Literature

2018: Most Anticipated Reads

An annual ritual you may call it but every year, we put together a list of books we cannot wait to get our hands on. This time, we got together 21 literary connoisseurs, bloggers and editors, and asked for their most anticipated read of 2018 from an African or author with African heritage. From them emerged a potpourri of genres, 10 debuts, 9 forthcoming novels and a consensus: Emezi's Freshwater is coming for all your coins! So, start piling them.

Mayowa

Historian and literary blogger

Black British history is cast aside by academia, and this negation of Black British history allows Britain to carry on its myth of racial harmony and egalitarianism. As an African, I think it is important to educate myself on not only the country and continent I’m from but also on the diaspora. This book is black excellence, and I am really looking forward to educating myself on my British sisters and brothers!

Ainehi

Founder/Editor, Brittle Paper

Adeyemi burst into the limelight last year when the news of her million-dollar book deal got out. She is the second African writer to attract that kind of payout. So that’s exciting. But the story itself is intriguing. It is a fantasy narrative which draws some inspiration from Yoruba cosmology and features a powerful female lead character. Children of Blood and Bone could very easily be the next mega hit YA novel…like The Hunger Games, perhaps.

Leila

Writer, book reviewer, and blogger, Black Book Quotes

   An American Marriage    - Tayari Jones

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

It is a story of upwardly mobile newlyweds whose love is tested when the husband gets jail time for a crime he didn't commit. Having never read Jones before, I am really looking forward to being introduced to her work. After having loved Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me and Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers in 2017, I'm super excited to read another nuanced portrayal of how structural injustice trickles down into romantic relationships.

Tope 

Writer and editor

Akwaeke’s writing is not of this world. To be honest, her style isn’t for everyone. She’s one of those love-them-to-your-bone-marrow or hate-them-with-everything-in-you type of authors. Iweala, on the other hand, had a good first book, so I’m excited to see what he’s done with Speak No Evil. It’s interesting that even with his well known surname in Nigeria, the literary community knows him as his own person.

Afoma

Writer and content creator,  Afoma Umesi

   Hold   -  Michael Donkor

Hold - Michael Donkor

Michael Donkor’s Hold - to be published in July by 4th Estate - is definitely high on my TBR list. It is a story of unexpected kinship between a housegirl and her masters’ daughter, set in London and Ghana. Hold promises to be a captivating read from a new African voice. Besides, with a cover like that, who wouldn’t be interested?

Fifi

Book blogger, Kenyan Bibliophile

I’ve always been fascinated by race relations. It seems my thirst for wanting to understand how people can mistreat a certain group based on their skin color is yet to be quenched. Hurston’s book is based on her 1931 interviews with Cudjo Lewis who was brought to the US as a slave in 1860. Barracoon is set to be released in May by HarperCollins, almost half a century after the author’s death.

Sreddy

Postgraduate student and literary enthusiast

   Tales of the Metric System   -  Imraan Coovadia

Tales of the Metric System - Imraan Coovadia

My most-anticipated African read of 2018 is Imraan Coovadia's Tales of the Metric System (Umuzi, 2014). Coovadia is one of South Africa's most exciting contemporary writers, and I'm looking forward to reading his latest (though not-so-new) novel, which reflects on the nation that is South Africa through its transition from the atrocities of apartheid to the uncertainties of the present.

Marcelle

Co-founder, Afrikult.

I'm a big lover of historical fiction. When I first heard that Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani was due for release in March, I immediately leapt to my laptop and began reading the reviews. The endorsement from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is very promising; the overflow of praise this novel has received won me over completely. I'm intrigued to see where this story takes me, what I learn of colonial Kenya's 'iron snake', how the narratives are interweaved meanwhile discovering Peter Kimani's work. I'm equally excited and intrigued by Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.

   Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

I fell in love with Akwaeke’s words after reading ‘Sometimes, the fire is not fire’. I can’t wait to read her debut book and immerse myself in the story and completely savour it. Freshwater is part fiction, part memoir, and Akwaeke blends the two beautifully. I’m excited to go into new worlds with her and have my reality and worldview completely shaken.

 

James

Literary blogger, James Murua

   Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

The only book I am eyeing right now is Akwaeke Emezi debut novel "Freshwater." So why am I looking forward to this read? Well, I read her Commonwealth Prize winning short story 'Who is Like God’ which announced her as an important new voice in African writing, and I LOVED IT. With the talent from that wonderful short story, I want to sample more of her prose.

   Bri(tish)   -  Afua Hirsch

Bri(tish) - Afua Hirsch

   Blackass   -  A. Igoni Barrett

Blackass - A. Igoni Barrett

Akua: The novel presents a melange of cultures in its quest to explore answers to the question "where are you from?" As British born Ghanaian, I can relate to the pressure of self-identity when it concerns that provocative and also annoying question. I'm confident this book is going to be amazeballs.

 

Mel: Picture yourself, a person of African descent, and you wake up one morning with blue eyes and freckles! I've toyed with the concept with friends and family so it's no surprise that I was drawn to reading this book in 2018. I'm looking forward to the comical flare this satirical novel has to offer.

I actually just posted some books (56 of them) that I'm looking forward to this year. But I'd say Hold by Michael Donkor and The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah are the ones I'm very eager to read. Nafkote Tamirat and Akwaeke Emezi's debuts - The Parking Lot Attendant and Freshwater - are also highly recommended!

Suyi

Author

It's easy to fall for this book, really. A seven-figure deal, a Fox 2000 film option, a gorgeous cover and a six-chapter sampler (released in late 2017) everyone's gushing over. But what interests me most is how this book will tackle matters of identity, community and courage. People are calling it Black Lives Matter meets Fantasy. Who wouldn't want to read that?

So many good books are coming out in 2018, and I am looking forward to reading Wake Me When I’m Gone by Odafe Atogun. He captured me with Taduno’s Song, which I found was almost spiritual for me. I am also chuffed that Buchi Emecheta’s books will be re-published this year. Buchi was a woman who came way before her time and her writing is still relevant today. Head Above Water which is her memoir is definitely the one I am most excited about.

Karabo

Avid reader and book blogger

  Always Another Country  -  Sisonke Msimang

Always Another Country - Sisonke Msimang

This is a book that has been doing the rounds on Instagram (bookstagram). Out of curiosity, as always the case, I looked it up and found that the storyline seems compelling and very interesting. I'd really like to travel back in time with this particular book especially since the Sisonke Msimang has South African roots.

Wale

Founder and Editor-In-Chief, The Republic Journal

   The Rise of the African Novel  -   Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

The Rise of the African NovelMũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

I’m most looking forward to reading Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ’s The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity, and Ownership. According to a tweet the author posted in 2017, The Rise of the African Novel explores “what it means for the current generation of writers and scholars of African literature not to have an imaginative consciousness of their literary past.”

   Ghana Must Go   -  Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go – I have watched a lot of Taiye Selasi Interviews and thoroughly enjoyed her brilliance. Ghana Must Go is up next on my list. I have heard contradicting opinions about this book, and I want to see for myself. Some seem to love it and others, not so much. I read that her writing in this book reads like poetry and as a huge fan of poetry, it’s a yes from me.

Lade

Researcher, Writer and Editor

   Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

After reading her short story, Who Is Like God, I became interested in Emezi's writing and looked forward to reading more of her work. My curiosity about the book increased because of my interest in Psychology. I read in a blurb on her site which says the main character has several selves; making identity of the major themes of the book.

   What We Lose   -  Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose - Zinzi Clemmons

Maybe because it was described as the debut book of the year by Vogue in 2017. Or, perhaps, because I am curious to know how a pretty face like Zinzi Clemmons captures grief — a theme I want to learn more about this year; that is, how does one handle loss or grief? What We Lose reminds me of my most potent 2016 read - When Death Becomes Air - and I just want to relive that moment again.

Nancy

Founding Editor, Afreada

   Hold   -  Michael Donkor

Hold - Michael Donkor

My anticipated read of 2018 has to be Hold by Michael Donkor. I remember smiling when I first heard about this book. During a conversation with the Editor, I was informally introduced to the three main characters, “wayward” Amma, born to Ghanaian parents in Brixton; “sensible” Belinda, a housegirl sent from Ghana to London, and Mary, left behind in Kumasi. This debut is bound to explore issues of cultural navigation. As a Nigerian-Londoner, Hold already holds a very special place in my heart.

   Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke's Who Will Claim You remains one of my favourite creative non-fiction by our generation of African writers. Her forthcoming novel, Freshwater, is thus my most anticipated read. What heightened my anticipation is the 'blasphemy' African Book Addict describes in it. She warned 'Christians' that the book may have them wondering if they aren't sinning by reading it. It is a temptation I intend to fail at resisting.

 

We would like to hear from you too - what is your most anticipated read in 2018?



 

Literary Landscapes: Momplé and Kuakuvi

BY THE BOOK BANQUE

An interview between Mozambican Lília Momplé and Togolese Kuamvi Mawulé Kuakuvi.

The beauty in post-independence African literature is often in the landscape - that is, the historical, social, political, linguistic and geographical backgrounds - from which the author's characters are shaped. It is in the cultural representation, or perhaps reporting, and the colonial heart notes that beguile the setting. In Lília Momplé's stories, it is in the folktales cradled tenderly by her grandmother's storytelling and distilled as prose in her tellings of identity and gender-power dynamics.

It is evident in the quasi-candid tongue with which Kuamvi Mawulé Kuakuvi and Momplé shared their experiences as they interviewed each other in 1997. In the video, the two discuss the shared unacceptability of their work by their respective French and Portuguese colonial predecessors, for reasons linked to the authors' necessity "to share the truth." This then launches a conversation about race, the role of education and technology in Africa; polygamy, polyandry, religion and the concept of a 'Third World Country.'

What is peculiar about the interview is the authors' ability to dichotomise traditional and 'modern' African settings, without losing the authority with which their stories are told. Through this authentic dialogue between Momplé and Kuakuvi, the power of literature is illustrated as a tool for advocacy, transcending boundaries and transposing cultures. It points to the relevance and responsibility of post-independence African literature. It is a clarion call, of some sort, to (re)define why African authors write.

 
 

This interview was recorded in 1997 and remains copyright of the University of Iowa libraries. It was broadcast on Iowa City Public Access Television 2 and University of Iowa Cable Channel 12 on September 9th, 1997 at 3pm. Both Kuakuvi and Momplé attended the 1997 Iowa International Writers' Programme. A full list of the participants for the 1997 residency can be found here.

 

Critical Review – Lesley Nneka Arimah's Who Will Greet You At Home

BY NIKI

Guest edited by Ráyò.  

 Image: Aaron Griffin.

Image: Aaron Griffin.

W

ho Will Greet You At Home is a story about the pressure to create the perfect child and the sacrifices women are willing to make to achieve this. The protagonist explicitly states: “a mother should give all of herself to her child, even if it requires the marrow in her bones.” This statement, whilst seemingly self-sacrificing and noble, takes on a sinister turn in this story. It can be read as critique on the idea that to be the best mother, one must give up the best parts of themselves.

Arimah’s protagonist repeatedly gives away some of her joy in exchange for the blessing required each time a child is created. The giving away of Joy seemed to me a reference to the Buchi Emecheta novel ‘The Joys of Motherhood’, in which children, despite being something of a blessing, also took a great toll on the well-being on the protagonist. In fact, the tragic ending of Emecheta’s protagonist is a warning that has continued to go unheeded by many women in Nigeria, who allow societal pressures to overwhelm common sense.

 

INFERTILITY AND INFANT MORTALITY

Ajayi, a leading IVF specialist in Nigeria, posits that there is a 25 percent infertility rate in the country, where men make up majority of that figure. The reality in many Nigerian communities, however, is that women bear the brunt of the blame for infertility issues in marriages, often dealing with the emotional toll that the stigma takes, and lacking the benefit of professional support.

Infertility issues can sometimes be short-term issues caused by undetected Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) or toilet-related diseases. In a society where men are sometimes adamantly against such tests, the issue will continue to have more weight than necessary. Of course, the cost of IVF for those with more severe infertility issues is astronomical to the many disadvantaged by the ever-growing wealth gap in Nigeria.

Most striking in Arimah’s story is the absence of men, mainly because Nigeria is a country where there is an average of 1.05 men to every 1 woman. This feature is pronounced in a story about birth and children. By removing men from the equation in her story, the problem of fertility is eliminated. Arimah’s story presents childbirth solely as a female affair; there is a distinct exclusion of men even at the stage of ‘procreation’. The women in Arimah’s world decide when they have babies, yet what cannot be combated is infant mortality.

At the story’s beginning, the protagonist, Ogechi, has lost her umpteenth child because it was an impractical addition to her life. In the world Arimah creates, babies are not made through sexual intercourse but are constructed from day to day materials by the mother, and turn into human babies a year after creation.

The women are thus charged with ensuring the survival of the child for the duration of that year, a feat which Ogechi has repeatedly failed to achieve. UNICEF estimated in 2015 that an average of 2,300 infants under the age of five die daily in Nigeria. This is attributed to lack of proper healthcare and nutrition; a side effect of abject poverty. For Ogechi, this is true, as abject poverty has heavily contributed to the demise of her babies.

 

HOME AS MORE THAN A PLACE

The story’s title Who Will Greet You At Home, presents home as a place to which all women long to return. Strangers in the narrative, on seeing a woman with a freshly crafted baby, offer the song:

Where are you going?
I am going home.
Who will greet you at home?
My mother will greet me?
What will your mother do?
My mother will bless me and my child.

The familiarity of this song is evident in its call and response set-up as well as its repetition within the narrative. There is clear pride in returning home to one’s mother sporting a new baby to be blessed. “Who Will Greet You At Home?” is a marked question, enquiring almost into your lineage. The response, “my mother will”, shows how intricately bonded mother and child are expected to be in Arimah’s world.

I say expected because this is a stock song recited for every child, even Ogechi who, having fallen out with her mother, must now trade some of her joy/happiness to have the ironically named ‘Mama’ bless her child. The figure ‘Mama’ has managed to capitalise on the misfortune of broken families by stealing happiness amongst more tangible resources from poor women around her. In this world, women are not presented as pristine but still take on all the character dimensions of any society.

In Nigeria, a great deal of the stigma faced by ‘infertile’ women come from other women. Relatives, friends and “well-wishers” often chime in their 2-kobo to re-iterate the ways one is failing in the wifely duty of procreation. The presence of the song in Arimah’s novel, sung by familiar and unfamiliar well-wishers, is evidence of the continued presence of public interest in female reproduction be it wanted or no.

 

THE LIFE POVERTY OFFERS

As previously stated, Ogechi’s babies die due to poverty but her mother also has a great deal to do with some of these deaths, we learn. This involvement by her mother is what leads to the fallout between the two, leading Ogechi into the grasping hands of Mama. Ogechi’s mother is a realist aware of their status in life, and as such implores Ogechi to construct her child out of materials that will give her a toughness for the life poverty offers.

Ogechi is however fanciful, looking to make her child out materials that speak of a delicate life. In this world, status is reflected in the niceness and lack of durability in the items with which one constructs their child. Ogechi’s lack of status fails to deter her frivolous creations and her mother’s insistence that, “soft children with hard lives go mad and die”, only heightens her stubbornness. The brashness of this statement is reflective of experience which Ogechi, young and so wrapped up in the fantasy of perfect motherhood, fails to comprehend till the story’s conclusion.

The baby crafted from wool and that crafted from wrapping paper, which she presents to her mother for blessing, are easily destroyed by wear and water to show her how impractical her crafting is. The craftsmanship of the child determines its ability to navigate the realities of the world it is born into, rather than its fate in life: the lesson Ogechi’s mother tries and fails to impart. For Ogechi, physical appearance is the most important feature in a child, leading to confusion when she comes across a new mother beaming with pride while unveiling her twig baby.

Physicality, rather than substance, holds more weight for Ogechi and this obsession nearly kills her. Ogechi is willing to give up her joy to gain a physically beautiful child, so little import is placed on joy because it is not tangible. Arimah’s story, while seemingly a critique for the pressures on women to produce beautiful babies in a timely manner, can also serve as critique for Nigeria where appearance/status continue to override substance.

Today, young men and women – infants in the workforce – are constantly being charged across the world for crimes of fraud. The need to be seen as having “made it” appearing to be the major drive towards this mode of acquiring wealth. There is a belief that appearance negates the need for work. Ogechi is so concerned with making a pretty child, she fails to consider the impact her role as mother could have on the child’s future. Beauty is skin deep might be a cliché, but clichés are born from experience.


Lesley Nneka Arimah's Who Will Greet You At Home was shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize.