “Tradition has its place,” Okparanta says. “But it is also the nature of tradition to evolve.”

Follow Jennifer Malec on Twitter @projectjennifer

 
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Chigozie Obioma reviews And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

And After Many DaysVerdict: carrot, with criticism

There is a recurring motif of someone switching on a light bulb in Jowhor Ile’s laudable first novel, “And After Many Days.” The book begins in Nigeria in 1995, when the country was shrouded in literal and metaphorical darkness — plagued by war, corruption, and frequent and annoying power cuts. But this idea of a light that has gone out also applies to the family at the center of the book, a family whose own light is to be snuffed out by tragedy.

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Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma wins the Art Seidenbaum Award for his debut novel The Fishermen

Chigozie Obioma

 

The FishermenAlert! The Fishermen by Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma has won a prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.

In their 36th year, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are awarded in nine categories: biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology, and young adult fiction.

African authors who have won the Art Seidenbaum Award previously include Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu, who won in 2007 for The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, who won in 2005 for Beasts of No Nation; and the late Mark Behr, who won in 1996 for The Smell of Apples. Most recently, Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo won the award in 2014 for her novel We Need New Names.

Obioma’s debut novel is an international hit, having been longlisted for 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Man Booker Prize. The book won the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author.

 
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Author image of the author courtesy Pontas Agency


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