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Electric feminist fiction: Efemia Chela reviews Naomi Alderman's Baileys award-winning The Power

Published in the Sunday Times – 12 February 2017

Naomi Alderman imagines a world in which girl power is actual high-voltage current, writes Efemia Chela

The PowerNaomi Alderman (Viking)
The Power ****

Naomi Alderman’s thriller is a countdown to the creation of a world-wide matriarchy, powered by female electricity. A generation of girls, in a world just like our own, discover that they are born with an electrical “skein” under their skin. With the onset of puberty the skein awakens and their body starts to generate volumes of electricity. They can play games with the arcs of power rushing from their fingers, light cigarettes with it and even unleash enough energy to kill. As more and more girls experiment with the power, they realise they can teach older women how to wake up their own power buried within and turn the world upside down. Especially because in men, the power is absent.

Men begin to fear for their lives and see their formerly entrenched dominance and privilege crumble. They are afraid to walk home alone at night, can no longer rule the playground and lose wars against armies of electrically empowered women. Some retaliate by taking to the internet and planning real-life terror attacks against women on men’s-rights forums.

The narrative is split between four fascinating characters who are key players in what women call “the empowering global sisterhood” but what ever more fearful men feel is a cataclysmic gender endgame. There’s Allie, the foster kid runaway reinventing herself in South Carolina as a religious icon with healing hands and Margot, an ambitious politician with a secret, who manipulates the quickly shifting balance of power in her favour. Tunde is a young Nigerian journalist recording rapidly changing, newly charged societies with some trepidation because he’s a man. Rounding out the main cast is Roxy, the East End gangster’s daughter. She is trying to cash in on the new world order and settle old scores with the intensity of her skein, which can light up the sea.

These four vastly different lives intersect fully where the crackling tension reaches its climax in the contested state of Bessepara in Eastern Europe. In this fledgling revolutionary state, the world is watching to see how far the power can be pushed and whether men are still viewed as equal citizens. Alderman keeps us on tenterhooks waiting to see which alliances will hold firm, who will survive and at what cost.

The Power’s unique premise and easy prose make it a pleasure to read. Alderman probes the psyche of each of her characters deeply, skilfully withholding key facts from the reader to crank up the suspense and heighten the impact of each of the book’s unexpected and sometimes violent turns. This exciting satirical novel is a fresh take on the battle of the sexes, with intriguing sci-fi and radical feminist influences from Ursula K. LeGuin and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Its realism will certainly get you thinking, especially when the similarities between the world on the pages and our current world get too close for comfort.

Follow Efemia Chela @efemiachela

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Naomi Alderman wins Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction

British author Naomi Alderman has been awarded the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her science fiction novel The Power.

The Power is the first science fiction novel to win this prestigious prize. The thriller is set in a dystopian future where women and girls can kill men with a single touch.

Tessa Ross, the chair of judges, said that the book was a clear winner of the £30,000 prize: “This prize celebrates great writing and great ideas and The Power had that, but it also had urgency and resonance.”

Ross added that the judges had been impressed by Alderman’s handling of the big issues which affect humanity, from greed to power, and predicted the novel would be “a classic of the future”.

Read Efemia Chela’s review of The Power here.

The Power

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UJ Prize for South African Writing shortlist announced

The University of Johannesburg has announced the shortlist of its annual literary award. Approximately 60 works were submitted, from which the following books were selected for the shortlist:

Main Prize:
Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Sigh, the Beloved Country by Bongani Madondo

Debut Prize:
The Yearning by Mohale Mashigo
Loud and Yellow Laughter by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese
Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and Other Stories by Jolyn Philips
The Keeper of the Kumm by Sylvia Vollenhoven

The prizes are not linked to a specific genre. This may make the evaluation more challenging in the sense that, for example, a volume of poetry, a novel and a biographical work must be measured against one another, but the idea is to open the prize to as many forms of creative writing as possible.

The main prize is R75 000.

The debut prize is R35 000.

A formal prize-giving ceremony will be held at a function later in the year.


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The Woman Next Door


Sigh The Beloved Country


The Yearning


Loud and Yellow Laughter


Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories


Keeper of the Kumm

Bruce Dennill reviews Steven Boykey Sidley's latest novel Free Association

Published in the Sunday Times

Free AssociationFree Association
Steven Boykey Sidley(Picador Africa)

Steven Boykey Sidley has, over the course of his three previous novels (Entanglement, Stepping Out and Imperfect Solo), developed an enviable line in intense character studies of people who are entertainly flawed, gloriously real and worryingly, unsettlingly familiar. Max Lurie, for whose self-indulgent podcast this latest book is named, is another of these protagonists, operating on the margins of the society in which he lives by virtue of his restless intellect, thirst for new experiences and deep-seated cynicism.

Sidley adopts an interesting stance as the author, becoming Lurie (in the first person) via the character’s transcribed podcasts and then switching to third-person narration in between. It’s a mechanism that helps readers to feel like they’re getting to know Lurie and the context in which he exists separately, with the option of combining those threads.

Satisfyingly, Sidley provides a guide for readers who may see a disconnect in these two perspectives in the person of the Free Association producer Bongani, who is at once Lurie’s employee, business partner and tangible moral centre. As such, there is regular conflict between the two characters as Bongani suggests Lurie’s potential both to Lurie himself and to the reader.

The clashing of Lurie’s on-air iconoclasm (and the actions played out in the name of maintaining it) and the relatively normal, everyday life that he is otherwise living is what makes the story compelling and intimately recognisable.

Lurie is an artist and a visionary and an idiot and a frustrating schmuck. He’s people you know — and he’s you. You’ll find yourself judging him and defending him, which suggests that Sidley’s expression, via Lurie, of the uncertainty that comes with not meeting societal expectations (regarding age or talent or gender or whatever) has touched a nerve.

Follow Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

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“I feel that as a writer, our duty is to capture the human experience” – read an interview with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

I think a lot of novels that we have coming out that most people consider particularly African novels are expected to play on politics, on corruption, on all these things. I don’t want those to be at the forefront. They are there, obviously, and they are very dominant, like on the landscape and the scenery. But despite all this, people carry on with their lives. They are little romances in hidden corners, they have their issues with their children, and all that. This corruption, this politics, this violence, in a way it kind of shapes certain things in the way we behave and the way we act, it is not necessary that every time you have to struggle with corrupt politicians and corrupt people, but the decisions they make somewhere, so far away from you, somehow have a resonance in the way you make your decisions and the choices you make in life.

Jennifer Malec, editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books, interviewed Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, winner of the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature, during Ibrahim’s recent visit to Johannesburg.

Ibrahim received the Nigeria Prize for Literature for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms.

Read their interview here and listen to Ibrahim read an excerpt from Season of Crimson Blossoms here.

Season of Crimson Blossoms

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Complete shortlists revealed for the 2017 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize

L-R: Matthew di Paoli, Sarah Penny, Nalini Ramesh, Rowan Whiteside

The complete shortlist for the awards in the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize have been announced.

Two of the four authors shortlisted for the best unpublished manuscripts are local authors – Sarah Penny was shortlisted for Sangoma Boy and Rowan Whiteside for Yellow Tooth

Of the four titles shortlisted for Best Unpublished Manuscript, one will receive the Writer’s Adventure Research Award. The award is a £5,000 grant to support the writer to travel to undertake research for their next novel. They will also be offered guidance from Wilbur Smith’s literary agent, Kevin Conroy Scott, at Tibor Jones & Associates.

Nalini Ramesh (India) and Matthew di Paoli (USA) appear on the shortlist for, respectively, Turmeric and Tamarind and Holliday.

Four talented young writers have been shortlisted for the Author of Tomorrow, the category of the Prize open to writers aged 21 and under who submitted a short adventure story. The Author of Tomorrow award was created in partnership with Worldreader, a global non-profit on a mission to create a world where everyone is a reader. Through this partnership, the four shortlisted authors will be offered the opportunity to have their stories digitally published in the Worldreader Open Library, accessed by readers in 50 countries across the world. The Author of Tomorrow winner will also receive a prize of £1,000 sterling from The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation.

To find out more about The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, visit

The Beneficiaries

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