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Fiction Friday: read award-winning Nigerian author Sefi Atta's short story Unsuitable Ties

Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1964 and schooled in England, where she qualified as a chartered accountant. Numerical knack aside, Atta’s aptitude for writing has not gone unnoticed. Atta was awarded the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, shortlisted for the 2006 Caine Prize for African Fiction, and the recipient of the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, among others. Her short stories collection, News From Home was published in 2010. Read an extract from her short story Unsuitable Ties, originally published in Expound here:

She would rather not be here tonight. For her, a dinner party at a hotel – especially a five-star hotel like this in London – is research work. She might notice a seating-card design, a flower arrangement or some other catering idea she can use when she returns to Lagos. She will study the menu from hors d’oeuvres to desserts. As for the company, she knows what to expect; rich Nigerians, all connected to each other.

The hotel, Greek Revival style, is in Knightsbridge. It is cold for May, so she and her husband, Akin, wear coats, which they leave at the cloakroom near the lobby. The cloakroom attendant hands her a ticket and she puts it in her clutch bag. She is conscious of her heels clip-clopping along the marble- floored corridor that leads to the bar. At the entrance of the bar, a waiter lifts a silver tray with flutes of champagne and Buck’s Fizz. She goes for the champagne, as does Akin. They thank the waiter, a woman.

The bar resembles a candle-lit library in a stately home. It has shelves of old, leather-bound books and maroon patterned wallpaper. Cocktails are at 7 p.m., dinner is at 7.45 p.m., followed by dancing. Carriages are at 1 a.m. The dress code is black tie. Akin has decided that means he can get away with wearing a tie that is black.

She took the time and trouble to go from their flat in West Kensington to Kensington High Street to buy a new dress the day before. It was typical of Akin to forget he needed a bow tie until the last moment, yet he was the one who insisted that she come.

Other guests are on time. All are appropriately turned out, a few in colourful traditional Nigerian wear. She and Akin return their smiles and waves as they approach their host, Saheed Balogun.

“How now, my brother?” Saheed asks.

“Hey,” Akin says, shaking Saheed’s hand.

“Saheed,” she says, with a nod.

Saheed looks as if he has only just recognised her. “Yemisi! Long time no see!”

She winces involuntarily as he hugs her. She has become used to seeing his face under newspaper headlines since his fraud investigation began a month ago. He was also recently listed in an online magazine as one of Nigeria’s top ten billionaires. He is remarkably slight in person and sports a grey goatee. His bow tie is not quite as symmetrical after he hugs her. She was not expecting him to welcome her that way. Feeling hijacked, she looks around the bar and asks, “Where is Funke?”

“She’s taking care of last-minute seating arrangements,” Saheed says.

Yemisi grimaces. Nigerians don’t always RSVP and sometimes show up with extra guests. Funke is Saheed’s wife. Yemisi might call her an old friend, though she is more accurately someone Yemisi socialised with when they were both law undergrads. Funke was at the University of Lagos while she was at University College London. Their paths often crossed in Lagos and London. For reasons she can’t explain, she doesn’t mind Funke, but she absolutely cannot stand Saheed.

She leaves Akin with him. She told Akin she intended to stay as far away from Saheed as possible. That was the condition on which she came.

You can continue reading Unsuitable Ties here.

 

News From Home

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Thinking Freedom in Africa "acutely in time" says Richard Pithouse at launch of Michael Neocosmos's latest book

Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) hosted the launch of author and academic Michael Neocosmos’s most recent book, Thinking Freedom in Africa on Wednesday the 15th of March.

Political theorist and public intellectual Achille Mbembe and academic Richard Pithouse joined Neocosmos in the discussion on Thinking Freedom in Africa, published by Wits University Press, and the recipient of the 2017 Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book Award.

Neocosmos’s book explores the politics of emancipation via the study of the global history of African peoples’ struggles for liberation; Neocosmos asserted that the “way to emancipation is not achievable via identity theories or the returning of state power.”

He added that it is inexcusable to treat humans as inhumane and that emancipation can only truly occur once we – as a people – recognise this and put it into practice.

“Big words like freedom, justice and equality are necessary when discussing emancipation,” Neocosmos stressed, adding that a capitalist society is to our detriment regarding the pursuit of emancipation, describing the wealth discrepancies in Africa as “obscene.”

Nearing the end of the discussion, Neocosmos echoed this conviction by asking whether it is possible for capitalism to exist within the absence of racism and injustice.

Pithouse commented that Thinking Freedom in Africa is “acutely in time”, as it is necessary to both think about emancipation and to bring struggle into theory. That Neocosmos is “trying to take the lived experiences of Africans seriously” adds to the timeliness of the book.

Mbembe pronounced Thinking Freedom in Africa as “probably the most important book to be published in South Africa over the past 10 years,” as it “forces us to think and to de-exceptionalise the South African experience.

“It stretches far beyond South Africa as such,” Mbembe deliberated.

In addition to this comment, Mbembe questioned the destruction of oppression, asking what we’re going to replace opposition with once we’ve destroyed it.

Mbembe stated that the ‘struggle’ for emancipation causes a conflation of knowledge and experience, asking whether “liberation consists of making my oppressor feel the way I do?”

Unity has not yet been achieved in politics and that unity cannot be achieved until we have asked – and answered – the question of who “we” are, Neocosmos concluded. How we construct and contain that “we” is fundamental in the pursuit of emancipation.

The discussion came to an end when a Wits academic received a note which he humourously proclaimed was “given to me by the politburo” announcing that “more drinks have arrived.”

The audience left in both a cheerful and contemplative mood…

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Sisonke Msimang's memoir to be released in October 2017!


Jonathan Ball Publishers has won a fierce bidding battle for Sisonke Msimang’s memoir and first book, acquiring Southern African rights from agent Isobel Dixon at Blake Friedmann, London. Jonathan Ball will publish the memoir, Always Another Country, in October 2017. Msimang is one of the most assured voices commenting on the South African present – often humorously; sometimes deeply movingly.

Jonathan Ball Publisher Ester Levinrad is confident that Msimang’s memoirs will find a broad and highly receptive audience: “Once in a while you are fortunate enough to work with a writer who crystallises what makes publishing in South Africa so exciting, telling a personal story that could only have a local genesis, yet with a potential which defies borders. That is Always Another Country, to me –Sisonke’s writing helps me to make sense not only of the country but the world in which we live.”

Msimang writes about her exile childhood in Zambia and Kenya, young adulthood and college years in North America, and return to South Africa in the euphoric 1990s. She reflects candidly on her discontent and disappointment with present-day South Africa but also on her experiences of family, romance, and motherhood, with the novelist’s talent for character and pathos. Her bitter-sweet memoir is at heart a chronicle of a coming-of-age. As Isobel Dixon said, “while well-known [South African] political figures appear in these pages, it is an intimate story, a testament to family bonds and sisterhood”.

Sisonke Msimang currently lives in Perth, Australia, where she is Programme Director for the Centre for Stories.  She is regularly in Johannesburg where she continues to speak and comment on current affairs. Sisonke has degrees from Macalester College, Minnesota and the University of Cape Town, is a Yale World Fellow, an Aspen New Voices Fellow, and was a Ruth First Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand. She regularly contributes to The Guardian, The Daily Maverick and The New York Times and has given a popular TED Talk which touches on events which appear in her upcoming memoir.Msimang started writing Always Another Country in 2013 as political events in South Africa worsened in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre.  She will be in South Africa to launch the book later in the year.

 

Book launch - Thinking Freedom in Africa: Toward a theory of emancipatory politics by Michael Neocosmos

Thinking Freedom in Africa : Toward a theory of emancipatory politicsJoin us for a discussion with author, Michael Neocosmos and respondents, Achille Mbembe and Richard Pithouse.

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Ayòbámi Adébáyò's Stay With Me explores 1980s Nigeria, the undoing of family, and the bonds of motherhood

‘There are things even love can’t do… If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayòbámi Adébáyò weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

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Latest book in C.M. Elliott's Sibanda series now available

Detective Inspector Jabulani Sibanda, a hard-bodied, bush-loving, instinctive crime fighter, is the focus of this series. He is based in a village on the borders of a national park in Matabeleland, but no one quite understands why such a rising star in the Zimbabwe police force has been banished to a rural backwater. The detective doesn’t object to the posting as it gives him the opportunity to pursue his passion for elephants, birds, trees, all things wild, and the love of his life, the illusive Berry Barton.

The series also features his sidekick, Sergeant Thadeus Ncube, an overweight, bumbling, multi-married policeman with a delicate digestive system who adores food, fishing and matters mechanical.

He is both more astute than his physical presence might imply and a discerning judge of character. It helps that the sergeant loves motors because the third in this triumvirate of law enforcers is Miss Daisy, an ancient, battered and truculent Land Rover that huffs and puffs through the bush, steams with indignation and breaks down at the most inappropriate moments. She is the bane of Sibanda’s life and the love of Ncube’s.

The comely PC Khumalo and the obsessively ordered and religious officer-in-charge, Stalin Mfumu, AKA Cold War, add to the mix at Gubu police station. This series will steep you in the African bush and Matabele culture and keep you guessing and laughing by turns. But murder in any environment, particularly the African wilderness, is a dangerous and often gruesome business. Together, our trio put their lives at risk as they investigate unique crimes and plumb the depths of Africa’s worst depravities.

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